Charlie Post’s road to success started in Schenectady.
But for too long, he’d felt almost like being the best man and never the groom. That’s all changed now. He’s received his first Grammy nomination for his work as sound engineer on Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s 2019 recording of Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 13 under the baton of music director Riccardo Muti.
“I’ve had five near misses. A lot of close calls,” he said with a laugh. “It feels good to get some recognition especially since I’ve been working only in classical music since 2006.”
He began his music studies at age 10 with saxophone lessons. His private sax teacher was Conrad Kushay. Around that time, Barbara Aldi, his music teacher at Lincoln Elementary School, gave him tickets to an Albany Symphony Orchestra concert — his first experience seeing a live orchestra. Later, at Mont Pleasant High School, where he graduated Class of 1990, he was in bands and choir and counts Michael Decker and Jerome Wawrzyniak as teachers who were especially supportive. He also sang in “The Entertainers” at Proctors in a group that Aldi led. But Post began looking beyond music in his senior year.
“I’d been interested in electrical engineering and my high school had a college prep tech program connected to General Electric,” he said.
After a few forays into those studies, Post discovered he missed music. The next two years he pursued a music business degree at Schenectady County Community College and fondly remembers Brett Wery (recently retired as Dean of the School of Music) and Bill Meckley (retired head of the Empire Jazz Orchestra) with teaching him “a lot of life lessons.”
A sampling Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 13:
“But I was looking at programs based on recording and SUNY Fredonia had a really good one on the German Tonmeister technology (based on recording classical music),” Post said.
After getting his degree four years later, Post headed to New York City to work in recording studios, then to Florida where he worked for three years on live performances using his own equipment. A referral got him the chief audio engineer job in 2007 at the Tanglewood Music Festival to record all the summer concerts of the Boston Symphony Orchestra even as he continued to freelance and do editing with various record companies including Bridge Records where he met composer George Crumb, which he called “a real experience.”
Post came to the attention of Chicago in 2014 and for the next two years, he worked Chicago during the year and Tanglewood during the summer. While the jobs had always overlapped, Post relinquished his Tanglewood position in 2016 when the Chicago job converted to year round. And none too soon. In Chicago, whenever Muti conducts a concert it is recorded and that means every program even of the same pieces. Part of Post’s job is to eliminate all the coughs and sneezes, correct instrumental balances or mishaps as the first steps towards a release.
“There must be consistency between performances to be able to make edits,” Post said. “Some classical recordings have up to a thousand edits.”
Before he sits at his soundboard, however, Post follows a specific procedure. He checks the score, which for the Shostakovich included a male chorus and baritone soloist.
“I must know the music, the hall, where the orchestra, the soloist and the chorus are placed. I watch the first rehearsal and place the mics,” he said. “The Shostakovich had a huge percussion section, full winds and that determined the number of mics.”
His control room is one hundred feet behind the orchestra backstage where he checked on balances. If something was off, a crew was sent out to move mics as needed with some instruments, such as the bassoon, needing directional mics that narrow the sound’s beam.
“You can’t have the percussion bleeding into the horns or have leaks into the chorus,” he said with a laugh. “It’s an uphill battle.”
Sometimes too, a musician will come back after a performance and “make a confession” that they’d made a mistake.
“So I mark the score and can edit to another performance — as long as it’s not just a live performance,” Post said. “It’s a fantastic orchestra and although there have been many personnel changes, it keeps getting better.”
David Frost, the producer, then steps in and does the final editing and mixing to be sure all the balances are right. He too, has been nominated for a Grammy. Finally, Silas Brown, whom ASO music director David Alan Miller has worked with on the ASO’s recordings, does the final mastering to be sure that, for instance, all volumes are good and that spaces between the movements work.
Muti, who retires in 2022, has, however the final say on what is released on the orchestra’s label CSO Resound and he has very high standards. So, Post said he was especially interested to hear the final product.
“It gave me chills,” he said.