How to Produce Image Magnification (IMAG) for Orchestral Performances

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Image Magnification (IMAG) is a great way to enhance a symphonic orchestra performance.  IMAG is directed live video content shown during a concert that showcases the musicians performing and allows the audience to see up close images of the performers.  Because of the size of the ensemble and the complexity of the music, IMAG of an orchestra requires a huge amount of planning and qualified resources.   The result is a dynamic, interactive and engaging performance for audience of all ages.

How do you start planning for IMAG?

First, realize that IMAG is not cheap if your organization doesn’t already have appropriate equipment and camera operators.  Most orchestras don’t have this in-house, so you will need to find a video production company that can produce the IMAG for you.  Production, equipment and labor could cost somewhere around $10,000-$20,000 for one performance of IMAG depending on what in-house equipment you do have.

Next, research video production companies in your area and interview them about how much live concert performance experience they have.  Have they worked with orchestras before? Do their video directors read music? Do their camera operators feel comfortable identifying instruments of the orchestra quickly?  Ask for samples of their work to get a sense of their style of camera work.  You will want a video director and camera operators who have a natural sense of musical performance.  With orchestral performance, the audience wants to see what they are hearing and the video content should always enhance instead of distract (not too jarring or too quickly transitioning from one camera shot to the next).

It is ideal to have an approved budget and confirm a video production company at least 30-60 days in advance of your performance.

Identify A Score Reader

Score preparation is crucial to creating a prepared and excellent performance of IMAG. As an Operations Manager, you will need to properly identify who will prepare the scores and call the cues in performance.  The Score Reader must be able to read orchestral scores during a performance and give verbal cues to the video director, so a staff conductor is an ideal choice if one is available.   Often, the Score Reader can also be a member of the Artistic or Operation departments.  Preparation time can easily take 1-2 hours per piece on the program, so make sure that person (which could very well be you!) understands the time commitment of preparation and being available for all services.

How do I prepare scores for an IMAG performance?

There are four main steps that you need to start with before you meet with the video director:

1. Request copies of all the scores for the program from your library department, so that you can write in for camera cues.

2. Watch examples of orchestra performances on YouTube or other video outlets (Berlin Philharmonic Digital Concert Hall, etc.) and get a sense of pacing for shots.  This will be very helpful as you start to mark scores.

3. When you are ready to mark scores, block off some uninterrupted time to listen to the music and mark in preliminary cues.  Gather some simple supplies to mark (I like pencil and post-its,  LOTS of post-its).

4. Some simple guidelines for marking cues:

  • Something always needs to be on the screen, from start to finish.
  • A good default is conductor because he or she is always moving!
  • Mark primarily what your ear is drawn to as a listener, in order to enhance listening
  • Try to highlight all instrument families throughout the work if it makes sense to do so
  • Be sure to capture the beginnings of solos
  • When the whole orchestra is playing, a wide shot of the orchestra can be used
  • Start listening to the work and add post-its in the score with an identifying word of what you want to hear at that exact point “cellos” “2nd violins” “oboe solo”, etc.
  • Keep in mind that the pacing of shots should not be too quick or too slow, but for the first pass through marking the scores just mark what you find interesting.  (You will need to revise the markings a few times!)

Once you have worked through the scores with a first draft of cues, then you will meet with the video director to discuss next steps about communication of the cues during performance.    Set up a meeting and plan to bring a stage plot of the program with principal players and sections labeled.  This meeting should happen 2-4 weeks before performance.

At the meeting, find out about how you can assist the video director with calling cues in the music.  The video director will be communicating with the camera operators, so there will need to be clear and concise language between you and the video director.  The video booth is a very active place during a performance! As the score reader, you will be on headset so you can talk to the video director, but keep in mind that is also the channel for the video director to talk to the camera operators.  Don’t talk conversationally on the headset during performance, cues only – short and sweet!  Examples of language the score reader may use are: “start the piece with cellos” “standby for oboe solo” “oboe solo GO!” “next up 1st violins” “everyone plays to the end”

The last very important factor in preparing a score before you get to rehearsal and performance, is backing up the post-it cues to the place where you actually need to call the cue in preparation for the camera shot. In order to determine how much you back-up the cue, talk with the video director to see how much notice he or she needs.  I have found that 6-8 seconds is about the time needed to acquire a new shot (varies depending on handheld versus robotic cameras). That timing can, of course, translate to a different number of bars depending on time signature and tempo.

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Now You are Ready for Rehearsal and Performance

Give the video director a copy of the rehearsal and performance schedule.  He or she might want to sit in on music only rehearsals, in advance of the dress rehearsal with cameras.  Block your calendar to be available for full rehearsals and performances associated with IMAG, so that you are focused on your role as score reader.

Be prepared to revise, remove or add cues as you work through rehearsal.  Like any performance, you will need to be confident but agile as anything can happen! Most importantly, stay calm, assist the video director and have fun.  IMAG is an exciting enhancement to any performance and the audience will love it!