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A Bridge Over You

by Lewisham & Greenwich NHS Trust Choir

Roaring to the UK’s Christmas number one slot on the back of its feel-good Youtube video and a magnanimous tweet from chart rival Justin Bieber, this mix features something of a depth-perspective role reversal. Although the choir takes the lead role, it nonetheless feels natural to balance the massed singers behind the band instruments, despite the normal commercial preference for up-front vocals. The choral timbre does get a little strident at times, and could perhaps have done with a few decibels less in the 3-4kHz range when the singers really let rip, such as on “side” at 0:37. I’m also suspicious that the choir tracks were tackled after the band instruments at mixdown, because it feels like too much of the vocal warmth has been dialled out with EQ to accommodate the piano’s opulent low-mid range. If you share my view that the choir, not the piano, should be the star here then it’s a shame those frequencies weren’t divvied up a bit more evenly.

A couple of other little question marks. Firstly, what’s going on when the altos sing their solo phrase “I will lay me down” at 1:12? Although the singing is located on the right-hand side of the stereo image, the preceding breath clearly emanates from the opposite side. The simplest explanation is that some of the women on the left of the choir only just remembered in time that they weren’t supposed to be singing that line, and breathed in without actually singing. Mind you, studio footage from the 2013 Christmas campaign video (featuring the very same song) does show one of the ladies on the left-hand side of the group singing that line, which suggests that technical gremlins might be responsible. Judging by the session pics on the choir’s Facebook page, it appears there was a main Decca Tree rig above the conductor’s head, supplemented by four spot mics spaced fairly evenly across the breadth of the ensemble. If a spot mic had been inadvertently panned in contradiction to the main rig’s stereo image, and had then been faded up just after the breath to rebalance the smaller vocal group against the instruments, that could also have produced such a ping-pong effect.

My other query is why a single male voice suddenly appears to poke out of the ensemble texture at 3:22, on “I will (ease your mind)”. It seems unlikely to be the result of a backroom fader move, as I’d not expect close mics like these (apparently positioned 6-8 feet away) to pull one voice so far out in front of its neighbours. Here’s my theory. The 2013 video also shows Musical Director Peter Mitchell enthusiastically mouthing the lyrics to encourage the singers. It’s actually quite tricky to do this silently in practice, and he certainly wouldn’t be the first choir conductor I’ve heard inadvertently singing along as a result. And the Decca Tree is right above his head, so he’s a lot closer to it than the choir are…