Recording a small choir in a big hall

Discussion in 'Location Recording' started by zemlin, Mar 23, 2008.

  1. zemlin

    zemlin Well-Known Member

    I have a gig (almost) booked to record a good, but smallish choir in a large concert hall. It will be 25-30 adult voices - SABT. This will be my first recording in a "big-boy" venue. It is a closed session, so the hall will be essentially empty.
    I believe the only accompaniment will be piano.

    My main question(s) relate to "feeling out" the hall and deciding where to place the choir, piano, etc. My main concerns would be getting the best sound out of the hall and not too much piano in the main mics.

    I will not likely have a chance to get inside the venue until I load in.

    My gut says to place the choir as one would expect for a choral performance - conductor fairly near the front of the stage. Any strong opinions on piano left or right? I would guess piano on the the conductor's right so if it is open the lid will bounce toward the choir and not the mics.

    I'm comfortable with mic placement - it's more around finding a sweet spot in the hall that I'm wondering about.
  2. Thomas W. Bethel

    Thomas W. Bethel Well-Known Member

    Probably your gut instincts are correct. I have learned to trust mine.

    As to getting into the hall before hand can't you arrange to do this though the people that own the hall and do some clapping and playing some notes on the piano so you can get some idea of the hall's reverb time and general acoustical feel?

    When I worked for PBS we never did a cold shoot and always went on a "remote scouting drive" before the actual event.

    Just showing up is NOT a good idea since you will have no sense of the hall or what you are in for in terms of reverb and placement options and even such mundane things as access to AC power and how to turnoff the AC or Heating system if their are problems.

    Pre planning in this case is critical. Find out who else regularly records in the hall and call them up. When I worked for the local college I was always getting phone calls from someone coming in to record and I was always happy to help them get the best recording possible and could tell them things about traffic noise and creaking glass in the concert halls I normally recorded in. Even around here I always go to the hall before hand just to see how to get there and what problems I am going to run into. Sometimes just being there can give you a much better feel for the place.

    Best of luck and let us know how it turns out.
  3. zemlin

    zemlin Well-Known Member

    The main issue with getting in first is that it's two hours away from here. Knowing how to control the HVAC would be good to know though! There's a chance I can be over there before the recording session - I'll see what I can work out.
  4. Thomas W. Bethel

    Thomas W. Bethel Well-Known Member

    If it is an important gig then I would go the extra mile (or in this case extra miles) and as the boy scouts always use to say BE PREPARED.

    Best of Luck! :wink:
  5. JoeH

    JoeH Well-Known Member

    Check on the HVAC controller longggg before time. It may be one of those cases where there's no "local" control to turn it on or off directly. (In some college venues I've worked in, the actual computer controllin the HVAC was blocks - once it was MILES - away.) You may have to get a written request in to have it control-able for the session - keep it on right up till the downbeat, then turn it off until the break, let it run during the break, back off for the second half of the session, and so on.

    Assuming your'e going to multitrack this, hedge your bets with a few extra mics or mic pair setups "just in case." Have that spaced-omni pair ready to go, as well as a closer ORTF setup, for example. Better to have more than you need, than not enough options.
  6. RichS

    RichS Active Member

    Since it will be a closed session, may I suggest placing the piano in the center, a few feet behind the conductor, with the opening facing the choir. The pianist will be able to see the conductor, and all of the choir will be able to hear it easily.

    At that position, the piano will be pretty much in the "null-area" of the choir mic's (suggest a pair of wide cardioids for the choir), allowing you to get some separation and balance/panning control. I would use a pair of omni's close-in on the piano, maybe ORTF near the curve, and mix in only enough to give the piano some presence. (I really dislike that "off-in-the-distance" sound that piano's can get in big rooms!). Since they'll be used close-in, they shouldn't pick-up too much choir, and won't have any "proximity effect" to deal with. (I'd suggest trying the short-stick on the piano lid and also bringing a moving blanket or two just in case.)

    I'd also add a pair of omni's somewhat out in the room to allow for some ambiance control.

    Go to iTunes and do a search for this recording:
    Brahms: Ein deutsches Requiem (A German Requiem)
    by Kings College Choir

    You can hear what I'm talking about when I say "presence" in the sound of the piano. Even though it's a large room (King's Chapel), the piano doesn't get lost off to one side.

