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In my professional life, about 90% of the time, when there is a choir with instruments- from small ensemble to full orchestra- the choir is behind the instruments on risers. To my main pair, the choir is less 'close' and detailed than the instruments because it is quite a bit further from the mains. Besides this, the choir is often partially or completely drowned out by the orch (Beethoven's 9th, anyone?)

I find this is often a problem. My current solution: have a pair of mics on the choir to add diction when necessary, and to add volume when the orch gets way too loud. Unfortunately, some conductors dislike this solution because when one turns up the choir mics, the mics 'select' the choir members closest to the mics. Placing more choir mics is usually impractical unless there is time to hang them all- and many halls have no way to hang the choir mics anyway. That many floor stands is almost always impossible due to space restrictions.

I have a particular conductor who so dislikes the 'selected voices' effect he hears that he disallows choir mics at all, leaving the mains to pick up choir as best they can. He does not mind the more distant sound (indeed, it is not always a problem). But our next show is a Bach Mass in B minor, and there are places that I fear the choir will be buried deeply.

BTW: I love the sound of the choir on one side of the stage and the orch on the other. I was skeptical at first, imagining the weird wide stereo effect, but I did it on a Bach St John Mass and it was actually pretty subtle! Another solution is splitting the choir hard L/R and having them stand on either side of the orch.

But I digress. The issue is the typical staging: choir behind orch. Thoughts?


Boswell Tue, 03/15/2011 - 10:27

Choir behind the orchestra is conventional, but where are the vocal solists to be placed in the B minor Mass? If they are behind the orchestra but in front of the main body of the choir, you really do need soloist mics, and you can argue that point with the musical director. I would not worry too much about the main choir being buried - it's the conductor's job to balance them with the orchestral players, and your main mic pair, if positioned carefully, should bring out that balance.

Choir round the sides is certainly an option, but I'm not sure an amateur choir would perform at their best if split L-R, although professionals should cope.

JoeH Wed, 03/16/2011 - 01:17

I still think you gotta dig in there and put mics up. Tell the conductor you'll turn them off if they're too close to individual voices. :-) Of course, one has to make some compromises, but I always tend to overdo it a bit, if necessary. I often use four mics for a choir with orch in this kind of situation; a pair of LD cardiods on a tall stand in front of the choir, fairly high up above, though, never in any one singer's "Zone". Sometimes they're even looking down a bit; anything I can do to get a blend vs. soloists. (The main concern as you pointed out is to always try to minimize picking up unintended soloists.) The other two mics are outriggers or flanks, almost always a pair of omni's, depending on placement. If I'm way inside the choir area and if the stage is large enough, I might go with a wide pair of cardioids, but if I'm getting both choir and orchestra, the omni's are often a better choice.

If it's a shallow stage area with a chamber orchestra in front of them, between the conductor and choir, I can sometimes put the stereo pair above (and behind) the conductor. Somehow over the years, most conductors have gotten hip to this and don't mind. Just this past sunday, for instance, I wanted to put the choir stereo pair behind the winds (which were dead-center) and in front of the choir. The conductor didn't want this (sight lines, etc.) but was totally fine with me putting the stand right behind his back. Since it was a tall stand with a boom (one of my many Quik-lok A-50s) I was able to get up high enough, and "reach" across the orchestra (and over his head) and focus on the choir. (Just be sure to make sure the stand is locked down TIGHT if you're going to be over a conductor's head and near any violins! ;-)

I also spot-mic the soloists (which are usually at either side of the conductor, but in front of the orch., depending on the work & # of soloists). I also use touch-up mics on the orchestra, and always one on the bass, harp, etc. These are sometimes not necessary in the final mix, but it's nice to have them.

One other little trick I picked up (for side/flank mics) is with using a side-address cardioid mic (AT-4040, for example) in close: Tilt them UP a bit, so they're not looking directly at any one soloist. Another conductor who records a lot showed me this; he found it by accident. I was highly skeptical at first, but he insisted I try it. The result was a bit more "blend", if you will. There was also a Wenger "Shell" behind the choir, which created a bit more bounce and natural blend, so it all seemed to work.

Hopefully you'll be tracking everything separately, and be able to bring things up here and there as needed. With the Messiah we recorded this past Sunday, I had 12 mics deployed, (they had soloists all OVER the place; up in the balconies, etc.), and I'll be bringing things up and down as needed. I like to have options afterwards.