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Violist Helen Callus on Preparing for an Album Recording

British violist Helen Callus talks us through the trials and tribulations of recording an album

Think about your favorite recording and what you love most about it. Do you ever wonder about the "behind the scenes" in creating it? What are the preparations, both physically and mentally, that an artist does to ready themselves for the big day of recording?

Bienen School of Music Viola Professor, Helen Callus shares her expert advice on the topic.


Helen Callus

Violist Helen Callus talks about how she prepares herself for recording a new album


Preparing for a recording is like preparing for a marathon. Not only are you responsible for every aspect of the process administratively (actually getting a recording company to jump off the cliff with you, finding the artists and engineer, the venue, hiring of special instruments, travel arrangements etc. etc.) you are up at dawn to practice and late to sleep worrying about everything else.

No matter how exhausting the process is (not to mention the discomfort of standing up for hours on end in the sessions themselves – my feet are always killing me on the last day although I don’t wear shoes anymore when I am recording), I absolutely love it and am so grateful for the experience which I believe has made me a better player and (hopefully) a useful educator.

When I talk to people about making a recording I think there is a disconnect between seeing the final product which seems so shiny and polished, and all the effort it takes to get there.

Recordings sessions are not, contrary to belief, opportunities to come unprepared and record a phrase over and over until you have it just right – there is no time for such luxuries.

A CD typically takes three days to record with a six-hour session each day. The schedule must be followed in order to stay on track and be completed when the venue reservation is up and the artists need to go home. If you are making a concerto recording, then you must have all the concertos in your fingers, well thought out and prepared as if to perform.

That said, in normal life, we don’t ‘'perform’' for six hours straight. At most a recital is 90 minutes and a concerto 20-30 minutes long!

Recording takes a different kind of energy so that you can keep all your ideas in your mind from take to take for consistency (your producer is your trusted companion in that journey) and to play at your very best physically because that '‘take’' might be the one where everything was captured as everyone might like it.

Preparation really is the key. To be completely focused you should go over the repertoire you are recording before the session starts and once a session is over, begin working on the repertoire for tomorrow’s session.

When I was recording a double disc set, we had only the same three 6 hour sessions for a single disc so to prepare I performed the works in 30 concerts before we got into the studio.

If you are working with a harpsichord, you have to understand that it has to be tuned in every break and the natural flow of performing can feel disrupted.

However there are times when no amount of thinking ahead prepares you for a jumbo jet flying overhead because the venue lies on the flight path to Heathrow, or for a thunder and lightening storm that is not only noisy but blows out the electricity in the church, or for a gardener to come out with his weed whacker just as you get to that sentimental moment in the slow movement.

It might sound far fetched but I have encountered each one of these unexpected moments where recording was halted by the red light going off and the orchestra groaning once again….

If you want the best of yourself on a recording you have to bring the very best of yourself to the sessions and sometimes that might just mean treating yourself to a professional foot massage every night.




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Helen Callus, hailed as “one of the world’s greatest violists” (American Record Guide), “a violist of the highest caliber” (Strings magazine), and “one of the foremost violists of her generation” (Fanfare magazine), continues to captivate audiences with her lyrical tone, technical command, and profound artistry. Sought after as a recitalist, chamber musician, and concerto soloist, Ms. Callus has performed with such world-class ensembles as the Tokyo and Juilliard String Quartets and the BBC Concert Orchestra. She is described by The Seattle Times as “a player with impeccable sensibilities and a beautiful sound, infinitely malleable into all kinds of musical subtleties.” The American Record Guide observed that “her playing is so deeply felt [that] the music’s message goes straight to the heart.”

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