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.”
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.
“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.
“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; firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @ByEvanThompson.