Lately, I have been thinking about one of my favorite memories recording a CD with my family. Maybe that’s because the story happened not too far from where I live now. And the CD involved Christmas tunes.
We were parked on the Southwest Baptist Church property in Oklahoma City in the fall of 1997, our bus and motor home squeezed in next to their activities building (a miniature gym). We had been privileged to sing at the September National Baptist Bible Fellowship meeting (now the Global Independent Baptist Fellowship) the first week we were parked at the church.
After the big meeting, we found ourselves with no meetings on the schedule for a couple of weeks. To fill our time productively, my older sister Sharon suggested that we record a Christmas CD. The rest of us –all five–promptly agreed. Sharon was resourceful and practical, so her ideas rarely met with resistance. She found a local recording studio and we practiced feverishly. From my recollection, the following story is as close to real life as I could get.
We felt considerably focused and prepared on our first day in the studio. We greeted our engineer and were led up a steep flight of stairs to studio B. Apparently, studio A was already booked…and obviously, we were not studio A material.
I remember several things about that recording studio: 1) It was small and 2) it was small. We crammed into the main “mixing” room that was not much bigger than an attic bedroom. Our engineer set up our microphones in two minuscule recording booths and we began recording.
Day one: We chose an a capella song first. Start with something easy…after all, how hard can it be to record vocals only?
If I remember correctly, we recorded in shifts. (Not sure if that was solely due to space.) My younger brother Matthew had difficulty standing up straight because the ceiling was so low. He solved the problem by simply tilting his head sideways so that his head, complete with headphones, would have enough room.
At one point, strains of music from studio A wafted up the stairs and through the walls. “Won’t you let the good Book make you good? Give it a try today!” a southern Gospel group sang over and over as they struggled to blend.
Concerned, my brother Jonathan questioned our engineer. “Won’t you be able to hear that on our recording? They’re kinda loud.”
“Oh, we shouldn’t be able to hear them,” our engineer replied. We stared at him askance. Clearly, he had hearing issues.
At one point, my sisters and I–Joanna and Monica–were singing a section of the song at one microphone. We had come to an impasse as we struggled to end with the other vocals. Our engineer decided of his own volition to help direct us at the ending. He came into our tiny recording booth and waved his arms around. Just as we sang the last word, he swooped his hand up in a flourish. Of course, with little head room, his hand hit the ceiling…and we promptly dissolved into giggles.
As we headed home that first day, we discussed the situation. Despite the mishaps so far, we decided we could probably stand the studio a while longer.
Day two: We came back the next morning, determined to move ahead with this project. As we prepped for another day in the recording studio, our engineer prepped his equipment. We began again to work on an a capella song. However, a mysterious hum pervaded the studio. The engineer was perplexed. We spent quite some time trying to figure out what was causing the “mystery hum,” to no avail. All I remember about that day was various siblings pounding on pieces of equipment and walls, searching for the source.
I also remember a “mysterious woman” giving our engineer backrubs. Not sure how she came to be in the picture nor why she was included in the action, but the intrigue continued to mount.
Day three: As we entered the studio on this day, we immediately noticed that a crucial part of our success was missing.
The microphone stands stood bereft, devoid of any microphones.
“Studio A had to use our mics,” our engineer explained.
“Do you have any other microphones we could use?” Jonathan asked.
“Oh, this is an easy fix,” he assured us. “We can just go to the store and rent some microphones.”
“Well, we could just bring in our own microphones,” Jonathan said. “We have our own P.A. system.”
At this point, we had had enough. After some discussion, our engineer graciously offered to take us to another studio in town. As we entered the much larger space, complete with a kitchen area and a lobby with a comfy couch, we breathed a sigh of relief. The actual recording booth had numerous microphone stands (with real microphones) and a real piano. Now we could get down to business.
Despite the Christmas bells that our new engineer added with abandon to one of the songs, the project turned out satisfactorily.
If you have an older copy of Tidings of Joy, please forgive the bangs, the flannel jumpers, and the huge brooches worn by my sisters and myself. And ignore the goofy smiles my brothers are boasting. (Thankfully, my brother Jonathan had the old CD cover changed. Whew.)
Please. Just burn that picture.
And thanks for letting me share one of my favorite Christmas memories with you.