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Portrait of a Recording: Beethoven's Missa Solemnis
A Two-Part Feature

For Part One of the Feature, Click here

Peak Performance: The Nashville Symphony prepares to record in Ingram Hall.

Everyone not included in the session waited anxiously outside the door, eager to catch the first strains of magic emanating from the hall . .

At length we heard the glorious sounds of voices and instruments combining powerfully in tremendous chords. The sound grew and then ebbed. Those outside the hall listened carefully, trying to ascertain the progress of the sessions.

After what seemed a very short time, the music stopped. We froze and listened even more attentively-were they finished with the first take? The answer came when a wave of musicians poured out of the hall and converged in the lobby on the tables of food awaiting them. The transforming powers of Beethoven's genius revealed their full effect as those from whom heavenly sounds had been emanating only moments before appeared once again as normal beings, conversing, joking, and munching on snacks.

A great many members of the orchestra and chorus were gathered in the lobby, but several musicians had other ideas for ways to spend their breaks. Already having discovered the pre-performance secrets of the musicians, we set off in search of their methods for relaxing and re-focusing in between takes. The back hallway of the venue provided a wealth of insight, as well as trove of odd scenes. Several singers and instrumentalists were clumped outside of the control room, eagerly crowding around the door without getting too close, afraid to disturb the occupants inside. Close to the room, snatches of music could be heard occasionally as the engineer reviewed the previous hour's work and examined its quality. The eavesdropping audience struggled between the need for silence and the urge to comment on the performance.

Study Time: Chorus members examine their scores during a break.

Further down the hallway, there sat-or lay-or stood-well, there was a young woman turned upside down, resting essentially on her head. She chatted merrily with two friends, who sat (right side up) eating their dinners on a bench near by. When questioned about her curious position, the young lady-a viola player--responded that it let the blood flow to her head, helping her to recuperate after the previous take. "It helps me perk up!" she exclaimed.

Some of the musicians chose to remain onstage, or in the wings, standing guard near their instruments or working on forthcoming measures. Stage right, an odd gathering could be found: Wendy Fly (production manager and our trusty guide, as you may remember), horn player Beth Beeson, and chorus member Gay Hollins-Wiggins. According to Hollins-Wiggins, finding a chorus member "meandering among instrumentalists" was a rare feat, but the ladies seemed to be the best of friends.

We walked around to the lobby just as it was clearing out; the twenty minute break was almost over, so we peeked into the performance hall again to catch one last glimpse of the musicians before recording resumed. Once again, tuning, instrument-assembling, and individual rehearsing reigned as the primary activities, but the atmosphere had evolved from when we first arrived. The apprehension, the anxiety, the nervousness was almost entirely gone as everyone settled comfortably back into their roles. As the second hour of recording drew nigh, the milling crowd of artists became one body, ready to record a masterpiece.


Special thanks to Mark Blakeman, Rebeccca Davis, and Howard Hood for their assistance in providing information for this article.

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