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Topic: Building an Ensemble with GPO

  1. #1

    Building an Ensemble with GPO

    Hello everyone,

    This is my first post, but I have been a GPO customer since the product originally came out. I just purchased Strad 2 and Jabb and have just started playing with them.

    Anyway, I have some questions that some of you wonderful people might be able to answer. I am a volunteer music director for many of the local high schools and community theaters around town and I am currently working on a musical called "Into the Woods". It has a wonderful score written by Stephen Sondheim. The score calls for the following instrumentation:

    [ 1] Flute (piccolo)
    [ 2] Clarinet (Bb and A)
    [ 3] Bassoon
    [ 4] Horn 1
    [ 5] Horn 2
    [ 6] Trumpet
    [ 7] Percussion
    [ 8] Piano
    [ 9] Synthesizer
    [10] Violin 1
    [11] Violin 2
    [12] Viola 1
    [13] Viola 2
    [14] Cello
    [15] Bass

    For a total of 15 musicians. Note, each one of these parts is written for an individual solo performer. There is even a note in the Violin 1 + 2 book as follows: "NOTE: It is the intent of the orchestrator that the violin 1 and 2 parts be played by two solo performers". I have listened to several different live recordings including the original broadway cast recording and it is indeed performed this way. It has a wonderful ensemble sound where each instrument can be heard as a distinct sound.

    Well, that is where I am running into some problems. I started going through the books and mapping out the sounds I would need to use from GPO, (I am also using some Jabb sounds such as the trumpet with harmon mute samples) and I ran into several areas where I am not sure how to acheive the desired affect.

    I was thinking of using the solo violins for the violin 1 and 2 parts, but in reviewing the score I ran into a marking: "arco-senza vibr.". This section of the music has some long sustained chords that are to be played bowed and with no vibrato.

    My first question, is there any way to disable the vibrato in the solo violins?

    My second question, what is the A Clarinet about? It is only used in a couple of passages in the score - can I use the Bb Clarinet for these parts (transposed appropriately of course)?

    My third questions is about the percussion part. They have the crotales part written requiring two octaves. The GPO crotales only cover the higher octave. Any suggestions on how to handle this?

    I am going to be performing this live using Midi-Maestro as the midi player (a great tool for handling vamps, colla voce, cuts, etc. in a live setting). I am trying to play all the instruments on a Dual Pentium IV Laptop running at 3.0 Ghz with 2GB of RAM. I thought about using Strad 2 for the violins, but I think that would probably eat up too much cpu to play the rest of the GPO sounds. Anyone had any experience mixing Strad with GPO in a live setting?

    Working in this ensemble style actually provides a lot of challenges and I am not sure how this is all going to turn out using GPO. I am not even sure if GPO is the right tool for this type of work. Thanks in advance for your input.

    Kenny Long

  2. #2

    Re: Building an Ensemble with GPO

    Quote Originally Posted by Kenny Long
    ...My first question, is there any way to disable the vibrato in the solo violins?
    Unfortunately not. Vibrato is completely controllable in the Garritan Strad, but there's nothing you can do about it in GPO.

    My second question, what is the A Clarinet about? It is only used in a couple of passages in the score - can I use the Bb Clarinet for these parts (transposed appropriately of course)?
    Sure. The only problem you might encounter is if the Clarinet part goes down to a low written E. This note would sound C-sharp, and is unavailable on the Bb clarinet. There are workarounds if you need them. The simplest would be to use the tuning control in the Kontakt player to tune the entire instrument down a semitone. Or if it's an isolated note, you might be able to accomplish it with pitch bend.

    My third questions is about the percussion part. They have the crotales part written requiring two octaves. The GPO crotales only cover the higher octave. Any suggestions on how to handle this?
    Substitute glockenspiel, or maybe celesta.

