Virtual Concert Creator – David Spangler

Our third and final interview with one of the virtual concert creators is with David Spangler. In addition to the KCO, David plays with Puget Brass and Woodinville Community Band. David has also helped those groups with their video projects.

  1. Who are you and what do you play in the KCO?
  2. When did you start playing an instrument and describe your musical journey?
  3. How did you connect with the orchestra?
  4. How did you get started on the virtual projects?
  5. How many hours does it take to put together the video?
  6. What about this project is surprising to you?

KCO: Who are you? And what do you play in the orchestra? 

David: My name is David Spangler. I play the trumpet, and I’ve played in the orchestra since 2003. It’s been quite a long run. I think all of that’s been with Jim (Truher) as the director/conductor. 

KCO: Was there somebody before, Jim? I started in 2006. 

David: There was somebody, I don’t remember the name of the person, but Jim was not the first director. Jim started around that time as well, as I understand. But somebody else actually started it. 

KCO: When did you start playing an instrument and describe your musical journey?

David: When I was in fifth grade, I joined the Honolulu Boy Choir as a charter member and started singing. My mom had strongly suggested piano lessons, so I took piano lessons for two or three years when I was about eight or nine. That really wasn’t my thing. When I was in fifth grade, I picked up the trumpet. I liked it and kept going.

In intermediate school in seventh grade, the band teacher was a trumpet player. I started taking lessons with him. He was a great, great teacher and very, very calm. The kids loved him. It was really a family-type environment. Instead of eating lunch, I would go and practice. I played a lot. I really got started there.

I had a choice to attend ninth grade in the intermediate school or go to the high school. I stayed there in ninth grade and played, and we had a fantastic band. We played some hard pieces that were challenging. They made (vinyl) records of it! It was just a very positive experience. Mr. Matsumoto was the guy who made it a great experience.

Then, I went to Kalani High School for three years. I was first chair, pretty much through high school. We did marching band where I was the assistant drum major. The director told me he wanted me to be the assistant so I could play the trumpet solos for some of the pieces, which was fine with me.

I loved being in band and doing that. That was really it for me.

I went to college at the University of Hawaii and played my first year. I was in engineering school. I did a mechanical engineering undergraduate. The first year, I did the marching band and went to the football games. I was spending 25 or 30 hours a week in the marching band. We did a new show almost every week.

After the first semester, I realized that I can’t do this. I’ve got a lot of other classes to study for, and I just can’t spend this much time on band, even though it was a lot of fun. I pretty much gave it up.

After I got through college, I went to Stanford to get my Master’s. Then I came up here to work at Boeing and so I really didn’t play through those years. A few years later, I did play in the Boeing concert band for four or five years. I met a good friend of mine who lives right down the street from me. And that’s important, for reasons I’ll tell you in a second.

In the mid- or early 90s, Boeing and the industry went through a downturn. Morale was bad. I left there to do some consulting and so didn’t play for a while. In 2001 or so, I was doing some consulting at Microsoft and that turned into a full-time gig at Microsoft. That’s around when I start playing with the orchestra.David and Anita in Benaroya hall

A little earlier, I started playing with Puget Brass, too. All of a sudden, I’m playing again. Anita (clarinet player in the KCO and David’s spouse) was in a choir. She heard this brass band rehearsing next door to where the choir was rehearsing. The guy I mentioned, who had played in the Boeing concert band, was playing in Puget Brass. That person is Chuck Fleming.

I called him up and he said we have an opening right now because one of the cornet players is out on maternity leave. I subbed in the band, but I didn’t have a cornet at the time. I bought one from Matt Stoecker (KCO trombone). They put me in the solo cornet row, that’s the front row of a brass band. I asked if any of these other people want to move to the solo cornet row (like first trumpet)? And he said, “no, they are good where they are.” That was my introduction to Puget Brass, which is a British-style brass band. 

Chuck is a great player. He’s also a very social guy and so he likes to talk “a little” to people. I started playing and I’ve been with them ever since. It’s been 13 or 14 years of fun.

I’ve played everything from flugelhorn to solo, 2nd and 3rd cornet. I just play wherever they need me. That’s been a great experience. I grew up in wind band tradition. Playing with the orchestra was a different modality. I hadn’t really played with strings before. We had an orchestra in the schools, but we never played with them. So playing with the then Microsoft orchestra was interesting because it’s a different use of the trumpet.

The reason I’m still in the three groups — KCO, Puget Brass, and Woodinville Community Band — is because they’re all very different. I also subbed in a little bit in some jazz bands over the years. Right now, I’m subbing in a jazz band. The Solid Gold Hits group as the lead trumpet, but I don’t consider myself a lead trumpet player which is interesting. Most trumpet players have that really type A personality. 

KCO: When I first met the trumpets in the orchestra, I thought these guys aren’t like the other trumpet players I know. They’re actually a little bit humble. What’s going on? But I adjusted.

David: Exactly. I get it. I understand the stereotype and that’s just not me. I’m more of a kind of a support. I’m just not a Type A person. 

The Puget Brass band is how I got started on the videos. I’ve made six videos now with Puget Brass and Chuck participated in several those. It’s been hard to get people to engage. Some people are not interested in the virtual thing and recording themselves. I know several people like that. Or their living situation doesn’t really allow it.

I’m on the board for  two of the groups, and both boards are asking how do we keep people engaged and prevent members from leaving?

One of my biggest fears was that if we didn’t play for a while, and it has been over a year, that people would say I’m done. Then, hang it up. We’d be back to square one and not able to play some of the more challenging, more fun pieces.

KCO: How did you connect with the orchestra?

David: I was working at Microsoft and the orchestra was rehearsing on campus. I just heard about it through some news groups at Microsoft. They had clubs back then and “hey, they have a music club? Great!” 

I went to audition but they said, just come and play. It’s been a great experience, a big learning experience. Now I have a “C” trumpet. I got one because I was playing an orchestra. There were a lot of pieces where the first trumpet is in C D and even F.

