With the flurry of innovation in audio and video recording technology particularly over the past decade, capturing ensembles in rehearsal and concert has never been easier. Whether recording with a handheld device or running an assortment of mics through a soundboard, the possibilities are virtually limitless in terms of fidelity, complexity, and cost. And the potential applications of these recordings vary tremendously, too. In a school choral setting, audio playback can be used to assist in an array of instruction, preparation, and performance uses, as well as for the educator’s own self-assessment and critique. And that’s not even getting into the world of possibilities presented by recording video.
For a closer look at how vocal music educators are using these tools in their rehearsal rooms and performance halls, Choral Director presents this recent reader survey, which aims to uncover the latest trends in classroom and concert audio and video recording.
When do you typically record audio of your ensembles?
“I record my ensembles at the beginning of the year, about a month before the concert, and at the concert so that they can hear how they have changed through the semester.”
Mansfield/North Penn Jr./Sr. High
Is your rehearsal room normally set up for recording?
“We have a digital video camera that is quickly set up on tripod. Also, two omni-directional condenser mics are set up to record to the classroom soundboard. We always record performances, often dress rehearsals, sometimes regular rehearsals close to concert date, and once in a while we record and access a regular class. On occasion, I also use video to observe my teaching – to work on eliminating any distracting vocal speaking or singing problems I may have.”
Creative Montessori Academy
“We use either a handheld recorder or a laptop in rehearsals and classes, but we have a wired system for performances.”
Margaret Anne Butterfield
Wilmington Friends School
What are the biggest challenges to setting up a rehearsal room for regular audio/video recording?
“I don’t think that the challenges are near what they were even ten years ago. Audacity is a wonderful (free!) recording program that can be used with any computer. Most programs have some sort of microphone. Interfacing with a computer is easy to do. Speakers are also much cheaper than they once were. The entire set-up can be done without much expense. Of course, money can be invested on more expensive equipment if that is what is needed in a particular educational setting.”
Buford High School
“The acoustics in our rehearsal room are terrible, and it’s hard to get good recordings in it.”
St. Ambrose University
How do you use the audio you’ve recorded?
“In addition to playing the recordings in class, I sometimes put them on my classroom blog, so that students can listen on their own.”
Wellington Landings Middle School
“Recording your ensemble is great way to demonstrate to students, parents, and administration the growth in their abilities over time. Also, it is very helpful to me in deciding what teaching approaches and techniques work or don’t work. Assessing yourself is part of the process!”
Norway High School
“Usually we allow the students to request a copy of the concert for free or they can download it from our website. Occasionally, like this year, we made an actual CD for purchase that was cleared through all of the legal channels. However, those tend not to sell very well in today’s technological/digital world.”
Niles North High School
Do you have any advice for making great audio recordings of choral ensembles?
“Using a digital recorder that is portable allows you to find the optimal mic placement to get the best quality recording of your ensemble.”
Bruce C. Lengacher
Acalanes High School
“Keep it simple. Use one or two mics, not too close to the singers or piano. Check for levels, especially during the loudest parts, to avoid distortion. Teach you singers to be still. Keep any other distractions out of the room. Avoid recording in acoustically dead or exceedingly live rooms. Know when there may be outside sounds like bells or trains.”
Hatch Valley High
“The best recordings I have gotten with my Zoom H4n Handy Recorder have been by placing it in the rear of the auditorium where we practice and perform.”
Susquenita High School
“You have to experiment with microphone placement to get a good blend with each individual choir. You also have to use condenser mics that will pick up sound from a distance, unlike Shure SM-58 stage mics.”
West Wilson Middle School
Mount Juliet, Tenn.
“The main issue is equipment and proper placements. For concerts, I hire a professional to record our group. In other situations I use a Zoom HS – it’s cheap, great quality, and easy to use. Place the recorder away from the group when possible.”
Lexington Catholic High School
How do you typically use a video camera during rehearsals?
“A video recording provides the most direct way to enable choirs to keenly see themselves as others view them, in order to make immediate corrections and improvements.”
Everrett G. Parker
Louisiana State University
Baton Rouge, La.
“Video is a wonderful teaching tool when talking about facial expressions. Nothing works better.”
JL Stanford Middle School
Palo Alto, Calif.
“I typically use Zoom portable recorder which provides both HD video and high quality stereo audio. Video is invaluable in helping singers realize the importance of their body language to the performance.”
Stillwater High School