UpClose: Universal Studios

Mike Lawson • ChoralFeatures • April 7, 2015

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The Shadow Mountain and Paradise Valley High School Orchestra learned how to score an actual movie scene during the Sound Design: Music and the Art of Foley workshop.Marching in parades, stage performances, and now, Sound Design: Music and the Art of Foley and more at Universal Orlando Resort.

Universal Orlando Resort offers a lot of excitement for traveling band and orchestra programs and youth groups. In addition to offering one-of-a-kind performance and education opportunities, students get to enjoy two spectacular theme parks — Universal Studios Florida and Universal’s Islands of Adventure, plus the excitement of Universal CityWalk — with its array of restaurants and entertainment such as a performance by the Blue Man Group. Universal also owns the popular water park Wet ’n Wild, just minutes away from Universal. It’s pretty easy to understand why a music class full of teenagers would want to visit Universal Orlando, but I wanted to know what the parks offer these students in the way of educational opportunities, life experiences, and chances to perform for the public.

Sound Design: Music and the Art of Foley at Universal Orlando

I first met up with staff from Universal Orlando’s Youth Programs at their booth at the NAfME national conference last October 2014 in Nashville. I asked about the various programs Universal offered for band and choral programs, but I was mostly intrigued when I learned about their newest youth workshop, “Sound Design: Music and the Art of Foley.” As a longtime music and video production geek, I know who Jack Foley was, and his importance to the world of sound-for-picture a century ago when he began to develop sound effect techniques for Universal Studios, techniques still in use today. It made me happy to know that students are learning who the man is behind the name “Foley,” which has become a generic term used for the sound effects work done in post-production for sound-for-picture work over the decades.

I learned that Universal Orlando was looking for an opportunity to develop a new workshop and after conversations with people in the industry they identified composer/conductor Robert W. Smith as someone that could help them build on this new idea about film scoring. Thus  “Sound Design: Music and the Art of Foley” was born, which offers students the chance to go into a real soundstage just outside of the amusement park rides, the very type of soundstage that might be used to produce a TV show or other production, and find themselves sitting in front of high-end recording microphones, with a producer, multiple sound and video engineers running Final Cut Pro and Pro Tools, with studio assistants, performing a score written just for them.

Universal Orlando’s production team sets up high-quality microphones to capture the students’ performance during the Sound Design: Music and the Art of Foley workshop.

The music the participating students learn is an original score by composer Robert W. Smith and they record it in the soundstage studio as the underscore to a segment of the silent film version of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, originally produced by Thomas Edison in 1910. (For more on Smith, see his UpClose profile in the March 2015 issue of SBO).

Once Universal choose the film footage clip and set Smith loose composing for it, they also recognized that this film came out around the same time period that Jack Foley was just starting at Universal and his techniques were just a few years away from emerging, so they wanted to layer those historical elements into the workshop and broaden the educational opportunity for participants.

Not only does the visiting school music group perform the score to the video, they employ some of the same techniques used by Jack Foley, who is known the world over as the “father of sound effects” for film production. They are also creating and delivering spoken lines, and making critical decisions regarding the use of sound elements during the film. They take direction from the band director for the recording of the score, but then they learn to take direction for the recording session producer for the rest of the program.

There was much more to see at Universal than just the new “Foley” program, so I needed to make the journey to see it all for myself.

Making the Trip

Students walk the red carpet under the marquee after recording music and sound effects for a scene from the movie Frankenstein.

With four on-site hotels offering a total of 4,200 rooms, Universal Orlando has options for every size group and budget. I first made arrangements to follow up with the Universal team when I was planning my upcoming trip to the Florida Music Educators Association (FMEA) conference in Tampa last January. I decided to fly into Orlando and drive to Tampa for FMEA, so I can stay at Cabana Bay Beach Resort for one night on my way back to get more info on the parks, meet their team, learn about the youth programs, and in particular, their new “Art of Foley” program.

