Kevin McCormick (www.kevin-mccormick.com
) is a classical guitarist, composer, and teacher
based in Texas who has released several albums over the past twenty years. His new album, In Dulci Jubilo: Songs of Christmas for Guitar and Voice,
the vocals of his teenage daughter, Rachel, released today, on the
Feast of St. Cecilia. It is a collection of fourteen songs for Advent
and Christmas, including “In Dulci Jubilo”, “Ave Maria”, and “Panis Angelicus”. He recently responded to some questions I sent to him about the new album.
those who aren’t familiar with your work, what is your musical
background: where did you study, what have you recorded, and what do you
do as a full-time musician? What about your daughter, Rachel?
My mother was a music teacher and choral director and so music was a
large piece of the fabric of our family. My older brother played piano
and my younger brother played drums. I’ve played guitar for nearly as
far back as I can remember. I started when I was seven and studied
privately for many years. And yes, I’m not ashamed to say we were a
band. We spent most of our time writing our own music. By high school
though we were playing cover tunes at clubs and other gigs and generally
enjoying it all. I continued with a band at Notre Dame, but while there
I also rediscovered classical guitar and classical music in general.
During a year abroad in Rome I studied at a guitar conservatory with a
student of Andres Segovia. I realized how much I loved the sound and
repertoire of the instrument and so I pursued it on and off for the next
A stint in Japan allowed more of the rock thing and club
playing but also the study of Japanese music. Along the way I began to
take composition more seriously. When my wife and I returned to the
States I studied guitar and composition at Indiana University’s School
of Music. Eventually we wound up in central Texas where I was trading
time between writing serious post-rock song cycles, writing for my own
ensemble in Austin (which once again included my brother on drums), and
composing classically. The song cycles became my first two recordings [With The Coming of Evening and Squall].
In fact, they are part of a tryptic that awaits completion.
Stylistically they spring from many styles including jazz, east asian,
film music. I was heavily influenced by the work of Mark Hollis during
that time with my own foundation as a classical player was woven in as
But you never know what God has in store. I ended up
establishing a teaching studio in our small Texas town and playing
classical gigs in the area. That lead to my three solo guitar
recordings: Solo Guitar (an introduction to classical guitar), Americas (music of Latin America and some original compositions), and Songs of the Martin
(collection of songs performed on a 1846 Martin Guitar). My daughter
Rachel definitely inherited a love for music. She has been singing ever
since she could make sound. She has cantored at church since she was ten
and has sung in stage musicals at our local theater. She has sung with
our church choir and her school choir for nearly ten years. She has done
some private study, but really she just seems to have been blessed with
the voice and the spirit for singing. Some of my fondest memories of
her singing have nothing to do with a stage. She sings all the time.
CWR: Why did you decide to produce a Christmas album? What do you hope people will hear and experience when listening to the album?
Every year around this time I would get asked to do a Christmas
recording and I would always hesitate because I have no desire to make a
recording just for the sake of it. There are many amazing performances
already out there (in addition to all the fodder) that I was simply not
interested in adding to it without a real sense of purpose. Some of our
local banks put on community performances around Christmas time and
Rachel began coming along when I played for themat first just to watch
and then to sing a song or two. By the time she was thirteen we had a
whole set we were doing.
Hearing Rachel’s voice maturing so
beautifully, especially when cantoring, I realized that we had a unique
opportunity to collaborate on something beautiful as father and daughter
but also as two artists with similar sensibilities. One of the things I
learned from making music with my brothers was that the best
collaborative art includes an unspoken communication. Great jazz works
that way, but even non-improvisatory music has real communication among
the players. We hope you can hear the arrangements as telling the story
in a dramatic but beautiful way. Hearing traditional pieces with a new
ear and new pieces in a familiar sound.
CWR: How did you go about deciding which songs to include? Did Rachel have a say in the songs? What are some personal favorites?
The songs really grew out of the set list that we had been performing
for a few years. Rachel is very much her dad in certain respects so she
always has an opinion about whatever we’re doing. But she has been
blessed with a great musical sense. When she was confident about a new
idea or about making an adjustment to the arrangement I could trust that
she would take us in a good direction. We did make concessions to one
another here and there but for the most part we were in agreement. I was
delightfully surprised at how well we worked together in a creative
I think the best example is “What Child Is This?” I had
worked up the accompaniment as a combination of several different
versions I had played over the years. Once we fit it to a key that was
good for her voice she suggested a more dramatic approach: beginning as a
quiet lullaby, building the energy into the story, and sort of
freeze-framing the final section. It takes a carol that uses older,
unfamiliar poetic language renders it more powerful and meaningful to
the modern listener. I think it really brings the song alive. She also
suggested the key change at the end of opening and title track, “In
Dulci Jubilo,” and that just makes the song for me. Suddenly we’re in a
new musical space with a brighter energy. Generally I’m not a fan of
key-changes just for the sake of it, but for whatever reason it really
seems to work for me in that setting.
I have to admit a fondness
for classics like the Bach/Gounod “Ave Maria.” One of our goals with the
recording was to try and capture the sound of Rachel’s voice in the
middle space between childhood and adulthood. As much as I can
appreciate the skill of operatic soprano work, I really much prefer the
pure sound of a less driven and less powerful voiceone that embodies
the spirit of the prayer. It is one thing to sing Bach; it is quite
another to pray through Bach’s music. I still consider the Rutter
recording of Faure’s “Pie Jesu” as my standard for how prayer should be
sung by a soprano.
CWR: The album has a very intimate, “up close” feel to it. Did you record it “live” together?
As a classical guitarist, I’m all about the intimate and up close! I’m
so glad you asked that question because the intimacy was precisely the
goal in my imagining the production. I specifically chose the studio we
used because it was a part of a large performance hall. I knew that we
would be able to hear and feel that space even though we were
close-mic-ing for most of it. It’s really not so much that you hear the
room in the recording but that as a musician you feel your instrument
working in that larger space. Phrasing and touch are quite different in
that setting that in a six-by-six, carpeted room and it really affects
how you play. We used the classic Neumann mic for vocals and guitar
whenever we could.
We began recording live together, but found
that neither of us was in the position to really do that for the whole
thing. Classical guitar is extremely difficult to play cleanly in a
recording setting. Every squeak is amplified a million times. And this
being Rachel’s first recording, she wasn’t aware of how difficult it
would be to sing every note exactly as she might like it. Of course,
perfect isn’t really possible even for established professionals but we
set the bar fairly as high as we were capable of doing.
So in the
end we were able to keep a few of the duets that we tracked
simultaneously, but for the rest we multi-tracked. She would sing a
scratch vocal in the booth and while I recorded in the big room and then
she would take the room to put down the final vocal. Perhaps someday we
will both have the time and money to put in the preparation and
recording time needed to record it all live. That’s honestly my dream
recording sessionlike Miles Davis’ “Kind of Blue”just sit down, hit
record and play it.
But of course we left lots of “mistakes” on
the recording, as I always have. We went with the takes that had the
right feel and energy, multi-tracked what we could and left the rest. At
one point I actually made sure we didn’t fix something because it just
felt more human as it was. Ultimately that was our goal. To make a very
intimate recording music of celebrating joy and anticipation of the
Annunciation through the glory of the birth of the Christ child.
Hopefully we came close.