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Topic: Using Recorded GPO Orchestra to Accompany a Live Choir

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  1. #1
    Senior Member
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    Using Recorded GPO Orchestra to Accompany a Live Choir

    Hello Everyone,

    I just returned from an extended trip where I got to hear a very good performance of the entire multi-movement Christmas work that was the source of my contributions to the 2012 and 2013 Christmas Albums. My most recent post to the listening room also came from this work. This experience really energized me to finish and master a GPO version of the orchestra so that choirs who want to perform the piece can do so without a live orchestra. This is my first time to do this kind of project and I would appreciate all the advice I can get.

    Cass and Randy mentioned keeping the recorded ambiance low because the performance hall will add its own ambiance. I think no more ambiance, or possibly a little less, than a stage would add would be OK.

    There are other considerations that seem important. First, only a 2 channel stereo sound system will be practical and the choir will need to be able to hear the orchestra. If two speakers are used they will likely be set even or a little behind the choir and possibly angled towards the center. If this is done some extra stage ambiance will be added and the stereo image will be affected. I'm considering panning the harp to the middle of the orchestra because in two movements it contains important parts that will guide the choir through some tempo changes and releases. Both sides of the choir need to be able to hear these harp cues.

    I'm also concerned about the dynamic range of the recording. The choir in the performance I heard was almost 150 voices strong and was very well prepared for the concert. Their ff sections were very powerful and their pp sections surprising delicate for the choir size. I doubt that an average sized choir could come close to their volume. It seems I could easily end up with a recorded orchestra that is too loud in spots and not strong enough in others.

    Finally, I;m considering adding some instruments that are not used in the live orchestra. It is problematic if a live musician only plays twice in a seven movement work and simply sits for the rest of the piece. However, a GPO instrument can count all the rests a composer wants and enter perfectly every time the instrument is needed. So it seems to me I should take advantage of what the software instruments have to offer.

    If you have comments about these items and/or know of other concerns I should have, I would greatly appreciate the help.

    Norman

  2. #2

    Re: Using Recorded GPO Orchestra to Accompany a Live Choir

    Great post, Norman - With my time for Foruming running out this morning, let me attempt some succinct replies:

    Quote Originally Posted by jandjnelson View Post
    ...Cass and Randy mentioned keeping the recorded ambiance low because the performance hall will add its own ambiance. I think no more ambiance, or possibly a little less, than a stage would add would be OK.
    You do need some reverb, just much less than usual since the hall will be adding its own reverb. You got that right, according to me.

    Quote Originally Posted by jandjnelson View Post
    ...There are other considerations that seem important. First, only a 2 channel stereo sound system will be practical...
    You need to have monitors for the choir, pointing directly away from the audience and at the choir. The feeds into them should be mono, so there's no concern about parts of the recording not being heard from various places on stage - All of the music will be coming out of the monitors no matter where they are. See?

    The general advice is to use mono recordings for canned tracks, since the stereo image will be exaggerated in the auditorium, with people on each side hearing an imbalanced mix. But I just couldn't bring myself to do that. I use stereo, but not with a really broad field as you might more normally use.

    Quote Originally Posted by jandjnelson View Post
    ...I'm also concerned about the dynamic range of the recording...
    You MUST have an on-the-ball sound engineer. You can't expect to have a recording which just plays unattended. The engineer has to be there at the mixing board, hands always on the slider, ready to compensate volume as needed. It helps if he/she's musical, and needs to have numerous rehearsals with the choir so they map out a live mixing routine.

    Quote Originally Posted by jandjnelson View Post
    ...Finally, I;m considering adding some instruments that are not used in the live orchestra...
    Absolutely! It's a recording - You should feel free to do whatever your heart desires - Makes no difference if it would be practical for a live band to play or not. Nobody's going to be at the concert thinking, "Hmmm, he had that exotic woodwind in for just that one part"--

    Gotta run - Hope this helps.

    Randy

  3. #3

    Re: Using Recorded GPO Orchestra to Accompany a Live Choir

    I'm happy to endorse Randy's recommendations 100%.

    My wife often sings to orchestral backing tracks (she's an operatic mezzo), when an orchestra, quartet, pianist or organist is not available, and we use a PA system.

    The tracks I author use a small amount of reverb, typically around 30% (plus or minus a bit) for most orchestral instruments using the ARIA mixer control. Additional organ parts get more reverb.

    For a smallish venue we work without a monitor, but for larger one's it's pretty essential.
    Then the feed to the monitor is mono from an auxiliary send from the mixer.

    For smaller venues the PA speakers are almost parallel with the singer. For larger venues the PA is further forward and in both cases is recorded with reduced stereo, i.e. a little wider than mono. It's not ideal for those sitting close to the virtual orchestra but works well for the more distant listeners. Those sitting far left will get very little from the right PA speaker and vice versa, especially if the speakers are wide apart.

    After setting the monitor to the right level for the singer, I "sound engineer" the PA, constantly "gain riding" the main level.
    I try to sit in a position where I'm getting a good mix from the PA and the singer, i.e. hearing what the audience does.

    As for instrumentation, the world is your oyster.

    Just a few observations from personal practice.
    Regards,
    John.
    Author of MIDI tutorials at http://midi-tutor.proboards.com/index.cgi

  4. #4
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    Re: Using Recorded GPO Orchestra to Accompany a Live Choir

    Thanks Randy and John.

    After reading your posts I was concerned about most choirs' access to a mixing board and monitor speakers. But, in talking to just a few choir directors, I've found that any school or college choir program that has a "show choir" or "jazz choir" will have this equipment and that many churches have sound systems that have these capabilities.

    I will mix and master with your advice in mind.