I got to play a bass trumpet, which is kind of cool. We did a Vaughan Willams piece, and that was very interesting. You were there when I played the thing. Matt Stoecker brought it in. It had a bigger mouthpiece. I said, “wow, this feels like playing a tuba mouthpiece” and you said, “What’s wrong with that?” (laughter) That was awesome.

KCO: How did you get started on the virtual projects?

KCO: I can’t imagine you were just like making video projects before. 

David: No, I had not done anything. When COVID hit, we were in the process of preparing for concerts for multiple groups. On the board, we decided we just can’t meet anymore because of COVID. That was a bummer.

I have an “adopted” sister, Joanne, who is from New Jersey. Joanne would go to Hawaii because she won the second trumpet position in the Hawaii Symphony during the orchestra season. In Hawaii, she was staying with one of the cellists in the community orchestra that my mom plays in. My mom plays cello. Something happened with her living situation so my mom said to Joanne, “hey, I’ve got a room” so she was staying with my mom. 

KCO: So, how did you meet her? 

David: I was talking to mom who said we have a trumpet player staying here.

Joanne is big-time and she’s become a really good friend. I mention that because we were chatting at one point and she said, “hey David, you want to play a duet?” Naturally, I said yes to this professional trumpet player. She had used this app called Acapella. She played her track and sent it to me. I played mine and it worked out well for a duet. I thought that was kind of cool.

During the pandemic, the board for Puget Brass started talking about what are we going to do? I told them about Acapella app. We decided to try it. We picked a piece called Deep Harmony, a tonal thing, that’s very, very slow. We use it for warm-ups. I figured we could use that because there’s not a lot of notes and it’s a good start.

We tried it but there were several limitations. You can only have nine tracks total. The coordination was complicated, and if you have one person that was delayed at all, everything just stopped. It took us three or four weeks to get that first recording. That was a very simple piece so I said, we could only have nine people and the end result was decent.

The other limitation is you only get one shot at it. If it didn’t work, you could record it again and again. But, you had to record it all in one take. For a short piece like this, each part is a about a minute and a half. For a more complex pieces, that was a non-starter.

That was our first attempt, and it was frustrating. It took a long time. There was minimal editing you could do. I had seen what some of these professional orchestras from Europe were doing, and they had 20 or 30 tracks. That’s obviously cool, but I also knew that it’s a lot of work. Having been in software pretty much my whole career, I knew there’s some effort there. Little did I know.

David eating shave IceI decided I’m going to learn this and figure it out, so I did some research. I found a program called DaVinci Resolve. We created a click track and sent it out. Then I came up with the rules about how we’re going to do this. I just got started doing it. That was in March of 2020.

DaVinci Resolve had a free version. I didn’t really have to invest anything to get started. I found out it was a really powerful piece of software that motion picture studios use. If that’s if it’s good enough for them, it has everything that I would need, right?

I figured it out, and started putting the videos in. The first video we did in the Puget Brass, the result was really good. I obviously put in some time because I had a learning curve, but it turned out well. The lead cornet player, Matt Dalton, commented after we released the video, “that was way better than I thought we could do.” He knew how much work it would be to get everybody to sound good and be together. A lot of our members are not used to the studio musician mentality of playing with the click track or sync-ing with other people remotely, in a studio setting. This was the first time most people had done that. And it’s so different musically.

Plus, you’re recording yourself and you’re listening back to yourself thinking that sounds bad. That experience was foreign a lot of people in my groups. We’re not used to it. On the other hand, many high level musicians know it’s very important if you really want to improve.

The good news is that we’ve had enough engagement that we’ve been able to keep things going. So that part has been great.

When we did Sleigh Ride, I had 53 tracks in that video. That was the most I’ve had to had to deal with and that’s a lot of data. But it’s a big data set to learn from.

I learned a couple interesting things. One is that a lot of the players had a difficult time with the metronome and the time especially offbeats. It was difficult to line things up. I developed a process for how I would do this. One of the things I look for in a music video is: does the video sync with what you’re hearing? It’s a pet peeve of mine when it doesn’t sync up. My process is to lineup everything in the time-space. I’ll line everything up, including the video and audio, keeping them together to do all the cuts together. Then I’ll combine it into a single track in that time space. Then I’ll work on the video aspect of it.

Really, I do the audio part first so it’s clean and then I’ll do some post-processing on the audio as well, doing some mastering. As my friend Ron Cole says, “adding the talent” right to the audio to make it really sound good.

I took some sound engineering classes in the last eight months and that has helped a lot. I can understand some of the effects and more the art of how you actually make it sound good. How you cut out some of the unnecessary audio effects and make it sound better, better stereo bandwidth, etc. It’s been a total learning space. Every video I’ve done, I’ve learned something, .

KCO: You were just motivated to basically teach yourself this?

David: Yes. When we were talking to the Puget Brass board early on, we wanted to continue doing something and playing in some fashion, virtually, but how do we do it? I volunteered. You know what? I think this is important for us to do. I want to do it. I’m going to invest the time, and now I had the time because I had retired. I had the time and motivation to figure this out and learn it. And it’s come in handy.

KCO: Come in handy?!?! That’s an understatement, Dave. It’s fantastic!

David: Jim, our director, and the board are not going to compromise or put people in a position where they like feel like they have to come to rehearsal and then have somebody get sick. Jim and really everyone would feel so bad. So, they’re really playing it super safe.

KCO: How many hours does it take to put together the video?

KCO: Let’s use Sleigh Ride as an example. It’s about four minutes of music approximately. I know you sent some of the audio to Ken, and some of the parts Doug helped create. So just talk about your part of the process.

David: That’s a good question. In practice, this is what happens. The tracks come in over a period of time. I set up the template for the project, and then I bring in the tracks as they come in. So there is the calendar time of weeks. It’s much more than the working time. It can take probably three weeks in the calendar time from the time I start getting the project setup and track start coming in to completion.

