As I go through the wonderful comments and responses I’ve received, it is clear that people are so much needing beauty, hope, laughter, kindness, and connection. I believe they always do, but especially now during this worldwide experience.
One dear friend told me she was watching the blooper reel every day because she says, “laughter is the best medicine right now.”
That made me think I should share my favorite links, pages, videos, and podcasts. These are the ones I call up when I am in need of a mood-booster. So here they are.
This American Life: Fiasco!– this show has two hilarious stories: Opening Night (20 minutes) – a small town production of “Peter Pan” that goes horribly, hilariously awry Squirrel Cop (13 minutes) – two former rookie cops are bested by a squirrel. It will have you laughing in tears
I just posted the Virtual Brandenburg Project today and am amazed, happy, and very humbled to see how it is taking off. Friends and acquaintances are sending me heartfelt thanks and it is being posted all over social media.
I am getting asked by many how did I do it? To be honest, I didn’t do it. Twenty-six talented musicians did.
I did coordinate and organize the group, and I did all the video editing. I will share how I did it, what lessons I learned, and how I would do it differently below.
And because I’m in a goofy mood, I will use stills from “Young Frankenstein,” although there is absolutely no connection between that film and this project.
This will be lengthy and may get a bit more technical than some need or may understand. For others, I may not get specific enough. Feel free to comment or contact me if you have questions and I’ll do my best to clarify.
What was the project? Basically, I decided I wanted to play the first movement of Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto #3 with friends all over the country and around the world. I knew we couldn’t do it at the same time, so I invited people to video themselves playing the various parts, send those videos to me, and I’d put them together. Simple, right?
Although I have worked in IT for over three decades, my experience in video editing is limited. I’ve made a dozen or so simple videos with pictures, videos, and an audio track. I’ve never made a video with more than two simultaneous video tracks. This one has twenty-six plus transitions, slides shows, and text boxes.
I. What You Need
So you want to create a multi-musician/singer work? Here’s what you will need to do it:
A musical work – preferably one not covered by copyright (also one the video editor won’t go crazy hearing dozens and dozens of time during the project)
A group of willing musicians/singers
Each participant needs: a. A device to listen and watch b. A device with which to video record oneself c. Earbuds and/or headphones. If wired, they’ll want an extra long wire. d. (recommended) A stand, tripod, or something to hold their recording device securely
Each participant needs to be able to send those individual recordings back to the video editor
Someone with a computer that has a. Video editing software b. Sufficient power to edit multiple audio/video tracks (video editing requires tremendous CPU and RAM), as well as c. A lot of computer disk storage space – preferable also a backup hard drive just in case
Time and a lot of patience
II. How Did I Do It
1. Collected names and assigned parts I quickly assembled a list of musicians willing to play. The work is available on IMSLP, and calls for 3 violin parts, 3 viola parts, and 3 cello parts. I assigned each person a part and kept track. As the project went on and individuals ran into technical or time constraints and had to drop out, I moved a few people (including myself) to fill different parts.
2. Recorded and shared the first track My good, supremely talented, and compassionate friend, Tatiana gamely agreed to lay down the first violin track. She recorded herself and I posted it as an unlisted YouTube video.
I sent her recording out to all the musicians and invited them to play their parts matched to her tempo. They had to wear earphones or earbuds to prevent Tatiana’s recording from being heard in each recording. Most people used cell phones to record themselves. The video and sound quality was satisfactory.
3. Collected Video Recordings As people completed their video recordings, they needed to get those to me. They used Google Drive and DropBox primarily to do this. I also have an account with SmugMug.com, which let me create a drop box for videos.
Now these video files are large! Each individual video ranged from 200-900mb. It took a while for people to upload videos from their phones to transfer them to me.
On my end, collecting these videos took up space, and as I created the whole ensemble of 26 musicians, each video I created during the process took 1-2gb. The folder containing all the videos, still images, partial videos, and the finished video now takes up nearly 60gb hard disk space.
4. Combined and Synchronized the Video Recordings I used video editing software called PowerDirector from Cyberlink. Although mine is not the latest version, it is relatively recent. It is purported to be able to handle up to 100 audio and video tracks.
Basically, I would receive a new video, and add it to the existing stack of videos already received. Then I would need to shift the video forward or backward until it synced up with the existing videos.
In this image, the lower half of the left monitor shows the growing stack of videos I have received and imported into the software. They are staggered because I had to shift them around to ensure all the musicians started together.
On the right-hand monitor is the mosaic gradually being filled with musicians with every additional video.
Below both monitors is my beloved viola.
Do you know a viola joke? More than likely I have heard it and told it already. They are the best – and most numerous – of music-related jokes.
5. Edited Video Tracks and Adjusted Sound Levels Beyond getting the videos in tight sync, this was the most time-consuming work. I needed to adjust the levels of each recording so that the parts could be heard. Sometimes I would find small spots to make louder or softer.
Since the musicians were listening to a track to play along with, and the tempo varied, sometimes I had to make slight timing modifications (e.g. slightly extend or cut shorter a rest). But some variations were beyond my skill to fix without re-recording.
