The above Ad will no longer appear after you Sign Up for Free!

Overly Loud Show Orchestra

Discussion in 'Sound, Music, and Intercom' started by arik52, Oct 28, 2008.

  1. arik52

    arik52 Member

    Messages:
    32
    Likes Received:
    0
    My production is having trouble making the actors audible over the orchestra.

    At my school, we don't have a real pit. We have a stage that is raised and an area in front of it on the same plane as the audience where the orchestra used to sit. After years and years of crappy sound, we finally remedied that by putting our orchestra behind the set last year for Cabaret. We tried to use that tactic again, however the Set design consists of a cityscape silhouette made out of ten flats in a v upstage (Guys and Dolls). The set is all up and every light is focused, so there's really no way to change that now. Yesterday, the orchestra tried out their space for the first time and could not bear the confines of the space, so they are suggesting they move back to the pit.

    How can we prevent the orchestra from blasting out the actors? Asking them just to play softly isn't the solution, just as asking actors to sing louder isn't. The conductor suggested a sort of barrier to muffle the sound, but we have two weeks left until the show, and our set still isn't 100% finished, so I don't know where we'd get the time to build that. Any suggestions are more than welcome.
     
  2. cprted

    cprted Active Member

    Messages:
    433
    Likes Received:
    32
    Location:
    BC, Canada
    Simple solution: The orchestra needs to play quiter.

    Tell the music director that the orchestra is drowning out the actors and s/he needs to bring it down. Also point out that during scene changes and dance numbers its ok to play out a little more. At the high school level this can be difficult as student groups usually only have two volumes, loud and louder.

    Here is some music-ese for you to use: "The orchestra is sounding really great but you're overpowering the cast through a lot of the show. Do you think you could bring everything down a dynamic marking or two?"
     
  3. arik52

    arik52 Member

    Messages:
    32
    Likes Received:
    0
    That really can't be the solution. As a brass player myself, I'm aware of how difficult it is to play quietly in high registers (which the music is) for long periods of time. That used to be what we would tell the show orchestra when they were in the pit before, yet we were still never able to hear the actors.
     
  4. howlingwolf487

    howlingwolf487 Active Member

    Messages:
    318
    Likes Received:
    41
    Location:
    Collingswood, NJ
    When is that ever NOT the solution? Fix the problem at the source.

    Let me break it down for you...

    Problem: Orchestra plays too loud
    Symptom: Effects, Vocals, etc. cannot be heard as clearly.

    You see, if you do ANYTHING ELSE than "ask them just to play softly", you are treating a symptom of the problem and not the problem itself.

    Fix the problem at the source.

    Try this: If an instrument must be played loudly in order to be heard, mic it and put it in the sound system. That way, you have more control of the overall level AND the musician can play more quietly during the performance without losing the tone of the instrument.

    Say it with me one more time now..."Fix the problem at the source".

    There could be another problem, however. Maybe there isn't enough rig for the gig, meaning that your system does not have the power to overcome other noises. Maybe it's a%
     
    Last edited: Oct 28, 2008
  5. arik52

    arik52 Member

    Messages:
    32
    Likes Received:
    0
    I understand where you're coming from with your argument, but I can assure you that the orchestra is already playing as quietly as possible without completely screwing up the brass players for playing too soft. Currently, our crazy orchestra instructor has some idea that we should be building a barrier around the orchestra in the pit made of pvc piping, black cloth, and egg crate foam to muffle the sound. My concern is not only will this take our precious time left and our money as well to buy all of this, but it will also look terrible. How can I convince him not to do this? I need another solution that isn't just "tell your orchestra to take it down a few dynamics."
     
  6. Footer

    Footer Senior Team Senior Team Premium Member

    Messages:
    9,413
    Likes Received:
    1,808
    Location:
    Saratoga Springs, NY
    Do you have any curtains laying around that could be hung around the orchestra? Do you have a room you could put the orchestra in that you could then send a monitor feed to and mic up the orchestra?
     
  7. themuzicman

    themuzicman Well-Known Member

    Messages:
    867
    Likes Received:
    162
    Occupation:
    Audio Engineer
    Location:
    On Tour
    I had this problem for three years in high school.

    I had a band director who would stack the pit band with 30 kids (no doubling, he saw an instrument in the book, he wanted a player for it -- so if it was a Reed 3 with Tenor Sax, Clarinet, Soprano Sax doubling up, we'd have three players playing the book at the same time instead of one)

    I would tell you to have him cut any unnecessary weight, but that won't fly in a High school (didn't with me, at least =/ ). Next step is to get them to play quieter. I play 90% of the instruments in a pit band, and I can tell you, they can always play quieter. If they can't, they are lazy.

