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Reflections on All-State: 20 Years Later

This week at the Tulsa Performing Arts Center, we have the Oklahoma Music Educators Association (OMEA) “All-State” Music Conference in the building. This is the primary music education advocacy group for all school music programs, from elementary through college, in the state of Oklahoma. They take over most of the hotels and convention space in downtown Tulsa for a good four days in about the 3rd week of January every year. This includes our building where the All-State Band, Orchestra and Mixed Chorus rehearse for two long days and then perform on Saturday along with the Women’s Chorus and the Wind Symphony. An All-State Children’s Chorus and an All-State Jazz Band rehearse and perform at other venues in downtown Tulsa. For us it involves one day to set up in every room that we have and then three long 16-hour days in a row while the groups are rehearsing and performing. It’s an exhausting week.

I’m always a little nostalgic during OMEA, because I happen to have been a member of the All-State Band in 1998. It was my first time setting foot on stage at the Tulsa Performing Arts Center and it was a little intimidating and somewhat awe inspiring. Nowadays, I know every nook and cranny of the building like the back of my hand and being back stage before, after, and during a show is nothing special. I’ve done it literally thousands, maybe even tens of thousands of times now.

To earn a spot in one of the All-State ensembles, students undertake a competitive audition process in the fall of every year. For the band and orchestra students, this is a very long and arduous process and involves as many as four rounds of auditions over a couple of months and is extremely competitive depending on what instrument they play. Those that are talented and fortunate enough to earn a spot in the All-State ensembles are often sought after by colleges and universities and offered talent based scholarships to play music in college. For many of them it is the fulfillment of years of hard work, thousands of hours of practice and private lessons, and the culmination of their high school music careers.  They get to spend three days working with nationally and internationally renowned conductors and clinicians and play some of the best music literature in the field with the best of their peers. These kids are the best musicians in high school in the state of Oklahoma. A very select few earn a spot in the All-State ensembles three years in a row; these students are the best of the best.

My senior year of high school, ’97-’98, I was fortunate enough to earn a spot in the All-State Band (actually I earned two spots, more about that in a bit). I got to perform on stage at the Tulsa Performing Arts Center with the Oklahoma All-OMEA Band in January of 1998, 20 years ago almost to the day. I played 2nd chair tenor saxophone in the OMEA All-State Band. This was for me the culmination of my high school music career and signaled a transition to my efforts as a saxophone performance major in college. It was the end of three years of hard work with two different saxophone teachers and many thousands of hours of practice and dedication. I’m sure that I annoyed the hell out of my parents and siblings practicing for hours and hours non stop as much as I could. For three years I was focused on this singular goal of “making All-State”. And it paid off.

The saxophone auditions for All-State are one of the more grueling audition processes. Because there are a fair number of saxophone players in the high school band programs all across the state there are a lot of players that try to earn a spot in the All-State Band. And they only take up to eight players total: four altos, two tenors and two baritones. But they don’t have to take all of those slots if there are not enough qualified players. So, if you are one of the hundreds, or even thousands of alto saxophone players in the state, you have to compete against everyone else for just one of four slots. And to do that, you have to make it through four different rounds of auditions: two at the first round of auditions in October or early November (usually at your all-region honor band auditions), and two more in December at the final round of All-State auditions. And then there are a few masochistic players who take upon themselves the burden of auditioning on more than one instrument. I was one of those players!

This was my secret weapon. Every year I auditioned on alto, tenor and baritone saxophones. They had the same music and playing the different saxophones is not really that difficult once you make some minor adjustments in your embouchure and hand position. So, every year, here I was lugging around nearly 80 lbs of saxophones and saxophone cases, my music bag and music stand and whatever else I had with me. This was in the days before teenagers had cell phones surgically attached to their hands and faces. I did usually have a Sony Walkman and later a Discman music player and head phones with me though. I almost never bothered to bring any text books or study materials with me on band trips or music auditions because, well, why bother? That would negate all the fun that you have on these trips.

Let me stage the stage for you:

In the fall of 1997, I was  a senior in high school. I was 18 years old (so legally an adult now), had spent the summer working for MerCruiser building boat engines, and played first chair alto saxophone in the marching band that fall. I detested marching band. Hated it with a passion unequaled to any and viewed it as not only a hindrance to any legitimate musical endeavor, but actually the antithesis of art. All the good that the arts do, football and marching band undoes. My band directors were none to keen with my view of the primary function of their job with the public school district. I had on numerous occasions been threatened with expulsion from the band program or the after school jazz band because of my attitude. At one point, I failed to have my marching band music memorized. My band director called me into his office and chewed me out and chastised me for being the section leader and not having my music memorized. I told him that I was concentrating on learning my All-State audition music. He was furious, and demoted me to last chair alto saxophone. I only laughed a little. But a week or so later I finally had it all memorized. I don’t remember if I even bothered to try to get back to 1st chair or not, since I viewed being 1st chair in marching band as a dishonor any way. On to the All-State auditions.