If anyone had played a wrong note, I could have sought it out and muted that split-second. But my friends are top-notch musicians, so I didn’t have to do that at all…
6. Uploaded video to YouTube Every day or two, I’d upload the latest video version to YouTube as an “Unlisted” video. That way the musicians could see the project’s progress without the incomplete video being discovered and shared by the public.
This is the gist of the project. Now to the problems character-building opportunities I encountered during the project.
III. What Problems I encountered and Solutions for next time
1. Tempos, Attacks, and Cadences Good musical performances have everyone starting together, staying together, and finishing together. This is not just at the beginning and ending of the piece, but within the work. It is really difficult to do this as a musician simply by listening to a recording.
Having more precise tempos for all the musicians would not only reduce stress on the musicians, but probably reduce the video editor’s work by about 75%.
Solution 1: Use a click track. A click track gives a clear timing, like a metronome in the ear for musicians to follow. This is precise, and has been used for decades in sound movies where music had to precisely match what was going on on screen.
With Bach, the tempo can stay quite constant except near the ending, so a click track could have worked well. It doesn’t work well with music that has intentional tempo changes.
Solution 2: Have a video conductor. I think this would be my preference. Video a conductor giving directions on tempo, starts and stops, cutoffs, etc. and send that out to the musicians. I believe this is what several professional orchestras have done in isolation/combination videos I have seen.
2. Check the Score You might be surprised how often there are mistakes in printed music. Sharp-eyed musicians familiar with a work might catch them, but many will simply assume the score is good and play what they see.
Ideally, someone should take the time to go through each part to make sure they are correct. There is little a video editor can do (short of the infernal Autotune) if one section plays a note written in their score that happens to be a misprint. Solution: Have someone check the parts against a legitimate score.
3. Portrait or Landscape? It did not occur to me to specify to the musicians how to orient their cameras. Most did landscape, but several did portrait. This caused some extra work for me to try to fit the differing shapes into a pleasing mosaic. Solution: Specify camera orientation when sending out instructions.
4. Mirror Images Some cameras, especially selfie cameras on cell phones may take the image backwards (mirror image). You can test this easily by wearing a shirt with printed text, take a picture or video, and see whether you can read the text.
One of our musician’s camera did this, and neither of us caught it until late into the process. I didn’t think to check, and I’m sure my software would have allowed me to flip the image to the correct orientation. But it was too late to easily fix, so one violinist will forever appear to be the Paul McCartney of the group. Solution: Check your videos to make sure they are not mirror images
5. Save your bloopers! On a Herculean project like this, it’s fun to see the foibles and bloopers that occur. It’s even more fun to create a blooper reel, either for the end credits, or as a separate video. Solution: Tell your participants to hold onto their mistakes, bloopers, etc. and send them in.
6. Aim Carefully Perhaps some folks are shy, but a few videos came in cutting off either the top or the side of musician’s faces. Solution: Ask people to make short test videos to make sure their cameras frame their faces nicely.
7. Choose your music carefully Most string ensemble works have four or five voices: a. First Violin b. Second Violin c. Viola d. Cello, and sometimes e. Bass
Sometimes there might be divisions with in a section, but that’s generally all the voices you need to balance. Brandenburg #3 has three violin parts, three viola parts, three cello parts, and harpsichord. That’s 10 separate voices or parts you have to mix and set levels to. That was a ton of work for me. Solution: I highly recommend you choose something less complex, at least for your first project!
8. PC Power Non-technical people’s eyes may glaze over for this, so feel free to skip this long section.
Video editing requires more computing power, speed and disk space than about 98% of tasks most consumers would ever need. The only other high-capacity-demanding software are some current high-end computer games.
My PC is not cutting edge, but it’s reasonably current with an Intel i7 6 Core CPU, 64-bit Windows 10 operating system, 32 GB of RAM, and hundreds of GB free disk space.
Nevertheless, when I rendered a video out of my video editing software, I often saw my CPU completely maxed out non-stop at 100% utilization, and the cooling fans went into overdrive.
I also found that despite claims that the PowerDirector software I was using should be able to handle up to 100 separate audio and video tracks, once I went over sixteen tracks, my audio dropped out.
For example, I added myself last to the stack of musicians, and there were a couple short important moments that the Viola 3 part was completely mute. Even when I cranked up the volume for that specific track, it could not be heard.
Through trial and error, I discovered that my system seemed to max out at 16 separate audio tracks. Since I had 26 musicians, that posed a big problem.
I ended up creating one video for all the Violin 1 players, a separate one for the Violin 2 players, and so on. Thus combining and bundling sections, I was able to inch under that arbitrary 16 audio track limit.
I have yet to figure out why my computer did this. I suspect I just needed a more powerful processor and/or video adapter.
Update: My hard drives were the bottle neck. I now have my Operating System on one hard drive (an SSD), the video editing software on a second conventional hard drive, and the video files on a separate SSD. I am finding everything runs much smoother and quicker.
Solution 1: Keep your projects small Solution 2: Combing multiple parts into single section videos, then combine those videos for the final Solution 3: Obtain a more powerful computer
I hope this answers some of the questions you might have about how I did this project, and how you might go about doing your own. Feel free to comment or contact me if you have questions I have not answered here.
During this time of isolation and fear, this is a wonderful, beautiful thing to share with your fellow artists and friends.
Stay safe, stay sane, and stay connected…at a safe minimal distance.
Concerts I was scheduled to play have been cancelled. Getting together with musicians to read chamber music, which is one of the things I love to do most, I cannot do.
Ten days ago, I was outside weeding my yard when my dear friend, musician and celebrated poet, Anna George Meek and I had a brief chat online. We talked about possibly trying to play music together online, and that’s when I decided I wanted to try to organize a virtual chamber group. I decided I wanted to do Bach’s Brandenburg #3.
Mind you, I’ve never tackled anything even remotely like this before.
I contacted musician friends all over the country and abroad, and within less than six hours had enough people willing to cover all 9 separate parts, some with 2 or more players per part.
Soon, videos were coming in from 6 states, and two from Germany. Every time a new video arrived I felt an excitement and joy like a little boy opening a birthday gift.
Some of these people I have not seen in years. One I have seen only once in three decades. Getting to see them and play virtually together was a heartwarming online reunion.
The project is finished, and I couldn’t be happier! Multiple musicians have been generous in their praise and gratitude for having a joyful project like this to work on while holed up in solitude.
I sincerely believe we need joy, hope, and connection during this dark time of fear and isolation. What better way than through music.
I hope this project and the associated blooper video brighten your day!
Stay safe, stay sane, and stay connected…at a safe minimum distance!
Art heals, and now you can tour countless world museums virtually during this time of social distancing. From The Lourve in Paris and the Pergamon in Berlin to the National Museum in New Delhi, you can take virtual tours and view some of the most amazing art. Here are just a few links:
If anyone should be an expert at self isolation, it’s astronauts. Spending weeks or months holed up in a confined space with others, physically disconnected from the natural world and everyone else they know and love, astronauts have to develop strategies to cope, stay healthy, and stay sane.
Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield spent 166 days in space and offered this advice:
Understand the actual risk – fear is not helpful; look to credible sources to find out the real level of risk
What’s your mission? – pick a mission and decide on what you hope to achieve (learn a language, complete a project, learn a skill)
Look at your constraints – beyond social distancing, consider other factors like financial resources
Take action -start acting, whether caring for others, learning something new: “It’s a chance to do something different”
“Take care of yourself. Take care of your family. Take care of your friends. Take care of your spaceship.”
Astronaut Leroy Chiao spent over 229 days in space. Here are his suggestions:
See the bigger picture – set realistic expectations, what resources do you have to help you prepare mentally
Make sure operations (surroundings) are in order – everything is working (within reason), tidy, organized, comfortable
Take stock of supplies – don’t panic buy, set expectations,
Keep channels of communication open – stay connected
Keep your spirits up – do things to help each other, use humor, share
One thing astronauts cannot do is go for a walk in the park and enjoy nature. Some relaxed by listening to recordings of birds or watching videos of nature. We can do that ourselves by going for a walk in the park (if you are allowed outside).
Also, although things have improved greatly, we generally have much more access to audio and video communications here on earth. Reach out and connect with friends, family, and acquaintances. You will both feel better if you do.
Stay safe, stay sane, and stay connected (at a safe minimum distance).
During these times of social distancing, isolation, and fear, musicians have little opportunity to play for others or with each other. So I am working on a big project to bring musicians together from around the world to perform a piece by Bach. Through this project I hope to spread music, joy, hope, and foster connection. I hope to complete it within a few days.
Today during my regular morning walk, I received a video call from friends in Europe. I got to see and talk with friends in Norway, Finland, and Germany.
We shared how we were all doing, and what the current state of affairs were in our respective communities and countries.
Just yesterday a friend I haven’t seen in person for over 30 years and I video chatted and caught up.
It still amazes me how easy it is to see and talk with someone, even with multiple people, for free halfway around the world on your phone. In this time of worldwide fear and isolation, I encourage people to remember to reach out and connect.
I am hopeful that through these trying times we will be reminded of our shared humanity.
Stay safe, stay sane, and stay connected (at a safe physical distance). And wash your hands and face regularly!
During this time of fear and isolation, I am trying to do several things every day to maintain my health and sanity. One of those things is exercise.
I go for a walk first thing every morning. It’s been chilly, some days just a few degrees above freezing. I bundle up and walk for 30-60 minutes. During that time I can breathe the fresh air, hear the birds, and see the plants budding and blooming.
Of course I maintain at least 6 feet (~1 meter) distance from anyone I might pass while out, but most of the time I see very few people out walking.
I know I am lucky that I can leave my house as more cities and countries are instituting stay-at-home orders. I expect that to happen here soon. Until then, I will enjoy my morning walks.