Siyahamba-1st Installment

(If you are looking the other installments of this article, simply visit Siyahamba -Sao Paulo Installment 2 and Siyahamba – Cape Town-Installment 3)

hands1I’ve worked on a thousand musical projects in my lifetime. Some didn’t turn out so well – the result of myriad reasons. Most, gratefully, went well and we achieved what we set out to do. I’m always grateful for the high quality of professionals that I’ve had the opportunity to work with. They always make success possible.

Occasionally the outcome actually surpasses the dream. Yesterday I had such an experience.

Several months ago I was asked to produce a fascinating event for the annual meeting of a major international church. The concept, developed by executive producer, Norm Bleichman and me, was to go around the world and record various churches singing the beautiful South African hymn, “Siyahamba”.

(Watch the video we made… Siyahamba Project on YouTube)

Each location would sing a different verse or chorus and each would be sung to a track recorded in the style of music related to the culture.  The music would then be assembled with video and performed at the church’s annual meeting with the “whole world” singing together in one grand finale.

Siyahamb’ ekukhanyen kwenkhos

Translated from the original Zulu, it means, “We are marching in the light of God.”

Some of you may have seen the wonderful video that raced around the internet based on the song, “Stand By Me”. If you saw this, you’ll understand the concept and the possibilities for high inspiration. If you haven’t seen it, check this out.  It was the inspiration for the Siyahamba Project.

We put about half of the project together and performed a pilot for the board of directors of the church a couple of months ago and it went flawlessly – so flawlessly that at the end of the presentation there was such a deep sense of peace and promise that everyone just sat quietly for a long and sustained minute or two contemplating prayerfully what they had just seen.  By the end of day we had a “go” on the project.

In the studio I then produced and orchestrated an 8 minute pre-recorded track of the song which moved through the various styles of music – folk, small church Fender Rhodes piano arrangement, large church 4 manual pipe organ arrangement, African instrumentation and Bossa Nova. It would end with full symphonic orchestra as the moment moved back into the original church for the grand finale with 2000 attendees singing.

We decided to kick it off and end the entire piece with Julia Wade, the mega-church soloist, opening and closing and setting the theme singing in Zulu.  She would also conduct the 2000 attendees.

Laying the whole piece out in the studio was a massive undertaking. Keys and key changes had to be decided for 6 different congregations including children.  I decided to stay with one constant tempo throughout in order to maintain the groove of the song and build the musical tension rising to the climax. It turned out to be a good choice. I also had to write transitions between each style of music making things work seamlessly and imagining the time it would take to move from place to place through the video.

Usually the video is finished and then the composer scores his music against the video, but in this case, because the video would not be shot until we went around the world, I had to imagine the moments and the timings and then the video would be laid in against the music. So in this project, the music was to be the master, not the picture.

We also had to develop a portable recording studio that I could carry with me in two hands. For budgetary reasons it was decided that I would attempt this by myself without an assistant and that I would need to both teach and conduct the church congregations and be the recording engineer and producer of the sessions at the same time. This is normally about a 4-person job. I decided, with the help of the good Lord and technical consultant, Noel Flatt, I would try to do this all myself. So I set off with Mac laptop, 2 excellent AKG 414 mics, mic pre-amp, headphones and cables all in two shoulder bags.

We decided to try to record the congregations with live speakers playing the tracks and rented the speakers at each location. Normally, this is not the way to record. For isolation purposes, one always uses headphones, but how could we possibly carry 200-300 sets of headphones for the congregations? This was probably the most difficult technical challenge of the project, because we had to keep the musical track coming from the speakers down to the lowest of levels so that each congregation would barely hear the track to sing with and we could keep the speaker sound out of the mics in order to isolate the voices.  In the end result, it worked, but was extremely tricky in each location under constantly changing room acoustics.

Over the next couple of months I journeyed around the world recording six various churches – a Sunday school in Boston, a storefront church in San Juan Capistrano, California, a college youth organization in the Midwest, a church and African Township youth organization in Cape Town, South Africa, and a church in Sao Paulo, Brazil in South America. Besides each church’s designated verse or chorus I had them all also sing the finale  choruses so that all voices would sing together at the annual meeting in Boston.

While we were recording each church we also either hired a local videographer whom we trusted or my fellow producer, Norm Bleichman came along and shot the sessions himself. Norm handled the coordination of this huge effort meticulously along with editor, Morgan Anderson, and that took a tremendous load off my already overloaded shoulders.

When the recording was done I brought the entire project back into my studio in NYC and dumped it all in my computers from the laptop. I have never done a piece of music with more than 60 tracks and I have produced some huge projects with full orchestra and chorus. Siyahamba was 190 tracks and required 3 Mac computers totally maxed out to mix the project.

I then spent 3 weeks meticulously cleaning and balancing voices, choosing takes, editing and re-balancing the voices with the original music tracks. I went back and forth to Boston from New York several times just to hear my mixes in this huge 3 domed church.