Going back to the hotel in March was a delight. It’s a long drive to Orlando from Nashville. After 10 or so hours on the road, I happily arrived knowing I would get a good night’s rest. And, I did. The rooms are nice, and the beds are comfortable. This hotel is Universal’s more affordable offering of its current four hotels, but it doesn’t show like one when you stay there. The hotel is a retro 1950s classic Florida hotel concept, at home on either coast of Florida in the mid-20th century. Cabana Bay has 1800 rooms, half of which are family suite rooms with two beds and a foldout couch. These rooms have a sink, refrigerator, and a microwave, with a pair of 42” LCD TVs in the family suites I stayed in. There’s no valet parking – you pull up, get out, and go inside to check into your room, then go and park nearest to where your room elevator would be. The front desk is expansive, staffed by several hotel team members eager to call you from the velvet-roped queue to help with your needs. Within a few minutes I was checked in, given a map of the resort, shown where to park and was back in my car ready to unload and settle into my room before starting my day the next morning watching a high school orchestra performance at Universal’s CityWalk Stage.

My fifth-floor room faced the pool area, and even so, it was quiet enough and I settled right in without a problem, which was pretty important since I had to get up early the next morning for an exciting, but long day, with a schedule that included following around band performances, parade appearances, and getting to know the parks in general. My iPhone’s Health app says I logged an average of nine miles a day walking around the parks. I was grateful for a comfortable room when the day was done.

I was again impressed with the hotel’s friendly staff, the variety of food options at their food court, and the glorious fact that there is an onsite full-line Starbucks. The food is pretty good, the variety is excellent, and the prices, well, they are vacation resort prices, but not too bad, honestly. It’s a food court, cafeteria-style hotel, not a place with restaurants. It’s a family-centric resort, so with food, you’ll always pay a little more, but the quantity and quality of the food actually made it a good value.

Students from the Shadow Mountain & Paradise Valley High School Orchestra perform for a live audience at the Universal CityWalk Plaza Stage.

Cabana Bay Beach Resort has plenty to do onsite, with a ten-lane bowling alley along with two pool areas, one with a lazy river to float around in on a tube, the other with slides and things for younger kids. Each beach-like pool area, complete with white sand, has an outdoor place to get food and drinks, an ample supply of towels at the ready, and fun features like outdoor pool tables, foosball, and other activities. Each pool area has a fire pit for sitting around at night, listening to great oldies from the 1950s and 1960s era of pop and rock, where people were making s’mores (kits for which were available in the food court convenience section). The lobby has a small retro lounge for the grownups, and there was live music, too. Half of the hotel features rooms that open to an outdoor walkway; the other half of the hotel has enclosed hallways. They really went the extra mile to play up on the theme, right down to the retro VO5 shampoo and Zest soap in the rooms.

Perhaps most impressive about Cabana Bay Beach Resort, as it’s an onsite amusement park resort hotel, is its price point. The newest hotel at the resort is great for student groups with its value-priced rooms and suites that sleep up to six, if you put two students in a bed. The nights I was down were over spring break dates, and the room rate for a family suite was only $160 a night. If you’re considering a band trip to Universal Orlando, and need to put three (comfortably) students to a room (and up to six) to save money, while keeping your students in a safe, fun, and exciting location that’s adjacent to the action (with free and frequent transportation to and from the parks), Cabana Bay Beach Resort is a really great option. The hotel is clean, the staff friendly, but best of all for those band directors considering a performance and educational program at the Universal Orlando parks, Cabana Bay is the most affordable, practical, and comfortable location possible for a band.

I was, however, not in Orlando to review a hotel; I was there to see the performance and workshop opportunities for school music programs that draw bands, orchestras and choirs from around the country. I wanted to know firsthand what they experienced, from the stages they performed on to the gear use with them. I wanted to find out about the festivals, the workshops, the parade opportunities, and most importantly, I wanted to see “Sound Design: Music and the Art of Foley,” in action, and I wanted to know more about the process of bringing a school music program to the resort, and all they had to offer at Universal Orlando. I wasn’t to see the “Foley” program for another three days, so I began my observations of the programs with a live stage performance, part of Universal’s multiple performance offerings.

