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Projecting visual images during concert performances

Hello,
 
I looked in the archive before posting, but did not see anything that addressed my questions in much detail.
 
I've been engaged by a professional choir to prepare a slide show to be shown during performance of a major oratorio. During the recits (narratives), the slides will display only the texts of the English translation; during arias and choral movements (reflective texts), the slides will show images of artworks from a local museum with whom we are collaborating, along with the texts (these are much shorter texts that the recit texts).
 
Of course, we are working closely with the museum as to image slection and quality, permissions, etc., and we have professionals handling the technical aspects of the projection process (hardware, software, etc). We will have two very large screens, one on either side of the chancel, and will use readable fonts and large size for texts, etc, so as to have everything legible. We will do quite a bit of testing to ensure visibility and legibility. In all cases, the texts will be displayed in real time, as the music unfolds, so they will be on multiple slides. No crowded, tiny texts.
 
We are also hoping to provide a nicely-printed and specially designed keepsake booklet that will contain the libretto, the images, essays from the artistic director and museum specilist, and notes about the images (as well as credits, etc.). We also hope to have all this information posted on the ensemble's website in advance of the concert.
 
If you have done this sort of thing before, I would welcome your advice, caveats, suggestions, success stories, disaster stories -- anything that would help us to create a memorable, enriching experience for our audience.
 
I'm particularly interested in hearing your experience with --
Technical matters - What could go wrong? What should we anticipate?
Marketing - Did you do any special sort of outreach beyond your normal PR avenues? Did you collaborate with the museum to promote the event? Did it pay off?
Reaction - Did the audience like it? Hate it? Why and how? What did the performers think? Media critics? Funders?
Money - What expenses should we anticipate? Any surprises?
Collaboration - Did you run into any unexpected situations with museum collaborators?
 
Thanks very much for sharing your advice and experience.
 
Sarah Hager Johnston, BMus, MLS
GraceNotes
on October 29, 2015 2:32pm
You might contact the administrators of the Phoenix (Arizona) Symphony.  Former music director Michael Christie felt strongly about this and put a lot of thought into several video productions, from English translations to a complex presentation of photography to accompany Grofe's Grand Canyon Suite.  Two years ago he moved to another position in the Great Lakes area; I'm sure you can find out more via internet and Symphony.
on October 30, 2015 11:01am
Sarah
Perhaps my experience, although a little different than what you describe, will be of help.
 
I’ve used imagery for concerts of oratorios (Creation-Haydn, Elijah-Mendelssohn) and projection of just the text (with thematic/branded background for the concert production) for Messiah. I’ve also used projected art work (from medieval to modern) with Christmas and other Worship Through Music (all-music) services (choral/orchestral, classical/traditional environment). I’ve received only very positive comments. In one instance I used more photography to accompany Gjielo’s Sunrise Mass which uses the traditional Latin text in a non-traditional manner relating it to elements of nature and modern life also with great success.

There are various philosophies among graphic artists who do this sort of thing in churches (both “contemporary” and traditional). They range from a literal point of view (I call it “Pictionary”, a literal image of the action of the text or music) to interpretive (using imagery to lead the viewer/listener to connect or intuit another aspect or message of the text/music) to experiential/emotional, e.g. using a abstract “motion background” to instill, or enhance a particular feeling of the music.

At this point I should probably mention what I and perhaps many of my colleagues and even some graphic artists may believe: projected imagery is a distraction from the music, the performers, and shouldn’t be necessary. And I agree that it certainly can be.  But when used judiciously, sensitively, and artistically it can also really enhance the concert and worship experience in this post-modern (or post-post-modern) age that is more experiential than it is cerebral.   

Sometimes we enjoy choral music the most when just letting the music roll over and through us, other times with the text in hand soaking in the marvelous poetry and association of text and sound. Either way, I think the best thing about screens being installed in churches (and concert halls?) is the ability to display the translation, or English text of what we are singing, when we are singing it. The heads of the audience are also raised and people are easier to engage! Just look at what supertitles have done for opera! I haven’t heard any complaints; only positive and appreciative comments in my setting.

That aside, there are many issues to think through both in a major work, or a concert of individual works: consistency or juxtaposition of various periods and styles; consideration of a color palate within a movement, the major work, or concert theme; how much imagery and when do the images change? For me, answers to these questions come from the purpose and philosophy of imagery use, which can vary from project to project, and even, to a degree, within the concert itself. But for a major work, I prefer more consistency within the art style.

