A sunny day in summer!

It’s been a strangely rainy summer thus far. Rainy and on the cool side; my lettuce is happy, but the tomatoes have yet to feel any desire to turn red. Today, however, my return to the studio was heralded by a gloriously warm and sunny day. Mmmmmm.

Last time I talked about how discouraged I was when I left the studio after recording “He Shall Feed His Flock.” And yet the more I listened to it in the following week or so, the more I liked it. In fact, I think I may have played more expressively and cleanly on this piece than on anything else I’ve recorded thus far. Maybe it’s my version of end-of-recording-session syndrome — getting more and more into it, more perfectionistic with each new piece over the four-day session.

Anyway, I decided what “Flock” needs is Tom Abernethy’s classical guitar. Tom, Carolyn Huff, and I used to play together as the WoodSong trio in Richmond VA; you can hear us in “Carolan’s Draught / Sleepers Awake” on No Loose Threads. So Matt will transfer the dulcimer tracks from Wilburland to Outback Studio, where Henry Smith will record Tom’s new part and transfer the results back up here. Yesterday, Tom played the part for me over the phone; it’s going to be wonderful.

Today’s studio session started with tuning. Truly awful: three and a half hours. After talking with Bob Wey at the Cranberry Dulcimer Gathering this past weekend, I’m going to look for a strobe tuner and try a gooseneck wrench, and see if those tools help me tune more efficiently. Anyone got a used strobe lying around? Or one of Peterson’s Virtual Strobe tuners?

After lunch, we started on the first piece of the day, “Gesù Bambino.” For the most part, this went fine. (After that grueling tuning session, recording felt like cake. See? I knew there was an advantage to being terrible at tuning.)

The main issues were a tough vertical passage on the bass bridge, some timing difficulties where two parts come in simultaneously after a pause, and a tuning problem. The high A – D course on my treble bridge is nearly impossible to get perfectly in tune. Fortunately, there’s a duplicate of that A on the right side of the treble bridge, and I managed to adjust my hammering to use that A instead. At some point I’ll add psaltery and recorder to the “O come let us adore him” parts in the intro and end.

The rest of the day we worked on “Come Thou Long-Expected Jesus / Planxty Irwin.” As an interesting variation, each time I come back to the beginning of the tune, I start it at the same time as the last note of the previous time. Another interesting variation is that I got through the really hard part in just a few takes, but had a really hard time recording the easy part. Odd. Then again, I’d practiced the hard part more.

It was also interesting to make final hammer choices. I have five pairs of hammers, ranging from a very soft and mellow pair wrapped with yarn, through various leathers, to bright bare woods. Sometimes it’s pretty clear which hammer will be best for a particular part, but sometimes it’s necessary to experiment with several, listen to each, and then choose.

Overall, except for the first three and a half hours, I enjoyed today’s session. I felt more settled in the rhythm of the recording process, with a better idea of when to edit, when to just go for another take, etc. Maybe next time I’ll remember to turn on the volume of all the tracks in the headphones… at one point today I recorded a section without being able to hear it, because that track’s volume was off. Even so, I think we actually used part of that take.

Tomorrow? Finish “Long-Expected,” do “Christ Child Lullaby,” and maybe “Three Ships Medley.” I got to workshop the last one at the Cranberry Dulcimer Gathering in Bob Wey’s class on “Playing With Your Blocks.” So the last few days I’ve been experimenting with different ways to implement suggestions from Bob, other students in that class, and Marya Katz of Blacksburg VA’s Simple Gifts.