    Working in this ensemble style actually provides a lot of challenges and I am not sure how this is all going to turn out using GPO. I am not even sure if GPO is the right tool for this type of work.
    I've never used GPO in a live situation, so I should probably refrain from commenting. Still, the fact that it was apparantly used with great success in LA would make me confident that it could do the job here.
    Dan Powers

    "It's easier to be a composer than it is to compose."
    --Ray Luke (1928-2010)

  3. #3

    Re: Building an Ensemble with GPO

    Welcome, "Long time user, first time poster"

    First question - I would use two instances of the Strad. One for Violin 1 and one for Violin 2. With Sonic Morphing, you can have them even playing UNISON and your chances of having them phase is slight. (given you don't have them playing the exact same notes and data at the same time ( i.e. copying violin 1 part and pasting it into Violin 2 part) With the Strad, you can have no vibrato. As for CPU demands, for a live performance - I am looking at your specs, and I don't think that you would have too much trouble with the small ensemble you have there. But, to answer your query, the Strad blends very well with GPO.

    Second Question - I would just use the Bb Clarinet in GPO for that.

    Third Question - I have no idea how to help you there. There are many fine percussion libraries out there - you may have to find one that has two-octave crotales.

    I'm not sure I've helped at all.

    best of luck

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  4. #4

    Re: Building an Ensemble with GPO

    dan and jerry - Thanks for the prompt informative replys.

    I will check the score and see if there are any low 'E's written out for the A Clarinet part. If not I should be OK with the Bb I suppose.

    I will try substituting bells for the crotales in the parts where it spans two octaves.

    Jerry, I will try using the strad for the violins. I am a little worried about running out of steam, but I will try it and see if it works out OK.

    Thanks again for the feedback. I will probably have more questions as I start to sequence this.


  5. #5

    Re: Building an Ensemble with GPO

    I suppose I could also use both the solo violins and the strad depending on the violin requirements and what other instruments were playing at the same time. That way I could fall back to the solo violins for parts where the CPU is busy playing other instruments.

    I was just setting up my percussion sections and I noticed that the percussion samples seem to use a lot of CPU cycles - the bass or timpani for example. Is this normal? I am getting up to 25% utilization for a single note on the bass drum.


  6. #6

    Re: Building an Ensemble with GPO

    My reply is urgent but long, Kenny--PLEASE read-----

    Hi, Kenny

    I could feel your excitement from reading your post, and I need you to know first off that I empathize with you.

    However I need to go straight to two rather difficult questions I have, after reading your post:

    --Why do you think it’s allowable for you to do this project in the manner you have planned?

    --Do you realize what jeopardy you are putting yourself and the theatre group in by not using musicians who are playing the acoustic instruments Sondheim’s score was written for?

    You’ve been musical director for several amateur groups in your area, so I imagine you have some idea of what I’m about to tell you. Things apparently have gone well for you so far, doing orchestra emulations for theatre groups—but I Must go ahead with this rather urgent message to you.

    I have provided backing tracks for several area productions, as have you. Several were with public domain material, such as Gilbert and Sullivan. But in other cases, I had to perform Quite a song and dance to be allowed to use synths/samplers for stage shows still under current copyright.

    The first show I did with MIDI was “The Mystery of Edwin Drood.” None of us were aware that there could be a problem with us using my tracks instead of a live orchestra. It was the first orchestral emulation I had done, and it was a project of a year and a half duration, to produce the tracks for the production.

    ONE WEEK BEFORE OPENING, the publishers of the musical contacted the theatre and told us to “Cease and desist” from using my tracks. Somehow, word had gotten to them about what we were doing. I had a long conversation with the publishers myself, but they would not budge. The Only option we were given was to find a piano player who could play a reduction of the score. Otherwise, the production would be closed down before it opened, the group would be fined $5,000, AND the theatre would not be allowed to produce ANY musical from their catalog for a period of FIVE YEARS.

    We spent several days auditioning the best pianists in town and they all said the same thing, that it was Far too difficult to master the score in the short time left. The cast was in tears when I told them what had happened—it felt like the End of the World.

