How do they do it?

Music moves us to dance, and allows us to cry. It opens the doors of our minds and hearts, preparing us for prayer and inviting us to worship. As each segment of our online service is carefully fitted together, we find the whole to be much more than the sum of the parts. How, in our physical isolation, are the musicians recording such great new music each week? Below, Laurie Kaufmann gives us a window into the process that is blessing so many people. It is a labor of love, where previously hidden parts of the body shine in this strange time. Whether you want to understand the mechanics, or prefer the mystery, I invite you to listen. As you share and respond, may we grow more connected as the body of Christ spread throughout the world. -Renée

I happened to be looking at an online news post from the U of Windsor on May 13th, the same day our pastor Renée had asked me to write a piece about our current online music production during the pandemic. A title in the post reading “Musical collaboration overcomes isolation” jumped out at me. The article noted “An ensemble of students, faculty, and alumni have demonstrated that isolation is no barrier to musical collaboration, producing a video of their group performance while all working separately from home.” Well, I thought, that’s basically what we musicians at NCF have been engaged in, though ours is an audio effort.  

Putting together worship music for online presentation has offered us a wonderful way to “virtually” connect with other musicians, our congregation, and anyone else who joins us online. Kevin Hamilton recently gave an NCF teaching, The Sound of Life in Common, where he presented the sounds of believers getting together for a meal in a common space and communing in this way. Likewise, our worship choir is attempting to create some of the joyful sounds of believers in community.

There are many singers and musicians who contribute. The regulars are Michael Linder (voice, percussion, bass, keyboard, and guitar), Mark Foley (voice, guitar), Matt Roeschley (voice, guitar), Suzanne D’Andria & family (voice + many instruments played by her gifted children), Asha McMullen (voice), Kennis Freedman (voice), Katie Lundell Courter (voice), Brian Mustain (voice), Jim Linder (piano, organ, wind controller), Barbara Linder (piano on hymns) and myself (voice, guitar, bass); we’ve also had a few nice “cameo” vocal contributions lately by Jeff Trask and Gladys Hunt. 

I interviewed Michael Linder, the professional audio engineer/mixer who is the hub of this effort, to discover how he puts it all together each week.

After connecting with that week’s teacher about the scriptures and topic, Barbara Linder finds and emails the lyric/chord sheets to all the musicians. Michael makes a rough draft version of each song with percussion, voice, and guitar or piano (sometimes with other musicians) and sends it to all of us. We import the file, record our vocals/harmonies/instruments with it, and send it back to him. I personally use GarageBand to record, and then convert the file to an MP3 format (first I have to edit out the background noises from my house; the cat meowing, my daughter playing a different song on the piano downstairs while I’m recording this one, the dishwasher sloshing, etc.) Some other singers also use the voice memo on their phones to record their voices.

Michael uses Pro Tools Digital Audio Workstation to mix the tracks. Once he receives the voice takes from the singers, he has to line up all the tracks carefully so they start at the same time. He then uses equalizing techniques on each voice—removing certain frequencies to create the best sound, attenuating or increasing other frequencies (I assume this highlights the strengths of the singers). Other mixing techniques include compression, adding reverb, and using pan for stereo effects. Next, Michael listens to all the voices/instruments together and for a fuller sound, adds up to 15 layers (yes, 15!) of his own voice on top, sometimes with harmonies (but if you listen you will notice how his voice layers complement, rather than overpower, the other singers.) More instrumentation is added if needed. Finally, the musical product is converted into an MP3 file for the NCF website, and into a wav. file to burn a CD for those who do not have access to the internet. Altogether, it’s about 13-17 hours of work for Michael, not including the time it takes for the other musicians to record. A nice feat!

Personally, I am noticing the absence of that deep feeling of connectedness to God and to others that I have had while in the physical presence of others playing/singing worship music. But while living in the void without the “together” experience that we are all longing for now, I am appreciating being able to engage in worship with others in this way. Hearing some of our voices combined and imagining all of us singing together and experiencing God’s presence has been a blessing, one that has brought tears to my eyes at times. I hope others are blessed as well by the sounds we offer each week in worship.  

Laurie Kaufmann
Service 5/17: “Success” and Freedom
Letter to the News-Gazette
Contact List to Connect
Order of Service 5/17
Bulletin 5/17

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