Three years in a row I auditioned for All-State. Every year I made it through the first two rounds of auditions in October to the final auditions in December. I figured that I should increase my chances by auditioning on all three saxophones, since they have the same music. (The OMEA committee has since separated the audition music for saxophone, so each instrument has different selections, which makes it harder to audition on all three saxophones since you have to learn six different very hard pieces). The final round of auditions is in itself an exhausting process. It always happens on the first Saturday in December at West Moore High School in Moore, Oklahoma, one of the biggest high schools in the state. Auditions start promptly at 08:00 (that’s 8:00 am for most of you). Every student has to draw a number to get their audition spot. If you are late: you’re disqualified. So you have to be at the school and registered for the auditions by no later than 7:30 am, which means that you show up about 7:00 am. Because our school was a good two hours away, we always stayed in a hotel in Moore the Friday night before so we would have a shorter commute the morning of the auditions. Our school always had a good dozen or so students that made it to the final auditions in December.

We would drive down after school on Friday, check in to our hotel rooms and then go to dinner and spend some time wandering around the local mall. My room mate on these nights was one of my best friends and clarinet player Michael Miller. We had a great time and it was a tradition of ours to buy a music CDs on these trips. One of these years, I think my sophomore year (1995), I bought my first Tower of Power CD T.O.P. and would form the basis of a life-long passion for the East-Bay soul and funk sound that is Tower of Power. This is one of those rare examples in public school where your teachers begin to make it appear that they might think about treating you, sort of, like an adult. They expect you to be somewhat responsible to get your butt to the bus and audition rooms on time without constant micromanaging, a privilege earned through the long practice and audition process.

In December of 1996, when I failed to earn a spot in the All-State Band, I knew I had to make some changes. It took a couple of months, but in February of 1997 I did something that would change my life forever. I found a saxophone teacher. And not just any saxophone teacher, the best saxophone teacher and most talented classical saxophonist in the entire state of Oklahoma: Linda Naylor, the adjunct professor of saxophone at The University of Tulsa. She was and is one of the most important people in my life and taught me more about music and life than almost any other single person in my life. She once told me that, after my first lesson with her, she thought to herself, “oh my god, what have I gotten myself into?” But she stuck with me. She changed everything about how I played the saxophone: my embouchure, hand position, breath control, reading skills, listening skills, counting, musical interpretation, even the length of my neck strap. EVERYTHING. She taught me how to play the saxophone. After six years of abysmal public school music education, she taught me how to actually play music. And even now when I teach my own daughter how to play her flute, I hear Linda’s voice coming out of my mouth. Using the same expressions and terminology to describe what all the various music terms and techniques are.

Linda, if you are reading this: I can’t thank you enough for what you did for me over 4 and a half years. You took me under your wing and taught me more than any other single teacher, and more than most put together. You were the biggest influence on my life after my parents, and now I get to pass those lessons down to my own daughter. 

So in December of 1997, I walk into the All-State auditions armed with a head full of new knowledge about how to play the saxophone and with nearly a year of intense saxophone lessons under my belt. I was confident and hopeful as I drug my three saxophones into West Moore High School. I had a plan. I had been working on the audition music, other etudes, solos, and sight reading with Linda for nearly a year now. I won’t go as far as saying that I could see the future, but I was pretty damn confident in the work that I had put in. And more than that, I was dead set on proving to my band director that the guy that he demoted a few weeks earlier to last chair was going to make All-State. I was focused on this singular task like a laser beam, cutting it down piece by piece.

There’s a process to the process of auditioning:

First: You have to put in the work. You’ve got to know the music forwards and backwards, at faster and slower tempos than what is marked. At this point, I could play my audition pieces from memory. But, I always used the music because the audition required different portions of the music to be played, so I had to make sure I was playing the correct segments of the music.

Second: On the day of the audition, you have to stay focused. Don’t let yourself get distracted by whatever is going on around you. Don’t run off with friends or get carried away chatting about whatever nonsensical thing teenagers talk about. Stay focused on the audition. That’s your job. You can have fun after the audition is over and you are waiting to hear the results.

Third: Do not, DO NOT play your audition piece in the warm up room. You’re tipping your hand to the other players if you do. Run some scales and chords, play something else, get some decent long tones in. You want a good solid warm up. And normally, the first time you play your audition piece is the best run you get out of that day. So save it for the audition room.

Forth: Be cool. Stay relaxed. Be confident, but not arrogant. And don’t get nervous. You’ve played this piece hundreds of time before, this is just another run.

All-State audition day at West Moore High School can best be described as barely controlled chaos. There are thousands of students there all hanging out in the gym, cafeteria, commons area and hall ways. The students from each school find an area to camp out for the nearly 16 hour long day. Pillows, coats, book bags, instrument cases and folding music stands litter every available piece of real estate possible. Your fellow students are charged with watching over each other’s stuff while everyone goes to their warm ups and auditions. It’s a base camp of sorts for the day.