STARS Performance Program

The Monmouth Regional High School marching band performs classic songs for guests at Universal Studios Florida as part of Universal Orlando’s STARS Performance ProgramThere is obviously more to the experience at Universal than just the “Foley” workshop. It’s the new kid on the block for workshops. For many years, the STARS Performance Programs have been offered at Universal Orlando Resort, which are music performance and education programs that put student bands and orchestras in the heart of a wonderful experience. Not only are students rewarded with a one-of-a-kind experience, they learn through workshop programs that are in line with both national standards for music education and now, the new common core standards.

Stage Performances give non-marching groups like jazz bands or orchestras the opportunity to perform for 30 minutes to crowds of Universal Orlando visitors throughout the day from stage locations in and around the Universal Studios Florida theme park or from the Universal CityWalk entertainment complex.

Marching Performances provide the opportunity for a marching band to perform in front of cheering spectators and enjoy all the action and fun of Universal Orlando’s theme parks. These marching bands have the opportunity to perform on the same parade path as Universal Orlando’s in-park parades. 

There are two marching opportunities:

Universal’s Superstar Parade at Universal Studios Florida features characters from Despicable Me, SpongeBob SquarePants, Dora the Explorer and more, plus hundreds of talented dancers and other performers.  It’s a popular daily parade and student groups can kick it off with a pre-parade march down the same route, where crowds will already be lined up and waiting to cheer. 

Around the winter holiday season, visitors to Universal Studios Florida experience the Macy’s Holiday Parade, celebrating the spirit of the season. During this time of year, marching groups have a unique opportunity to perform in this parade amongst balloons and floats brought in from the annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City.

Blue Man Group Theatre Talkback

After the show, students can participate in the Blue Man Group Theatre Talkback, which gives them a behind-the-scenes look at what goes into creating a successful production.Best known for multimedia performances that feature three bald and blue characters, Blue Man Group is theater, ritual, performance art, comedy, rock music, and dance party all rolled into one. The Blue Man character has strong roots of the downtown New York performance art scene as well as significant nods to vaudeville and Le Coq’s principles of playfulness, togetherness, and openness. Following this explosive live concert performance, student groups in attendance can stick around after the show, while the massive cleanup effort is underway by stagehands, and get a look “behind the curtain” with Blue Man Group staff, to learn what it takes to create this production. Since opening, Blue Man Group at Universal Orlando has performed for thousands of student audience members from around the world. Students who participate in the Theatre Talkback program learn about the history of the show, interesting fun facts, teamwork, and what it takes to produce a successful permanent production through a Q&A session.

 Theatre Talkback sessions specialize in music, theatre, technology, or a general overview of the show:

  • Music: There are more than 40 instruments in the show, from electric guitars to custom-made PVC pipes. Students hear from one of the performers and a member of the technical staff to learn more about their background and the musical knowledge needed to become a member of the show. Students can even learn what it takes to play one of the Blue Man Group’s unique instruments.
  • Theatre: It takes 19 crewmembers and a staff of nearly 200 to produce the Blue Man Group shows on a daily basis. From props and makeup to drumming and acting, students better understand what goes into producing a successful permanent production.
  • Technology: With multiple LED walls, media servers, and more than 500 lighting and video cues, you can only imagine the technology needed to produce the show. Students learn how technology plays a crucial role in the production of the show.

I started my first morning bright and early at Universal CityWalk, where I met with Eric Marshall, vice president of Park Sales for Universal Orlando Resort, just prior to the CityWalk stage performance by Shadow Mountain & Paradise Valley High School Orchestra from Phoenix, Arizona, led by Murilou Chilman.

 Eric and I had this discussion about planning a trip for a band to the parks:

I’m interested in the experience of the band director dealing with Universal. They’ve made the decision that they want to come into the park. What happens next?

Well, they contact us, and we pride ourselves on being very responsive, and they’ll talk to one of our folks, they’ll discuss the logistics, they’ll discuss, if they’re doing a performance, the technical requirements they have. And, really, we try and walk them through the whole process because we know how much, when they’re planning a trip, they have on their plate.