    Good luck, and have fun with the "big-boy" room!
  7. Cucco

    Cucco Distinguished Member

    I can tell you from experience, there will be no issues with the HVAC in that hall.

    The advice given so far is all good. I too like the piano to be up front and centered. All too often, choral conductors ask that the piano (which they decided to place far stage left) be brought more to a central image. When you explain the laws of physics to them, they just start to drool and/or studder.

    One of the important things though is that you're actually able to work with the conductor to map this stuff out. Have you worked with this person before? Are they willing and able to allow you to move things based on the needs of the recording?

    Have you heard this choir perform before? How do they balance with the piano during performances? Is the accompanist good and sensitive to the balance concerns of a smaller choir like this?

    I've almost always found that when I try to "exclude" certain instruments from the main mics, I wind up getting sounds that I don't prefer when trying to blend other mics later. My goal is almost always to get the best possible sound with that main stereo pair then add flanks and spots to taste. That being said, I've had extremely good luck using M/S spots on the piano (M130/M160) brought into taste and surprisingly exceedingly good luck from under-the-piano mics.

    Let us know how it turns out.
  8. JoeH

    JoeH Well-Known Member

    Good advice there RichS about the piano placement in the mix. I'm not sure I'd push to have the piano reversed (never tried that before), but I do share your dislike of watery, floating around "Lost" Pianos in choral works.

    I always mic the piano no matter what, even the tiniest bit of detail makes a difference, IMHO.

    Jeremey, I'm with you on the occasional "under the piano" mic'ing. I've done it a few times now in a pinch - situations where a mic on top just wouldn't work. I've also done the same thing with harpsichord. I had to do it afew times because the group was on camera and they wanted as few mic's as possible, so I gave it a shot and liked it; depending on the circumstances, you can sometimes get a full, (not-overly bright) interesting sound of the instrument this way. I've done it with two pianos as well, side by side, in a recent college "Carmina Burana" performance.

    I will also fight hard to stop anyone from closing the piano lid completly. That's a total waste of time, talent and good instrument, and it sounds terrible, even mic'd from underneath. The alternatives are to move the piano, play differently, or find another room.

    There have been discussions here before about closed vs. half-stick and full open. The very best accompanists will work with the lid completely up, and moderate their playing accordingly. Again, IMHO, I prefer the lid up full, and let everyone work with it as it sounds. (Want less piano? Play softer! and so on.....)
  9. zemlin

    zemlin Well-Known Member

    So, you've recorded there before? Champaign IL is my home town and the choir is from the church I attended while growing up. I believe their choir director is the head of Choral Music at the university there and he has done great things with the group.

    I wouldn't classify this recording as a "big deal" - I'm giving them a cut rate since it's intended to be a fund raiser for the church, but I want to get all I can out of the session, of course.

    Never worked with the director - only communicated with a few emails. Once I get final confirmation on the gig I'll give him a call and get a feel for how he'll be to work with.
  10. Cucco

    Cucco Distinguished Member


    No, I haven't personally recorded there, but a former "protege" (am I allowed to use that term??) was one of the student recording engineers there and he sent me his work all of the time to critique and mix.

    Also, I've played in that hall. It's quite nice.

    You say it's only 2 hours? How fast are you driving??
  11. zemlin

    zemlin Well-Known Member

    Indianapolis to Champaign-Urbana is pretty much two hours on the nose - not speeding.
  12. Cucco

    Cucco Distinguished Member

    Weird...didn't know that. Heck, I lived in Indianapolis for a while (Castleton) and never realized that it was that close.
  13. Sonarerec

    Sonarerec Guest

    I agree with Jeremy-- turning the piano towards the choir (on short stick or even only a book placed between lid and case) is a winner in the balance wars-- however I would avoid the mics underneath (too much action noise and it is impossible to capture the overtones you are trying to capture to spatially "place" the instrument) and instead let a pair of TLM193 (or other "dark" cardioids) peak inside the piano. If the conductor squawks then explain that you cannot "turn things down" and the piano mics are only to get delicate overtones.

    As for the rest-- I have never been able to work in a concert venue that is really wet enough for choral work, so plan on omnis (MK2 or similar) that don't accentuate consonants. I lean to the SF12 (plus flankers) for choral but this mic is not usually available for rent if you don't own one.

    And make sure you have Altiverb (or similar quality) to give at least a 2sec tail. The Dome Chapel IR is very good for choral.


Share This Page