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Recording Student’s Masterful Work On Virtual Evensong That’s A Hit On You Tube!

Published on: 25 Jun, 2020
Updated on: 2 Jul, 2020

University of Surrey music and sound recording student Alex James has digitally edited and produced a virtual evensong service, which features more than 250 singers and celebrities and has been posted on YouTube.

The Rodolfus Foundation Virtual Evensong was premiered on May 19, and features contributions from Stephen Fry, Alexander Armstrong and the Revd Richard Coles. The live stream was watched by just under 4,000 people and the video has since had more than 35,000 views.

Alex James at his computer working on the The Rodolfus Foundation Virtual Evensong.

Alex volunteered hundreds of hours to produce it for free from his living room at his home in Canterbury. Calling on the help of a friend, Matt Norriss, to do the video editing, they spent many hours on Zoom calls where they produced the videos via screen share and annotations.

Alex said: “At one point towards the end of the project, we pulled an all-nighter to finish every aspect of the final video off, and we were on the phone non-stop for nearly 27 hours.

“The whole thing has been a huge learning curve for me and I had to take on a lot of inter-personal skills when I was put in touch with the likes of Stephen Fry and the Reverend Richard Coles, as well as the hundreds of people taking part. I didn’t know how large this would become but it’s been an absolute pleasure working to unite so many people.”

University of Surrey music and sound recording student Alex James.

The virtual evensong project came about as Alex had joined the Rodolfus Choir in 2016. Ralph Allwood, the musical director of the Rodolfus Foundation – a charity dedicated to helping young singers – initially approached Alex to help them produce a single piece of music, having seen Alex in action during rehearsals for their recent new year’s concert.

The idea soon turned into an extensive project, with Ralph’s large network of cathedral organists, musical directors and singers spreading the word quickly around their communities.

Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the Rodolfus Foundation has not been able to run its annual choral courses, and has lost a huge portion of income. The virtual evensong was in association with Friends of Cathedral Music who are raising money for the Cathedral Choirs’ Emergency Fund.

They’ve helped to raise nearly £13,000 through public and private donations to help the Rodolfus Foundation, and an additional £9,000 to help the Cathedral Choirs’ Emergency Fund, which is now just over £800,000 off its £1 million target.

Alex added that the main organ playing within the virtual service was completed before lockdown, while the hundreds of singers added their vocals at a later date. In most cases they sang to a piano backing track, or unaccompanied, while being conducted by Ralph Allwood who filmed himself and emailed the clips to them.

For the technically minded, the recording software Alex used for the project was Apple’s Logic Pro. However, he is also a fan of the audio recording software Pyramix, which he says is great for classical music production.

Alex has since been recognised in a glowing review in The Telegraph by classical music critic, Ivan Hewett.

Alex attended The Kings School in Canterbury and started playing piano at the age of five. As he grew up he and his brother made music and Alex took up the drums and starting singing seriously at the age of 12.

He loves classical music and one of his A-levels was music technology. His talents earned him a place on the prestigious Tonmeister, BMus/BSc (Hons) Music and Sound Recording course. He is currently on a placement year at Chandos Records, and will be returning to the University of Surrey in September, for his final year.

Tonmeister programme director, Dr Russell Mason, from the University of Surrey, said: “The scale of the work that Alex has undertaken for this is so impressive. To co-ordinate nearly 1,000 submissions takes a great deal of organisation and is a great demonstration of what’s possible using the musical, technical and practical skills that students gain from the Tonmeister course at Surrey.”

Inside the studio control room at the University of Surrey used by its Tonmeister students.

The Tonmeister (the literal translation of the German word ‘tonmeister’ is ‘sound master’) course is both prestigious and unique in the UK.

It blends rigorous musical study, advanced investigation of audio engineering and mastery of sound-recording operation and practice The course is aimed at exceptional students (29 per course) who are primarily interested in engineering and music and who are pursuing a career in any area of the professional audio industry.

When he has completed his studies Alex said he would like to work for Colchester-based Chandos Records.

Ideally, he wishes to record classical music, in both sessions and live performances.

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