There’s a period that gets intense. Not everyone is organized and gets tracks to me on time. So there is some wrangling to do. Once I get the tracks, then I can usually work like maybe four to five hours at a time before I need to take a break. I would say, all up, it’s between 30 to 40 hours, of time for a four-minute piece.

Early on, the first videos I did, the video took maybe two thirds of the time because that was the hard part. Some of the video controls were not there. About six to seven months ago, DaVinci Resolve had an update to version 17. In that version, they had a new control that’s called ‘collage,’ which is what I was doing. This control made it MUCH simpler to do. It really simplified because I didn’t have to do a lot of the masking and whole bunch of layering that took a lot of time.

With the new collage control, I could just set it up—boom, boom, boom—then resize each of the individual videos. Before, I had to figure out all the masking and background effects. It was a lot harder.

Now, it’s probably 50/50, maybe even 40/60 for the video. And it was 60% for the audio because I really want to spend time on the audio and get it just right. That takes a lot of time, making sure people are lined up vertically, in pitch, and horizontally, in time.

KCO: One of the things you said to me, you said, “these things last a long time. They are going to be out there a long time.”

David: They do, exactly right. When you’re performing it live, it goes out, the audience hears it and they generally remember the last note that you play in this or the first, but if you make a mistake, it goes out and it’s gone, unless of course, you’re recording it. Then that will persist for quite some time after the performance.

It seemed important, when we did Fanfare for the Common Man, getting that opening section solid when three trumpets are playing in unison for 15-16 bars. It has to be together or else, it’s bad. I would spend some time in those cases making it sound better.

A person submitted recording and said, “measure 52, I played the wrong note. You want me to record the whole thing again?” No that’s fine. I found that note, I cut that note and adjusted the pitch. It was off by a third. I just moved that note down a third, and it blended right in. 

KCO: But that’s more work on you. 

David: That’s a little bit more work, but if it could save somebody else having to re-record the whole thing and potentially make other challenges. Those types of things are not a problem, and I’ve learned the tool well now. That’s something super easy to do.Dave at the grand canyon

I had someone submit a track and I put it together with mine. I listened and thought, wow, that just doesn’t sound good. The track was flat but it was flat the whole way through, so I just adjusted him up like 25 cents and then it was fine. I asked the person about it later.  “Oh. Right. I forgot to tune when I recorded.” Oh well, that would explain it! 

KCO: What about this project is surprising to you?

David: I have a new-found respect for the people that do the audio engineering and recording. And the professional videographers.

To be clear, I knew it was going to be a bunch of work and now I know it’s a lot of work. But I also know it’s doable. Before, I had no idea. When you don’t know, it could be it’s like ten or ten thousand, right? I now know it’s a lot of work but it is manageable.

You have to learn and understand the tool. I’m there now instead of having to research and figure out how to do everything. Just getting familiar with the tool and coming up with a process I could consistently reproduce. I then knew, in my own head, where we are in the project. I could understand about how much more time I have left.

I did get a set of studio level speakers and that made a big difference when I was mixing the audio part because the speakers that I had initially were just the run-of-the-mill computer speakers. They really missed a lot. With the monitor speakers, I was able to hear what was actually there. I could then do the adjustment and fix for it. That was probably the biggest thing that made a difference.

Creating the click tracks was something I had to figure out. I wanted to create something that had the music because I heard a couple click tracks that were just the click. It’s hard if meter changes. It’s easy to get lost.

I got feedback that the click track was a little too soft relative to the sound that I’m hearing. I made the clicks much louder and that helped a lot, but adding MIDI music helped not only where we are in the piece but also with intonation. You need the music to adjust while you’re playing. You need to hear it or you’re not playing to anything except the click.

KCO: Go figure, the musicians around you matter.

David: Exactly. That’s the biggest piece: what’s missing is you don’t really have other people. It was surprising to learn how much you rely on those other cues and the other the people playing around you to play. Which also leads people to play too loud, I think.

But the whole nature of this music is a give and take, playing with a group, and how do I respond to them? And we’re all going to go through this thing together. That’s really kind of a missing element in here.

KCO: I agree. Dave, this was great. Thank you.

Thanks to David for the interview on 19 May 2021.

by Francis X. Langlois – tuba player in the KCO

Virtual Concert Creator – Ken Adamson

Our second interview with one of the virtual concert creators is with Ken Adamson. In addition to recording and playing in the KCO, you can hear his recording as Sonolux on Soundcloud.

  1. KCO: Who are you what started you down your musical road?
  2. KCO: How did you end up in the orchestra?
  3. KCO: How did you get involved with the virtual projects broadly speaking?
  4. KCO: How long does it take to mix and master the audio for a video and how long does it take to master a concert?
  5. KCO: In a project like this, what is something that people just don’t expect?

KCO: Who are you what started you down your musical road?

Ken: I’m Ken Adamson and I play French horn.  I play French horn now, but I didn’t always play French horn.

I started playing an instrument in the fourth grade. It would have been recorder or something like that, but they moved you off to another instrument pretty quickly. My dad was a clarinet player and was into the Dixieland Jazz-style clarinet. We grew up in Louisiana so it was a given and so that was what I played all the way through high school.

For my last two years in high school marching band, I played mellophone because who are we kidding, clarinets are useless in the marching band and I wanted to play something a little bit more flashy.

The band director said we need mellophones. Here’s a fingering chart and instrument. He had to show me some more. He was a trumpet player, so I got some private lessons from him.

I didn’t pick up the French horn until college. I thought that it would be pretty similar to mellophone or trumpet. Turns out, it’s much harder. Had I known, I might have picked a different instrument to switch to, but it was sort of opportunistic.

I went to college on a partial music scholarship for clarinet. The idea of switching instruments was a big deal. I would have needed to re-audition. But, the way that I came to playing French horn, it was a bit of a boondoggle.

KCO: What school was this? 