    The story has a happy ending, thank heavens. Through diligent detective work, my staff found a direct phone number for Rupert Holmes, the show’s composer. I called him—we had an hour-long talk, during which he sympathized with me completely. He explained that the publishers have a legal duty to protect the copyrights of their clients, but that he as sole composer and arranger of “Drood” could over ride their objections and grant permission for me to use the tracks I’d slaved over. He said he would Prefer the kind of backing I had produced rather than another sad little production using a solo pianist.

    He faxed us a legal release, with very specific and carefully chosen phrases, allowing this one time use of my recordings for this production of “Drood.”
    But—the message was clear, that if Tams Witmark or any of the musical theatre publishers in New York get wind of a production using unauthorized recordings—the penalties are severe.

    Another story, directly concerning Mr. Sondheim’s works:

    A few years later, the same theatre begged me to produce MIDI tracks for “A Funny Thing Happened On the Way to The Forum” and to figure out a way to make them not in danger like the previous time. I knew I couldn’t put us all in jeopardy as I had naively done before, so I called New York to talk with Mr. Sondheim himself. He was at rehearsal, but I spoke with his manager.

    The up shot of that conversation was that a special allowance would be granted to me and the theatre, but ONLY because it was “Forum” which is from early in Mr. S’s career, before he established his unique musical style on American theatre. The manager said that Mr. S has been extremely adamant that NONE of his post-“Forum” musicals would Ever be allowed to be done Anywhere with MIDI. He loathes electronics, he loathes the displacement of musicians etc.

    One glimmer of hope here is that you can see it was from direct personal contact that I was able to make a personal connection and have special waivers granted.

    I have other stories related to talking with creators and copyright issues, but they aren’t as germane as this one.

    I urge you, I Beg you, to call Sondheim’s office in New York, and throw yourself at their mercy.

    My stomach’s in a knot while typing this. I hate being the bearer of bad news, because I wish that you Could legally do what you’re doing. I think it’s insane that small theatres aren’t legally allowed to supplement or totally replace orchestras, because I know from personal experience that the quality of orchestras most towns are able to muster for amateur theatre are abysmal.

    As I said at the beginning, you very likely know all about this particular copyright issue, and you probably figure that the publishers won’t care about a small production in Somewhere U.S.A.

    However, from their own lips, I have been told several times now that they don’t want to shut theatres down, but as legal representatives of their clients, they Must enforce the copyright law, or the law and their position as legal reps are both made a mockery.

    Please call. Pour your heart out—they may grant you an exception.

    But you really cannot assume “Into The Woods” is going to be produced in this manner. The risks are far too high.

    Regretfully submitted by

    Randy Bowser

  7. #7

    Re: Building an Ensemble with GPO

    Randy, thank you so much for your input. Your points are well made and I appreciate the first hand experiences you mention.

    "Into The Woods" is licensed through MTI, who offers backing tracks and an "OrchExtra" version of the score that you can license seperately. OrchExtra is a midi player that is powered by Symphonia (a system that lets you tap the tempo map in real time using a real conductors tempos. So I am sure that you are correct - they probably have some rules and additional fees to perfrom with midi tracks - even if they are used in concert with live musicians.

    I have sent an inquiry to MTI about mixing midi tracks with live musicians, but haven't heard back from them yet. I do have a backup plan. I am already going to be using the students from the high school orchestra for the string parts. The string parts are not too difficult and the principles in the high school orchestra are pretty good, so I have that covered. I will be covering the piano and synth parts, so that leaves the horns, trumpet, woodwinds and percussion.

    The percussion has so many instrument changes and that makes the percussion parts rather difficult. The horn, trumpet and woodwind parts are beyond the high school kids. Lots of difficult keys, time signatures and difficult runs. I have 2500 dollars set aside to hire out those parts for the live show if necessary. Of course the theater department will lose money on the production, but it will be top notch.

    That still leaves me with problems. Playing the reduced score is really hard and it sounds significantly different from the full orchestra. This makes learning already difficult singing parts even harder, so I am going to use the midi sequences primarily for rehearsal - I can stretch my live musician fund farther by allowing us to get better prepared before bringing in the actual orchestra.

