Psalm 115, Not unto us, O Lord, at Abbey Road

by | May 26, 2018 | Blog, News | 0 comments

Preparations before recording, Studio 1, May 15, 2018

Psalm 115, Not unto us, O Lord, is the longest song recorded in our project at Abbey Road on May 15th, with a duration of nearly 7 minutes. It was also the last song recorded for the day. The history of the development of this song is described in my blog post in September, Song Journeys, Psalm 115, Not unto us, O Lord.

Early in the song, the time signature changes from 3/4 to 6/8 and then back again to 3/4 before leading into a key change. The finale of the song is dramatic and very loud, the loudest of the three songs recorded May 15th. The side drum (tom) was recorded separately from the orchestra because its sound would have been too strong if it had been recorded simultaneously as in a live performance. Jan Johnston captured the LSO recording of this song on her iPhone from behind the glass of the control room window as shown below.

The London Voices were recorded later that evening. Co-directors of the London Voices, Ben Parry and Terry Edwards, were nearby in the studio and in the control room, assisting conductor Paul Ayres during the recording. The suggestions and directions given to the choir by these three men working together were invaluable in obtaining an absolutely brilliant performance. I had the privilege of sitting next to Edwards in the control room, and was fascinated with how he, Ben, and Paul directed and motivated the choir to give everything they had. Part of this process was captured by Jan’s iPhone as below…

Psalm 115 has special significance to me not only because the melodies are some of my favorites, but also because the text of this psalm emphasizes the sovereignty of God in the affairs of mankind, which includes the creation of music. When the melodies for this song arrived, I had considered some of the brief and seemingly less important melodic lines in this tune as optional. Over the years, I have become accustomed to editing out small things of original conceptions of songs that seemingly contribute little to the overall makeup. This is done primarily for the sake of efficient music production and simplicity when recording. Psalm 115 seems to be an exception to this for reasons I cannot explain. Paul Ayres, the arranger of the choir and orchestra parts, did a remarkable job of closely paralleling the original song conception (two examples described below).

The first example is the pattern of finger lift-offs I used on the guitar fretboard in the original home demo, as shown below…

 

Paul used this pattern to arrange a woodwinds representation as shown below (please note that the key was changed to better fit choir arrangement)…


 

 

The second example is something I like to refer to as the “Enya influence” (my late mother, Peggy, loved the music of Enya). During composition, there was a space of measures that did not contain lyrics. So, a separate melodic line was inserted as “filler” until the lyrics reappear in the song. I over-dubbed some “oohs” over this section, and the result reminded me of music by Enya as shown below…

 

I had assumed that this “filler” would either be cut or substituted with something else when the time came to have this song arranged for choir and orchestra. I was pleasantly surprised to see that Paul incorporated it beautifully into the arrangement as “filler” in the two places done in the original home demo. The second instance of this “filler” was more dramatic and lush with strings, woodwinds, and brass, as sections of the choir repeat the phrase “the children of men”. This serves as an effective intro to the “hushed” part of the song where the choir is backed up only by string basses, as shown below…

 

The ending of the song, as mentioned above, is very loud and “big”. During the mixing process, preventing the peaks from clipping was a challenge. There is nothing like hearing this song in the monitors of the control room at Abbey Road. Lewis Jones, the audio and mixing engineer for this song, did a remarkable job replicating the sound we heard in the control room in the final mix. My hope is that listeners will be blessed by what they hear, and that choir/orchestra groups will consider singing/performing this song for special occasions, as with during the holidays or perhaps at psalm festivals.

Whatever happens, I firmly believe that God is control of all things as the text of this psalm attests, and that His people will continue to praise Him gloriously.

Blessings,
David

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