Where should I put all these musical pirates?
April 22, 2009 12:33 PM   Subscribe

Tell me how to arrange eight to twelve singers, a guitarist (acoustic), a fiddler and a bodhrán player, all unamplified, for best overall audibility and musicality.

Assume an outdoor setting with effectively unlimited performance space. There is no electricity or amplification of any artificial nature available. The singers can be grouped into sopranos, altos, baritones and basses. Some songs are led by a soloist with backing vocals, and others are more choral and involve the whole ensemble equally. All of the performers need to be able to hear all of the other performers so that everyone can stay in time and on key, and the audience needs to hear the whole group.

What's the best way to do this? Should we just arrange ourselves in an old-fashioned semicircle? Where do we put the soloists and instruments? Help me, AskMe musicians, and let me find a good solution before the next gig! Thank you!
posted by Faint of Butt to Media & Arts (5 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Do you have an opportunity to do a soundcheck and try out variations of a semicircle with someone out in the middle of where the audience will be? It seems like ultimately, it's a matter of trial and error.

Is their one person that cues the rest, so that he or she needs to be seen as well as heard? That could affect the answer as well.

The main challenge is to make sure that the fiddler and the guitarist don't end up drowned out, especially if the guitarist is playing single notes or fingerpicking, as opposed to strumming chords with a pick. I understand how frustrating it can be to work to get your music tight, only no be engulfed by everyone else.

My impulse would be to place the singers in a semi-circle (or two curved rows) with the guitar and fiddle out front and the bodhran back and to the side, so that the drum doesn't dominate. But really--just experiment.
posted by umbú at 1:02 PM on April 22, 2009

...only to be engulfed...
posted by umbú at 1:02 PM on April 22, 2009

I think you should be in as much of a semicircle as possible, with the guitarist in the middle. The fiddle player can be more out front, depending on what kind of stuff he/she is playing (is it accompaniment or is it solo lines/fills, etc?). Seems like you'd want to put the bodhran near the guitarist so that all the singers can hear those 2 instruments.
posted by rossination at 1:16 PM on April 22, 2009

I attended the premiere of Scott MacMillan's "Celtic Mass for the Sea", which featured choir, chamber orchestra and trad celtic players playing acoustic instruments. The choirsters were arranged in a semicircle, with the instrumentalists at the centre. Kind of like an oratorio setup, come to think of it.

Is this in a open-air kind of space, or are you in an outdoor amphitheatre or band-shell?
posted by LN at 1:23 PM on April 22, 2009

If you don't have any kind of solid wall behind you to reflect the sound, I suspect that you're going to have some problems hearing the guitar, especially if he's picking. umbu has it though - get outside and try it a bit and see what works.
posted by bone machine at 7:46 PM on April 22, 2009

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