    Third step I had to do - build a barrier. All I had around to do this was inch thick foam, so I built some wooden supports (2x6 base with 1x2 to hold the foam together) and threw it around the band. It didn't do much at all. I'd suggest heavy cloth (curtain material), or if you can afford it, lexan drum shielding. Though I am not sure how much reverberation the lexan shielding would give you.

    Good luck. I don't miss that problem at all =/

    Tangent ==
    We actually got so fed up with our band, we used a synthesizer for a musical we really wanted to do, just so the band wouldn't mess it up (this was more against the director than anything, but still...)
     
  8. themuzicman

    themuzicman Well-Known Member

    Messages:
    867
    Likes Received:
    162
    Occupation:
    Audio Engineer
    Location:
    On Tour
    Listen to pretty much everything Footer is saying.

    I always wanted to send them to another room and mic their feed up, and just have the SM give cues to the director.

    ahh, don't miss it at all!
     
  9. Raktor

    Raktor Active Member

    Messages:
    265
    Likes Received:
    12
    Location:
    Melbourne, Australia
    Seen that done a few times. Works well, as long as you have a reliable CCTV system to let the cast see the conductor, or the orchestra see the conductor; depending on where you locate him/her.
     
  10. jkowtko

    jkowtko Active Member

    Messages:
    804
    Likes Received:
    50
    Location:
    Redwood City, CA
    Our theater is small 45x65 and has volume issues when the orchestra is in the main room. First thing to do if you haven't already:

    1) Have the music director listen to a complete musical number from the sound board position, so he/she knows how bad the problem is.

    One thing you didn't mention is the level of the noise floor from the orchestra in the room. If the orchestra is already too loud by itself, then putting vocals over the band will only evoke more complaints from the audience, and you'll need to quiet down the orchestra using one of the strategies already mentioned in this thread. If that's not the case and the audience can tolerate louder vocals, then try out the following as well ...

    2) If the main speakers are movable, move them downstage as much as possible, past the pit if you can, to get the vocals out in front.

    3) If you have additional speakers, add side or rear fills to pull the vocals into the audience more -- they will be better heard.

    4) If the actors are wearing body mics with lavs, close-mount the lavs (forehead or cheek boom mount) to maximize gain-before-feedback so you can get more clarity.
     
  11. howlingwolf487

    howlingwolf487 Active Member

    Messages:
    318
    Likes Received:
    41
    Location:
    Collingswood, NJ
    If you try anything with foam (and not acoustical foam), you might find some absorption in the higher frequencies, but the low and bass frequencies will just bend around the panels.

    If, for whatever reason (pride, most likely) you cannot get the musicians to play more quietly, some form of pipe and drape would be my next bet.

    Keep us updated on the progress or lack thereof (as is unfortunately often the case).
     
  12. David Ashton

    David Ashton Active Member

    Messages:
    828
    Likes Received:
    88
    Occupation:
    truck driver
    Location:
    perth W Australia
    I've had this problem for years and have never found a good solution, however a word of caution with your idea of sound absorption, you must remember to use fire retardant materials at all times, I know they're only musicians but surrounding them with flammable material is not a good idea.Stage curtains draped over metal frames are as good as anything and electronic drums are a godsend.
     
  13. Footer

    Footer Senior Team Senior Team Premium Member

    Messages:
    9,413
    Likes Received:
    1,808
    Location:
    Saratoga Springs, NY
    Its becoming more and more prevalent to completely cut off the pit from the performance space. If the orchestra is in the actual pit, half the time the pit is covered, so once again it is cut off from the rest of the space.

    Its really not that huge of a deal to run CCTV sends to the conductor and to the stage from the conductor. A "conductor cam" is usually a mainstay of most theatres anyway, as well as a full stage send.

    Also, at least you guys have an orchestra for your shows, all of our shows are canned music... I hate it.
     
  14. jkowtko

    jkowtko Active Member

    Messages:
    804
    Likes Received:
    50
    Location:
    Redwood City, CA
    CCTV: We have both a camera on the orchestra conductor to the stage and booth, and an infrared camera on the stage for the SM and conductor to see what's going on. So we have been fine with hidden orchestras. This equipment should not be that expensive.

