Eight students from the Kentlands-based Prichard Music Academy gathered at Omega Recording Studios in Rockville, a big-name studio on the recording industry scene, in early August. The brass and vocal students worked in two groups–Pritchard’s Powerhouse Brass and Vocal Ensemble, each warming up, conducting sound checks and then calming their jitters as the room became air tight and recording began. After a few takes, the students were welcomed into the sound booth for a preview.
“I felt as if I heard myself perfectly and clearly for the first time,” said Arantza MiroQuesada, a Quince Orchard High School freshman. “The professional microphones make the sound still brassy—as if it were live.” MiroQuesada plays the trumpet and has been at Pritchard Music since fifth grade.
“Seeing the look on our students’ faces when they hear themselves recorded for the first time is always a huge highlight for me,” said Becky Pritchard, who owns Pritchard Music Academy with her husband Joe. Pritchard explained that what students hear in the room sounds really dry, but when they enter the sound booth, “it is amazing because the engineers add reverb so it sounds more like they are playing in a large church-like room where the sounds all blend together.”
This summer, Pritchard Music Academy launched what Pritchard calls The Omega Project, a partnership with Omega Studios in which about 40 students recorded tracks on site about a dozen times in small groups. The relationship is mutually beneficial—Omega was looking for a musical genre other than hard rock for its advanced students to record, and Pritchard is always on the hunt for beneficial experiences for her students.
Having her students at Omega is an incredible treat, Pritchard said, because the studio has recorded work by performers like Prince and Radiohead, and have turned out producers such as Gimel “Young Guru” Keaton who went on to record songs by Jay Z, Beyoncé and Rihanna. “From the students to the coordinator up to the engineers, it has been an amazing experience. This studio has worked with such greats as Aretha Franklin, Jimi Hendrix, Elton John and The Beach Boys and now we get to work with them?” she said, adding that she sent out tweets at #ICantBelieveWeGetToDoThis during each recording session.
Zack Moore, a Richard Montgomery High School sophomore, said he taught himself to play the trombone in seventh grade so he could join the Herbert Hoover Middle School Jazz Band. Moore, now 15, was part of two recording sessions at Omega that he described as “a whole lot of fun.”
“I learned that getting the best recording requires many takes,” Moore said. “It was really cool when the recording students cut our recordings and put together the best recording of each section.”
George Casper, a 15-year-old Thomas S. Wootton High School student, played trombone in the August recording. “It was fun to work with other people and also to learn what it was like to record a piece professionally,” he said, noting that all the students and engineers were easy to work with.
Pritchard saw the students grow. “Hearing yourself on a recording is a great way to learn. Too often, you think you are playing this really musical passage in your head; then when you hear it played back, it does not sound at all like what you thought it would,” she said.
The students bonded through the experience, learning to deal with the anxiety of being in a professional recording space with equipment that picks up every missed note. “I watched them get settled in while the sound engineers set up their individual microphones and treat them like pros doing a sound check and then reminding them that during the recording you can’t move, bump your stand or talk because the mics pick up everything,” Pritchard said. “I have seen huge improvements in their confidence. They grow as musicians (and) because they are spending so much extra time together, they are becoming really good friends.”
As a result of the studio time, MiroQuesada, 14, saw changes in herself. “From this experience, I have learned to relax and that feeling nervous is just an unnecessary obstacle that needs to be overcome. After you have overcome that fear of messing up, everything goes perfect,” she said.
So far, Pritchard students have recorded songs including “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring,” “Silent Night,” “America the Beautiful” and “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Next summer at Omega, they plan to record a third CD.
For information about Pritchard Music Academy, visit http://pritchardmusic.com. For information about Omega Studios, visit www.omegastudios.com.