Ken: That’s at Northwestern State University, at Natchitoches Louisiana, Central Louisiana. It’s a pretty decent, but unheard of, music program. The music program is almost a quarter of the school. It’s well funded by athletics. We were at all the games and everything.

You have to audition for every ensemble. The only thing that was a near guarantee was marching band. Even then, the section leaders required you to play some scales and learn the fight song. Not a full audition, but they make sure that you can actually play. You don’t have to be good, just be able to play.

They didn’t have as many ensemble choices in the fall, so that they didn’t compete too heavily with marching band. I don’t know where you hail from, but in the South, marching band is a big deal. 

KCO: I went to school in New England and, you’re right, not as big a deal.

Ken:  I was playing mellophone in marching band. I was going to my private, mandated clarinet lesson because I was a music major at that point. My clarinet teacher gave me the audition materials for fall wind ensemble. Show up and you do your audition on clarinet.

I show up and there’s a hundred clarinet players. Wind ensemble is going to take 12. But I really want to play in this thing. I’m listening to these people practice and we’ve got upper classmen that are virtuosic. I realized that I’m so out-classed there’s no chance that I’m going to be in this group. One of my new friends told me that she, “was the only person auditioning on bass clarinet. They need two bass clarinet players. Have you ever played bass clarinet? “

I played bass clarinet in high school. Using her instrument and materials, I basically sight-read the audition. I was the only other person to audition so I got in.

That was in the morning. That same afternoon the mellophone section leader from the marching band comes to me and asks, “do you play a concert horn?” I said no, not really. He handed me his horn and asked for some scales. I got some scales out and he said, “okay, well, your fingerings are wrong, this is double horn.” He actually had to show me some fingerings, and I went and I auditioned. I think there were 10 people auditioning for fall wind ensemble. I didn’t make it on horn. But with only 10 people, it wasn’t as long a shot at getting in on B-flat clarinet. But I did, I did wind up getting in the next spring.

KCO: This is your freshman year? 

Ken: My freshman year, yes. I stuck with clarinet for another couple of months, so still going to my clarinet lesson, while playing in wind ensemble on bass clarinet, and marching band on mellophone. I dropped it entirely the next semester. I don’t know how they let me keep my scholarship. They should have made me re-audition on French horn, but maybe shoddy record-keeping?

The other interesting thing, at some point, I actually became a liberal arts major. I had a pretty shotgun set of focuses and among them was music. The other ones were actually engineering, math, and physics, which is the other half of my other major.

As time went on, that grew. My advisor asked if I knew anything about computers? I knew a lot about computers. She said that I really should think about computer science. That’s going to be a hot field and this in ‘93 or ‘94. 

KCO: That’s some good advice though. 

Ken: And it led me to Kirkland Civic Orchestra, by way of Microsoft Orchestra.

KCO: How did you end up in the orchestra?

Ken: It turns out that there’s a heavy overlap between tech and music. Every place I’ve worked, there’s been other people around me that play an instrument. When I was working for Microsoft, someone told me that Microsoft had an orchestra. That surprised me but I decided to check it out.

I went to Christmas concert in 2007 or 2008. I just watched. Hey, they’re not bad and they only have three French horns. But I chickened out. I could have joined and finished out the season but I waited close to a year and joined later in the season. I didn’t join early enough to play the first fall concert but in time to participate in the Christmas concert. I remember the first piece of music that I saw on a stand was Babes in Toyland. I just sat down where I thought the horns might be. The seating wasn’t that organized. I remember people start filtering in and it turns out that I just helped myself to the first horn part. Everybody in the horn section was like, that’s fine. I realized the error of my ways. By the second rehearsal, I said, “I’ll play another part.”

KCO: How did you get involved with the virtual projects broadly speaking? 

Ken: Flash forward a few years. I’ve left Microsoft and I’m working at Getty Images. I meet a guy who is similarly a musician and a software engineer. He has a side business/hobby as recording engineer: recording, mixing, mastering–basically audio engineering as a whole.

I had been doing a little bit of that essentially remastering projects from the orchestra and from another concert band that I’m in. I started asking him questions and he said you just need to come over to my house and see my studio.

He took me under his wing and taught me quite a bit. That was around 2012, 2013. During one summer, I worked with him for a good six months or so. In the fall, I made the proposition to Jim, to let me handle recording. Jim does so much and that is one thing I could take that off his plate.

The recording part wasn’t a stretch for me because I had done a lot of that in college. There was a nice recording studio there. Our recital hall was fully mic’d and so I did quite a bit of practice on my own because I had keys to that stuff. When I was a student, I had jobs all over the music department.

I’d go in late at night and make copies of the master tapes and practice mixing on tape copies. I was somewhat familiar with the process but all analog. It’s a totally different world, when you’re about digital recording. A lot of the metaphors are still the same. We still use the same software as the 90s. Pro Tools was starting to be the predominant software even then.

The mixer behind me? That’s basically the same mixer that I learned on in college. The Mackie, 32 channel mixer, and I still use it. There’s a lot to be said for working in the analog domain for sound and muscle memory.

KCO: Using a mouse and even a touch screen, it’s just not the same thing.

Ken: It’s not. There’s nothing like a real, physical piece of equipment to work with that responds and has its own character. It’s like an instrument. If you’re already a musician, working with a piece of analog gear is a lot like playing an instrument itself. 

Mixing and recording for the orchestra makes me the natural candidate for mixing audio in the virtual recordings, but I wasn’t originally tapped to do it. Dave was going to handle all of it. At the last minute, I was said why don’t you let me mix the audio. He was very appreciative, and I’ve had a had a great time doing it. 

KCO: They sound good to me.

Ken: I treat them like a studio recording. It’s a little different when you’re recording the orchestra live. You have, essentially, a pre-mixed sound that you’re trying to capture. We’re fortunate in that, where we perform, in the chapel at Northwest University, has great acoustics. Getting a good stereo live recording is not a problem.

man playing french horn

By contrast, when you have each individual part being sent to you in a video, I can treat them like studio recording. I do as much technically as I can to help the sound and help out the player. There’s a fairly intense editing process that is the same as with any studio recording: getting everybody in time, in tune, and still trying to preserve our sound. I think I’ve been reasonably successful with that.

