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Using a performance track in concert

I am planning an exciting format to our winter concert:  all choral students grades 5-12 will perform, including two pieces that all my students will sing together.  I plan to use the performance track for the song "A Joyful Night" by Ruth Morris Gray.  I suspect that if we do a great job, the audience is going to want to clap along with its gospel energy!  I am concerned that the audience will not keep a steady beat and will make it difficult for the nearly 200 singers to stay "together".  Do you have experience using performance tracks?  Would you advise having our accompanist ready to take over "just in case" a tempo tragedy happens?  Thanks for input! 
Replies (14): Threaded | Chronological
on October 8, 2013 5:07am
I will admit I have seen performances with young people that used a "performance track" that were successful...enough. If you do have an accompanist, though, why not work out an accompaniment that works ( if you don't already have one).  There's something about live performance by all parties that just can't be replicated when you're wedded to something pre-recorded. 
And when clapping may occur, may I suggest the students, yourself, or some "ringers" in the audience actually begin it?  That's one way to minimize that moment of confusion where some people are clapping on 1 and 3, some on 2 and 4.....
on October 9, 2013 5:33am
I tried to use performance tracks twice.  It was a nightmare for different reasons both times.  First time, the CD started sticking ( we had just rehearsed that morning and all was fine) and we had to start over three times before I gave up and ran to the piano.  The second time, the thing you mentioned happened.  Audience started clapping along and singers couldn't hear the track and got off the rhythm.  It was also such an inauthentic experience and unsatisfying musically as the track is conducting, not you.  I would highly recommend against performance tracks if you can do it any other way.  If you feel you must have a performance track, perhaps you could add a rhythm instrument to help everyone stay on beat in case the audience claps along which often happens.  But if at all possible, I would avoid it.
Catherine Nesbit
Applauded by an audience of 1
on October 9, 2013 10:13am
Dear Laura!
NEVER use accompaniment tracks.  NEVER.  The reasons are as follows.  Often they must be played too loud so that the entire choir can hear the track over their own voice.  What that means, Laura, is that the track becomes the conductor; it is leading the choir.  The ONLY way to avoid this scenario is to have the track's sound played into a headset which each chorister must wear and into a mixing board.  The voices must be picked up on multi-directional microphones, or personal microphones, and their sound also fed into the same mixing board.  The person who operates the mixing board balances the sounds received and sends the resultant sound into speakers which the audience hears.  What is your function then?  Are you there to keep the choir with the track?  That means that YOU, at best, are following the track also; it is "conducting" you!  The track will not perform as you suggest.  You will perform as it demands.  When the track leads by volume, it becomes the dominant performer; the choir accompanies the track.  Does something sound askew?  You are the conductor!  You should never have the accompaniment louder than the choir (pay attention pianists!).  The choir is the principal performer, the "star," not the accompaniment track, not the pianist, not you.  I would suggest that you resolve all of your problems by demolishing the CD/tape.  Obtain an accompanist for free or pay for one.  You cannot conduct correctly and play simultaneously.  I can hear church organists arguing this point with me.  I will take that argument.  Let the audience enjoy the children, not a CD.  Let the audience admire how you taught and led the children.  I never saw a track take a bow!  Enjoy your children's accomplishment.  Let them enjoy you as their teacher.  Instrumentalists are always glad to have a gig, even if it is only to make a CD for a publisher.  Publisher and distributors are always glad to make money including making money from the sale of a CD.  All they need is someone to purchase the CD and let it became the "star" of their concert.  Now, Laura, let's talk about repertoire.  I always found that students most enjoyed those works which were not so easily learned and/or had a long history of performance, a heritage a lasting value.  If you want to perform with CDs, I suggest that a strong choral program be built with other choirs, drawn from the larger choir, be established to perform certain types of works. Such choirs could be a madrigal choirs, a chamber choir, a show choir, a jazz choir, et cetera.  A show choir and/or a jazz choir could possibly lend their self to accompaniment tracks.  Of course, an excellent sound system would have to be purchased through the fundraising work of your fabulous music boosters association developed because of the quality choral program you have developed.  Let's talk repertoire, Laura! 
