Our choice for TFO MVP – The Florida Orchestra’s Most Valuable Player – is associate conductor Daniel Black.
Sidelined since the start of the pandemic in mid-March, Tampa Bay’s premier purveyors of classical music have been chomping at the proverbial bit to perform, to present … to play.
TFO has been publishing virtual performances, videos made up of dozens of other videos to create a fully-realized piece of symphonic music.
There have been two thus far, with the third expected within a week or so. And the mastermind behind them all is Daniel Black, who estimates he puts in 50 hours of work for every three minutes of video.
Not that he’s a studio whiz, mind you. “I’d done a little bit of video editing in the past, for much more simple projects,” Black says. “The first few weeks were really learning on the fly.”
First came Thank You Tampa Bay, a virtual performance of Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4 (finale), with 40 musicians; this was followed by a moving rendition of the 19th century women’s suffrage anthem Daughters of Freedom, combining orchestra musicians with singers from the Master Chorale of Tampa Bay.
Frustration, Black says, was the mother of these particular inventions. “Musicians were looking for a way to continue making music, somehow, and we’re not able to meet together and be in a group. So this just kind of came from that.”
Here’s how it works: Black creates a “click track,” establishing a consistent tempo and rhythm, for each musical arrangement. These are emailed to the TFO musicians who had accepted the offer to participate.
Then the “magic” begins. “I send them the click track that they follow, on headphones, as they’re recording themselves. Most of them just used their smartphone; a few had a little bit more sophisticated microphones.”
With dozens of players submitting induvial videos, the potential for trouble – in the form of dissonance, arrythmia or other musical black holes – is great.
“One of the challenges is trying to get a uniform sound out of all of that,” explains Black. “And probably the biggest challenge is just getting everything lined up. Because everybody’s in isolation.
“Normally, when you’re playing in an orchestra, you can hear what your colleagues are doing. So you can really match them.
“But in this case, you’re kind of in an isolation tank, doing your part and hoping it fits. That takes quite a bit of editing.”
Black extracts the audio from all the submissions, and mixes it into a cohesive and well-balanced sound. So he is, in effect, “conducting” his musicians.
Next, he decides how he wants the final video to look. “I wanted these videos to be following the music. That you could kind of feel how the music is progressing by watching the video. Rather than having everybody in frame the whole time, like the Brady Bunch.
“Fitting the tracks together, that’s what took the most time, I think. Especially with fast music. If you’re just a tiny bit off – just a tenth of a second difference is very, very noticeable, so you have to really pay close attention to coordinating that.”
In the works is a video featuring excerpts from Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony. “It’s going to be something similar to Michael Francis’ Inside the Music pre-concert talks,” Black says. “We’re breaking up the orchestra into different sections, and then will perform strings only, or woodwinds only, or brass only. And meanwhile, Michael is recording some commentary. So he’ll be able to tell people what’s happening in this part, and that part, and how the music fits together.
“So you can hear the music all together, if you wish, but you can also click on ‘strings’ to see how the strings fit into the whole. It should be like a mini Inside the Music on this piece.”
Brought in as assistant conductor in 2018, Black was bumped up to associate conductor for the 2019-2020 season.
“It basically means that the orchestra has liked what I’ve been doing,” he explains, “and is giving me better concerts – and occasionally asking me to mix videos and stuff like that.”
Investigate the orchestra’s TFO at Home project here.