To just mention a few technical issues, besides the very important issue of ownership, permission, and copyright of the art: the art work needs to be “rendered” by a graphic artist (that is size, shape and coloration—all of which can vary from venue to venue); horizontal imagery is best for the screen ratio but vertical works can be utilized with crop/zoom and can be very effective if the graphic size enables it; movement within the image can enhance or distract; a live operator using a production timeline (cue sheet) associating images to measure numbers, assuming you have multiple images per movement or work is easiest (not a video that runs with a live performance which, with tempo variations, could be a disaster); if the images dissolve into one another how long and what effect (all of these will be asked by the technician who puts the “show” together). Finally, there is a possible distraction of the imagery projection, and the light with the musicians, especially if the screen is in their sightline.  I always include the projection in the dress rehearsal even if it is not aligned with the music, just so that element isn’t a surprise. If the musicians can see the images I ask them to not look. I provide recordings (from rehearsals or commercial recordings) to the art director, producer, technician for their preparation and practice of aligning image and music. The software, and hardware of projection and ambient light in the room is another topic entirely. 
 
Also to consider is colloaboration of the music director, art director, producer and technician. At the very outset I use a RACI (responsibility assignment matrix--you can Google or go to Wikipedia) chart to establish relationship and responsbilities for projects like this. I can imagine the potential of the tail wagging the dog if there is a limited resource for the art, or if there is a desire to feature the art over the music. So priorities need to be established--but such is the work of collaboration.
 
Last thought: In my situation the problem (and I think one can call it that) now is, well, let’s call it a “joyful anticipation”, this be a regular element of the Christmas all-music services. It is a very time consuming process to find the art work, especially after having done this for five years or so. I only did text for Messiah (as compared to imagery with Creation and Elijah) and there were no disappointments. I just haven’t found anyone who really knows the music, the art, and who understands the setting and situation well enough to collaborate with, or the funds to hire someone if I did. I personally would also like to have a full range of art available to select from so while it would great to collaborate with a museum, it could also be limiting.

This is longer that I anticipated but I hope it is helpful as a starting point since it may be the first post of on this subject.
 
Best wishes,
 
Scott Dean
 
Applauded by an audience of 1
on October 31, 2015 5:13am
Hello Sarah,
 
Interesting question... This'll be a bit on the long side, but bear with me!
 
Some years ago with the help of a 'techy' friend I mounted a production of a major musical work (it was a saxophone quintet) with an accompanying slide show. I had written the work, and photographed daily, while on a three month stay in Paris, and so both the music and the visuals related closely to Paris and to each other.  At the time I thought it was all very clever!
 
However, it turned out to be my "Aha!" moment– the moment that I really understood for the first time implications behind the now well and universally understood (or is it, really?) fact that people in general tend toward either the 'audio' or the 'visual' when confronted with an artistic medium that contains both elements. During the gatherings that followed each showing I discovered that most of the people with whom I discussed the production were considerably more aware of one of the two – music or visual – than of both together. This was both interesting and informative, as the audience tended to be a ‘musical’ audience. The piece of music I had written, Trois mois, (three months) a musical portrayal of Paris in three movements, had been written on commission for performance at the 7th World Saxophone Congress in Nuremburg, Germany. That is – it was conceived as a piece of music, to which we added a diaporama consisting of images pertaining to each movement. It was carefully crafted, with image changes no longer than six seconds, with fades in and out at times, but also with little surprises to match the ‘surprises’ in the music, but never anything – we felt – that would detract from the music.
 
It so happened the last movement (Avril-April) was based very much on motives Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, and they were quite apparent. I asked many ‘listeners’ what they thought of the ‘Stravinsky’ movement. Many had interesting things to say about the notion of using his now iconic motives (it turns out that Stravinsky used Russian folksong material for just about the whole work!) but a shockingly large number of people made comments such as “Oh yes, I guess there was some “Stravinsky” in the movement, but I found the hose snaking through the Champ de Mars (Eiffel Tower) gardens really fun”. Essentially, they had not heard the music at all– it was merely background to the visuals! It had degenerated to ‘film music’. This is not to put good film music down, as the best of this genre is that which does not intrude but which plays up the visual. Since this experience I have taken in similar mixed media concerts with new ears and new eyes–it’s a fascinating study!
 