    Norman

  5. #5

    Lightbulb Re: Using Recorded GPO Orchestra to Accompany a Live Choir

    I did it successfully in the way you discussed above. just a suggestion, don't underestimate the issue with ambience:
    - I was in a church and the reverb was so high that even the ultra dry recording I did was terrible and blurred.
    - The opposite in the theater, where the dry signal was still perceived dry from almost every seat...

    the only way is doing the soundcheck with the right speakers, in the right place, before you make a master for playback.

  6. #6

    Re: Using Recorded GPO Orchestra to Accompany a Live Choir

    From my own experience, most PA systems come with some form of built-in reverb as part and parcel of the package. When I was touring with the Irish band, we had a pre-recorded drummer, plus strings and horns prerecorded on MP3s which we guitar and bassists had to stay up with on a surprising number of songs in a ninety minute show.

    We learned that recording the backing tracks all but dry, with just enough reverb to barely be heard and no more, was enough for the liveliest halls, and the whole thing could be sweetened at the board by blending in a little of the onboard reverb "to taste". This was of course what we were doing with the voices anyway, so it just became our practice to check the room and add "seasoning" as needed.

    We had a great sound guy, who passed away from diabetes complications 'way too young, but he had a great ear and did his best to make any room sound like your living room and a good quality stereo. Self taught, he became sort of our version of a "5th Beatle". Never on stage, but a big part of our sound nonetheless. I worked with him in a disco showband in the late 70's, then in a Graffitti band a couple of years later, and when I formed the Irish folk band, I stole him away from the guys he was running sound for by making him a half-share offer instead of a per diem. He stayed with Pendragon for 11 years.

    I miss him.
    Last edited by BVstudios; 12-13-2013 at 09:27 PM. Reason: spelling issues
    Cheers,

    Kevin F..

    KM Frye- (SOCAN)
    Music Director- Four Seasons Musical Theatre- 2016

    Bella Vista Studios
    Canada

    GPO4, JABB3, Garritan World Inst, REAPER, Roland VS2480 DAW

  7. #7

    Re: Using Recorded GPO Orchestra to Accompany a Live Choir

    Quote Originally Posted by BVstudios View Post
    From my own experience, most PA systems come with some form of built-in reverb as part and parcel of the package. When I was touring with the Irish band, we had a pre-recorded drummer, plus strings and horns prerecorded on MP3s which we guitar and bassists had to stay up with on a surprising number of songs in a ninety minute show.
    I'd only change the word "most" to "many" PA systems come with some sort of built in reverb. In my experience many of the lower end ones don't have it.

    We learned that recording the backing tracks all but dry, with just enough reverb to barely be heard and no more, was enough for the liveliest halls, and the whole thing could be sweetened at the board by blending in a little of the onboard reverb "to taste". This was of course what we were doing with the voices anyway, so it just became our practice to check the room and add "seasoning" as needed.
    Useful.

    We had a great sound guy, who passed away from diabetes complications 'way too young, but he had a great ear and did his best to make any room sound like your living room and a good quality stereo. Self taught, he became sort of our version of a "5th Beatle". Never on stage, but a big part of our sound nonetheless. I worked with him in a disco showband in the late 70's, then in a Graffitti band a couple of years later, and when I formed the Irish folk band, I stole him away from the guys he was running sound for by making him a half-share offer instead of a per diem. He stayed with Pendragon for 11 years.

    I miss him.
    All sound engineers, worthy of the title, learn by doing. In this profession it seems that experience really is the only criterion that counts. The theory can only give pointers in the right direction, and some venues seem to defy the rules.

    I'm just the roadie who schleps it from the car, gets to set it up, plug it all in and then play with the mixer controls.
    Then the reverse.
    Author of MIDI tutorials at http://midi-tutor.proboards.com/index.cgi

  8. #8

    Re: Using Recorded GPO Orchestra to Accompany a Live Choir

    Quote Originally Posted by SysExJohn View Post
    ... I "sound engineer" the PA, constantly "gain riding" the main level...
    Lots of good responses you've gotten, Norman - And I wanted to underline this bit above from John. Having an alert engineer, preferably you probably, adjusting the volume as needed - that's one of the major ingredients for success with this. Riding the gain like that isn't difficult, it just calls for someone who is listening attentively to what the blend of live and recorded is sounding like in the venue.

    Randy

  9. #9
    Senior Member Frank D's Avatar
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    Re: Using Recorded GPO Orchestra to Accompany a Live Choir

    Hi Norman,

    First off, congratulations on all this! You must be very proud and excited to hear a work performed like this ... excellent!

    I agree with "All Of The Above" and will add my live performance experience (Several parish musicals, with live singing to pre-recorded Garritan pit orchestra tracks).

    1.- Our venue was hardwood floors, concrete walls (I.E., an echo chamber!) ... I needed to dial back the reverb embedded on the pre-recorded tracks, with another consideration being to try and have the vocals and "The Pit" in the same ambient space so to speak.

    2.- Very hard to get a true 'house mix' without the fannys in the seats! People have an enormous deadening effect on the room. I added back some of the reverb I had cut when the house was empty. As Randy pointed out, a live mixer is your easiest and most effecient way to get a great mix.

    3.- Another trick we did on our last show was add a second set of house speakers half-way back in the room ... effectively cutting in half the distance from speaker-to-audience, giving us more control over the volume, mix and containing feedback.

    4.- I can't overstate the need for strong stage monitors for the actors/singers to hear "The Pit". This was always the single-most requested item. For full-company production numbers, we had 54 adults/children belting ... besides monitors at the max, I had to visually conduct these numbers so tempo could be seen if not heard! Especially important for tempo changes, and especially for ritardandos.

    Best of luck with your project!

    Frank

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