Is the park performance opportunity the most popular choice?

Yeah, the performance program is huge, and it’s got the most volume in it. Blue Man is very popular with those groups, and, frankly, a lot of our performing groups perform, go to the parks, and then go to see the Blue Man performance. That’s a popular itinerary. Blue Man is a great way to connect music and technology and art together, so school groups like it a lot. But the single biggest volume driver is performing.

When did you add the after-show educational Q&A component to the Blue Man Group performance?

It started about 2009. And we found that it really works great, and so it’s continued since then.

What’s the most popular thing for the bands to choosing Universal Orlando Youth Programs?

It’s still performance, however, “Sound Design: Music and the Art of Foley,” it’s really catching on, and it’s been a very exciting process for us to watch it catch on and to get the feedback.

I’m really impressed with the “The Art of Foley” idea and the park’s involving the dynamic Robert W. How did he get involved?

I will tell you, he’s been amazing. You know, we identified him very early in the development process, as that’s the guy we need to be talking to. And his level of involvement and sort of ownership in building it, it’s been extraordinary. He’s a great asset for us. I would say I love that program for a variety of reasons. One, I love that they’re playing an original score and that they’re learning a new piece of music. I love the fact that they’re learning about all the sound techniques and doing the spoken word and the sound effects. And then, you know, from our perspective, we love it, too, because it’s tied to our history and who we are. So it’s really a great program. We’re very proud of it. We’re doing things started at Universal 100 years ago.

How far ahead are groups typically booking out when planning a trip?

We’ll have people who will contact us a year out. We’ll also have people who contact us three weeks out, and who have left workshop involvement as the last part of their trip planning. Obviously, we recommend getting out in front of it a little more than that.

If you had to give a director a recommended window to book their trip, plan their performance, and raise funds, what is the window that you recommend to them? Is it the beginning of the school year?

I think the beginning of the school year is good. I mean, if you have a six-month period from the time you put your itinerary together and talk to us and leave that time to fund raise as well, that’s pretty typical and that works pretty well. We usually start hearing from band directors from August to November, and then the majority of the trips that we see are in the spring.

You have Cabana Bay, which I’m really impressed with; especially for the price point, because I think Universal has hit a sweet spot on pricing. Is that the primary hotel for your visiting music programs?

Most of our groups are now staying at Cabana Bay. It really filled a great need for us. It makes it convenient. Cabana Bay has been really big in terms of making it easy for the director or the travel planner to work with us. We have less school groups staying at the Hard Rock Hotel, although that’s a very family-friendly hotel. Kids love that hotel. You know, they connect with the theme. It’s got an incredible pool, and all of our hotels work for groups. We are in the process of building a fifth hotel, Sapphire Falls, which will be another 1000 rooms that will open the summer of 2016. At that point we’ll have five hotels at Universal Studios [Cabana Bay Beach Resort, Loews Portofino Bay Hotel, Loews Royal Pacific Resort, Hard Rock Hotel, and Sapphire Falls].

From the Perspective of a Band Director

While at Universal Orlando, I was actually watching and listening to the performances of Shadow Mountain & Paradise Valley High School Orchestra. I saw them perform, and also got the opportunity to witness them taking part in the “Sound Design: Music and the Art of Foley” workshop. Unfortunately, their director Murilou Chilman was unable to sit down with me at the end of that busy morning as she whisked away her group of talented young musicians who were eager to put their instruments away and enjoy one last day doing what teenagers come to Universal Orlando Resort to do – riding the rides.

Universal was kind enough to connect me with Gerald Romano, a seasoned traveler to their parks who has been bringing his band programs down over the years, so we had the following conversation about his experiences with the various educational opportunities his band programs have had there. His band’s most recent trip to the parks was just this past February.

Tell me a little bit about your high school group that you took down to Florida?