    If MTI comes back with some reasonable arrangement that would allow the theater department to at least break even, we may use some combination of midi players and real musicians.

    I hadn't thought about contacting Sondheim directly, but that is a great idea. Maybe his position has softened given that MTI licenses a midi version of several of his performances.

    I think I have everything covered. Let me know what you think. I respect your opinion - you obviously have some relevant experience.


  8. #8

    Re: Building an Ensemble with GPO

    Hi Randy,

    What an excellent post! I could feel the angst in your typing!

    I agree with almost everything you said. I'd even add that we, as musicians, ought to have more respect for those who own intellectual property... but that's a whole 'nother thread!

    I do have one question, and I mean no disrespect (in fact if you read to the end you'll see we agree more than we don't) to you or others who create MIDI accompanyments, but...

    you wrote:

    Quote Originally Posted by rbowser-
    I think it’s insane that small theatres aren’t legally allowed to supplement or totally replace orchestras, because I know from personal experience that the quality of orchestras most towns are able to muster for amateur theatre are abysmal.
    There are probably community theatres where they really can not field a decent pit band... I'll go that far, but why is the first thought always to replace the mediocre pit band with a recording, midi, tape, whatever, but a recording?

    It turns out that the publishers frown on re-arranging a score just as much as they frown on MIDI replacement, maybe more since they've had longer to deal with the former problem!

    And that's the part that I don't get!

    If I could assemble a 22 person orchestra filled with competent players that would always be my first choice. It can be done, one theatre company I work with has managed to do this with volunteers! Pretty impressive really, or I think it anyway.

    But it is the exception, and I'm waiting to see if they can do it more than once<G>.

    So that leaves most smaller performing companies with some pretty weak choices:
    1) don't do musicals - I might argue that's not an all bad solution since the pit band is not always the only thing lacking, but most communities are more willing to support musicals than plain old boring drama... their loss!
    2) do the whole score with a marginal, or even bad orchestra
    3) use technology to try to replace parts of, or the entire orchestra.

    No one ever considers the obvious (to me anyway) fourth choice - create your own reduction for the players that you have. It's a creative solution, and it can work exceedingly well... right up to the part where the publisher shuts you down.

    I tend to work almost exclusively with classics these days. I like them, I thoroughly enjoy revisiting and revising them to make them interesting or more timely or just odd. And I don't have to worry about some over-zealous lawyer ruining my day! I also work with new works, where the authors are more than willing to provide some leeway.

    It is true that if the publishers do not rigorously enforce their licenses then the licenses will lose some of their power. If you read the fine print on most scripts you'll discover that you really are not supposed to change any of the stage directions, costumes, sets, etc, and any change is considered a violation of the contract.

    It isn't enforced at least in part because it wasn't enforced. The other reason is that the publishers discovered that these restrictions prevented community groups from performing the works, and that meant no income for the property.

    If you go too far, and I can't think of anything clever so I'll fall back to the ever popular "performing a Neil Simon play in the nude", well, I'm pretty sure those lawyers will be paying you a visit. But for the most part if you respect the spirit of the play you no longer have to follow the stage directions in the script.

    The same sort of attitude is necessary if musicals are going to survive.

    Me? Personally I'd much prefer to hear a handful of live players rendering a clever reduction of a score than any stored performance. I don't feel the need to hear/see the performance as it was done on Broadway... if I felt that strongly I'd go see it on Broadway or sit in a corner and pout if that wasn't an option.

    I want to see what a group of people can do to creatively solve problems with the resources at their disposal!!

    And sometimes that resource list may be a single computer and a very clever arranger/sequencer... that's OK too, not my first choice, but I wouldn't refuse to see a show if that was the best they could do.

    I will, however, skip shows where they use the mechanical performance (even if driven by Midi Maestro or similar) out of laziness or a low opinion of their audience.

