Recapturing the magic
The CU Symphony Orchestra continues to solidify itself as a go-to for crossover collaborations. After a sold-out concert with pop-folk duo the Indigo Girls in Spring 2016, this spring the College of Music’s premier ensemble again booked a gig with the Girls—this time to record a live album.
“The conversation started during last year’s concert,” says conductor Gary Lewis. “As we were standing backstage before the second half, I asked if they’d thought about recording a symphonic concert. They said, ‘Yeah, that would be fun.’ And then a few months later, their management contacted us.”
According to CU Presents Executive Director Joan Braun, who first booked the Indigo Girls—Amy Ray and Emily Saliers—for the 2015-16 Artist Series, this repeat visit was a direct result of the positive experience a year before.
“It wasn’t just about doing a symphonic recording,” Braun says. “It would have been a lot easier to do that with an orchestra nearer to where they’re based. There was something special and magical about the situation that night, between Gary and the students and the audience. They wanted to capture everything about that experience.”
It was a whirlwind on the night of April 5. Macky Auditorium was packed with Indigo Girls diehards, and after just one night of rehearsals, Lewis conducted his students in a collection of the group’s favorites.
For many of the students in the orchestra, this high-profile setting represented their first recording session. But it wasn’t Aaron Jensen’s first rodeo.
“I’ve recorded with the Chris Cameron blues band as an artist, and I was a recording engineer at a junior college when I lived in Utah. While I was there we recorded more than 180 sessions a year.”
Jensen, a trumpet master’s student, says he learned a lot about the unique process of recording with a large ensemble.
“With a live recording, you have to get the right take. We knew we couldn’t have huge mess-ups in this concert, so we had to start a few songs over” he says. “Fortunately, the audio engineer was there recording rehearsal the night before, so he’ll have some leeway with that material.”
At one point, the group took a second run at a song they had already recorded earlier in the concert. Jensen says the decision taught a valuable lesson for his peers.
“That one extra take can make the difference. You can overdub as much as you want, but sometimes you just have to do it again. That was probably fairly eye-opening for some of the students who hadn’t sat in on a recording session before.”
The outcome of the recording remains to be seen; the recording won’t be released until early 2018. Lewis says regardless of the final product, students can feel proud of their professionalism and talent.
“It gives our students the chance to develop a skill set that most university orchestras don’t get,” he says. “I’m the music director of a professional orchestra and I can tell you that being conversant with various pop, jazz and commercial styles is a skill that the 21st-century musician must have.”
From Jensen’s perspective, the more experiences like these students can have on their resumes, the better.
“I used to have a director who said that professional musicians have one rehearsal for 30 gigs, and collegiate musicians have 30 rehearsals for one gig. It was good for us to have that experience with a more real-life scenario.”