I started here at Monmouth Regional High School in 2000. I’ve been teaching 25 years, so I’ve been an educator in other schools. But the school here, this is a regional school and it serves Eatontown, Tinton Falls, Shrewsbury Township. So we have, really, very large socioeconomic demographics here. Some of the homes here are quite nice and it’s pretty diverse, is what I’m trying to say. This school is about 1,100 students and it’s been here since 1964.

How big is your band program?

Inside the Hogwarts Castle, visitors can ride Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, a thrilling attraction that utilizes advanced technology (and a little magic) to create a one-of-a-kind experience.Romano: Well, about 80 students altogether. We have four bands here that I instruct. Marching band, jazz band, concert band and pep band; which is basketball band, more or less. I do it just like the colleges do. I taught in colleges for many years, so I do it just like the colleges. There would be about 35 to 40 kids in the pep band at any given time. We do the basketball things here also. We do all the football, basketball, festivals, and competitions. Even the jazz band does local and state competitions. We do parades, of course. We also do a lot of society gigs. We play for the community, community development. My band was rated, like, the eighth in the state, I think, at one time. We have one of the top trumpet sections in the state of New Jersey. Many of my students are out there as pros, actually. I have a trumpet player that’s on the road; I’ve got a sax player that’s on the road. I have one that’s playing with the army right now. I started it, like I said, in 2000, not functioning at that level that was familiarity with the community and getting out there and performing. So some of these kids do over 45 performances a year between the jazz band, the concert band and the marching band, we get pretty busy.

How did you decide to take them to Universal? What was the draw to go to Universal versus the other trips you could have taken?

A good friend of mine, another band director recommended me to do the Orlando tour, if you will. It was a compilation of the other parks, also. I started out with Universal. I think my first trip was with Monmouth Regional, I’ve done many others before, was in ‘05. I really got a good taste for Universal. I liked the way things were laid out, the venues, the people to work with. A band director friend in a nearby town told me “Yeah, you’re going to like the Universal thing.” I took it upon myself to go to Universal and work with the people there. It’s been a growing relationship for the past ten years now.

You’ve been going down there for ten years?

Yeah, so I’ve taken six trips or seven trips . . . six trips. They were over about $125,000 to $150,000 per trip.

It must be something that’s gotten quite popular with the students and something they really anticipate and maybe as a carrot, even, to join the program, to go on such a trip.

Yeah, that’s one big draw. I kind of reinvented the wheel here with this school, so I needed to get more of these kids involved. When I came here in 2000, there were nine kids in the marching band. There were 70 kids in the concert band. The concert band was only performing for the winter and spring concerts, plus the football games. I took that and got the ball rolling.

By ‘03, I bought uniforms for the kids and started traveling and we played at Giants Stadium, which is MetLife Stadium now and started the kids at other venues, performances. So essentially, people were showing up during the summers when we started band camps and all that good stuff, telling me they wanted to join. So it was a good draw to go to Universal Studios.

 My former superintendent said to me “Go in February. It’ll be over the Presidents weekend, they won’t miss so much school.” At the same time, he said, “That’s going to be a big draw.” I said “Oh, yeah.” If you’re in New Jersey, you want to get out of town. You just want to get out of town. Because lately, the weather, it’s been pretty bad.

What type of band program students did you take to Universal?

The first trip was just marching. Then the second trip was marching and jazz. I took the concert band as well this past year because of Universal, they’ve been so inviting. We performed with the concert band doing the “Sound Design: Art and the Music of Foley” at the recording studio there, “Frankenstein 1910,” so we had the concert band. We did marching band through Universal Studios. We do three competitions, festivals and we performed at CityWalk with the jazz band. I have a vocal performance with my jazz band and CityWalk was great this year. They put us on the water’s edge at their amphitheater. So three performances at Universal Studios and I wouldn’t do it anywhere else. They’re really making everything really great. They make the kids feel like they’re spectacular, you know?

So it sounds like the kids really enjoy the performance opportunities. I’m sure they enjoy the park because; let’s face it, it’s a great place for teens and it’s a safe environment, too.