    Previously my brother and I have staged a couple of Shakespeare comedies with live music, and we were quite surprised at the positive reaction, even though one show was just guitar and violin and the other was guitar, flute and cello. Both scores were written for the people who volunteered, and the reaction was overwhelmingly positive.

    Granted, there were no preconceived notions of what the music ought to sound like, which always makes the job a bit easier, but still, people liked the fact that the musicians (a) played live, and (b) were pretty darned good.

    Maybe that's just me, but I think that's always a good solution, and one that is too often overlooked.

    Bill Thompson
    Audio Enterprise

  9. #9

    Re: Building an Ensemble with GPO

    Another huge issue is space. Most community theaters and school theaters do not have any room for an ensemble of any size - certainly not a pit. So it is difficult to cram five players up front for a production of Grease - no way you can get 15-20 players in mosts venues.

    I always use some live musicians in the shows I work on and I have used reduced scores at times (Grease, Big River for example), but take the score for "Into the Woods" as an example. Because of the instrumentation and the sheer volume of music, it would take a lot of time and effort to do anything that would work.

    Lots of good feedback and advice. I certainly appreciate the different perspectives.


  10. #10

    Re: Building an Ensemble with GPO

    For those of us involved in community theatres, this is a very interesting topic. I’m really glad to see a number of people contributing to this thread.
    All I can do, of course, is pass on the experiences we’ve had here in my town.

    I know that most theatres that use MIDI and/or synths for musical productions don’t get in trouble with publishers. The nightmares our theatre has been through aren’t typical. I think it’s quite possible that for some reason, difficult to determine, our city is unusual.

    But I know from recent conversations with publishers, that the situation has not changed since the time of the hassles I talked about. Despite wide spread use of MIDI and programs like MIDI Maestro, if a group makes this kind of un-licensed use of the copyrighted material, they are still subject to sanctions.

    Publishers have indeed begun to make various MIDI utilities available for theatres. There are MIDI rehearsal aids, and also MIDI performance aids. Those were developed in reaction to how the “do-it-yourselfers” have been generating MIDI tracks for small theatres.

    The publishers created contracts specific to the new MIDI materials, and of course there’s now a new source of revenue for both the publishers and writers/composers.

    But this doesn’t mean that there’s been a blanket acceptance of MIDI so that anyone can do what he or she wants with the rented scores. The publishers have been trying to fill the gap themselves-—the one we were trying to do on our own. Their MIDIs are legal, ours aren’t. And the demand that "real instruments" be used is still being made.

    As it was explained to me by a publisher, there’s no way the copyright law can be changed to make “home brew” MIDI adaptations legal. That would create far too large a loophole in the law. The clauses about how it’s illegal to store the copyrighted material in any kind of “retrieval system” have to remain in place, and that includes MIDI data storage.

    Someone on this thread pointed out that there are also warnings in all play scripts saying that to cut or change any dialogue is illegal, and yet it’s done all the time.

    Well, our theatre has also been in hot water for directors wanting to cut out speeches from scripts. The board of directors is now very vigilant that the copyright restrictions are followed to the “T.”

    One more story—One of our local High Schools put together a production of “How To Succeed in Business...” with the genders switched. Girls played the company executives and boys played the secretaries. The director proudly talked about this innovative interpretation in the local newspaper’s preview article. Well, there are staff members at all the publishing houses whose job is to scour papers nationwide, looking for possible copyright infringement issues. This story was noticed---and the school went through Hell. Their production was stopped; they were fined thousands of dollars, and were forbidden to use any of the publisher’s properties for a period of 5 years—The same penalty the community theatre was threatened with over my MIDI version of “Drood.”

    Unusual town perhaps—But the point is, these things can and do happen.
    I would love to do more MIDI orchestral work for the local theatre, but I can’t count on always talking writers or their publishers into giving me a break. As a result, the theatre has returned to small, under-rehearsed, under-motivated, under-trained bands that never do the scores justice.

    It sounds like you want to go ahead with your plans, Kenny. I just needed to come back on to say that even though our town’s problems may be rare—they can still happen. There is a very serious risk involved.

    Randy B.

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