Kees Hendrickx

Recording Artist / Producer

Oh Holy Night: A Restoration Story

I was thrilled when Paddy Downing asked me to digitise some old tapes he had from the 60s. He told me about his sister Ann, who had the most fantastic voice. She sang in the church in Bandon every Christmas, and the highlight of her repertoire was always ‘Oh Holy Night’. Paddy told me that Ann never liked to be recorded, but in 1969 he bought a new tape recorder and recorded her Christmas concert performance under the pretence of “trying it out.”

I was floored when I first heard Ann’s voice. It was so beautiful and powerful; I couldn’t believe it. I could see why her performance was everyone’s favourite at Christmas.

I used my tape player to digitise the tape, hooking it up to my audio interface and recording the audio directly into Logic Pro. The tape was in good condition, but the sound had degraded over the years. You can hear some fluttering (waviness) and a lot of tape hiss in the original recording, but I still think it sounds great. It’s incredible that Paddy recorded this in 1969!

Original tape recording from 1969 tape

To improve the sound, I would have to use some audio restoration software, similar to what was used on the new Beatles song “Now and Then.” I started with an AI software called Stem Splitter from, which splits vocals and instruments into separate tracks. This works unbelievably well for clean audio tracks but didn’t work perfectly for this noisy older track. You can hear examples of the split audio tracks below. It cuts out parts of the vocals but does a good job of the organ. I could not use the whole vocal track, so I had to use a mix of the original and vocal track. I started by removing the tape hiss with Izotope RX10. RX10 is a specialised software for removing unwanted hiss noise, pops, and reverb from audio. It’s very effective and improved the sound right away.

Example of the vocals only track with Stem Splitter
Example of the organ only track with Stem Splitter

Next, I used equalisation (EQ) to remove a lot of the low-end rumble from the track. The church organ has a lot of low frequencies in its sound, which were overpowering the voice in the recording. I placed a simple low-pass filter on the track to remove most of these overpowering frequencies. You have to be careful because the voice also has low frequencies, and you don’t want to remove those.

Churches are also very echo-y (reverb), and this reverb tends to build up the low frequencies, making everything sound muddy and like it’s swirling around. I had to remove some frequencies where this reverb was affecting it too. Using de-reverb in the RX software, I was also able to reduce the big echo-y sound and control it a bit better. But of course, still keeping most of the natural reverb sound of the church.

Once I was happy with how it sounded, I added a small bit of compression to the vocal track to bring it out more. Overall, the track turned out lovely, and working on such a piece of history from Bandon was a true delight. You can hear the final track after restoration here.

Ann Williams (Downing) – Oh Holy Night restored from a 1969 tape recording

I hope you enjoyed this journey with me through the restoration of Ann Downing’s beautiful voice. It’s a reminder of the power of music to connect us with our past and each other.