Omaha's silence is golden for ensemble

08.07.15
New York Polyphony
Omaha.com

They’re known as New York Polyphony, but they can’t record in New York. 
A studio won’t produce the right sound for the four-man vocal chamber ensemble that specializes in Renaissance music. They need the wide-open space and high ceilings of a church or cathedral for their crystal-clear tones. And it needs to be exceedingly quiet, with very little outside noise.
 No building in New York, cathedral or otherwise, would meet all those requirements. The city just has too much noise. The group has recorded closer to home in New Jersey, but that space wasn’t available for its new CD. 
So New York Polyphony chose to record at St. Cecilia Cathedral in Omaha.
 “There’s a speed to (our) harmony that fits a room like this,” said bass Craig Phillips, referring to the huge sanctuary at the cathedral, where the group has been recording a new album all week. 
Omaha musician Marty Wheeler Burnett originally brought the group to Omaha in 2009. Since 2008, she has been the director of music at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral and this June, she was named the cathedral’s canon precentor, a full-time position that involves overseeing music and liturgy under the leadership of the cathedral dean. And from 2003 until this May, she was associate professor of music and director of the fine arts program at College of St. Mary.
 “We have really super fans here — they follow us online and on social media. It’s almost a family atmosphere,” said Geoffrey Williams, the group’s countertenor. 
In fact, when the singers complete Omaha engagements in October and February, they will have performed here more than in any city other than New York. This time around, some of the people they met previously are providing meals and other hospitality.
 Because the cathedral has so many parishioners and activities, New York Polyphony has recorded only at night. They sing a cappella, and, in concert, they have no amplification. Polyphonic musical texture employs two or more simultaneous lines of independent melody, and, in a cavernous, high-ceilinged cathedral, it builds on itself. 
“We are very interested in acoustics. We talk about them all the time,” Williams said. “We consider ourselves a five-person ensemble, and acoustics is the fifth person.”
 They started recording Monday night for a CD that should be released by this winter on BIS Records out of Sweden. It features two works, “Missa O Quam Gloriosum” by Tomas Luis de Victoria and “Missa Papae Marcelli” by Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina. 
Before they could begin, however, they had to get rid of all ambient noise. Lights in the sanctuary hummed, so they sang in the dark. The air conditioning was too loud, so off it went. A security camera light hummed in the key of E, so they dismantled it.
 Half-joking, Woeger asked: “How many fire engines went by last night?” None, they reported, though they did have to stop a couple of times because of outside noise. 
That’s nothing compared to New York, they said. Since they’ve sought quieter locations, they’ve had to scrap maybe 10 tracks. In New York, they lost hundreds.
 Read the rest of the review here