When I get to the gym to warm up for my first round of auditions, I run some scales and some long tones. Play some other etudes and one of the pieces that I am looking at for my solo contest later in the spring. Then I notice one of the other girls playing saxophone, trying to learn her audition music at the last minute. She’s playing some cheap knock off alto saxophone and has Christmas tree garland wrapped around the keys of her saxophone and a big golden tree ornament hanging from the key guard. I think to myself, “Well, there’s one other person I don’t have to worry about”.

Throughout the course of the day I warm up and play my auditions four times: two for alto and one each for tenor and baritone. The year I auditioned, there were 92 alto saxophones auditioning. And I think 21 or 22 tenors and 16 baritone saxophones auditioning. (Remember earlier when I said they only take four altos, and two tenors and baritones each?) I’m pretty sure that my success was sheer luck and came down to the sight reading. I distinctly remember walking out of my tenor audition thinking, “Man, I NAILED that sight reading!” I don’t know what it was, if it was just the right tempo that I chose, not too fast to tangle up my fingers, and not too slow to make it apparent that I couldn’t play it, or it that it just laid under my fingers just right.

After all of the auditions for each section have been completed and the scores tabulated, the results are posted, section by section, on the inside window of the main office of the school. About mid afternoon when the smaller sections have completed their audition process, everyone starts gravitating towards the main office of the school to wait for the results. And cheers erupt each time a section is posted as kids see the final results. Some dreams are made. Lots of hearts are broken.

There’s this magical moment during the day, when one of the people working on tabulating the scores comes out of the office before the scores are posted and they yell through a bull horn that they need to see such and such student. That student is summoned to the office because they auditioned on more than one instrument and they made it on more than one instrument, so they have to decide which one they are going accept. That student gets to hear the results of their audition before everyone else does. But, that simple announcement of calling them to the office announces to everyone that they made it. If you are one of those students, you are greeted with high-fives, pats on the back and fists in the air as you walk to the office to pick your instrument.

For me, this happened about 6:00 in the evening. Now remember, we had been up since about 5:30 am and at West Moore since about 7:00 am. And four auditions and 11 hours later I found myself walking into the tabulation office. My band director is in the back with a shit-eating grin on his face, and one of the other directors tells me that I made 2nd chair tenor saxophone and 2nd chair baritone saxophone in the All-OMEA Band. Before he could even ask which one I wanted, I told him, “I’ll take tenor!”. He says, “Ok, please don’t tell anyone until the results are officially posted”. Yeah…fuck that noise! As I walk out of the office, my friends from my high school band are all standing there: word has gotten out. My buddy Mike asks, “well, which one is it?” “2nd Tenor!” More high-fives and cheers were to be had.

The adrenaline rush keeping you going all day through this process begins to drain away and you start feeling dead tired all of the sudden. You find a place to nap until the rest of the students in your school are done and everyone is ready to leave. That year we had four students from our band that made it to the All-State Band and Orchestra and two alternates. A pretty good showing for our school at that time. My friend Mike also made it to the All-State Band on clarinet. So, we got to room together during the festival.

A week or so later you get your official paperwork and music in the mail for the All-OMEA Festival in January. You start practicing a new round of music. And this stuff is hard. Really hard. Like REALLY damn hard. The hardest stuff you’ve ever played. More intense lessons with Linda to get me ready to play the music in the festival.

The week of the Festival rolls around. We get two days off school. The school paid for our hotel rooms and food for the three days we are at the OMEA Festival. It’s an intense three days of hard playing and rehearsing. You spend ALL DAY in rehearsal except for a few breaks. Now, I was playing at lot at this point in my life, usually about three hours a day during the week and up to five hours a day on the weekends. But most high school music students don’t play anywhere near that amount and certainly not at this level. By the end of the first day all of the brass players and double reed players were nearly dead, and we had two more days to go! Even I wasn’t quite ready to spend eight or nine hours playing in a single day.  My chops were shot by the end of the second day and I barely made it through the concert.

At some point on Friday I turned to my friend Mike and said, “Hey, do you realize we haven’t seen our band directors since Wednesday night?”. He says, “Yeah, I was  thinking about that earlier.” Here we are, on a school sponsored trip and we haven’t seen our teachers in almost two days. It was the first time that I had been treated like an adult by any school teacher ever. I guess they expected that the level of maturity to take the time and effort required to make it to All-State meant that we could be afforded the rights that we deserved. We were literally on our own for a good three-days to get up and get to rehearsals and meals on our own. I wouldn’t experience this level of respect by educators again for more than another year until I went on tour with the TU Jazz Band my freshman year of college–but that’s another story.

I don’t actually remember much about the concert. But, one thing I do distinctly remember is siting in rehearsal on the Chapman Music Hall stage. While the conductor was working with one of the other sections for a few minutes I was looking around, and noticed a giant gaping hole downstage in front of where we were playing. I could have sworn that there wasn’t a hole there earlier. Then a few minutes later, I see some guys coming up through that floor. They were riding the automated pit lift up with some piece of equipment or another. It was the first time I had seen a movable orchestra pit. The day of the concert, we played some music. And then it was over. Once again that adrenaline rush subsided and we had dinner after the concert and went home. And then, we had to go back to playing in our regular high school band, which was kind of a let down after playing in the All-State Band.

