Iesu Faban - A Christmas Chorale - Singing in Welsh
Last time around, Mary told us how 'Iesu Faban' came about. She praised Morgan and Jessica for singing in Welsh and suggested it might have been challenging for them. Here, Jessica and first Morgan, talk about 'Iesu Faban' and those challenges.
I used to sing as a bass in the school choir but it has been many years since I've sung a real part, reading notes and holding rather long steady notes.
Mary had written some beautiful, very close harmonies (is that a Welsh stereotype?) that were quite intricate.
My process, since I had to record remotely in New York, was having the sheet music and lyrics open on one screen, recording into Logic on the other screen and following Mary's lead vocals by ear for pronunciation and phrasing.
It was certainly a challenge that, as a singer, I had not been presented with before but I'm super happy with the blend of our voices. The first time I heard the mix that Chris did I was almost in tears.
We've agreed to do a Skype session for next time so Mary can coach me properly so I don't mix up my Y's and my U's.
A few challenges there for Morgan, but what a great job he did. I asked Jessica a few questions about the process
CT: So Jess,you've told us in the past about your Welsh upbringing. How important was it for you that the Christmas chorale was in Welsh?
JLM: I'm proud to be able to sing in what feels like a native language. Although I can't understand it all, the sound of the words is very comforting to me. The language of my motherland.
CT: What were the challenges for you singing?
JLM: I've been brought up Welsh, no doubt about it, as I've said in another blog. But not as a Welsh speaker. The family used this as an opportunity to talk in front of me about things they didn't want me to hear, but now and again I could hear my name amongst the babble. It wasn't until I got to Cardiff Uni that I learnt Welsh properly. Then forgot most of it.
However, I have been taught a couple of Welsh songs by Mary, 'Dafydd y Garreg Wen' and 'Aderyn Pur'. Not to mention the beloved anthem too. So I was prepared for her exacting standards when it came to recording these carols. They had to make sense.
CT:the monitor mix you had was your vocal, the piano guide and Mary's vocal. How did you feel singing along with her?
JLM: I've got used to singing along with Mary over the years, so it feels like second nature to me. I can copy her phrasing easily, being related, and also I've done a lot of session work where you have to fit in perfectly. The Welsh was a bit special, because it's a family language.
CT: I found it hard to judge as you were singing whether you had got the mutations right, or pronounced vowel sounds properly, and I'm good with this stuff! Did this affect you much? Were you having to think about the note and then pronunciation?
JLM: Like Morgan, I went boss eyed simultaneously reading lyrics on one sheet (paper, old school) and music on another. I read from a copy of 'Y Caniedydd', Mary's hymn book.
CT: How would you make this easier in future?
JLM: What I should have done was to do all the humming first and get used to the melody before tackling the words, but like the impetuous soul I am I plunged headlong into both. Many of you will know the melody, the rocking carol, but it had managed to pass me by. And of course I wasn't singing the melody.
CT: how did the remote recording work for you? I know you're used to working like this with Mary and Morgan in particular, but did the language add a different dimension?
JLM: I think next time it would be good to have Mary coaching on the spot as we didn't get it all perfectly correct, and if you're so much as a vowel out it can alter the meaning! We might work together on Skype if we can't all be in the same room.
CT: Did choir building add a different dimension to the remote recording? It sounds pretty organic, but did you feel you were part of a sterile process with it?
JLM: I'm used to recording parts like this, especially backing vocals and choirs, so it felt fine to me. It would of course be lovely to sing in person with Morgan and Mary, but we'd still have to do some layering. Doing each part individually allows more chance of small fixes!
CT: Mary has hinted that there might be more to come. Can you shed any light on this?
JLM: We looked at an album's worth of songs but I don't think we have to stick to Christmas songs. There are a few other Welsh songs that I'd love to record this way with Mary and Morgan.
CT: Moving away from 'Iesu Faban'. Will we be seeing any new material from you soon? Do you think you might collaborate with Morgan and Mary on any of your own new material?
JLM: Of course, if they're willing! I am writing a new album and I'm sure there'll be some parts to request from them.
Jessica Morgan is head honcho at Mary Hopkin Music
Morgan Visconti is Managing Partner at Human Worldwide
Christian Thomas does production at Mary Hopkin Music