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Topic: A Cautionary Tale

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  1. #1

    A Cautionary Tale

    Hi, everyone, pay heed to my warning!

    Since modern technology and facilities like GPO have made orchestral simulation easy, it is now becoming less of a rarity for an event to consist of live performers mixed with a “virtual orchestra”. Such performances offer the security of an orchestra who will sound good and not make a mistake of any kind. More importantly, it can be possible for the composer to realise his intentions with great accuracy (a result I have not found in the past when using live orchestral performers!)
    [Please don’t anybody start up about the ethics of this; that’s already been done in this forum.]

    Accordingly, last June I set about composing a 45-minute work for mixed choir with accompaniment of organ and orchestra, the latter two to be sequenced, realised and recorded on a CD to be played at the actual performance. This was “Carol Mass”, a setting of the Latin Mass in which the music would be mostly newly composed by me, but which would include well-known carol tunes appropriate to each section. These tunes might be sung by the choir or played in the orchestra behind/over the choir; some were obvious, others more hidden. A real partnership of singers and players. One of the problems would be that of timing the singers to synchronise with the inflexible CD, but the conductor should bring that off with proper rehearsal.

    The work was rehearsed and eventually performed this December by a local choir under the baton of one of my friends. Prior to the performance I attended a couple of rehearsals using the CD (which I had lovingly prepared) as accompaniment. A friend of the conductor was lending and operating the amplification equipment since my own gear was inadequate for the size of the hall. Balance and timing problems were discussed at the first of these, and corrected at the final rehearsal, whereupon I declared myself satisfied. The “orchestra operator” knew what volume I wanted throughout the piece and said he had made marks on his equipment to ensure this.

    Soooo…. Comes the performance where I sit in the auditorium surrounded by a packed audience and the moment arrives when my magnum opus begins. The first orchestral notes sound, and my face falls a bit – that didn’t sound strong enough. But carry on… Before long it is clear that the volume level of the CD is distinctly lower than the agreed one. What has happened? Has the operator decided to use his initiative and balance things more to his liking? Whatever it was, the balance is all wrong, the orchestral cues cannot now be heard clearly, the choir loses the place a few times, the carol themes “hidden” in the orchestra are now HIDDEN completely, and I sit furious and helpless in the middle of the audience. This is not my Carol Mass, it sort of resembles it…
    Afterwards everybody said they enjoyed it (enjoyed what?) but I could not trust myself to face the operator without losing my cool, so I stalked off home to lick my wounds. No-one has yet heard my Carol Mass!

    OK, here’s the moral: by all means use a prepared CD as part of a performance, but on no account trust anyone but yourself to handle the equipment. You can never tell what other people will do to your music.

    Come to think of it, that last sentence is worth the status of an aphorism. Actually, I should have known it already because of live performances of my music in the past, but it remains true even with non-live performers, it seems. Here it is again:

    You can never tell what other people will do to your music.

    P.S. If you want to hear a bit of it, more or less as it should be, go to
    http://terence.dwyer.users.btopenworld.com/~~~~~~~.mp3

    It’s not quite right because the singers are computer singers singing the well-known “Ah”, but heck, it’s supposed to be in Latin anyway.

    Take care,

    Terry Dwyer

  2. #2

    Re: A Cautionary Tale

    For some reason the program will not let me enter the filename correctly. The squiggles should be the word S a n c t u s (without the spaces, the program won't even let me enter the word properly.)

    T D

  3. #3
    Senior Member
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    Re: A Cautionary Tale

    Regret, the link still doesn't work even after changing squiggles to the correct word. Your experience reminds me of that great truth, careers never hang on so slender a thread as when they depend on visual aids working as expected. Is there not now, by the way, some super new peforming gadget that lets you control in real time your sampled orchestratons? I seem to recall reading that it is now used nightly in the New York staging of Miss Saigon.

  4. #4

    Re: A Cautionary Tale

    Quote Originally Posted by Poolman
    For some reason the program will not let me enter the filename correctly. The squiggles should be the word S a n c t u s (without the spaces, the program won't even let me enter the word properly.)
    And you can never tell what the computer will do to your URLs.

  5. #5
    Senior Member Styxx's Avatar
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    Re: A Cautionary Tale

    OK, here’s the moral: by all means use a prepared CD as part of a performance, but on no account trust anyone but yourself to handle the equipment. You can never tell what other people will do to your music.
    No truer words ever spoken!
    This is exactly why I always programmed, rehearsed with the cast, ran the audio, and conducted from the pit ALL of the musicals I directed!
    I am so sorry and understand your disappointment. Although, I would have blasted that person right out of his seat afterwards!

    Later
    Styxx

  6. #6

    Re: A Cautionary Tale

    I feel your pain, Terry

  7. #7

    Re: A Cautionary Tale

    Terry is right... you gotta be careful to whom you give control.

    I am fortunate that my sound techs all have pretty good taste (and they are close personal friends - they'll do what I ask even if they might not completely agree)

    Having said that, I did a performance once where _I_ was in control of the sound and the CD... at one point there was a big cutoff, a dramatic key change and the choir reenters...

    On the cutoff, I inadvertently hit the stop button due to my inattention and overly large circle I made with the baton...

    OOPSIE!

    fortunately, the choir knew the piece so well, that they did the key change without the music, and proceeded to sing the remaining part of the score flawlessly ACAPELLA.

    So, even if WE have complete control, it can still fall apart (but then there is only self-recrimination, not a temper-tantrum for the poor bloke running sound!)

    Cheers,

    Jonathan

  8. #8
    Senior Member rwayland's Avatar
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    Re: A Cautionary Tale

    Right you are. From my experience, a woodwind quintet was performed while I cringed and tried not to stand up and shout, "You are doing it so wrong!" When the scores were later returned to me, I discover why they were playing so slowly --- the group leader had pencilled out my tempo of 112 and replaced it with 88.

    Richard

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