The equipment I used for the All-State Band auditions and concert:
King Super 20 tenor saxophone
Selmer S80 C** mouthpiece
Vandoren V16 #4 reeds

20 years ago, I thought my path would take me to being a professional saxophone player or teacher. But, here I am, 20 years later: a professional audio engineer sitting in the sound booth of the Tulsa Performing Arts Center turning microphones on and off for the All-State concerts as another generation of young music students pursues their own life in music. It’s been a long few days and I have lost a full night’s sleep over the last three nights. But, I wonder if I was destined to be here..to work in the same building that started me down this path of working as a professional in the arts and entertainment industry.

I don’t get to play anywhere near as much as I want to these days. Working 60 and 70 hour long weeks for multiple weeks in a row at the Tulsa PAC and family responsibilities doesn’t afford me the free time to dedicate to my first love. I still consider myself a saxophone player above, beyond, and before all else. But, every year I tell myself, “This year. This year, I’m going to hit the woodshed and get my chops in shape and find a band to play with.” And then I never find the time.

Well, maybe this year will be the year, finally.

 

Home for the Holidays in a New Venue

When I was in college at The University of Tulsa, spending countless hours in the damp, cramped and musty basement practice rooms of Tyrrel Hall (then the home of the School of Music); the dream of the department was the “new music building”. A mythical carrot held out in front of every prospective music student for decades. In the late ’90s and early ’00s it became an almost sarcastic joke. No one thought that a new building would ever be built. Well that eventually changed. The Lorton Performance Center was finally built and became the new home of the School of Music for The University of Tulsa when it opened in 2011. It is a wonderful and long deserved facility.

Because of reasons, the Tulsa Symphony had to move their annual December Holiday Concert from the Tulsa Performing Arts Center to the Lorton Performance Center at the University of Tulsa. And on December 2nd and 3rd, I had the opportunity to go with them and mix their show. I also recorded it for eventual broadcast on the Tulsa Public Radio station KWTU as part of their classical music program. As I write this blog post, I am in the final stages of that mix, which will be mastered and delivered to the radio station soon.

This program featured local jazz trumpeter and singer Jeff Shadley and his trio, as well as A Klezmer Nutcracker. Having mixed The Nutcracker for the Tulsa Ballet for the past 10 years, this Klezmer version was a refreshing take on the Holiday classic by Tchaikovsky.

Because I was unable to hang my normal recording mic set up; I approached this show in more of a pops orchestra fashion, with section micing on the chorus, strings, winds, percussion and close micing the Trumpet and vocals and Jeff Shadley’s jazz trio. 27 inputs total recorded from the Lorton’s Digidesign Venue D-Show console to their Protools HD system. I’m not a fan of the Digidesign/Avid live sound consoles. They are clunky, counter intuitive to operate, have a lot of wasted space, and have a difficult GUI to navigate. But I managed to get everything out of it that I needed and the show went off without a hitch.

Here are a couple of pics from the FOH console. I didn’t take any pictures of the orchestra mic set up. But they look like microphones in front of orchestra musicians.

 

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Recording the Brahms Requiem

This month is the Tulsa Symphony’s performance of Johannes Brahms’ A German Requiem with the Tulsa Oratorio Chorus at the Tulsa Performing Arts Center. This will once again be broadcast on KWTU Public Radio Tulsa in about a month. This is a amazing piece of music and I am happy to be spending the next couple of weeks editing, mixing and mastering one of the most beautiful and powerful pieces of music ever composed.

Microphone set up is:

Main pair – 2x Neumann TLM 170R
Outriggers – 2x Neumann KM184s
Orchestra spots – 3x Neuman KM184s
House mics – 2x Neumann KM184s
Chorus Mics – 2x AKG C414-BULS and 2x C414-XLII
Soloist spot mic – Audio-Technica AT4050

Fourteen inputs total for this performance.

Protools HDX with Focusrite Red 4Pre and Red HD32R running on Dante with a Yamaha CL5 and a pair of RIO 3224D i/o racks.

The dress rehearsal on stage at the Chapman Music Hall at the Tulsa Performing Arts Center; with full symphony, chorus and soloists.

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Main pair of Neuman TLM170R mics and the Neuman KM184 house mic in the background.

CMH House

Sometimes you have to compromise your mic position because of the needs of the live performance. This staging was set up to provide the horns a bigger area behind them for reflection and the extra seats for the chorus did not require a full row.

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New this year, we have added a full digital audio workstation to the in house arsenal of audio gear at the Tulsa PAC. A new Mac Pro enclosed in a Sonnet Tech xMac Pro Server Thunderbolt expansion chassis houses our Protools HDX card, and two 1 TB solid state drives, one 1.5 TB hard disk drive, and two external USB 3.0 hard disk drives, all 7200 rpm. Counting the Mac Pro SSD, I have 6.5 terabytes of online storage in this set up. This rack also houses a Focusrite Red 4Pre and a RedNet HD32R Dante to Protools HD bridge which give me access to recording all 64 channels on the Dante network that our Yamaha CL5 and dual RIO 3224D i/o racks offer. We also use this DAW for playback with QLab 4 by Figure 53.