KCO: Your skill level has increased over time. If I go back and listen to some of older the recordings, the newer ones are better. 

Ken: Some of that is different techniques and better equipment, but I don’t want to deep dive and get too geeky about it. The KCO, we’ve just been getting better. I’ve been surprised at how much better that we’ve been getting over time. We’re also tackling harder and harder repertoire. Having a better sounding orchestra helps me move to techniques that you use for a better sounding orchestra. They go hand in hand. 

KCO: How long does it take to mix and master the audio for a video and how long does it take to master a concert? 

Ken: For the audio, 15 to 30 hours. Dave extracts the audio from the videos that are sent to him. I’m not exactly sure the extent of what the other guys do. I know that what I get has the first notes and the last notes lined up. All the stems (basic tracks) are the right length, and he just sends me a stack of files that are just 1 per instrument. They start at the same time and end at the same time. It takes 20-30 minutes per track just to place in the software on the grid. I mean that’s a few hours of work right there just to get everything lined up.

Fanfare for the Common Man was around 16 tracks and was fairly fast going. As a horn player, I’m already quite familiar with the piece. There’s not a lot of noodley fast moving parts going on. It’s mostly quarter notes, half notes whole notes stuff. It’s all about the texture. And the percussion is so critical in Fanfare.

With the click track, I then go about making very fine adjustments – in a non-destructive way – to individual notes to get everybody even more lined up and starting and stopping together.  I take care not to make it “perfect”.  The software I use could, in fact, make it absolutely flawless – but that sounds bad and artificial. 

Mixing takes about a half day, including timbre corrections and setting the group into a “real” virtual space together. 

For a concert, it is mostly a mastering job. I know we have a sound that I go for, and Jim trusts my ear and my aesthetic. I used to have to do a lot of back and forth. I would master track and then I would upload and share it with Jim, and he’d give me his feedback. As the years have gone on, he’s done less and less of that, where I just put it out.

KCO: I love that Jim has learned to trust people if for no other reason, then it’s just a way to divide the labor.

Ken: Mastering takes a lot of focus and absolute quiet in the house.  The entire process usually takes a day to three of focused work for a single song.  

Being part of the group, I want the music in as best a light as possible. My goal is for it to sound to other people the way I hear it in my heart. When we play something like Bruckner 4th Symphony or Shostakovich 12, I know those pieces. I know how I want them to sound. I know how I hear them at the concert, and my goal is to present a finished product to make other people feel the same way that I did. 

With these virtual recordings, you have a lot of control because you have a single person’s isolated recording and there is the temptation to go and fix everything. To make it as flawless as possible. That’s great and all, but at what point is it no longer the same group? You’re essentially remixed and remastered it to death. In a sense, it’s not really the KCO anymore.

I don’t want to turn our recordings into something that you can produce in software with an orchestral library. I do a lot of eyeballing whenever I line it up beats and things like that rather than using the exact start of the waveform because I know that I’m going to introduce a little bit of error. It stays a lot more organic sounding.

Like I said before, I look at it as difference between a live recording and a studio recording. There is a lot more that can be done with a live recording than people realize. There’s amazing software out there that is actually capable of subtracting a bad note out.

After a concert, I’ve had people come up to me and say, “so you heard me flub my entrance? Do you think you could fix it?” I will give it a shot. I’m taking care to preserve someone’s dignity and it helps the overall product without being too ham-handed with the mix.

With a studio recording, you either trust your studio engineer or you don’t. I had a conversation with David Spangler. We’re talking about how far do you go with production to make these videos look as good as possible and sound as good as possible? And I said that I’m treating it like a studio session, so I’m going to do everything that I can, short of making it sound like sampled, orchestral music. He said that was good because these videos are going to be permanently in the world now. We need to treat them as well as we can. Dave and I are in the same camp.

KCO: In a project like this, what is something that people just don’t expect?

Ken: I try to work in highest fidelity domain as possible. I mean that I actually have photos of the orchestra that I’ve taken. I have measurements provided to me, by Jim, of our footprint. And I’m able to reproduce, physically, a sound stage from that. I do it in hi-channel surround sound or what’s called Ambisonic format.

digital audio software screenshot

I’m working in sometimes seven, eight up to 13 channel virtual audio for some of these projects. That’s a high-end film technique, but I’m a big fan of film music. I love me some John Williams and Alan Silvestri. Ben Hur, that’s one of the best soundtracks ever and they were working with monaural sound (mono).

I’ve even started working in Virtual Reality (VR). I’ve got my Oculus Quest 2 (VR headset) here and I’ve got some software that actually allows me to grab an instrument and place somewhere: like cellos stage left, violins stage right, violas in a spot, brass in the back, and woodwinds in the middle.

That’s how I mixed Fanfare for the Common Man. I watched several YouTube videos on different brass sections of different, famous orchestras. I saw how they were laid out. The one that struck me as best sounding in terms of the depth was Berlin. We are laid out in Fanfare for the Common Man in the same relative positioning as a video that I found of the Berlin Philharmonic brass section playing Fanfare. 

KCO: Wow. that’s cool.

Ken: And it all gets played into this virtual environment. And what I have is, peoples’ recordings from their living room, and their closets, and their bedrooms. You have to make it sound like something other than recording in a bedroom. I picked St. John’s Basilica as one of the reverbs that I used.

I took some measurements of the chapel at Northwestern University and the primary reverb is this chapel but with the tails turned way up, so it has a nice deep long, lush reverb to it. This isn’t just panning left and right, which is all the control you have with an analog board like that, but actually placing sounds in three-dimensional space. Not Just X and Z, but also on a rake.

