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
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.