Many of my initial recordings will start out on this machine. But I will transition to my personal Protools system at home for editing, mixing and mastering, which is good because I have many more and better plugins than the building does.  🙂

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Automixing The Nutracker

For the ninth year in a row I mixed the Tulsa Ballet’s production of The Nutcracker.

I was on a quest to do something a little different for this year’s production since I’ve long since gotten bored with it. One suggestion that I received was to set up use an automixer for the orchestra. Our Yamaha CL5 has a built in 16 channel Dan Dugan Automixer. My orchestra set up was 14 mics this year, so it fit nicely into the 16 channel Dugan automixer.

The Dugan Automixer is meant to be used primarily for voice for talking head type events. I’ve used the Dugan before, mainly for floor mics for tap dance shows and I think it works well in that respect and gets a little more gain before feedback. So I was curious to hear how it would fare in an orchestral music environment.

So, the thing about Yamaha’s implementation of the Dugan Automixer is; is that it takes up 8 channels of the graphic EQs on the CL5’s Number 1 Virtual Rack. Meaning that you can’t have both graphic EQs and the Dugan inserted at the same time in that rack. If you want to use 16 channels of the Dugan Automixer, then you have to use up 16 channels of the graphic EQ. So that leaves you will only Virtual Rack Number 2 for your graphic EQs, if you need them. It’s not a big deal for me, since I rarely use the graphic EQs on our standard console set up.

My set up is identical to last year’s set up, which you can read about here:

Eight Years Mixing The Nutracker

Except that I added one extra Shure SM81 for the percussion section since they were more spread out in the pit this year. This gave me 14 channels in the pit orchestra and fit nicely in the 16 channel Dugan Automixer.

Overall I was happy with the performance of the Dugan in orchestral music. It seemed to have a little more gain before feedback which I think helped the smaller orchestra sound a little fuller overall.

 

Radio Shenanigans

Today we had a load in for The Tulsa Symphony Orchestra for their concert to take place Saturday evening. Since I don’t have to do anything for the load in; I’m sitting at my desk reading about SSL consoles and Nuage control surfaces. I get a call over radio from our electrician. He asks me if I want to come up on stage and talk to the symphony’s production manager about hanging mics and recording the show.

“Umm…sure. I’ll be right there.”

Last year I recorded, mixed and mastered all of the symphony’s performances for broadcast on the local public radio station. But this year, no one had contacted me about hiring me to do the mix and master AND they did not mention recording in their preproduction info (I usually get an extra audio hand to help me run and check mics during load in). I was kind of bummed because I thought they either didn’t like my work and found someone else, or they cut the recording out of the budget this year. Either way I thought I had lost the contract and the fees that go with it, which is a nice little bit of extra income.

So I walk on stage and the PM for the symphony says they are recording all of their concerts for broadcast again this year and would like me to do it. (This is two hours AFTER the load in had started mind you).

“Sure, I would love to. When do you want to hang the mics?” Thinking to myself, rehearsal starts in three hours, and your piano soloist and conductor are going to be here in an hour…

“Can we do it now? We’ve got the guys for a four hour call and still have two hours left,” he says.

“Ok, let me go down stairs and pull the mics and cables.”

Long story short, it took me a little less than an hour and a half to hang and patch seven mics plus the solo mic for the piano which is on a short stand in front of the piano.

The mic set up is my, now standard, ten-mic orchestra set up:

  • two Neumann TLM-170s as a main pair over and slightly down stage of the conductor
  • two Neumann KM-184s 15 feet off center over the cellos and first violins
  • three Neumann KM-184s about fifteen feet upstage at: center over the woodwind section and fifteen feet either side of center to catch the harp/timpani/percussion on stage right and the end of the low basses and brass on stage left
  • an Audio-Technica AT-4050 on a short stand about five feet in front of the piano for the soloist
  • And a pair of Neumann KM-184s hung from our lighting cove position about thirty-five feet into the house and thirty feet above the floor.

Everything runs into the house Yamaha RIO3224D I/O racks on our CL5, and recording is done via Dante Virtual Sound Card into Protools 10 on the house Mac Pro. I’ll do the mixing and mastering on my personal laptop and Protools 11 system with my Focusrite Scarlet 18i20 either at home or at Advanced Recording Concepts in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma.

The symphony is doing more shows this year than they did last year. They are adding a pops mini series and I think I’m going to get to record one or two of those shows also, so it’ll be a bit of a change from the standard classical symphony and soloist routine.

Meyer Sound SIM3 Training and System Design

August 17th I traveled to Fort Worth, Texas to attend Meyer Sound’s SIM3 Training and System Design seminar with Bob McCarthy. The class ran from August 18th through August 21, 2015.