If you think about it, if you’re in a balcony, looking down at an orchestra, by your perspective, they’re at an angle, right? And that all makes it sound differently, particularly top firing instruments like the tuba. With a steeper angle, you get the more of the high-frequency material. You hear the lip sounds and overtones and everything. It really helps you blend better with trombones and horns and everything.

I spent some time over the last couple of years, diving deep into modern film score mixing and mastering techniques. I’m starting to use that for rather more mundane projects than scoring a film, but no less rewarding. I think that it’s turned out to be a really cool approach and set of tools for realizing projects like this.

KCO: It’s awesome. Well, thank you very much. 

Thanks to Ken for the interview on 6 May 2021.

by Francis X. Langlois – tuba player in the KCO

Virtual Concert Creator – Doug Gallatin

Our first interview with one of the virtual concert creators is with Doug Gallatin. He plays with the KCO but also directs the River Wind Flute Choir.

  1. Who are you and what do you play in the KCO?
  2. What started you down the musical road and where was this?
  3. How did you end up in the orchestra?
  4. How did you get into the virtual projects? How do you do it?
  5. How much of editing of the parts do you have to do?
  6. What is something that you didn’t expect with this type of project?

KCO – Who are you and what do you play in the KCO?

Doug: I’m Doug Gallatin – the piccolo and flute player at Kirkland Civic Orchestra and in a number of other orchestras and groups around here. I’ve been playing flute since fifth grade, which is a while ago at this point.

I enjoy playing flutes of all shapes and sizes. I play bass flute, alto flute, c flute, piccolo, recorders, bamboo flutes, and such in various groups. All these flutes and have become a wonderful hobby for me.

KCO – I’ve seen some of the flute choir videos.

Doug: I direct the River Winds flute choir. We’ve been doing YouTube videos in place of concerts there as well. We get flutes all the way down, well, not quite to the tuba level. We have all the way down to the contrabass flute, which is bigger than me. It is this huge, huge thing and the players when they bring it in and set up, they take up a whole corner of the room–just between the stand and the flute and everything. It fills out the sound and gives you that lower end that you don’t really think of when you think of a flute player.

KCO: What started you down the musical road and where was this?

Doug: I started in elementary school band, and then did band basically throughout school, taking private lessons on and off.

This was in California, at the tail end of removing music from all the school programs. There was an assembly when I was in first grade where the music teacher was demonstrating all the instruments. She played the flute and I decided that was what I was going to do.

I decided that’s the one and it didn’t matter about some of the sex differences between instruments and some of the stereotypes. I just, nope, I don’t care. I’m playing flute. Sign me up for flute, Mom.

Doug - man with a flute

Within the instruments, flute is over-represented on the west coast. I don’t think it’s true on the East Coast so much, but in California and Washington, there are 20 flute players for every one of anything else.

I remember in band and junior high, there were maybe 30 flute players in the band and the middle school band was 50 or so. We were three rows of the band, all the way across the band room. You have the chairs and the positions and stuff, but they were always trying to get you to play something else, “look at this pretty bassoon. Look at this other instrument.”

In 6th grade, I got told you should just quit by the band teacher. “You’re not cut out for this.” That provided the motivation due to the competitiveness inside me. Now I’m going to keep doing this. I’m going to be the best in the class. I took that as a challenge and through junior high, high school, I improved greatly. I got to the point where I was thinking about pursuing a music career. I was doing all the honor bands, and getting towards the top of the section, if not the top of section.

National Honor Band was kind of a defining moment of that. I got to play with Mason Bates. He’s a composer and he does a lot of electronic techno with orchestra. I had gone to see the San Francisco Symphony playing, with him premiering one of his pieces. I forget which, but he had a broom, just a big guy with a broom sweeping in the back of the percussion. This guy with the tux and the bow tie and he was just going crazy sweeping. I’ll always have that picture in my head whenever someone says they play percussion.

KCO: Why wouldn’t you? That’s awesome.

Doug: That was a really cool concert to go to and then I got to play with him and this honor band, where we played a piece based on the sounds and things that you hear in North Carolina. It was a, I don’t know, a 20-minute piece that was broken up into all sorts of sections and some of them had electronic backing. Things that we played along with some of them had all the sound effects going, some of them had all sorts of crazy extended techniques for flute. Some of them were really challenging. It was a really great experience.

And then marching band. I ended up being the soloist in the senior marching band, section leader, doing all those fun sort of things.

In college, I decided I was going to go pursue music but had the thought maybe I should do something else to pay for your music and such. I really like programming and computer science. So, I ended up getting my bachelors in computer engineering with a math minor and a masters in computer science.

I joked that as an engineering major, I spent 90% of my time in the music building. I didn’t spend as much time in the engineering classrooms or on the projects. I started a woodwind quintet. I started a flute choir. I was playing principal in their orchestra. I was playing piccolo in their band. I was doing all the solo things that they would let me do. They had quarterly solo recitals that were mostly all the music majors, but I was also the guy that was playing in them. Playing with the Bach Ensemble, playing with the choirs for the Christmas concert.

KCO: And where was this?

Doug: I went to Cal Poly, in San Luis Obispo, and was there for five years or so. I quite enjoyed that and that’s where I learned how to play with small groups, how to conduct, and how to direct an ensemble. I just played continually.

KCO – How did you end up in this orchestra?

Doug: Then from there, I moved up here to Kirkland, working at Microsoft. That was when it was the Microsoft Symphony. When I was up here for my internship, I went to one of the concerts at the Ballard Locks. I just enjoyed it. It was really cool. I think it was it was the one of the ones where it was raining and it just struck me that only in Seattle, would you guys be playing outside while it was raining.

And everyone was huddled under these little, tiny tents and all the brass were out. I was thinking these people in Seattle are crazy. They play out in the rain. We wouldn’t even consider this in California.

KCO: That’s the one time, but that’s a great story.

Yes, I moved up here working for Microsoft. I just said yes to everybody before the pandemic hit. I think I had seven or eight rehearsals a week. It was work and then rehearsal, and then get home like 10/11 at night and do it all again.

