The Making of “Spoken with Strings”
by Beth Dzwil
Today we released our debut album “Spoken with Strings” on the Spring Garden Records label which describes the album as “nine carefully chosen and artfully arranged selections from the contemporary pop canon as interpreted by the singular brilliance of players Rachel Segal (vn), Leah Kim (vn), Beth Dzwil (va) and Mimi Morris-Kim (vc).”
After 30 years of recording for others, making demos and recording live performances, how is it that this is our debut album? Why this and why now?
The seed for this project came from a music department meeting at the Community College of Philadelphia where I am an adjunct professor. Department chair, Paul Geissinger, spoke of the launch of the college’s new record label, Spring Garden Records. SGR was designed to give students in the Sound Recording and Music Technology program an opportunity to get hands-on experience in the recording industry. They were looking for artists in a variety of genres to record with the label. We could give them the kind of variety they were seeking, and they could take care of all those things we haven’t had the time, money or expertise for in the last 30 years. We are all passionate educators, as well as performers, so moving forward with this project was an easy decision for us.
We decided to record an album of pop music and to record in the chapel at Upper Dublin Lutheran Church in Ambler where we rehearse regularly. It was a comfortable space for us with a beautiful sound.
Recording is probably the most stressful work we do as musicians. There is so much focus on getting EVERYTHING PERFECT. We talked to Paul (who engineered the album) about how we did not want to edit the life out of our music in an attempt to achieve perfection. We wanted to be free of as much equipment in our faces as possible so that we could just play.
On the day of the first session, he set up two overhead mics and took a seat in the back of the room with two students and the rest of the equipment. We played. They stayed out of the way, making minimal comments, mostly when we asked for feedback. It was so relaxed and dare I say it…easy! We did at least two takes of each tune “just in case,” but the reality is Paul did very little editing. It’s pretty much a live album.
Listening to recordings of my playing can be painful. All I hear is what is wrong, and it takes several listenings to truly hear the beauty. When I received the files I braced myself for that first listen, but I didn’t need to. It was beautiful! The recordings had life! Paul did a stunning job of mixing and mastering them. Rachel, Mimi and Leah all had the same reaction.
About a month after delivering the recordings, Paul invited us to his Music Entrepreneurship class to speak with the students about our ensemble and the recording. They would have the option of choosing between three artists to develop a marketing plan for their album as a class assignment. Rachel and I attended, wondering how they would receive our take on these pop tunes. We listened to some of the tracks with them and smiled as we saw them gradually tap their feet, move to the music and even sing along to “Hey Ya.” One of the students remarked on how he could use some of our music in his DJ’ing – a use that had not occurred to us. We talked about how we didn’t yet have a title for the album. We were playing with things like “Without Words” and “Unspoken.” One of the students, a lyricist, gave us the title of “Spoken with Strings” – perfect! (Thank you Tegan!)
Rachel and I returned a few months later to view the presentations of three groups of students that had chosen our album for their marketing plan project. Their presentations and ideas were wonderful and included things that had never occurred to us – like a dance video contest!
Our time with the students was truly a highlight of this project. We were thrilled to give them an opportunity for hands-on learning, and as always when you teach, you learn. We are thankful to them for the ways they helped us to think outside of the box and to develop this album.