I’d spent most of my first year in the group signing CDs after concerts that I wasn’t actually on — so I was really pleased when we came to actually recording my first disc with the group so that finally, one day soon, I would be saved the inevitable guilt of signing my name yet again over my predecessor, Paul Phoenix’s glorious headshot on albums such as Postcards! But more importantly, as the recording dates last May drew closer, I realised that I was about to join an incredible, 48-year-long legacy of being a part of The King’s Singers collection of recordings and albums. AND I got to sing and record music written by one of my favourite composers, whose music I’d sung every week as a child chorister: the legendary, Palestrina.
The recording sessions themselves were familiar in style and not too dissimilar in layout to those with which I’d grown up in St John’s College Choir, Cambridge, under Christopher Robinson’s direction. Standing in the sweet spot of of the church (this one St Augustine’s Church, Kilburn), surrounded by lots of microphones, both near and far, and having a big, red light-bulb in plain view to tell us when we were ‘live’ or not. The main difference from what I’d experienced before therefore was the group’s unique position of being without conductor. Now obviously by this point (nine months into my tenure), I’d become accustomed to the group’s way of singing and performing, but what I hadn’t realised was that, because we sing *so much* together (in excess of 130 days a year), that instead of the usual apprehension that one might get before and during a recording session, I actually felt utterly relaxed and somehow more focussed on the task at hand than I’d ever been: namely, making sweet music with five fantastic musicians… which is of course what I get to do most days! So essentially, it was a slightly more heightened (in terms of concentration) rehearsal session on some renaissance polyphony lasting four days, rather than the 2-hour-long rehearsals we tend to have. This relaxedness was a very liberating feeling, and enabled me to enjoy the singing part entirely, and I didn’t tire from this enjoyment once over the course of those four days. Such happiness (as Johnny would say)!
Our producer (and former KS), Nigel Short, was fantastic to work with, and I’d actually had the pleasure of singing for him when I was a student at St John’s: I used to pop down to London when I had the odd free afternoon and sing(/deputise) in his choir at St Bartholomew-the-Great — a famous church that has made appearances in such films as Four Weddings and a Funeral, no less! I also sang occasionally with his choir, Tenebrae, too; so it was a pleasure to have his reassuring words of wisdom once more, pouring out at us through the speaker system. In particular, he encouraged me to sing out a little more than I’d previously been doing (part of the process of acclimatising to the KS group sound can be that, in order not to stick out too much, one can blend into the background a little too much!), and so this resulted in me being able to enjoy some of the more melodic moments of counterpoint in my part (e.g. the rising line into the final cadence of the first piece on the album, “Alma redemptoris mater”).
All in all, a very happy first recording with the group, and I’m looking forward to many more to come, including the next one, out later this year: the new Christmas album! Julian Gregory
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