Recording String Quartet and Piano

Composer Ann Gates came to us looking to record her two original pieces

Ann Gates has a remarkable story

Late on in life Ann has taken to composition, which for her was an epiphany. She has long been a lover of the contemporary music art form, but then, inspired by her faith, she felt compelled to write the music she heard inside her.

Ann found mentorship with local film composers in the Wimbledon area and has been studying a course at The Royal College of Music. These two original pieces are outputs from those activities.

Unassuming in person, but with clear musical ideas, Ann contacted me in need of help recording a string quartet and a piano solo. She had already sourced the performers and a recording location with a specific piano, but was nervous about the recording side of this project, as she has very little experience of what it involves.

A simple request for a clear and honest recording

It was my job to capture the honest performances by Reflections Strings and pianist, Dominic Doutney, with the goal of achieving clean, open sound. We also organised a videographer to film the performances for Ann to share.

Recording live performance is as much about the space as it is about the instruments, and you can’t replace the performances in editing, so it’s crucial to capture the sound in the room as pristinely as possible. It’s a simple request but that is not always easy; you can get caught out if you don’t prepare properly.

Preparation pays off when recording on the day

It was important that we took the right equipment, so we visited the hall beforehand to measure the room tone quality and the sound of the piano, which helped me decide the kind of of mic array to use.

When recording in an unknown venue, it’s silly, basic things that can jeopardise your goal, so we went through checks like making sure the heating could be turned off, because the radiators were air blowers, that there was no ticking clock, no office telephone connected and the lights didn’t make a buzzing sound, and of course the traffic noise wasn’t disruptive to the point that we couldn’t record.

Why it helps for a recording engineer to read music as well as know his gear

Because I’m a reader of music it helped Ann feel safer in my hands, as I was able to contribute to performance feedback and be a second pair of eyes over the musical accuracy as it was played.

Because of the preparation I put in with the videographer as well, the music and film recordings both went very smoothly on the day. Ann was able to bring a few guests to the performances and enjoy the process.

Mastering contemporary classical music

The mastering of the recordings was tricky because there are such wide dynamics in the classical style of music and, unlike pop, there’s no kind of standard level. In fact, trying to limit these tracks into the commercial pop standards would not be helpful, because in pop the dynamic range is a lot less, so you can push the volume up across the whole song and enhance the feel without distortion. However, in this style of music the dynamic range is so much greater, that you would risk over-compressing (making louds softer and softs louder) and then destroy the integrity of the music. Overall, I’m confident we got the results that Ann was looking for and hope that we can record more of her work in the future!

I would like to thank James Hawkins for the excellent sound recording he made of my piano and string quartet pieces.

Jim’s background as a musician meant that his advice to me during the recording session was extremely helpful. In addition, Jim and his assistants are very friendly and pay great attention to detail. Thanks to Miranda, for filming the event with such care – I am delighted with the videos she made. 

I thoroughly recommend JHM Music Studios to anyone looking for a highly professional, talented and friendly sound recording studio.

Ann Gates


‘Æęrist’ String quartet in four movements, played by ‘Reflection Strings’, composed by Ann Gates in 2021.

The word ‘Æęrist; has Anglo-Saxon origin, meaning ‘awakening or Resurrection’ – which I convey through music

A background to Æęrist

In 597 St Augustine arrived in England to convert the Anglo-Saxons to Christianity but it is said to have been Queen Bertha of Kent, a Christian queen, who influenced her pagan husband, King Æęthelberht in establishing Christianity in England.

I use the theme of ‘awakening’ and ‘resurrection’. The first three movements of the string quartet are about the Resurrection of Jesus and an awakening within ourselves. The fourth movement is about a further awakening for mankind – It concerns the second coming of Jesus. The music describes how the Arch Angel Michael arrives with loud warning trumpet blasts, is surrounded by the heavenly host that appear in the sky on judgement day.

00:00:00 “Aerist Mvt I

00:03:35 “Aerist Mvt II

00:05:28 “Aerist Mvt III

00:07:41 “Aerist Mvt IV

Ann Gates

Æęrist, String quartet – mvts I to IV - played by, ‘Reflection Strings’

Dominic Doutney, pianist, plays ‘Matthew 25’: composed by Ann Gates (between 2021/2)

This piano piece entitled ‘Matthew 25’ is from the parable Matthew 25. The music describes the parable. It is about “the Kingdom of heaven ‘and its message to everyone to always be prepared for the 2nd coming of Christ and the consequences of not being ready.

Matthew 25 v1 – 13

‘At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. 2 Five of the virgins were foolish, and five were wise. 3 When the foolish ones took their lamps, they did not take extra oil with them. 4 But the wise ones took oil in jars with their lamps. 5 The bridegroom was a long time in coming and they all became drowsy and fell asleep. 6 At midnight the cry rang out ‘Here’s the bridegroom, come out and meet him.’ 7 Then all the virgins woke up and trimmed their lamps. 8 The foolish ones said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, because our lamps are going out.’ 9 ‘No,’ they replied. ‘There may not be enough for both us and you. Go instead to those who sell oil and buy some for yourselves.’ 10 But while they were on their way to buy oil, the bridegroom arrived, and those who were ready went inside with him to the wedding banquet and the door was shut. 11 Later, the other virgins also came saying, ‘Lord, lord! Let us in!’ 12 But he replied, “I tell you the truth, I do not know you!’ 13 Therefore stay alert, because you do not know the day or hour.’

Ann Gates

‘Matthew 25’ - pianist, Dominic Doutney

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