Then I started directing the flute choir, The River Winds flute choir, which grew out of the River Winds band that I got invited to play one summer and then came back. They had a flute choir that was running kind of on and off and I ended up starting, directing, and organizing it. It just grew into this standalone wind ensemble effectively now, where we have 16 to 20 flute players before the pandemic hit.

We would go and play in one concert a quarter. We have our Winter concert and then a Christmas concert and then a concert in the winter and spring where we play about an hour or the music: some hard things, some easy things, for retirement homes. We just have a great time, for the most part.

KCO: So how did you get into the virtual projects? How do you do it?

Doug: It’s part of my music experience. I’ve been mixing live for theaters and churches and that sort of thing, doing the sound engineering since about eighth grade. Running just the sound side of it. Doing set-up, operating the soundboards, dealing with the effects and mix, dealing with all that stuff. Before the pandemic, I had acquired some microphones and equipment such that I could record, small groups, like woodwind quintets, and would regularly record the flute choir performances.

Whenever the flute choir would perform, I’d bring my mic setup and the big boom stand and record the audio for us to listen to later, for improvements or for CDs. It’s great. The audio side, I had already kind of as an amateur, gotten used to the audio software.

Also, when I was in an apartment, I acquired a recording booth because I needed it to practice the Shostakovich piccolo part. Playing piccolo part in an apartment when you’re working until 7 p.m. is not a good recipe for not getting evicted. It’s part of being in the apartment. The booth has seven-inch walls, and it provides a 110 DB or so of sound isolation.

violinist recording a part

 

Since I moved out of the apartment into a house, I hadn’t set it up. I set it up for the pandemic and so that means that I put a microphone inside. It’s got its own ventilation system than can connect to a window and then people would come one at a time to go into the booth, record their parts and then rerecord the video, either outdoors or in a room or somewhere separately because it’s just a box. It’s not particularly interesting background.

That’s how that started on the audio side. I quickly realized we need video to go along with it. I knew nothing about video. I was using my phone to record the first ones. Since then, I’ve acquired a little bit more equipment. A real DSLR camera. I can do full 4K.

Recently, I’ve been doing green screen things, because in the winter season, the house, the backgrounds get old.

KCO: Some of the musicians in the orchestra, they have no idea how to record. It was great that you offered that.

It’s a funny thing because the actual technical side of it, you don’t have to know any of that. For Sleigh Ride, I imported the click track in my software and so we could go over phrases, or I could say, let’s start at A and start playing from A. And then let’s get three takes of A and then, let’s okay, let’s go to C. You missed a note here there, and we can jump to C and do that.

I can stitch it together in my software. Make it line up with the click track automatically and they don’t have to worry about that.

Now it’s used for recording, and when people come one at a time to record their part. It helps to have me there because I’m listening to them and watching them. At the same time, I’m critiquing, Master-classing, suggesting things depending on the player and the level and how comfortable they are. I can guide them and say, “hey, this this part was really rough. You want to try that again?”

I say it should be a performance level quality. Not necessarily perfect. It’s kind of like a mini rehearsal session with them. We can discuss if they are emphasizing this too much or that too little. For the flute choir, I’m sitting there for each person and so for any interpretation things, I can make sure we’re kind of on the same page as a group.

I can listen for missed notes, or if notes are out of tune. I have their part in front of me and they have their part in the booth and we can do it as many times as they want, within reason. It’s taken, for every minute, maybe 15 minutes of recording in my experience.

For Sleigh Ride, it was taking maybe 30 minutes to record the audio, and that includes some set up time from when they walk in the door. We record the audio 30 minutes, and then spend another 10 minutes to record the video.

KCO: Let me say as a member of the orchestra, thank you for doing that because it was it really helped out. And I’m sure people learned a lot.

Doug: Thank you. Yes, the benefit of doing it this way, is that the people that come, they don’t need any technical experience. They don’t need to know anything: the mic is set up, everything is set up for them. I’ll stitch it all together for them. I’ll deal with all the uploading, putting the video with the audio, which is another big benefit of doing it the way that I’ve been doing it. The video is separate, not recorded at the same time as the audio. When necessary, you can do the audio takes multiple times for that one hard part.

KCO: In the software, you combine multiple tracks into one performance. How much of editing of the parts do you have to do?

 

Doug: It depends on the player. Some people come in and they play it once through and it sounds great. We get a second take just in case I miss anything because I don’t want to call anyone back. For some people, we’ll do that and then, there will be one or two hard measures that we go over a couple times.

I can, more-or-less cut between takes on a note-by-note basis. Legato gets little bit iffy sometimes but certainly anything where there’s any rest or space, staccato note or just standard marcato, anything like that, I can cut on a note-by-note basis.

One thing I did do with the Kirkland project was to fix some of the upbeats. Upbeats are really hard to do when you have nothing to go with or just midi. When you’re playing upbeats or syncopated things. Everybody does them slightly differently. And so, if they’re too scattered it starts sounding weird. It’s easy just to say, “oh, this one needs to move here. And this one’s off there,” as I’m listening through the take. Later, I can adjust them.

KCO: What is something that you didn’t expect with this type of project?

Doug: It’s weird with the recording, because you know, no individual player hears or gets any sense of the music we’re playing, right? It’s more of an individual practice, thing. A lot of the music is in the edit by setting the relative volume levels, bringing out this part, bring down that part. Finally, it sounds like you’re all playing together after adding some reverb and delay effects and stuff like that. And then you’re fixing all the rhythm and the pitch to whatever extent that you feel is necessary. I tend to do very little for the slow movements and a lot more for the fast movements. Finally, that’s where the music is made, and it’s weird because it’s like 50 hours later.

Finally, here’s what it’s supposed to sound like. When you’re listening to all the parts individually, it’s very much not “music” at that point. It’s missing something. And there’s always that point in the project where it’s like, “oh this is what it’s supposed to sound like.”

