Back in February, at our first brainstorming meeting, we decided that we wanted this Christmas album to have a “classic, down-home vibe.” And even though all of our worship leaders come from different backgrounds and Christmas traditions, there were a few elements that stood out as having that classic Christmas sound. One of those elements was strings.
I was VERY excited at the chance to be able to write string parts for this project! As the songs began to take shape, we would decide where we wanted the strings to come in, and what sort of phrases they should play. My job was to get those ideas on paper, and flesh them out for a full string section to play. So all summer long, while Christmas was far from everyone’s mind, I got into the Yule-tide spirit and started writing string parts.
Getting started is always the hardest part whenever I write music. Seeing an empty page can get overwhelming, but once I get a few notes down, the song sort of finishes itself. One of the best things about working on our team is that we can all bounce ideas off of each other. Every now and then, I would show bits and pieces of what I’d written to our other worship leaders, allowing me to get direct feedback during the writing process.
Finding the Ensemble
The entire string arranging process was a leap of faith, because although the parts were written, we didn’t actually have the string players to play them. I searched online for professional recording ensembles that we could collaborate with to bring this music to life. Most of them cost an arm and a leg. One of them actually seemed reasonable…until I found out that they were actually located in Europe! I contacted a friend who has had extensive experience in arranging and recording, and he recommended a guy by the name of David Davidson.
David is a professional violinist who lives in Nashville, and he records out of a small studio that he built in his backyard. His studio fits up to 10 players. David is the nicest guy, and you would never guess that him and his network of talented musicians have recorded over 30,000 songs. I was blown away when I discovered some of the artists he’s worked with: MercyMe, Michael W. Smith, Jason Mraz, Backstreet Boys, Amy Grant, and the list goes on!
So in early August, I was off to Nashville! With a folder full of sheet music and a hard drive in tow, I flew to the Music City. Funny story: during my layover in Atlanta, I realized that I actually left the music for “The First Noel” on the copier at church. So my first stop in Nashville was a FedEx Office where I was able to print out the missing music. Thank you, FedEx Office!
Christian Ramos and Winner Olmann were able to join me for the recording session. We drove to David Davidson’s house, walked around to the studio entrance, and introduced ourselves. For this project, David had assembled a 9-member ensemble: 5 violins, 2 violas, and 2 cellos. These were some of the nicest musicians I’ve ever met! You could tell that they were “at home” in the studio and that this wasn’t their first rodeo (remember, over 30,000 songs!). After a quick sound check, we recorded “The First Noel.” Winner, Christian, and I will never forget how we felt when they first played that glorious opening phrase!
A fun thing about studio musicians is that they are able to play the music without any rehearsal (this is called sight-reading). They played every song, every difficult passage, with utmost precision and expressiveness. It was unreal!
God is so good, and I still can’t believe I was able to have this incredible opportunity! It’s great looking back on all the things that the Lord has done through this journey, from our first meetings in February to the recording process this summer. I can’t wait to share this music with everyone! I hope these string parts make you smile, and give you that warm, classic Christmas feeling.