Monday, July 24, 2017

Searching for Perfection - Cantate Domino and bittersweet memories

St. Barnabas church, Ottawa

We needed the perfect sound.

We needed a church in the Ottawa area in which to record our newest CD.  We needed a room with a depth, resonance, and the natural acoustics to satisfy our director’s vision for the perfect sacred choral sound.

We decided on St. Barnabas Anglican church, where we’d performed a concert of spring madrigals.  We booked it six months in advance.  Perfect.

unloading equipment in pouring rain

Rain plagued the first recording session with Jay Fee from Conduction Mastering - Wednesday evening, May 9th, 2012.  There was no choice but to set the sound equipment up and wait, listening to the steady patter turn into a resounding watery drone that echoed through the church.  Less than two hours in, after many false starts while monitoring cellphone weather apps, we all went home --  to reconvene the following Saturday.

At the same time, roadwork turned James Street into a crucial detour.  Don’t get me wrong, St. Barnabas is renowned for its natural soundproofing, along with a preternaturally gorgeous set of acoustics.  Perfection.

Not quite.

Even the three-bricks-thick walls could not filter the steady traffic, and we painstakingly recorded around the beeping and backfires.

Keith and René wait for the rain and traffic noise to stop

For our last session, the evening of Saturday, June 2nd, a huge construction crane actually BROKE just before we began, and blessed us with hours of silence.
Finally, getting some tracks down!

Silence, counterpointed with our voices and marked by sound engineer Jay’s “thumbs-up” -- as take after take was a keeper – perfect timing.

Jay from Conduction Mastering records all Stairwell Caroller CDs

Through the hours rehearsing, and the hours recording, everyone was patient and focused on the task.

The recording ordeal forged a strong bond between many of us.  Our small chamber choir of twenty-six felt a comforting sense of intimacy and comradeship.  We could do anything, as long as we were together.

For a session by session breakdown of Cantate Domino - from Recording to CD :

We looked eagerly forward to Sunday, June 24th, 2012 - a performance at Festivale Mondial in Laval, Quebec.  The show was a joy, and the audience was warm and appreciative of the sacred repertoire Pete had chosen in anticipation of our upcoming CD release – a perfect moment.
Stairwell Carollers at Festivale Mondial

Our celebratory mood was not to last.

The very next day, June 25th, 2012, Paul Churchill - one of our beloved tenors - passed away suddenly.  Well known in the Ottawa choral scene, Paul was also a tireless volunteer at his children’s schools and with the Nepean Hockey association.  He never got to see this effort come to fruition – to hear his own voice blended with ours, or hold the finished CD in his hands.

The shock of his passing has eclipsed our recent accomplishments; the memories of those rainy, traffic-noise-punctuated recording sessions are now precious and bittersweet.
Paul was a wonderful person and very funny
At our yearly auditions, in the last weeks of August, I greet applicants at the church door.  This year we need tenors and basses.  This year, a new tenor will again stand in Paul Churchill’s spot -- in the back row, to my left.  Close enough – to overhear Paul’s perfectly wry comments.

Close enough -- to make me smile.

Holly Massie, alto (originally published in Dynamic - a Choirs Ontario publication)
Cantate Domino CD cover

Cantate Domino is dedicated to the memory of Paul Churchill, Tenor, whose voice and heart will be forever remembered.

Net proceeds benefit local charities and the annual Stairwell Carollers Scholarship.

Cantate Domino, recorded live in six sessions – a total of 27 hours -- at St. Barnabas church, Ottawa, is available at in both CD and Mp3 fomats.

For an audition, email We are looking for tenors and basses for Fall 2017.


  1. Sweet memories. thanks.

  2. Lovely Holly, thanks for the memories, and also the reminder of our collective loss when Paul died so soon afterwards.


You can also email your questions to me - info (at) stairwellcarollers (dot) com.
Holly :)

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