    We've done plenty of canned and live both. One beef I have with hiding the orchestra is that, if you mic well enough, most of the audience can't tell if the orchestra is live or canned. So why bother with the expense of paying the performers? And if you want that "live" orchestra sound, then have your orchestra record the tracks, and then use the recorded tracks for the shows rather than paying the musicians for every performance.
     
  15. Footer

    Footer Senior Team Senior Team Premium Member

    Messages:
    9,413
    Likes Received:
    1,808
    Location:
    Saratoga Springs, NY
    I worked for a theatre a few years back that the pit consisted of our musical director at a keyboard with a sampler and a drummer. Using the sample and the drums it sounded pretty good. Was not great, but it did work.
     
  16. Eboy87

    Eboy87 Well-Known Member

    Messages:
    1,206
    Likes Received:
    49
    Location:
    Chicago, IL
    Definitely pipe and drape in the pit around the walls. At the Muny, there's pipe and drape, about 3' tall, between the different sections in the orchestra, I thought I saw that done in Wicked as well when I looked in the pit. Most theaters will also put the percussion in a separate booth in the back of the pit. It helps a lot; trust me.

    There is always the option of putting the pit band in a separate room, like others have mentioned. If you have the video system and enough snakes, you should look into going that route. Jersey Boys (at least here in Chicago) has the band in the trap room as opposed to the pit, and I believe the conductor is just conducting to a camera feeding the booths the musicians are in, as well as the screens for the actors on stage (and the occasional show band on stage as well).

    If your musicians are professional enough, and I know this is high school we're talking about, they have to realize that if they're asked to play quieter, there's a reason for that. I don't play most of the instruments in a pit, like themuzicman, but from experience, they always can play quieter.

    I wish you luck, you'll need it.
     
  17. Footer

    Footer Senior Team Senior Team Premium Member

    Messages:
    9,413
    Likes Received:
    1,808
    Location:
    Saratoga Springs, NY
    Don't know how many of you do play an instrument, but the play quieter things is easier said then done. You can do it, but you lose a lot of the tonal qualities of the instrument when you do that. With a stringed instrument, you get a completely different sound with played with a lighter bow, the amount of resonance and vibrato you can achieve becomes much less. This then "dulls" the sound. There is a reason that musicians want to play loud, it sounds better. Also, when you play louder, dynamics are able to come out more. With brass and woodwinds this become even more difficult.

    Now, they should not be obscenely loud, but at the same time they are not going to be extremely quiet as well.
     
  18. arik52

    arik52 Member

    Messages:
    32
    Likes Received:
    0
    Thank you guys so much. I think the options that I have right now that I'm going to propose are:
    1) Have the orchestra play in a separate room. I know we have at least one monitor, because when the orchestra was behind the set, the conductor needed a monitor to view the actors, and a student vocal conductor sat in the pit mimicking him so that the actors could see. This method seems only to require one more monitor, so it may be feasible, I'll definitely try it out.
    2) A pipe and drape system to absorb some of the sound. I don't know how well it's going to work with cheap materials, extremely limited time to build it, and the fact that it will only be a few feet tall and sound can still easily go over it, but we'll see if it's a good option.
    Am I missing any?

    Thank you for clarifying what I meant by the musicians can't play any softer, Footer. They're not blasting their heads off as is, and if they were we'd probably kill them, but asking them to play quieter hurts them physically and also negatively impacts the sound.

    We do have a sound system which has speakers that are up on the ceiling a couple rows into the house, and we're getting some new wireless mics so they might help a little bit, but we haven't received them yet so we still don't know.

    Thank you guys so much, I'll update once we've made a decision or if they've added another problem to the pile.
     
  19. Eboy87

    Eboy87 Well-Known Member

    Messages:
    1,206
    Likes Received:
    49
    Location:
    Chicago, IL
    FYI, in a pinch, moving blankets work as well as heavy drape. They should be cheaper, but don't quote me on that.
     
  20. jkowtko

    jkowtko Active Member

    Messages:
    804
    Likes Received:
    50
    Location:
    Redwood City, CA
    Also, if you plan to "drape" the orchestra you might as well try to tune this to the individual instruments:

    - put a plexi drum shield around the drum kit. It will cut a lot of volume.
    - For brass, I don't know what to do ... face them towards the rear into an acoustic drape?
    - piano, shut the lid if it's too loud ... but this is one instrument that can be played rather softly
    - winds and strings probably need the most volume, so put them in front with no draping.
     

Share This Page

  1. This site uses cookies to help personalise content, tailor your experience and to keep you logged in if you register.
    By continuing to use this site, you are consenting to our use of cookies.
    Dismiss Notice