Jennifer Schillen leads the Mountlake Terrace High School Chamber Orchestra through a rehearsal before recording at Edmonds Community College. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Jennifer Schillen leads the Mountlake Terrace High School Chamber Orchestra through a rehearsal before recording at Edmonds Community College. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

The sound of perfection at Edmonds Community College

A new workshop puts a Mountlake Terrace High School orchestra in a recording studio.

EDMONDS — Quiet was key.

No rustling of sheet music. No warming up of instruments. No squeaking from adjusted music stands.

Nine microphones strategically placed around Edmonds Community College’s recording studio picked up every sound that Mountlake Terrace High School’s chamber orchestra made.

One misplaced note meant there would need to be another take.

The high school musicians on Dec. 12 recorded the first movement of Gustav Holst’s “St Paul’s Suite Op. 29, No. 2.” They made about a dozen takes in an afternoon session, until they got it just right.

They’ll get a 2-3 minute professional-level recording of “St Paul’s Suite” out of the workshop. New this year, EdCC offers a recording opportunity to local high school bands and orchestras. Called Edmonds Sessions, the clinic pairs high school musicians with the college’s music and audio production students.

“Most (music) clinics are focused on live performance. The right pitch, rhythm and tone,” said Nick Sibicky, director of the college’s Music and Audio Production Department. “(But) recording is about the sound. There’s a different set of expectations when listening to something on a CD. Every note needs to be tight and together.”

There’s a difference between performing on stage and in a studio: When performing in concert, the students don’t get to stop after a mistake and start the song from the top. They have to keep on playing.

Then in a studio, however, they are allowed to try over and over to play each measure perfectly. Each take can be strung together in post-production to make a seamless — and seemingly flawless — orchestral recording.

“When you go into a concert, you’re on stage in front of people, and if you mess up, that’s it,” said Emma Van Hooser, a junior who plays violin for Terrace. “But here you can record it and be like, ‘I messed up — can we do that again?’

“The process was really cool. I never knew it would take that much time and effort.”

Edmonds Community College music and audio production instructor Nick Sibicky makes an adjustment on the sound board as students Isaac Kone (center) and Steven Ly watch. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Edmonds Community College music and audio production instructor Nick Sibicky makes an adjustment on the sound board as students Isaac Kone (center) and Steven Ly watch. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

A violinist since the fourth grade, Emma took the workshop — and the need for precise sound — very seriously. Before recording, the 16-year-old said she chewed down some of her fingernails so they wouldn’t make so much noise when moving up and down the neck of her violin.

The 2½-hour session included instruction, directed rehearsal, recording time and a tour of the campus.

Associate faculty member Pamela Liu, who is also the Cascade Symphony Orchestra’s concertmaster, gave the students studio-recording tips beforehand. It also helped that they came prepared.

“It was really easy to just get them to listen to each other and be aware of the things that microphones would pick up,” Liu said.

After working with orchestra teacher Jennifer Schillen on playing notes that were crisp yet smooth and practicing so as not to hold notes longer than the music calls for, they were ready to record.

An audio engineering student adjusts sound levels while the orchestra plays. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

An audio engineering student adjusts sound levels while the orchestra plays. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

“I wanted to participate in this to introduce my students to the ‘recording industry’ as another form of artistic outlet,” Schillen said. “Often students ask what else they can do as a musician besides perform or become a music teacher. So this was something they could experience for themselves.

“We are looking forward to listening to the finished product.”

In the sound booth upstairs, four EdCC music and production students recorded each take with a digital audio workstation called Cubase. A computer application is used to arrange, mix and master audio files.

The college students, all of them aspiring sound engineers, will mix and master their own versions of Terrace’s “St Paul Suite.”

They’ll work to remove harsh frequencies, manipulate audio signals and otherwise fill the sound spectrum. The goal is a near-perfect recording.

One of the college students, Steven Ly, 21, was studying computer science until switching his major to music and audio production. He said the Edmonds Session was an invaluable learning experience for him.

Betty Gebretsadik (left) plays the cello during a recording session at Edmonds Community College. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Betty Gebretsadik (left) plays the cello during a recording session at Edmonds Community College. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

“At home, I don’t work with live musicians or set up microphones,” said Ly, who also is the sound engineer intern for the Edmonds Center for the Arts. “Having the experience to do it myself — rather than just reading it from a textbook or watching videos — was incredibly helpful.”

Sibicky said the workshop is designed to help his own students be better prepared to work on film and video game soundtracks later in their careers.

“If you want to go places, you have to do these kinds of things to get the skills,” Sibicky said.

Just before Christmas, Mountlake Terrace High School should receive their own mastered recording of “St Paul Suite.”

Sibicky called the workshop a win-win.

“There’s room for team building, experience and new skills,” he said of the high school students. “All of sudden, they’ll be much more bonded, much more confident.”

Evan Thompson: 425-339-3427; ethompson@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @ByEvanThompson.

Talk to us

More in Life

Low-cal craft beer becomes vital during the quarantine

Don’t reach for the Michelob Ultra Light just yet. We tasted 18 beers and picked the winners and losers.

Ask Dr. Paul: Adjusting to the new normal with COVID-19

Here are some tips to help you embrace and cope with our new way of living in a pandemic world.

Jump on the everything bagel bandwagon with this zesty salad

If Whole Foods is sold out of the seasoning mix, relax — you can make it yourself.

Need a fun weekend quarantine project? Try citrus marmalade

The preserves are as delicious spooned on toast as they are over grilled pork or chicken.

Rick Steves on Pompeii, Italy’s frozen-in-time Roman city

The volcanic ash that destroyed the city also ensured its remarkable preservation, down to the folds on victims’ togas.

Keep frozen bay scallops on hand for a sweet quarantine dinner

The dish can be ready to eat in less than 15 minutes — even including the time to defrost the shrimp.

Traveler wants full refund after virus halts flight to Vegas

Southwest Airlines agreed to a refund, but didn’t include the EarlyBird option that he paid for.

Local Girl Scouts adapt to the pandemic by scouting at home

The coronavirus isn’t stopping these Snohomish County girls from earning badges and awards.

2020 Nissan Altima is quiet, comfortable, and fuel efficient

One year after a complete redesign, more safety features have been added to lower-cost models in lineup.

Most Read