For their second outing, the 2016-17 Fellowship octet were once again singing to the microphone - but everything else was very new indeed...

ELSPETH PIGGOTT (SOPRANO)

This week we were working with musician, composer and producer James Rose on a recording of his new arrangement of the Wexford Carol. This, however, was not you run-of-the-mill-resonant-accoustic-freeze-your-amen-off-in-a-church choral recording. I was directed to a private residence in central London, and was greeted in the open plan living/dining room by NYCGB Marketing Manager Julian Forbes and artist and techy-in-training Sereta Baldwin. Surrounded by used mugs, camera lighting equipment and a vast quantity of stage make up, they were in the middle of a discussion about John Gray and Schopenhauer. This was James’s studio/ apartment.

We recorded our parts individually, close miked, with a click track and midi files of the other parts playing through headphones. Ana and Will had been in before me, so I had them in my ear too, and by the time Jamie’s turn came around he had all of us. He might have had the easiest time, except for the untimely hammering that started outside and obliged James to shove him into an acoustically-isolated wardrobe where his Mongolian low notes could be picked up. James wanted an a cappella sound for the song, senza vibrato, which was harder for some than others. It was a challenge for me, at least, because it felt like I had to undo six years of classical training in 60 seconds. But James was relaxed and encouraging, and had magic tools to adjust the pitch when my confusion over placement resulted in dodgy tuning. The session environment also brought to light technique issues I hadn’t previously noticed. Live performances in spacious buildings apparently hide a multitude of sins which a microphone does not, and I gave a number of false starts before we were happy with the start of each phrase. Clearly, I need to work on my onset. The next stage was filming, and we all returned the following day to finish the job. It was a surprise to feel relief at being reunited, after having to stray beyond my comfort zone alone. Suddenly, we had comrades in arms to support by page turning and lipstick lending, partners in crime to tease those in the spotlight attempting to mime while keeping a straight face.

Now, I absolutely love groups like GQ (Girls Quartet) and the Puppini Sisters, not to mention the Sons of Pitches and Pitch Perfect, but for some reason or other we in this year’s NYCGB Fellowship octet have all chosen to study classical singing; and if I’m honest, I'm concerned that the end result of our work may be a little unconvincing. To spend just five hours on this project perhaps does a disservice to the a cappella community, whose groups spend their performing lifetimes perfecting their art form. That being said, it was a privilege to be given a glimpse into this world, to experience a completely different way of music making. The lessons James gave us on matching tones and colours (have a look at Acapella Equalizer on YouTube) will be ones which we will carry through to everything we do together throughout the year, and most likely beyond. It’s so rare to be given the opportunity to work with professionals of a different area from your own, which is one reason why this program is so unique. That being said, I am also looking forward to seeing what we are capable of on home territory. On this score, our mettle is yet to be tested.