Technical Notes about O Come, O Come, Emmanuel

This year’s Audio Christmas Card project was again recorded in Audacity.  Last year I took a little more time, but this year I had a strict 2-hour time limit for arranging, recording, and processing.

To save time, I arranged as I recorded, and I didn’t bother with any notation. The arrangement is pretty simple this time – simple solo first verse, duet with a drone for second, and fairly standard four-part third with a brief tag and pickerdy third at the end.

I began with the solo line for the first two verses.  Then I recorded and looped the oohs over verse two, followed by the second verse duet harmony.  Then I recorded the third verse, beginning with soprano, then bass, then alto and tenor.  I usually record the inner voices last because they anchor themselves on the soprano and bass notes.

I was not pleased with the stock Audacity reverb plugins, so I installed and applied Freeverb.  I wanted to apply some chorus effects during verse 3, but I wasn’t satisfied with the sound I got from the plugins I tried.  If any of you have a recommendation, I would love to hear it.

For a two-hour project, I thought the results were decent.  Obviously not studio-quality.  Hopefully Santa will bring me a Blue Spark Digital microphone for next year.  🙂

Merry Christmas!


Over the past week, I have received messages from several people who performed Resurrection Hymn this past Sunday for Easter.  I am grateful for your willingness to use my music.  It is humbling to have so many excellent musicians bringing my music to life, including my own Ward Choir.

Resurrection Hymn is available in vocal solo, SAB, SSA, and TBB arrangements.  The SATB version will be available soon.  Again, thank you all for making Resurrection Hymn one of the most performed pieces I’ve written.

Who cares if you listen? Me.

The musical landscape has changed dramatically over the past half century. In 1958, Milton Babbitt’s article known as “Who cares if you listen?” appeared. Among other things, he questioned the need for composition with an audience in mind.  With the possibility of technologically-assisted performance at very low cost, Babbitt reasoned that an audience might not be necessary in the future.

That future is here.  With the technologies available, it now seems common that composers make music without any regard for the audience. The modern art music scene is especially trending in this direction.

Maybe the problem is inherent in 21st century creativity. We constantly strive to be unique, to travel some previously undiscovered musical course.  Perhaps, some think, the universe’s pleasing combinations of notes have all been taken, and to be truly artistic, we need to use only the permutations which the old masters left alone.

Maybe it can be simply attributed to ego. The composer is simply so smart that the masses will never comprehend his work.  This elitism is common among theoreticians who also compose.

I hope that in the future, I will be seen as a composer who dabbled in music theory, rather than a theoretician who just happened to compose.  Natural composers allow their music to be governed by sound; they let their ears take the lead.  Theoreticians are often more concerned with process and procedure than product and purpose.

Please understand, I do not advocate a return to strict tonality or a stop to innovation.  I simply suggest that music must be written for a listener, even if that listener is only in the composer’s imagination while the piece is being written.  Music written exclusively for the composer’s pleasure is contrary to the nature of music.

Silent Night

My audio Christmas card this year is an arrangement of Silent Night.  I’ve been playing with Audacity recently in preparation for some projects I’d like to do with my students at the high school.  As part of that, I started working on a Christmas example.

Oddly, I’ve been listening to a lot of Steve Reich this year, so the Silent Night arrangement was a minimalist-inspired experiment.  Before the music geeks get on my case, this piece is not true minimalism or a phase piece, and it’s probably definitely not the way Steve Reich would have approached it at all.  Steve Reich is Steve Reich, and I have little interest in copying his style.  However, his idea that a piece may stay on the same chord for sustained periods without becoming boring intrigues me.

I used ostinatos to repeat and overlap.  You may notice that the ostinatos don’t always line up numerically – the bass line repeats on a 2-measure cycle, the brass motif is on a 6-measure cycle, and the high ah singing the “Silent Night” motif repeats every 8 measures.  One verse of Silent Night is 24 measures.  It’s just a fun little experiment for me, using a low-quality PC microphone.

As far as my process on this piece, I literally arranged by performing, as though using the computer as a simple loop machine.  I did clean up my loops a bit (balancing the two voices in the brasslike motif, for instance), but most of the sound loops remained minimally processed.  I did occasionally use a chorus plugin and the standard Audacity compressor and leveler.

Each new loop I sang was built on the previous ones, in the final order of the song.

Enjoy, comment, and have a merry Christmas!