It’s always a good feeling to get to that point because then it’s just small tweaking after that. But before that, sometimes I’m thinking this is just never going to work. We weren’t playing together. Why did I think this piece was a good piece to try to record?

KCO: Well, I want to say thanks, thanks for taking the time to do all that. I’m glad we got a chance to talk.

Thanks to Doug for the interview on 11 May 2021.

by Francis X. Langlois – tuba player in the KCO

Behind the Curtain of our Virtual Concerts

We stopped rehearsing in February of 2019 and have yet to meet in person as a result of the COVID19 pandemic. 

But we found a way to make music.

We succeeded through the combined efforts of certain members of the orchestra to conquer the technological hurdles. Everyone contributed but three particular members took on the tasks for logistics, recording, video editing, and audio editing.

We are proud of the results: Kirkland Civic Orchestra

This also provided an opportunity to get to know the people behind the virtual curtain who made it possible. I interviewed each of them like I interview our guest soloists. The interviews will be released in three installments.

  • Doug Gallatin – flute, piccolo: Doug starts us off with the one-on-one help he provided to our members with recording their separate parts. Doug was able to create a safe environment and work one-on-one with players who did not have studio at home, or players who  were happy to have someone else tackle some of the technological challenges.
  • Ken Adamson – French horn: Ken has been helping the KCO with recording for years. Ken was able to take the audio tracks and mix and master them for a great result. This helped spread the load out and bring Ken’s recording expertise to bear on a this type of project.
  • David Spangler – trumpet: David created much of the initial guidance and coordination around getting the individual parts played and uploaded. Then, when the audio and video tracks were uploaded, David created the video with audio. Ken did his part and then David combined the whole thing into videos we have on YouTube.

It was a pleasure to talk with these gentlemen. And it was astonishing to learn what went into the project. Each person has had a hand in each role in other groups with other projects. The combined talents and efforts are not to be trifled with. This was some hard work.

Thanks to Doug, Ken, and David for the efforts and also personal thanks for sharing with Kirkland Civic Orchestra.


by Francis X. Langlois – tuba player in the KCO

Sleigh Ride – Virtual Performance

As musicians, we love making music, especially during the holidays with all the wonderful festive music available to play. Having been unable to meet in person due to COVID-19 restrictions to rehearse and perform, we chose to put together this virtual performance of one of our favorite holiday pieces of all time. Happy Holidays from the Kirkland Civic Orchestra. Enjoy!

 

Sleigh Ride by Leroy Anderson © Woodbury Music Company LLC (ASCAP)

Christmas Traditions Comes Home

For over a decade, Northwest University’s Christmas Traditions has featured some of Northwest University’s finest vocalists and musicians. This year, Christmas Traditions is coming home with the same traditional Christmas songs you’re used to along with an Advent message from President Castleberry.

We were unable to perform in person this year, however, rejoice in a beautiful recording of our performance last year, featuring the Northwest University Concert Choir, Coro Amici, The Pilgrims Men’s Chorus, and The Kirkland Civic Orchestra directed by Jim Truher.

Community is our Heart

In these uncertain times, Kirkland Civic Orchestra’s desire to make music is not diminished, nor is our desire to bring that music to our community. With physical distancing measures in place that make rehearsing together a logistical nightmare (imagine 70 players separated by 6 feet–that’s a big space!), we’ve looked at using click tracks and other technologies, and have found them impractical for our group.

So we’re taking a leaf from the scores of other performing arts groups, and are digging into our archives. We’ve been recording concerts for years, but have never had the impetus to actually do the post-production work and rendering. With ample time on our hands, we’re planning a “virtual season” of four special broadcasts of past recordings using Facebook Live. Simply go to our Facebook page to view them!

  • April 26, 2020, 3 pm (PST) – Reprise of Frenemies, Part I: Brahm’s Symphony No. 2. [watch now]
  • May 31, 2020, 3 pm (PST) – Reprise of Russian Masters, Part I: Russian Easter Festival Overture, Op. 36 (Rimsky-Korsakov); Andante cantabile from String Quartet No. 1 in D Major, Op. 11 (Tchaikovsky); Violin Concerto No. 3 in B Minor, Op. 61 (Saint-Saëns),which features local favorite and award-winning violinist Charlotte Marckx of the Sempre Sisters. [watch now]
  • June 28, 2020, 3 pm (PST) – Reprise of Frenemies, Part II:  Tchaikovsky’s Violin concerto, featuring again local favorite and award-winning violinist Charlotte Marckx of the Sempre Sisters. [watch now]
  • July 26, 2020, 3 pm (PST) – Reprise of Russian Masters, Part II: Symphony No. 12 in D Minor, Op. 112 (Shostakovich). [watch now]

We hope that these few hours of classical music help soothe your souls and bring you a little bit of the joy we had in performing them. Recordings will be posted afterward on our YouTube channel so you can continue to enjoy them.

P.S. Depending on how physical distancing measures change between now and summer, we’re hoping to perform at the Ballard Locks on August 30–watch our social media channels for the most up-to-date information!

Concerts cancelled

Good news and bad news:

The bad news, which should come as no surprise, is that we are also cancelling our May 31 Concert. Given the ongoing physical distancing needed to combat the pandemic, we would not have enough rehearsals to present a concert that we could be proud of.

The good news is that we are working towards another rebroadcast on Facebook Live! If we can get that working, we’re hoping to put on several “virtual flashbacks.”

Stay tuned for more updates!

In the meantime, please enjoy a recording of one of our concerts from March 19, 2017. Tuba Concert in F minor by Ralph Vaughan Williams, with soloist J.c. Sherman on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S0mhQheGURw&feature=youtu.be&fbclid=IwAR1v-7MQDIMNK6Xvp8CeeTX4AHmHOsERDx8QkhAS0Dt-enpZlHSf34izFoY

We are looking forward to the time when we can again play for you in person!

Wishing you the best to stay healthy and safe from our Kirkland Civic Orchestra family to yours!