What I heard in the studio was just not what I heard in the church – the reverb in the church playing havoc with my mixes. The bottom, the bass, the bass drum and timpani became mush in the domed rooms and I had to re-think the mixes over and over again also trying to imagine what the presence of 2000 people in the room would do to the sound and adjust for that as well.  In the end, we got it right.

In the end this 8-minute piece simply worked beyond expectation. I, along with my buddy Norm and many others, had poured 4 months into this unforgettable project, traveled around the world to 3 different continents, and met thousands of wonderful people who shared the same love and commitment for their church that unified us all. Then, for one incredible 8 minute stretch, we all sang together and loved one another.

Julia kicked it all off flawlessly setting the theme and then taking us into the journey. Our musical trip around the world elicited constant joy, appreciation for our fellow man, laughter and quite a few tears as we journeyed from place to place. Then it came time for the 2000 to sing. In an explosion of energy the entire congregation jumped to its feet and joined the world in song. The moment was one I shall never forget.

As I stood in the back of the church directing Tim Malone, the sound man, and the voices rose up together, I leaned back against the wall of the church and thought, “It worked.”

During the final singing of the finale I walked down one of the aisles and turned back and faced the congregation and watched the tears stream and the people hug and the voices unite. They blew the roof off that old church. And then Julia closed it down in quiet reverence to a silent prayer.

In that silent prayer, I stood and thanked God for this moment, for the gift of this idea, for the loving input of so many people. I thanked God that our dreams were realized. And I thanked God for the unifying spirit of people, the oneness of mankind, the love of these people for their church, for the goodness of all involved.

Technically, through the care and hard work of hundreds, we were flawless.  How could it be otherwise with such an endeavor? Spiritually we went beyond the dream, beyond the imagination. The unifying effort of all took us there.

**If you’d like to watch the production of the Siyahamba Project on YouTube, please click on the link.

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24 Responses to “Siyahamba-1st Installment”

  1. David Says:

    This was a big risk as well as a big project for the church. I have been aching for years to see the church do something with greater richness on the musical side of things. I am happy to see that their trust in you, Julia, and the other talent they have brought on board has been well justified. I really do appreciate the new music you have created for the solos as well as the lush and fresh arrangements for the video track. I had e-mailed you at your Watchfire website that I was rather partial to didgeridoo music and tibetan chanting. You caught my ear right away with what sounded to me like a combination of those sounds at the very beginning of the hymn sing session which is archived on the church website.

  2. Peter Link Says:

    It’s really been Julia Wade, soloist, who has spearheaded this quantum change in music. She has worked tirelessly to bring music into the 21st century. I’ve just been the man behind the curtain.

  3. Olivia Says:

    This explains why we heard from you at church on Sundays and Wednesdays only sporadically the past few months, Peter!

    I only barely comprehended the scope and intensity of this project when I first heard that you would be undertaking it.

    Even when listening to the final results at that annual meeting last Monday afternoon, I still didn’t really “get” what you had gone through to produce such an incredibly inspiring, breathtaking, glorious eight minutes of joy.

    Now, thanks to your blog’s blow-by-blow account, I fully “get” it. Now I know why, when watching the song unfold from church to church around the world from my computer monitor at home, my hands couldn’t help clapping, my eyes couldn’t help watering, my lips couldn’t help smiling, and my mouth couldn’t help praising God for His goodness. Truly, “marching in the light of God” displays what the oneness of universal Love looks like, sounds like, feels like, and IS.

    OK, I’m off to listen again (by clicking the replay button on the church website). This time around I’ll be closing my eyes to better appreciate how you and the other participants — from Julia and Norm and Morgan and Tim to the worldwide instrumentalists and singers — achieved this miraculous, majestic masterpiece.

    Thanks, Peter, for letting yourself be used so splendidly by God. All praise goes to Him — and Her!

  4. Peter Link Says:

    Well, I was always in church — just attending churches across the world. Traveling around the world and meeting all these people was one of the great experiences of a lifetime. The places were beautiful, bot the best part was the people.

  5. David Says:

    Bravo!!! Encore!!!! with maybe an easier demand on the mix side this time around.

  6. Tim Says:

    What an amazingly beautiful work of art! Thank you for giving us the privilege of being part of it. I was in the Elsah group and was most humble to get to sing for the Annual Meeting. (And I loved the dancing/moving part of the song also!) I am a Christian Science nurse and I’m singing it to my patients and they’re loving it. Music expresses Life and there’s certainly plenty in your inspired production. To each of you who poured your heart and soul into a truly moving piece, Thank you!

  7. alex cook Says:

    i can testify to the power of this piece!

    i was in the congregation of 2000 in the church and was one of the folks with tears on my cheeks. it was very moving and really expressed a feeling of unity and closeness. god is good!

  8. Deborah Offenhauser Says:

    Fab-u-LO-so! Because you did such a dynamite job, I know they’re going to “raise the bar” for next year’s gathering. I can hardly wait!

