SOTK's Pandemic Project
While we cannot physically meet to perform great orchestral music for the Kootenays community in person due to the covid-19 pandemic, the musicians of the Symphony of the Kootenays came together virtually to bring you Beethoven's contemplative and exaltant Allegretto from his Symphony No. 7. During this multi-month project, our stage moved to Zoom from our usual haunts: Cranbrook's Key City Theatre, the Creston Concert Society, Nelson's Capitol Theatre, and the Charles Bailey Theatre in Trail.
We offer this performance to our audiences as our commemoration of these unprecedented difficult times, and look forward to the day when we will be back on stage together to perform in the Kootenays.
A sincere thanks to Creston Concert Society for their generous support of our musicians in this project. Many thanks to SOTK principal oboist Aura Pon for her tireless work putting this together, SOTK Music Director Jeff Faragher and our wonderful musicians for their fine contributions.
Making of a Socially Distanced Recording
As noted above, our principal Oboeist, Aura Pon did a phenomenal job of pulling together recordings of all 28 musicians, plus Jeff Faragher's conductng. Aura wrote out the steps and challenges she faced in pulling this project together:
1. We asked Jeff to create a conductor video which he provided fairly quickly. This video included a verbal countdown to his downbeat that included asking each musician to record a clap to help synchronize each recording.
2. I recorded a temporary audio recording of the Ob1/Ob2 parts for the opening wind chord only and added it to the video.
3. At this point we wanted Jeff to record the cello part following his conductor video but he had broken his finger, so we tried a different order of recording that didn’t work and caused some long delays. Some discussions ensued about certain early recordings’ interpretations of the beat and other stylistic things such as style and phrasing of the piece. By the time we got things figured out, Jeff’s finger was better, and we felt it best that he interpret his conducting and record first.
4. Jeff recorded the audio of cello 1 and 2 parts while following his conductor video. I added these to the conductor video.
5. Then we asked the section leaders to record their parts, audio only, in the order of score entry: viola, violin2, violin1, then oboe1, clarinet1, and bassoon1. They each had to watch the video with headphones, do a clap at the beginning and record their audio on some other device, and try their best to play with the duality of Jeff conducting and playing cello.
6. While waiting for them to complete their recordings, we did a test Zoom call with everyone to see how it could work to record the video visual portion through Zoom, and also to answer questions.
7. Once the section leaders finished recording, I made a kind of rough mix of all of them by lining up each audio track using the claps and then synchronizing it with and embedding it in the conductor video using iMovie.
8. We sent out this conductor video with section leader audio to the rest of the orchestra and asked them to submit their recordings.
9. In mid-July, we had a Zoom performance call with as many musicians as could make it. We all played along to this conductor video, while I recorded the video of the call. There were significant delays between all our webcam videos as we were located different distances from my laptop doing the recording, from Ottawa to Nelson (two past SOTK musicians who now live in Ontario joined in the recording), the advantage of this method was the enjoyment of feeling like we were all playing together, the visuals of the video being authentically a performance together, and saving hours of work by avoiding some of the video editing work involved in stitching many little videos together.
10. The rest of the orchestra recording their parts and sent them to me from July to October, as some musicians joined the project later and some musicians had to drop out of the project. Also anyone who didn’t make it to the Zoom call was asked to submit a video of themselves playing their part. People used a variety of recording equipment, from smartphones to professional recording equipment with high-quality mics.
11. As I received audio recordings, I cleaned up the tracks of any background noise, etc from them in Audacity, then synchronize them with the section leaders’ recordings in Logic Pro X. Lining up the claps only got me so far to synchronizing the tracks, because there are so many ways to interpret the beat. I did what editing I could without being too meddlesome to make sure each section of instruments lined up together and were balanced with the right loudness. I also spatialized each section for where they normally sit onstage. Once instrument sections were complete, I tried to balance them amongst the other instrument sections, as needed for each part of the piece. Once the balance was there, I applied reverb algorithms to help them gel and sound like they were all recording in the same space, which of course they weren’t. Once it seemed to me to be a true rendition of Beethoven’s Allegretto, I exported the mix and got some feedback from others.
12. I combined the audio mix with Zoom video recording in Final Cut Pro, as well as any extra videos to add to the mosaic and made the finished video you can now watch online.
Jeff Faragher added some thoughts:
All I would add is the inherent difficulties of playing Classical music in this way. The pieces are meant to be played as an ensemble with each musician breathing, moving and emoting together and in response to one another. Even for myself as conductor it isn't a command when I give a gesture, it is in reaction to what I am hearing, feeling and seeing and a nudge to move the music in a particular way.
When initially conducting I had nothing to respond to so I just tried to keep the time and indicate what I thought I would like to hear. In addition, as a performer the musicians are used to playing these works in a weaved fabric of sound and not in stark solitude. Even when there was some sound to be heard most players were recording themselves as the only player on a part and that is very difficult. I am always impressed and proud of the diligence and artistic integrity of our dedicated players.
I have been in Aura's shoes with compiling a project like this and I feel she is understating the difficulty and hard work she faced in putting this all together. It's hard to imagine that a ten minute video is the result of hundreds of hours spent mixing, mastering and syncing video on top of countless hours communicating and coordinating musicians from all over.
The COVID-19 pandemic has changed how we normally seek out membership. Typically part of purchasing a subscription to the upcoming season, we had no such opportunity in 2020. Please consider joining or renewing your membership to Symphony of the Kootenays - it is a modest cost and helps with our fundraising and granting initiatives. Download the adjacent PDF form, print, complete and return to us.
SOTK Membership Form
SOTK is looking forward to being on stage again. Unfortunately, at this point, we don't know when that will be. However, the Board continues to work toward having orchestral music on Kootenay stages once again. Have any questions? Please reach out to us
Dinner Out & A Show At Home
The pandemic has been very hard on small businesses, particularly the hospitality industry. These restaurants in Cranbrook have supported SOTK and we ask that you support them during this difficult time. Dine in, take out, whatever you prefer. Unfortunately, you'll have to take in the show at home for now.
SOTK thanks all our partner restaurants for their generous support of the Symphony and performing arts in the Kootenays!