The relevance of all this is that I believe very much that one has to be extremely careful when ‘dressing up’ a piece of music. It is far too easy to lose the music pretty well altogether – at least for those who preferentially take in the visual, and there are a lot of us– I happen to be one of them, I have discovered! This is possibly a great shame when the object is to present a wonderfully performed piece of music, with real live performers, with the intention not only to titillate but to educate. You could well be throwing out the ‘musical’ baby because of the ‘visual’ bath water – for a large number of the audience.
 
It all depends on what one is really trying to do, and so it bears examining the intention of the presentation.
 
Best of luck!
 
Donald Patriquin 
 
Applauded by an audience of 1
on October 31, 2015 9:50am
Hi Sarah,
THe Phoenix Symphony has very successfully collaborated just recently with a highly popular annual non classical concert with the theme of race cars and films about racing with live symphonic music.
Contact Loren Bourchard at pso.... she is in charge of development but WOULD PUT you  in touch with the tech contact..... 
It is highly sold out, and they do this for children's concerts, as well as pop concerts. 
I have done it with my choir and it was a rave experience.
Carolyn Eynon
on November 1, 2015 4:30am
I conducted a performance of Lili Boulanger's Soir Sur La Plaine (Evening on the Plain) using slides that illustrated the text.  We displayed various colored photographs along with the superimposed text into a Power Point application.  We sang it in English and projected the English translation;  the relationship between the text and the music was so important we didn't want the audience to miss a thing.  We performed it in a local church and used their pre-existing screen and projection equipment.  
 
I would do it again.  It was very successful.  
 
Here's what we did to prepare:
1) Googled "Evening on the Plain"/"Sunset on the Plain"/"Sunset on the Prarie", etc. 2) Downloaded and saved appropriate slides onto the computer.  3) Transferred the slides/text in Power Point and added the text.  (We used white text since most of the photographs were of sunset/pink/gold with dark foregrounds and in a Font size that would  be easily read from the back of our performance venue) 4) Transfered the PowerPoint to a Flash Drive 5) Rehearsed once using the slides and the chorus.
 
Advice:  
1) Delegate whatever you can in compiling the photographs, etc. If you have a "techy" person available with an artistic sensibility assign them the entire project.  In our case, I chose the slides because I was most familiar with the mood of the music and would have the best sense of appropriate slides.  I did that in one evening.  (We ended up with about 12 to 15 slides for the 8 minute piece).  I arranged the photographs in the order I wanted and I also wrote out on paper the text, phrase by phrase, with the number of the corresponding slide that it was to go with.  My 28-year-old daughter then put it into Power Point in about 15 minutes and transferred it to a Flash Drive. 
2) Arrange from the get-go who you are going to handle the Power Point presentation for the performances.  It needs to be some one who can read music.  Since our piece was through-composed and we often had changes in text every page we needed someone who could follow the performance on a score and change slides appropriately.  I arranged last minute for someone to do it thinking all they would have to do is follow the words and change slides appropriately.  But words often repeated and the size of the systems on each page varied in the number of staves from four three-staff systems to one ten-staff system.  We made it work but I underestimated some of the difficulty for a "novice".
3) Hire (or enlist the volunteer services of) the person, just as if they were a part of a pick-up orchestra.  Give them a rehearsal schedule (even if they are a volunteer), a copy of the music and the Flash Drive.  (Keep another copy of the Power Point presentation in case the Flash drive gets lost).
4) Plan on a using part of one of your final dress rehearsals as a "Tech rehearsal" where you can stop and go and work things out.  The time needed will vary with the composition.  I would think through-composed pieces would be more difficult, technically, than a multi-movement piece with one projection per movement.
 
I hope this helps.  While I had never done anything  like this, I think the whole project was very successful and worth the effort.
(By the way, the piece is BEAUTIFUL!).
 
on November 13, 2015 8:56am
Thank you all so very much for your thoughtful and generous replies, and for sharing your successes and caveats so freely. Much of what I've read here aligns with what I've thought -- that this is a potentially complex endeavor that requires the thoughtful cooperation of many skilled people -- and I knew that seeking advice here was the best first step. Fortunately, we are starting with our planning months in advance, working closely with the ensemble's artistic director (whose idea it is), a very fine art museum that is providing expert advice (and permissions), professional media producers, and a lovely venue that supports the program. I hope that several months from now I can close this thread by offering our own success story.
Thanks very much for sharing your advice and experience.
 
Sarah Hager Johnston, BMus, MLS
GraceNotes
 
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