TwtrSymphony -Week 2: Lessons learned about playing to a click track

At the end of week two and audition recordings have started coming in. There are some fine musicians on Twitter!

The audition process for TwtrSymphony sounds pretty simple on paper (or over a Tweet), but musicians are finding it's a lot easier to tweet than to attempt.

I wrote a 30-45 second audition piece for each instrument of the orchestra --you can see some examples here. With each piece I included a click track sub-dividing the beats into two. So, a 4/4 measure would have 8 clicks, with the first beat getting an accented click. Since the time signatures change frequently, even though the timing does not, the musicians have to maintain a sense of the music while keeping a rigid sense of time.

Add to this, computers and metronomes are not really accurate. Several musicians have commented their metronomes didn't match with the metronome marking on the music in relation to the click track. However, because all the musicians of a given instrument were given the same click track, and the click track has a midi realization of the part they are to play, the field is level. It comes down to how well the musicians can play to a recorded click track. Not so easy, I promise you.

As each recording comes in, I am comparing it to the "computer generated" version in terms of timing. If TwtrSymphony is to succeed, it will be important the musicians play "together" even through they are miles (and sometimes continents) apart. The click track is the only way to ensure all the musicians are playing in the same tempo. Accuracy isn't the only factor in the audition, but it's an important one.

With other similar projects I've worked on, one musician creates a base track for the rest of the musicians to play along with. I thought about doing a similar sort of thing --creating a midi base track. However, with an orchestra, which track do I use? In the music I write there isn't necessarily one instrument that plays throughout.

Another option is to create listening tracks minus one musician,(the one to play). When it comes to the actual pieces, I think this variation has a lot more promise. Musicians can "sense" when they're to play in because of the overall sound they're listening to.

The difficulty with the click track is there is nothing, other than click to gauge timing. If you're used to playing with a metronome, you'll probably do pretty well with a click track. Otherwise, it's a whole new process to learn.


Another learning process in the auditions, is the time it takes to process all the requests. The flutists are the first deadline, March 20th. I've started to get auditions from cellists, violinists as well as flutes. Overall there are 250+ musicians who've asked to participate. That's a lot of music I have to download, put into a track to compare with the "original" midi. Then there's the "blind" judging to take place, four judges listening to the various recordings and offering their ranking of the auditions.

This isn't a process to eliminate players, necessarily, but rather to provide me with a sense of what the ensemble can handle. If timing is an issue, then the music I write will have to be less adventurous rhythmically.

I'm also hoping to have smaller ensemble recordings beyond just the full orchestra. There's already a flute choir in the works as well as a string orchestra piece. I can see creating a piece for French Horns or Woodwind quintet as well. We just have to get through the audition process to see what our capabilities really are. Of course, as players get more familiar with playing to a click track, and I get accustomed to what works best for the various musicians, the sky is the limit.

All in all, it's been an interesting second week and I am very excited for the future of TwtrSymphony!


Janet said…
This is a most adventurous undertaking, and definitely worthy of the effort! You have 'hit the nail on the head,' playing to a click track is a real challenge!

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