This class is an intense four day long class conducted by one of the world’s foremost sound systems designers. Bob McCarthy has been designing, building, tuning and optimizing (and fixing badly installed) sound systems since 1984 and has more experience than just abbot any one else alive in doing so. He is also a wealth of knowledge and has some great stories about the business that he has collected along the way.

This session was held in Fort Worth at the McDavid Studio at Bass Performance Hall right down town. There were about 15 students from as close as Fort Worth and as far away as Ecuador: a mix of sound designers, system techs, house techs, production company techs and freelance audio geeks.

Using microphones placed around the room at various predetermined locations, depending on what speaker you want to measure; you compare the sound coming out of the speaker to that of a clean signal that comes from a computer or other playback device, and are able to ascertain whether the live microphone sound meets your expectations of level, EQ, and phase coherency.  Other systems exist to do the same thing at various prices points, including: SMAART, SpectraFoo, SysTune, and REW, just to name a few. SIM3 is the measurement system sold by Meyer Sound and largely developed by Bob McCarthy.

Though the class is named SIM3 Training, it really is more of a general sound system measurement class, that just happens to use the SIM3 software and hardware system. Most other system tuning classes take a similar approach and purposefully try to be system agnostic. You do learn the basics of how to set up the software and read the data on screen, but the overall physics of sound and the math used in the software are the same no matter which piece of software you use. They differ only in the user interface, and access to different options that the designers and users have implemented to make their work flow the fastest and easiest for them.

While the SIM3 class was being conducted downtown; across town at the Gateway Church, Harry Brill was teaching a three day long class on SMAART. I have known Harry for close to 10 years now, and had the opportunist to take his class here in Tulsa back in January of aught-09. This is a somewhat rare occurrence: having two “competing” system tuning classes happen in the same city, during the same dates. So we couldn’t resist the urge to have a get together and planned to meet for drinks and dinner at the Flying Saucer in Downtown Forth Worth.  The two classes spent an evening talking audio shop and trading the sound nerd equivalent of big fish stories: each of us trying to out do the others with stories of the worst gigs and bad sound systems possible.

One of the many people that I got to meet at the SIM3 class was Ra Byn Taylor, who I have conversed with online for several years as we are both members of the the Theatre Sound Google Group. Ra Byn is a sound designer in Fort Worth and works often with the Texas Ballet Theatre, Fort Worth Opera and Dallas Opera. He runs a website called: audiomeasurments.com

On one of my evenings off I got to venture out and enjoy an evening at the Scat Jazz Club which was just a block away from my hotel. It was a nice place, located in a renovated basement. The entrance was through an elevator in the middle of an alley between two buildings. Granted it was the nicest and cleanest alley I have ever been in, but it was an alley none-the-less. You have to enter through an elevator. It felt like you were descending into a Cold-War era missal silo. The cover charge was only $5 and they had free refills on soft drinks, so it was an enjoyable and inexpensive evening.

Tempting Fate With A Big Box

On March 7th, 2015, the Tulsa Symphony Orchestra performed Gustav Mahler’s 6th Symphony in A minor (Tragische). This symphony is interesting because it includes some odd instruments, such as cow bells and a giant box which Mahler describes in his notes as “brief and mighty, but dull in resonance and with a non-metallic character (like the fall of an axe)“. This is the hammer of fate and sounds three times during the performance.

For this performance, the TSO Production Manager, Marc Facci and Stage Manager, Terry Abel constructed a wooden box which was struck with an 8lb dead blow hammer. The box was made from 3/4” plywood approximately 4′ wide by 3′ deep by 4′ high with wooden banding and a handle on each end. They also screwed a wooden impact plate into the top to help absorb the blow of the hammer and ensure that t he plywood did not split.

My, now, standard mic set up was used to record this symphony:

  • 2 Neumann TLM 170s as the main pair over the conductor’s podium
  • 5 Neumann KM184s (2 hung far left and right over the violins and cellos and 3 more upstage over the timpani, woodwinds and brass/basses)
  • 2 Neumann K184s from our lighting cove as house mics
  • and an Audix D6 and D4 on the Box

There were no soloists to deal with on this performance (unless you count the box as a solo sit!) or choirs or other odd set up issues. And I think that this symphony was one of my best sounding recordings yet. It was Broadcast on KWTU Radio in Tulsa, Oklahoma on Sunday May 3, 2015.

I have attached some pictures of the box and the general orchestra set up below.

One of the changes that I decided to make after the first rehearsal was to move the far stage left mic on stage about 6 feet to get a little more cello sound and less of the basses. I had to climb up to our lighting bridge to to make this change . While there, I took a couple of pics looking down at the orchestra set up from about 30 feet over the stage.

 

 

Recording the Mozart Reqiuem

On January 17th, 2015, hot on the heels of the Tulsa Youth Opera, the Tulsa Symphony Orchestra performed one of the all time greatest masterworks of the classical music cannon: The Requiem Mass in D Minor (K. 626) by W.A. Mozart. Also on this program was the Beethoven 8th Symphony. These pieces formed a program called “Simply Classical”. I got to record and mix this performance which will be broadcast on KWTU Radio in Tulsa, Oklahoma in March, 2015.

This performance required a slightly different approach to the staging and recording. The addition of a 100+ person chorus, four soloists, and a smaller orchestra meant the deployment of more microphones than is normally used to record a classical music ensemble. My normal orchestra recording set up is 6 to 8 microphones depending on soloist or other special instruments. To record this performance I used 15 microphones.

The main pair were 2 Neumann TLM 170s set to cardioid and hung from our lighting bridge approximately 12 feet over the stage. I used a length of 1/16″ black powder coated aircraft cable and a small VerLock to hold the mics in place and pull the stereo bar down stage about three feet behind the conductor.  The mics were positioned so that their diaphragms were offset from each other left and right by 90 degrees. Five additional Neumann KM 184s were hung pointing straight down as spot mics for the rest of the orchestra: two either side fo the main pair about 15 feet either side of center. Three more were hung in a line further upstage from a batten over the stage and in between the shell ceilings. These three mics were positioned over the basses, the woodwinds and the timpani.

The chorus was miced with four AKG C414s on tall boom stands. The mics were set directly in front of the front chorus riser and spaced across the chorus so that each mic picked up one each of the four chorus sections: soprano, alto, tenor, and bass. The soloists were picked up with two AKG C451 small condenser mics. There were four soloists, a sproano, alto, tenor, and bass. I placed the mics a few feet down stage, and between the female and male soloists, respectively.

House mics were a pair of Neumann KM 184s, hung from our lighting cove position, approximately 35 or so feet from the stage. And I also recorded a feed from the wireless hand held mic used by the conductor for his speech prior to the performance of the Requiem, which brought me to 16 tracks total for this performance.

The Yamaha CL5 and it’s attached RIO3224D i/o racks were used as the audio interface and recorded into Protools via Dante Virtual Soundcard. Mixing took approximately 3 weeks and included manually time aligning the delayed audio from the house mics and pushing the chorus mics further back in the timeline to line up with the main pair of microphones. This dramatically increased the clarity and ineligibility of the chorus. I also used three separate reverb algorithms from the Waves IR-1 convolution reverb, one each for: orchestra, chorus, and soloists. A funny request came from the radio station after the December recording; that they wanted to hear more reverb in the recording. So I pushed it up a notch on this one to make the recording sound bigger.

March’s symphony program is the Mahler 6th Symphony, which includes the infamous “Mahler Box” and “Hammer of Fate”. I’m sure I will have an entire blog post devoted to the construction and recording of the box and hammer.

Mixing The Giver – Tulsa Youth Opera

Just like 2014, 2015 started right away with a medium-ish musical theatre production. The Tulsa Youth Opera staged a production of The Giver, composed by Susan Kandar and based on the book of the same name by Lois Lowry. This production was sponsored by the Tulsa Opera and comprised mostly of children and young teens with a couple of supporting rolls by some adult members of the Tulsa Opera studio artists.

This production took place in the Williams Theatre at the Tulsa Performing Arts Center; mixed on a Yamaha PM5D-RH, with a Meyer M1D line array, M1D-Sub cardioid subwoofer array, and supported by Sennheiser 2000 series wireless mics with Countryman B3 lavalier elements.

Unlike the Tulsa Opera, which performs in Chapman Music Hall, the Tulsa Youth Opera is approached more as a musical theatre production. The kids in the opera are not professional opera singers, and often times it’s their first time in a large production. So we mic them like we would actors in music theatre. Sennheiser 2000 series wireless belt packs with Countryman B3 lavalier elements are the tool for the job. Some of the cast get halo rigs built from elastic cord, some get over-the-ear rigs built with wire ear pieces and Hellerman sleeves. The cast was about 30 kids and a few young adults. The 10 principals  all received wireless mics and Jonas, the lead was double miced with a primary and back up mic (I never had to use the back up during the show). We also prepped two spare wireless mic packs but did not have to use them.

It’s worth noting at this point, that the same week that we had the Tulsa Youth Opera rehearsing and performing in the Williams Theatre; upstairs in the Chapman Music Hall, the touring production of Once was performing. Once carries over 70 channels of wireless mics, in-ear-monitors, and wireless coms and production radios. And while our measly 13 channels of wireless mics pales in comparison, it could have been disastrous for both productions if proper frequency coordination was not done ahead of time. The Chapman Music Hall sits right above (literally on top of) the Williams Theatre. If two wireless mics are on the same frequency or even frequencies that are too close to each other, then one show or another may hear pops, clicks, whistling or even full audio from the other show. Luckily, we were able to coordinate frequencies ahead of time, and neither show had any interference from the other show. Both were nice and quiet the entire week.

The orchestra was 10 players: two violins, a cello, flute, clarinet, trombone, harp, two percussion players and a piano. Five Crown PCC160s were used along the front of the stage next to the pit edge for chorus mics. There were no other hanging or areas mics, and no mics hung from FOH as room mics (which I would later regret not doing when I started mixing the recording).

