Sweet Dreams: The Making of an Orchestral Album

The Project:
An album of 18 lullabies from around the world with the Ridgefield Symphony Orchestra and guest vocalists/instrumentalists from Broadway, the classical world and beyond. The CD would be a gift to every family of a newborn in Danbury Hospital's Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. The project was funded by a generous grant from Harold Spratt.

I'd like to say that we sailed through the recording process effortlessly, but with the goal of recording 18 pieces in just 5 hours, the initial orchestra session was practically guaranteed to be a challenge. Here's how it all went down (complete with my inner dialog):

Thursday, January 19th 3:30am (!)
"Have to make sure everthing is PERFECT if we are going to pull this off. Ok…All of the mics, preamps, headphones, chairs and stands are set up and ready to go. Session begins in 4 hours! OMG!!! Better go home and go to sleep."

Thursday, January 19th 7:30 am
"Okay! Good morning! Chipper as a chipmunk! Let's do this thang!"
"Hello musicians. Hello Conductor. Hello Board of Directors. Hello board of Caterers. Hello coffee."
"Musicians in their places. Microphones placed and powered up."

8:15 am
Jerry (the Conductor): "Alright people, today we are going to record 18 pieces of music with overdubs in 5 hours. No it is not actually possible, but we will do it anyway. Let's get started."

"Open the first session file on the computer. Arm all tracks, and then…spinning rainbow wheel. From the other room, Jerry calls out: "Okay Noah, we're ready!!!" Holy…guacamole! Rainbow wheel continues to spin. I run out and ask Jerry to stall while I iron out a technical issue. His eyes glow red. Smoke billows from his nostrils. And then he turns around, smiles and shares an amusing anecdote with the musicians.

I restart the computer, kick the tires a few times, and get the old guy (which has since been replaced I may add) working. However, that rainbow wheel continued to haunt me like an evil clown-with every single mouse click-for the next four hours. I aged a few years that morning.

10:30 am
Lunchtime for the crowd. Overdub time for the engineer (me), conductor and several musicians who have been plucked away from their Caprese salad and/or Danishes. 

We are hitting a pretty good stride. After a rough start, Jerry and I are establishing a workflow and base of communication. The possibility of finishing all 18 tracks actually seems like it might be plausible.

We did it!!!! Hugs and High Fives all around.

After the initial orchestra tracks were layed down, we spent a couple of months doing overdubs with an incredible cast of vocalists and instrumentalists including Debbie Gravitte, Daniela Sikora, Sharon Cheng, Mara Bonde and more. One of the high points was recording the father/daughter vocal duo of William and Mattie Joyner.

After everything was recorded, it was time to mix. With the musical scores spread out on the desk, we worked through each piece, slashing, adding, enhancing, vibing, balancing and bringing out the best in each one. Jerry and I mixed the album over the course of about a dozen 5-6 hour sessions. Both of us felt very positive about the results, especially the wealth of amazing vocal performances. More high fives!

The project received the "Business Supports the Arts" award, and was picked up by other hospitals. The CD is not available for sale due to the restrictions some of the artists' recording label contracts, but the album can be obtained as a thank you for donating $100 to the RSO's community outreach fund. Here's their contact page.

If you would like to know more details about the technical or any aspects of this proect, comment below and I will happily respond. If you enjoyed this blogpost, please use the social media buttons to like and share.

Here are some photos from the sessions: