Over the last decade, I have had many opportunities to perform on stage with noteworthy artists in professional settings, including well-known productions such as Video Games Live, Star Wars in Concert, and most recently, a Josh Groban tour. These performances involved collaboration with professional ensembles, namely the Utah Symphony, Colorado Symphony, Las Vegas Philharmonic, and San Diego Symphony. It was thrilling to be able to work with famous musicians and orchestras, but even more exhilarating was the intense energy coming from the audience as they excitedly listened to their favorite music in a live performance.
I thought to myself, “How great would it be to take these kinds of experiences and offer them to young students who don’t normally have an opportunity to be involved in something like this?” The resulting brainchild was Sounds of the Screen.
A short description of Sounds of the Screen would be “a multimedia concert featuring live orchestral video game soundtracks performed in complete sync with projected video footage (edited from the selected video games).” The project was an exciting opportunity for high school musicians who were eager to have exposure to this genre of music; it’s not commonly available to young students and even less commonly selected for performance.
A concert this involved requires months of preparation. The first challenge was finding a high school where all of the various music departments would agree to participate. Great soundtrack music involves a full orchestra . . . but in high school, the instruments are typically divided—strings in the string orchestra, and brass, woodwinds, and percussion in the band. Epic soundtrack music often involves voices, so it was also essential to invite the choir to participate.
It is difficult to find high school-level scores involving all three groups (strings, band, choir) because these groups typically don’t perform together. So there were some soundtracks arranged only for strings, or only for band, but nothing that would allow for a combined performance. I decided it would be better to contact the composers to see if they would allow us to purchase or rent full-ensemble scores directly from them. Interestingly, many of the composers I contacted eagerly allowed us to rent and purchase scores, and some were even donated.
After scores and copyright permissions were secured for the performance and sheet music was distributed to the students, it was time to address the multimedia aspect of the concert. Many soundtrack performances and most pop concerts involve multimedia effects including video, lasers, fog, fire, sound effects, and pre-records. In short, most concert-goers like to be entertained by more than just the music.
To make this project more appealing to the audience and more exciting for the students, cut scenes from the respective video games were displayed during the concert. The tricky part was making sure the videos were played back in sync with the live performance. This is actually an important part of the multimedia concert experience because epic moments in the music need to be accompanied by epic moments in the video . . . and it needs to be ensured that it happens that way every time. The best option to ensure synchronization is a click track, sent to the conductor via headphones or in-ear monitors. So, a click track was created, following the sheet music of each piece perfectly, and then the video footage was edited to the click track. Provided the students stick with the conductor, the click ensures a positive and unforgettable experience.
Note: All four songs from the concert are on Tyrel’s channel.
It’s difficult to get five different performing ensembles together for rehearsal, and a tech-heavy concert such as this requires extensive rehearsal. I found that an effective way to “cheat” for collaborative rehearsals was to simulate them. I created MIDI versions of each part in a DAW (I chose Digital Performer), and then muted the parts of the ensemble I was working with. This allowed them to hear the other instruments as we practiced their parts. By practicing this way, only two full collaborative rehearsals were needed, as students were prepared with the mock-ups.
I recommend Digital Performer (although I am not affiliated with or sponsored by MOTU), because it is the best DAW on the market for incorporating video. Many notable soundtrack composers and conductors use DP.
As part of the project, I conducted a survey given to audience members on the back of their programs. Before giving the statistics based on the survey results, it is important to note that the attendance numbers for Sounds of the Screen were quadruple the typical concert attendance amount. That being said, the key results from the survey are as follows:
- 95% of the audience attended because a friend or family member was performing.
- 67% of the audience indicated they would attend a similar concert again even if their student (friend/family member) wasn’t involved.
- 95% of students in the audience indicated they would be more inclined to participate in school music programs if it meant being involved in more concerts like this.
- 80% of students involved in the concert indicated they would like to perform in more concerts like this.
The core message of these results is that both students and community members are more excited and involved when multimedia effects are used and relevant music is performed.
Tyrel Ivie is a public educator in Utah, where he teaches a variety of music and media arts courses. He earned a Master of Music degree in Music Technology at Southern Utah University, specializing in performance technology, multimedia performance, and audio/video production. If you would like to contact Tyrel with any questions or comments, email firstname.lastname@example.org. If you’d like to learn more about Digital Performer while supporting Tyrel, he has tutorials at his YouTube channel, Studio IV.
Click here for Part II of this article—Elias’ analysis of the production from the perspective of outside educator and FOH engineer.