Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary teams up with DPA and Steinway for large-scale holiday performance featuring 17 grand pianos
FORT WORTH, DECEMBER 12, 2013 - The School of Church Music at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary recently enlisted the help of DPA Microphones and Steinway Hall of Dallas, Plano and Fort Worth to put on Keyboards at Christmas — a performance of “grand” proportions. With 17 Steinway Grand Pianos on stage, student and professional musicians performed holiday songs for the packed house at the 3,500-seat venue.
Already DPA Microphones enthusiasts for the ability of its mics to reproduce the natural beauty of a Steinway, the music staff at Southwestern Baptist knew it wanted to equip all 17 pianos with three d:vote™ 4099 Instrument Mics each, for a total of 51 mics. A clear, pristine sound was the school’s primary requirement when searching for a mic, and it was obvious that the DPA d:vote was the only choice.
“The Steinway instruments have a very beautiful, very unique sound that other instruments can’t touch, so we didn’t want to recreate the sound, but rather amplify it for the audience to hear in this very large hall,” says Luke Byford, Assistant Director of Musical Productions for the school. “We had experimented for a while with how to mic the piano in this hall and we knew it had to be the DPA d:votes. We previously tried a pickup system, but it just didn’t provide the live sound of the piano. It actually sounded pretty dead. Then we tried a variety of other mics and positions. Nothing seemed right, until our sound techs presented the idea to try the d:votes we had for string instruments in the piano. We were very pleased with the natural reproduction of the DPA mics as they gave us a much more accurate picture of how the pianos sound and the beauty that they put out.”
While this is the second year of the event, the school’s 2012 performance was held in a smaller, more acoustically tuned venue, so the staff did not require microphones. For this year’s Keyboards at Christmas, the school increased the number of pianos. To ensure that audience members had a clear view of every musician, the stage had three elevated platforms, which allowed them to place five pianos at the top, six in the center and six in the front.
“For a great deal of the program, all of the pianos were played at the same time,” says Jerry Aultman, Professor of Music Theory, who worked with Byford on the event. “Sometimes there were two pianists per piano, so a total of 34 pianists playing simultaneously. Bottom line, it was imperative in this hall, as you can imagine with this many instruments and musicians, for the artists to hear each other separately and without delay. From an audience perspective, I noticed that the DPA d:votes just made the Steinways sound the way they are supposed to sound. It was a true representation of the pianos. They don’t need improvement, they’re wonderful the way they are, we just wanted to amplify them and reproduce an accurate sound. With a program of this magnitude, using this many pianos in a hall this large, it is impossible to overemphasize the importance of this requirement.”
It wasn’t just the microphones that drew Byford and Aultman to the DPA d:vote. As the microphone is designed to be heard and not seen, the tiny capsule size enabled the mics to be positioned where the staff wanted them, without any visible signs of a mic being in place.
“We like that you can’t see them,” adds Byford. “They were in the pianos and we ran the lines out of the back, so the audience did not even know they were there. The magnetic piano mounts were great because once they were attached to the brass, they didn’t bounce or rattle. They stayed exactly where we put them, and the fact that they are on goosenecks allowed us to get the mounts in the proper spot on the piano, but then move the microphone to get them in the best position to pick up the exact area of sound we wanted to highlight. They were so hidden and so natural that many of our audience members later told us they didn’t even realize the pianos were being amplified until we mentioned it to them.”
The school had only one day of prep time to mic up the pianos and do an audio run through with students to ensure the EQ was perfect, so the size and maneuverability of the d:votes also afforded the quick setup that was needed. With only a limited in-house supply of d:votes, the school sought to rent an additional 35 microphones to fulfill their need for 51 d:votes. A tall order for any rental house, Byford found himself in direct contact with Eric Mayer, President of DPA Microphones, Inc.
“I think it’s great that a company that makes this kind of product would want to get behind a production like ours and help out the way they did,” adds Byford. “Everyone we worked with at DPA, seemed really excited to help us and support this project.”
In addition to the large supply of d:votes, the company loaned the school two d:facto™ Vocal Microphones for the soloists who accompanied the pianists. DPA’s Sales and Marketing rep, James Capparelle, also attended the event to help with setup and make certain everything ran smoothly.
The Keyboards at Christmas event hosted Southwestern Baptist students and faculty, as well as school-aged children who played three songs, including excerpts from the classic “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” Guest artists Becky Lombard, professor of music at Truett-McConnell College, and T. Bob Davis, a former Southwestern Seminary trustee also performed. In addition to Byford, Aultman and Capparelle, the event was also run by Matthew Bennett, Will Schaefer, Caleb Wallace and Cody Meuer, who are student employees of the school’s A/V Communications department and were key players in making sure the program operated effortlessly.
Video from the event can be found at: http://youtu.be/-D0JsLg2IDw.
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