Videoconferen-sing Your Ensemble
Date: October 11, 2013
We are often trapped in "silos" with our ensembles-- rehearsing and performing as one unit amongst ourselves, but not easily capable of sharing rehearsal and performance laterally with other ensembles. Internet-based videoconferencing is one way that we can break out of this mold and share our rehearsal and performance process with others in the choral world, without the hassle of renting buses. While the quality of signal can sometimes be a question, there are a few ways to make videoconferencing a powerful tool with your group.
Who You Gonna Call?
Most devices now come with a videoconferencing solution built-in, or at least easily accessible. The most common program for videoconferencing is undoubtedly Skype. After setting up an account, you get free Internet calls from one device to another. You can pay to call landlines, but that doesn't do us as much good. Apple products come with a program called FaceTime, which is very similar. FaceTime works on your Apple ID (the same one you use for the App Store or iTunes store), so you may not even need to generate a new account. Each of these programs (and others, including Google Hangout for conference calls with multiple parties) only works with others using the same program, so ensure that the person with whom you're trying to connect uses the same program that you do.
A staple of classrooms and libraries is the author chat-- a videoconference between a classroom and the author of a book currently being read. These discussions allow students to speak directly with authors and ask about the work they're reading. Composer chats can offer the same great benefit (assuming you're programming pieces from a still-living composer!), allowing an ensemble to speak with a composer about the work and hear straight from the composer his or her intent in its construction. An exchange with a peer or similar ensemble can be a great way to share ideas as well as hear what other ensembles are doing, and give musicians a chance to critically listen to each other and hone their ears. Finally, while performing live for a clinician might be tricky due to audio limitations, sharing a recorded performance in advance, then calling up a clinician for their feedback and critique allows a relaxed coaching session in your own rehearsal space.
Quality In, Quality Out
The biggest question with Internet-based videoconferencing is the quality of connection. After all, if the audio isn't very good, the whole point of sharing music across the link is weakened. A basic ensemble-size videoconferencing setup will probably involve:
The microphones built into devices are very small and will not capture high-quality audio. Your microphone setup is wholly customizable-- you can run an entire board setup including mutliple microphones through a computer for videoconferencing setups depending on the size of the project. Once you've got the audio into the computer, though, the quality of connection can often seem out of our hands. If you work at a school or rehearse somewhere with an IT department, speak to them in advance of the project. A network administrator can often reserve a portion of your school's bandwidth and dedicate it directly to your computer for the duration of the project in order to ensure that you have a fast enough connection. If you're on your own though, try and either plug your computer directly into the Internet connection, or make sure that you're in an area with a strong Internet connection. You probably want to test the connection with a call from that area before you do your videoconference. Finally, have a little patience! Technology can be messy, and you may have to repeat yourself or an excerpt at some point if your audience loses the track for a moment.
Network, Network, Network
Hopefully this gives you some ideas of who you might want to (virtually) bring into your rehearsal. Connecting your ensemble to the world outside the rehearsal room can have wonderful and surprising benefits for you and the group. Have you used videoconferencing in the past? Share in the comments below!