  9. Joanna Branvold Says:

    I watched the Annual Meeting at the Reading Room in Eugene, Oregon. I was waiting for Julia’s special solo, and at first was surprised to hear what was coming. Wow! What a wonderful, loving, world-wide encompassing experience to hear all those congregations singing “Siyahamba” together with such great feeling, reverence and enthusiasm. Then, the finale! Another wow………..everyone in the church rising and singing with more gusto than we’ve heard in church for a long time! We were all thrilled beyond measure, and felt so enriched by the truly special meeting itself, and by the magical, unifying finale. Thank you, Peter, Julia, and all your assistants for bringing us this joyous experience!

  10. Peter Link Says:

    Your thoughts are deeply appreciated. So many people have written in with much the same response. Nice to know that you didn’t have to be in the church in Boston to fully get the experience. That’s the power of music and video — and, of course, Spirit.

  11. Doug Hart Says:

    Thank you Peter and crew! I was in NYC when you filmed on that bitter cold day, even though I live in Washington State. When we finished singing in First Church NYC I knew this was going to be great, but had no idea of the magnitude. I was also present in Boston to join in with the other 2000 inspired members. It was an incredile moment. I have replayed several times on the web-cast; showed it to my sister(who is not interested in CS) and she said “it’s about time you guys updated your music”. She was very moved. Thanks again and again!

  12. Peter Link Says:

    Glad you were there for both the beginning and the end. It was an experience I shall never forget.

  13. Norm Says:

    Amen, Pete. This whole collaboration with you was a joy. What will always be most memorable to me about this adventure was not just the PRODUCT—which I agree is extraordinary—but the PROCESS. The travel schedules, logistical details, and tech support on three continents – to say nothing of endless creative decisions – had the potential to make us crazy. But that never happened. How perfect that producing something which symbolizes the harmony and unity of a worldwide church actually was ITSELF harmonious and unifying.
    Can’t wait to see where we go from here.

  14. Peter Link Says:

    Where we go from here is hopefully a revitalization of music in the church. For me the PROCESS has always been the best part of the artful/spiritual experience — the writing and the making of a song is the joy of the experience. If I could just finish the song, throw it over my shoulder and start the next, I’d be the happiest, but for years I had too many songs piled up on shelves and stacked in the corner. I woke up to this finally and created (with a host of others) Watchfire Music.

    BTW, check out Syahamba / Norm Bleichman / Installment 4.

  15. Singing Siyahamba with the World « Inspiratus: Julia Wade's Blog Says:

    [...] you want to learn more about the making of this beautiful video, click here. Possibly related posts: (automatically generated)Going Up the Charts on Youtube!YouTube Project: [...]

  16. Siyahamba – Cape Town Installment 3 | Sparks from the Fire Says:

    [...] you missed the other installments of this article, simply visit Siyahamba -1st Installment and Siyahamba – Saul Pao-Installment [...]

  17. Siyahamba – Sao Paulo Installment 2 | Sparks from the Fire Says:

    [...] from the Fire « Siyahamba-1st Installment Siyahamba – Cape Town Installment 3 [...]

  18. Lu Says:

    I don’t know what to say! I’m just sitting at my desk with tears running down my cheeks! What a beautiful labor of Love.

  19. Joe Says:

    What a great story and a great result. I knew when I watched Annual Meeting 2009 live in our Reading Room that Siyahamba was a very special event. Now I know just HOW special. Thank you. And thanks also to Julia for her dedicated work. Music is a key which opens our doors to many. Making it alive and vibrant is very consistent with how Mrs. Eddy viewed the importance of music. THANK YOU over and over.

  20. Peter Link Says:

    Joe, you are so right about music opening doors. The right kind of music can just open thought to inspiration. I’m inspired by some form of music every day and don’t know how I could live my life without it. The other day I saw the movie Wall-E for the second time and loved it once more. At the end of the movie they play a Peter Gabriel song called Down To Earth. I got so inspired by the song that I had a glimpse of my entire next CD during the song. I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it since. For me, it opened up that door of creativity at a moment where I was completely unaware of what was happening all from a man I don’t know and a song I was completely unfamiliar with. Another very special moment.

  21. Ruth Says:

    I’m going to keep this on my computer and listen and enjoy it every day!!
    This is what the whole world needs to hear and really take to heart! Thanks to all who gave us all such inspiration!!

  22. Anne Taylor Says:

    Thanks for this great work of love. I’m going to share it with my Interfaith group and treasure it for a long time. Thanks so much for a job very well done!!

  23. Bill Simon Says:

    Peter, Thank you to you and Julie and all those who were involved. Your effort has helped folks see that C.S, is not just a U.S. activity but that It’s message contniues to go out to the world. If folks would read in First Church and Misc. the section “As Chronicled by the Newspapers,” they would be more aware that at that time C.S. was going out into the world. You-all have helped to bring this message to thought again. Nice to be able to say ” we knew them when.” Bill Simon

  24. Elisa Richmeier Says:

    Great info, thanks for the post!

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