on October 10, 2013 6:08am
Yup - in theory, live instrumentalists are best. In practicality, it's not always possible. I've used accompaniment tracks about once every other year for a variety of reasons, and have found that the thing that makes the difference is having monitors behind the risers. It's critical the kids have the sound right in their ears. Performances I've watched without monitors - just sound pumped out into the house - usually derail, particularly if the choir is a large, spread-out group.
on October 10, 2013 9:44am
I have seen tracks used with speakers in a vaiety of places.  Behind the risers is just as unsuitable as the members have their attention distracted: listening from behind and watching the conductor up front, or maybe just listening from behind and "who cares about he conductor up front."  It just does not work and in every case the track still is the star of the song's performance.  And, when at these concerts, I look at the program's repertoire and ponder the thinking behind the selections.  Are these conductors here because of a burning desire to teach the choral art or are they here to teach music as best as they possibly can and then cap their teachings with a wonderful concert whose wonderful repertoire is capped by an insignificant song.  Please, save the "pop" tunes for "pop" choirs.  Aren't there popular type composition arranged for an a cappella choir for sale?  Could you arrange one of your own?  Isn't it an excellent repertoire with excellent teaching that propels the popularity of the choir?  Perhaps THAT is a discussion we should have.
on October 10, 2013 4:59pm
I use accompaniment CDs at every concert in addition to my accompanist.  It is nice to have the full sound of a band behind the singers and some cases it is a lot nicer than just a piano.  We ahve a good sound system at my school and the students are always heard well.  I have a bruning desire to teach and I am still important to the choir even though we use a track.  The students still do everything technique wise that they would do with a piano.  Also, there are tracks available for almost all new choral music out there - not just pop music and there is nothing wrong with teaching some pop music.  It is a genre and has its place with all other genres.
But to get back to your issue.  As long as the students are watching you and you are able to hear the music then there shouldn't be a problem.  If you have doubts then use an accompanist.
Applauded by an audience of 5
on October 11, 2013 5:02am
I have used performance tracks extensively for more Top 40 songs that I know can't be reproduced live without extreme changes. We usually don't have problems with the audience not being on beat so you should be ok. Another trick I use (depending on the song) is to have the students clap to the beat. That keeps everybody honest and helps them with time.
Most importantly, make sure the students can hear the track clearly (monitors or well placed PA). This will solve all your problems and will also serve as a valuable lesson to the singers about singing thru distractions.
Applauded by an audience of 1
on November 21, 2013 2:07pm
   I assume we are talking about tracks with accompaniment only--no voices.  I'm in the middle on this, and use accompaniment tracks on a very few songs.  I love the basic piano accompaniments in Jay Althouse's Ready to Sing series (3 volumes of a dozen unison songs each: Folk Songs, Christmas, Spirituals).  Elegantly simple, to my tastes.  I don't play piano, can't find a volunteer accompanist, and have no funding to pay one.  I also have to rehearse my music in multiple classes in order to put on a concert, so accompaniment tracks allow me (and my elementary school singers) some variety.  However, I dislike accompaniment tracks that are highly arranged, with multiple parts, synthesized sound, and high volume and energy.  These may sound great, but have a tendency to confuse young singers trying to match pitch and hear themselves in relation to the group.  Pop music would seem to cry out for a track like this, but I seldom use songs in this style. 
   On the other hand, most of our classroom singing is a cappella, whether we're preparing for a performance  or not.  I sing in falsetto and they copy me; I don't use piano to play the melody nor for pitch.   I believe this is a better and faster way to learn the principles of singing as well as specific songs.  Most importantly, the unaccompanied sound of pure voices is very beautiful.  The rest of our singing is with Orff instruments, World Music Drumming ensemble, and jug band instruments.   
on November 22, 2013 11:49am
I must agree with John. There are so many reasons why accompaniment tracks are not the best choice, but the most important one is that it is not a musician in real time. If you are performing in real time, everything must be in real time. Music happens in this exact moment, not months ago in a studio somewhere. If the audience is live, the music must be live (excepting musique concrete and other electronic musics).
