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A Virtual Band Becomes Reality

Erik Stone | December 2020 January 2021

    As a member of the Board of Directors for the Kansas Band-masters Association and Co-Chair for the Middle Level Honor Band, COVID-19 challenged us to consider how we would stay true to our mission statement of “Building Better Bands.” When presented with the option to take our existing Middle Level Honor Band into a virtual space due to complications with our summer convention, our team jumped at the opportunity.

Our Vision
    In late May the executive board of the Kansas Bandmasters Association decided, like so many others, to convert this year’s summer convention into a virtual event. We wanted to provide students with an opportunity to challenge their musical and technical ability by submitting an audio-only recording of one piece selected by the summer convention’s guest conductor/clinician. All recordings were then compiled and synced into a video for performance. For the final aspect of this project, we hired a professional audio and video technician to sync files together.
    Premiering the final product involved streaming and posting online and we did not feel comfortable showing students’ faces and opted to partner with Ion Concert Media to create a film that accompanied the recorded project. Scott Winters, President and CEO of the company, created the artwork that accompanied the recording. We also obtained copyright permissions from Excelcia Music Publishing to electronically distribute music, have students record individual parts, and to post the performance online.
    The premiere of the performance  took place during the lunch hour of our virtual summer convention in July.

Student Materials
    For this event, directors from across the state nominate students for selection into the Middle Level Honor Band. Students are chosen based on these nominations, desired instrumentation, and the needs of the ensemble programming. After KBA switched to a virtual convention, I made the decision to transition to a virtual ensemble and include all nominated students. Our team decided that students would need the following resources to succeed:
    •    An electronic copy of their part
    •    An instrument specific instructional video
    •    A video from our guest director introducing herself and explaining parts of the selected work
    •    A video from our guest director conducting to a click track recording for students to listen to and watch while producing their audio recordings
    •    A video on how to set up their recording session

Virtual Instruction
    Our team created the click track recording of Mission Control by Tyler Arcari using Cubase Elements. First, we imported a professional recording of the work into the software and added a metronome click track underneath. To facilitate an accurate lead-in for the students, we also added sixteen preparatory beats.
    We selected volunteer directors to create the instrument-specific instructional videos. These directors were considered highly accomplished on their primary instrument and known to be enthusiastic about teaching developing musicians. Teachers created their instructional videos by using the click track recording and an instructional outline.

Guest Conductor Darcy Vogt Williams’s Conducting Video

Guidelines included:
    •    Instruction should be personal, thoughtful, and engaging.
    •    Videos should last 20-30 minutes.
    •    Record your video in landscape orientation.
    •    Include a simple warm-up reflective of elements found in the music.
    •    Prepare your instruction to allow for students to pause and practice small chunks of your tutorial.
    •    At the conclusion of the video please model what their recording session should look like.

Basson Instructional Video

Percussion Considerations
    Before percussion assignments were set, percussion students and their directors were asked to fill out a form inventorying the students’ specific abilities and comfort levels with various areas of percussion performance. Additionally, we asked students about what equipment they could access.

For Students
    •    What instruments do you feel the most comfortable performing on?
    •    From the list below, what instruments would you have access to practice for the next four weeks?
    •    Do you have access to a drum set?
    •    Do you own a pair of yarn mallets?

For Directors
    •    Do you have building access for the next four weeks?
    •    Are you willing to allow students to take home a percussion instrument?

    For any bass drum, cymbal, and tom-tom parts, students with access to a drum set were considered. After collecting this information assignments were completed, and resources were distributed.

Recording Session Resources
    Our guest conductor, Darcy Vogt Williams, created two videos for this project. The first video was an introduction of herself and the work, Mission Control, and the second was a recording of her conducting to the click track. As the project coordinator, I created a tutorial video about setting up a recording session.

Syncing Student Recordings

Example of Student Setup

Students were instructed to:
    •    Submit an audio-only recording.
    •    Use a computer with a microphone, mobile device, or digital recorder. Files should be saved as in mp3 or WAV format.
    •    Record in a quiet environment and eliminate extra noise. Consider turning off HVAC systems, ceiling fans, and avoiding areas where small children or pets are present.
    •    Set up a recording device at least six feet away from you and do not play directly at it.
    •    Place your recording device on a towel or piece of foam to eliminate feedback or sound distortion.
    •    Use the Williams conducting video while recording and use headphones while performing.
    •    Record your entire performance in one take.
    •    Record as many times as necessary.

Editing Production
    Recordings were emailed to our team. Our audio and video technician pulled the 105 audio submissions from the online storage space and plugged them into the Cubase software. From there, our team listened and refined the recording by using a time-stamped score to create the desired balance and blend of the ensemble. This process took about a week to complete. The technician then synced the Mission Control film provided by Ion Concert Media with the balanced ensemble using Adobe Premier.

    The final performance was streamed during the convention through one of our GoToWebinar sessions and was well received by the Kansas Band-
master Association membership, students, and families. Subsequent viewings were streamed on the KBA Facebook and Instagram pages. We attribute most of our success to the organization of the process and to establishing expectations of the virtual ensemble prior to distributing music and resources. With the event behind us, we hope that our experience can become a template for others if they choose to pursue a virtual ensemble performance.

Things to consider when repeating this process
    •    Send the same conducting video resource that students would receive to the teachers creating tutorial videos, not just the click track recording.
    •    Adjust the tempos more appropriately for the majority of the ensemble (i.e. an overall slower tempo in the faster sections).

Software and platforms used in this process
    •    Adobe Premier: Putting together final video with sound
    •    Dropbox: Storing audio, music, and video files
    •    Facebook: Streaming performance
    •    GoToWebinar: Streaming performance
    •    Steinberg Cubase Elements 10.5: Creating click track and mixing of individual recordings
    •    iMovie: Editing tutorial videos
    •    Instagram: Streaming performance
    •    YouTube: Storing video accessible to students

    For additional information about this process, contact our organization at To learn more about our audio and video technician visit Thomas Hays’s website at To learn more about Ion Concert Media visit their website at    

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