This show was mixed line by line using the DCA groups on the Yamaha PM5D and the automation system to move the principal singer mics in and out of DCA groups on a scene-by-scene basis. DCA 1 was dedicated to Jonas and his back up mic. DCA 6 was dedicated to the PCC mics, DCA 7 to the orchestra, and DCA 8 to the stage foldback monitors. DCAs 2 through 5 would have different actors assigned to them based on who was singing or speaking in a particular scene. I had to follow the score for the show for my mic cues.

The PM5D input list was:

  1. Jonas primary
  2. Jonas backup
  3. Giver
  4. Father
  5. Mother
  6. Lilly
  7. Fiona
  8. Asher
  9. Elder
  10. Instructor
  11. chorus soloist
  12. Violins – Neumann KM 184
  13. Cello – Audio Technica AT 4050
  14. Harp – AKG C414
  15. Flute – Neumann KM184
  16. Clarinet – Neumann KM 184
  17. Trombone – Sennheiser MD 421
  18. Piano High – AKG C414
  19. Piano Low – AKG C414
  20. Timpani – AKG C414
  21. Percussion 1 – Shure SM81
  22. SM announce mic
  23. tech table talk back mic
  24. wireless handheld
  25. PCC1
  26. PCC2
  27. PCC3
  28. PCC4
  29. PCC5

Recording was done straight into Protools 11 on my 4  year old Sony VAIO laptop. I had 28 channels coming from the PM5D which had two MY16-AUD Dante cards installed to allow for up to 32 channels of audio. I had 28 channels of audio, all wireless mics, the orchestra, and PCC mics plus two channels mirrored off the main stereo FOH mix. Because I was recording direct out of the mic preamps, the recorded audio also includes all the off stage niose and talking from the wireless mics, which you don’t hear during the performance because those mics are muted at those times. It will take some time to edit and mix those channels to get rid of all that extraneous noise. Luckily I don’t have a tight deadline for this one.

Eight Years Mixing The Nutcracker

December 2014 marks the 8th year in a row that I have mixed the Tulsa Ballet’s production of The Nutcracker. I started in December 2007 (and a full year before I was employed full time by the Tulsa PAC), just after returning from working for six months as the Lead Audio Tech for the Utah Shakespeare Festival. The then current house sound technician took off in December to go work another freelance job out of state, and I was brought in to sub for him and mix the show.

Over the past eight years (and more than 70 shows now) and four different stage managers, I have mixed this show on a variety of consoles: Innovason Live Serie SY80, Soundcraft K3, Yamaha PM5D-RH and Yamaha CL5. I have used as few as six mics, and as many as eighteen for the pit orchestra. The current mic set up is thirteen on the orchestra and four additional tech support mics. Unlike opera, the orchestra for the Ballet gets fully reinforced for both on stage foldback and the audience. My goal is to provide subtle reinforcement to just raise the levels slightly but still allow the orchestra to sound as acoustic and natural as possible. Gentle use of Yamaha’s Rev-X Hall reverb and Symphonic chorus effects help to give the illusion of a larger and more lush orchestra without being overbearing.

Also this year, the Tulsa Symphony decided to program Selections from the Nutcracker for their December concert; the recording of which I am now in the process of mixing for broadcast in January. So, I guess that counts as nine separate productions of The Nutcracker that I have now mixed. I think it’s pretty safe to say that The Nutcracker is part of my standard repertoire of mixes and I think I could almost mix it in my sleep by now (in fact some nights I do!)  Although, I’m not sure how well it would turn out if I had to do it in another hall, with a different orchestra and a mic package that is not nearly as nice as the one we have here.

This year’s mic plot and input list:

  1. 1st Violin – Neumann KM184
  2. 2nd Violin – Neuman KM184
  3. Viola – Neumann KM184
  4. Cello – Audio-Technica AT4050
  5. Bass – Audio-Technica AT4050
  6. Woodwinds 1 – Neumann KM184
  7. Woodwinds 2 – Neumann KM184
  8. Brass 1 – Sennheiser MD421
  9. Brass 2 – Sennheiser MD421
  10. Harp – AKG C414-XLII
  11. Celest – AKG C3000B
  12. Timpani – AKG C414-XLII
  13. Percussion – Shure SM81
  14. SM ANNC – Shure SM58 w/switch
  15. Tech Table – Sennheiser E835 w/switch
  16. Wireless Handheld – Shure SLX2
  17. Rehearsal Piano – Shure Beta 57

Stage foldback is a pair of Meyer UPJ-1Ps down stage right and left and a pair of Meyer UPM-1Ps upstage right and left. Load-in took about four hours. Load-out will take about an hour and a half Sunday night, after a two show day.

Upcoming highlights for 2015: three more symphony concerts to record and mix, two operas to record and mix, a youth opera, a five week straight run with no days off in March and April, at least three consulting jobs, a long dry summer with no big shows, and rumors of some possible summer theatre design/mixing work. Also, I may start taking saxophone lessons again (if I can find the free time in my schedule) and hopefully I will start building my recording studio.