Applauded by an audience of 1
on December 12, 2013 4:47pm
Well, I took the acoustic approach and wrote some instrumental parts to go along with the provided piano accompaniment.  I added flute, trumpet, and a string bass part.  It went WONDERFULLY!  Thank you for all your advice, colleagues!  Conducting a "mega choir" with all my middle and high school students singing together was such a great experience for everyone involved.  
Applauded by an audience of 3
on December 13, 2013 5:24am
I use a computerized accompaniment for both performance and rehearsal.  We use NOTEWORTHY COMPOSER.  I wish I had a live accompanist but it is financially prohibitive.  In the last three years, I have had only 2 major issues - one the computer freezing and two the output connection not working into the sound system.  Oh is what it is.
on December 14, 2013 4:28am
I have taught middle school for 22 years, and I have always used a mix of tracks and real accompaniment in concert settings.   I have 300 young lovlies in my choir, 95% of whom have no background in singing choral music when they come to me, and they all follow me just fine.  In fact, we just did our winter concert in a GYM of all places....mix of tracks on some songs and live accompanist on others..a capella on risers for some of the students because of the large size of the chorus...and they did beautifully well!  
I simply have to TEACH them effectively to follow me.
I've found that using a combination actually presents me with teachable moments about the difference between following me (a LIVE person) versus a track or a terrible accompanist who rushes or drags.  It's all the same.  They have to follow you.  If we've taught our children well about following us  our children will do well even if they audience claps faster than the beat.
The only time I make sure never to use a track is in an adjudicated festival.
When we say "I would never use a track anytime, anywhere", we are limiting ourselves a bit, I think.  A track can create quite the dramatic effect for some songs, and our students love some drama...especially in middle school...and that drama can attract students.  We are also reducing the number of great teachers who might choose to be chorus teachers because their piano skills are limited.  "I can't teach chorus because I can't play...".   We have to remain open.  
We have to be careful about being purists at every turn, and keep our minds open as technology continues to present us with so many new ways to give our students an awesome choral experience and make them excited about singing.
We simply have to teach them the difference.  That's all.
Glad your performance went well!
Dale Duncan
Applauded by an audience of 3
on December 14, 2013 5:48am
As soon as I saw this topic, I knew what the majority of answers would be, "NO TRACKS." It's nice that you are so blest that you don't need them. I just did my Christmas concert and assembly this week and it was ALL on track. My accompanist is a district staff accompanist who works at FOUR schools. She wasn't with me for my concerts. Unfortunately, I don't have the piano skills to play my own accompaniments (yes, I've tried to learn, I don't need that lecture.) I use tracts ALOT!!! They have great orchstrations. I teach with them.We practice with them. I learn to conduct to them and the singers follow ME, (just like any other situation.) Knowing I have to deal with tracts, I PLAN how to use them effectively and how to balance the music for my singers. It would be nice to be in a situation where I could use live accompaniment more (I do at times, when I can) but that is not the case. I use the skills I have (I sing) and the resources I have (CD tracts) to instruct my students to the best of my ability. My kids ARE learning music and good vocal technique and performance. And my concerts this week were great. WITH TRACTS.
Applauded by an audience of 1
on December 15, 2013 10:11am
Hi Laura,
Yes, live is always best, BUT sometimes a piano and perhaps percussion just do not do it. I have used performance tracks many times during my 30+ years of teaching. Especially for Broadway, and Pops concerts. I have found that the use of monitors facing the chorus works the best for me. I only use the monitors no other speakers. The sound goes directly to the students, bounces off the acoustic shell and goes into the audience as one sound. With the monitors in front the soloists can hear themselves. I found by adding other components, the phasing between the voices and the speakers was off. This is also a teachable moment for the class about acoustics and for the soloists, microphone techniques. It is also fun when you add movement to these tracks as the kids really get involved. I have had the audience clap along many times, but with this set up it does not throw the singers off. 
Hope this gives you some ideas, experiment with placement. Good Luck
Applauded by an audience of 1
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