First Presbyterian Church choir

Local church choir enjoys, endures the process of recording a CD

Quick question: How many planes make low flights over Georgetown’s Square on a typical Saturday? On a related note, how often do motorcycles with impressive engines rumble down Church Street? How many vigilant canines bark in protest when they do?

The choir of First Presbyterian Church, Georgetown, has a pretty good idea how often such noises interrupt a quiet day on the Square. They know because of how often, just before a downbeat, they stopped yet again to wait for the plane to pass, the motorcycle to roll on, the dogs to determine that all was well. Such are the challenges of recording a CD in a church just off the Square.

In His Light was the idea of Philip Smith, currently in his ninth year as First Presbyterian’s music director. A Southwestern University grad, Philip sang during college with the Lake Junaluska Singers, a group that has made several CDs. He knew FPC’s choir had the talent to record their own. With a fellow choir director’s encouragement and recommendation of a recording engineer, Philip went forward with the idea.

For months, the choir rehearsed the 13 works on the CD in addition to the music they prepared for services. When Randy Sapp of Madison Digital arrived from California in March, the process of laying down tracks began with the organ. FPC has two organs, and the instrument Philip preferred to use is in the sanctuary, while the other tracks were recorded in the fellowship hall. Next came the piano, brass, violin, handbells, and percussion—including hammer strikes on an anvil that’s been in Philip’s family for generations. Jeff Smith, Philip’s father and pastor at Wellspring, handled the anvil strikes for a setting of Martin Luther’s “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.”

In His Light CD by the First Presbyterian Church choir

On a usual Sunday, FPC has two choirs. A smaller group sings at the early service in the historic sanctuary, where the loft seats only about 20 people, and a larger group sings at the late service in the fellowship hall. The groups combined to record the CD. High school students and recent college grads made time to participate, some driving in from Austin, and a few friends from area churches joined as well. With singers ranging from their teens to their eighties, the recording days felt a little like a family reunion—right down to time set apart for eating and talking together. All told, more than 70 musicians collaborated on the project.

Shirley Nash, who’s been singing in choirs for more than 80 (yes, 80) years, calls the process of recording the CD “by far the greatest vocal experience of my life” and describes it as “not only exhausting but also exciting and energizing.” Like most of the choir, she hadn’t realized what goes into the often-frustrating process—singing the same eight or ten measures again and again, for example, while listening to previous takes through headphones, or getting in the habit of inhaling silently before singing and resisting the urge to clear one’s throat. Since the recording equipment is sensitive, any sigh or shuffling of the feet could ruin a take, so patience was the by-word for everyone involved. Even the church’s A/C had to be shushed, making for a room that grew stuffier and warmer as the hours wore on. “I was proud of how well all the choir members did throughout the recording sessions,” Philip says. Choir members were proud of their director, too: Philip conducted for more than 30 hours over three days, led services the following Sunday, and iced his right shoulder that afternoon.

By the end of the last day of recording, voices were tired, backs were sore, but smiles were abundant. Then came the months-long wait during which Philip and Randy edited the tracks. By the time In His Light debuted in mid-October, the challenges of recording were largely forgotten. Would they do it again? Some choir members paused thoughtfully when asked, but not Shirley, who feels blessed to have had the experience and hopes the music will be “inspiring to all who hear it.”


Listen to excerpts from the CD below. Learn more about First Presbyterian’s music programs and performances, including the Christmas Cantata (December 10th), at www.facebook.com/FPCGeorgetownMusicMinistry.

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