O Tannenbaum

This song was arranged by Felicia Teng, my awesome and talented sister, and performed and recorded by me. I’ve got some of her comments on the arrangement, followed by my own comments about the recording process.

Felicia’s comments on the arrangement

I kept this piece in F major, based off a little score of a four-part thing I’d found on Wikipedia. The form for this piece, as with many Christmas or folk songs, is simple. One verse that repeats: melody stays the same, while the words change.

I don’t like keeping things the same two or more times in a song. So… I had one voice start alone for the first verse with an occasional comment from another voice. The other voices join in more frequently, though clearly at the sidelines, and by the end of the first verse, most of the voices are in. Because I’d thought of using the first verse as an introduction, a prelude if you will, I put in a one-bar rest.

From the second verse onwards, the voices sing together. Here, the soprano 2s carry the melody, with the alto and tenors providing the harmony. The soprano 1s sing over the melody, though still keeping the melodic contour of the main melody. It got to pretty high at the end of the second verse, with the sop 1s on high F, and I decided to tide it over and start the final verse on a high note. The obvious alternative would be to start on a low note and build up the third verse that way but that had already been done twice. Under that high F, I snuck in some brief reharmonisation.

At the end of the song, I had the voices sing different notes in unison, because I wanted it to be harmonically rich as possible, and to be able to create a contrast when it all ends on the F.

Grace’s comments on the recording process

After doing a few Vox Singulae recordings, I’ve settled into a rhythm while recording. I study the score and practise singing each part to a reference track. Then, I decide which track to record first. In a professional environment, drums and bass usually go first, accompaniment and harmony next, and the melody lines get recorded last, after all the other tracks have already been laid down.

I’m far from being a professional, though. For the sake of my sanity, I often record the melody line first, the baseline next, and the harmony lines last. I try to record four tracks per line to create a fuller sound. In this case, the arrangement is for SSAT voices, so that makes for a total of four tracks per part x four parts = 16 tracks total.

Let’s say I’m recording the alto part. I’ll record onto Alto Track 1, and sing until I make a mistake. Then I stop, trim the mistake out, and move on to Alto Track 2. I’ll record until I make a mistake on Alto Track 2, and again I’ll stop, trim the mistake, and move on. After laying down the beginning of Alto Track 4, I’ll go back up to Alto Track 1, and pick up where I left off, singing until I make a mistake… and so on, until all four alto tracks are filled out. That’s how a 16-track recording can require 75 takes – and imagine, not a single one of those 75 takes is a “good” take all the way through!

This is an unconventional way to record, and it reflects the fact that Vox Singulae is about practice and process, not about product and perfection. Hopefully, over time, I’ll get better at singing a track all the way through without mistakes – but right now, I’m working with what I have and building on it.

Anyway, I hope you enjoy this little song we’ve put together. Merry Christmas.