The trouble with a click track is……

A click track is one of the most useful tools available in the recording studio. For many years it has helped musicians to gain a rhythmic tightness whilst multi tracking, as well as being used in Film and T.V. for the purpose of synchronizing music with on screen action. It can however be a restriction when attempting to record any piece of music which requires rubato (nicely summed up as ‘the temporary manipulation of the rhythmic pulse, to allow an expressive quickening or slackening, but without affecting the overall pace’).

Recently I was asked to arrange a waltz from a famous 19th century opera, to be included in a feature film. When listening to a magical performance of it by The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra under the great Sir Thomas Beecham, it left me wondering what the secret of their magic was. Before the main theme is even stated, a short introduction accelerates towards fanfare-like chords, ending with a dramatic pause. The melody then melts in tenderly and engages the listener with the contrast already presented (like entering a warm room on a chilly day). The piece crescendos and subtly speeds up through its sequences of ascending scales. This is contrasted with a much more extrovert and bold second subject, whose character is confident and metronomic. But it is clear that the sensitive (almost insecure) first subject of the Valse is given a slightly different speed and tonal shade depending on the key it is played in. The contrasts of the push and pull in the tempo conjure up different emotions in the listener; whereas the first and second themes are given entirely different characters, like actors in a play.

My brief as a string arranger was to orchestrate the piece for string sextet and to try and capture some of Beecham’s magic through his skilled use of rubato. When we came to the studio, this was without doubt a challenging piece to record with a click track (for the combination of 2 violins, 2 violas and 2 cellos), as everything had to flow organically, yet move around the click track without deviating a single beat. The inner parts that often have the job of providing the second and third beats of the waltz were the trickiest of all as these had to lend stability to the dance without sounding rigid. The whole track will accompany dancers in the film and my hope is that they will feel completely comfortable dancing to the track, without any of the lilting quality being lost.