The Shadow Mountain & Paradise Valley High School Orchestra learned how to score an actual movie scene during the Sound Design: Music and the Art of Foley workshop.That’s primarily why I take them down to Orlando is because going down to Orlando, you can’t be in a safer place. The thing is that we feel very safe with Universal Studios. They’ve got the bus hub there; after we get dropped off, they walk through CityWalk and they’re in the parks. I do a meeting time, I call a check-in time with the kids and that’s why I go there. I know the area. I’m very happy and feel very content with their security and safety. They feature the kids; they make the kids feel like they’re being sensationalized in all their venues. There’s not a lot of pressure. Their facilities for changing and whatnot are top-notch. So there’s nothing but good things to be said.

What are some of the things you believe your band students take away from this trip?

I look at everything in my 35 years as an educator like a pragmatist. The whole thing is this. You have to look at it like we’re building strong bodies and minds. The music program teaches the kids how to read music, obviously. Listen to the music; watch the conductor. It is a lot of numbers and performing. But we’re also teaching them about playing together, working together; we’re trying to teach these kids how to be good people. I think that what it’s all about.

So if they go into music, all well and good. There’s so many different areas, specialties, music therapy. Music education, music merchandising, music history and things like this. But I think what we’re trying to do with music is emphasize that really does help students . . . and we know this for a fact. With testing, it brings their scores up. We’re trying to make them do critical thinking, cognitive skills. Again, performing and reading music; this is all a part of it, then playing and working together. There’s so much to be said about the program at Universal Studios. Here you are, you’re going to get to perform. You’re meeting all the core curriculum standards, you’re performing, and you’re working together. I can’t say enough about the entire program.

Let’s talk about the cost. You’ve been there six times, so what is your average budget to take a group of kids down there?

You’ve got to go per kid. Right now, from Jersey . . . in consideration of our travel to the airport and then we do flights. I don’t do busing. You won’t see this guy on a bus. I work with a company called World Class Vacations, which they know very well at Universal Studios. It’s soup to nuts; I have to get a truck with a driver. When I reach Orlando, of course, lodging, meals, and all the park tickets. It’s really soup to nuts. The last trip is around $1,500 per kid. That’s why I do it every other year.

Are there any activities that you do to raise funds for the trip and how successful are they?

Yeah. You know, the parents and students do everything from grocery bagging for tips to, for instance, we’re running the big function in May, and it’s called “Jazz Night.” I started it my first year here. I was teaching at Brookdale Community College. I brought my college jazz band and my high school jazz band and we just played on stage here. Now, it’s up to a full-functioning jazz night. We turn our cafeteria — completely flip-flop it like it’s Madison Square Garden, if you will and we turn it into a jazz club. The kids play two sets. Again, I have a vocalist and we sell food, refreshments, and desserts. That’s a big fundraiser for us. We do something like that, plus a couple of parades. I basically do the functions with the kids to raise money; as they’re performing, they get honorariums. So the honorariums go towards their trip, obviously. Then the kids do grocery bagging, or other things. It’s a multiple fundraising effort to fund the trips.

Are they typically able to raise most of the funds or are there parental contributions as well?

You know, in the past, I’ve had some kids who have raised the total amount. And sometimes, the parents do kick in. So some of the kids go to work; they have their part-time jobs. So between part-time jobs, fundraising events, parental help, it comes together.

 Have you stayed on property at Universal before?

We will in the future because they have the new Cabana Bay Beach Resort. Because again, since this previous trip, we went from one performance to two performances, now up to three performances there — if that’s going to be part of the trip, it’s just going to make the whole thing more accessible for us to stay at Cabana Bay Beach Resort.

It sounds like you see Universal continuing to be part of your band program in the future.

I think Universal is going to become more of a focal point for directors — all directors — and group leaders who understand that they’re going to be able to build great programs there. For instance, parents, aunts, uncles, grandmas and everybody else, they’re going to enjoy coming down and watching their kids perform. It’s going to become that type of a venue. Where they know the parks and they know the, again, the safety, security. How the kids are going to be just sensationalized on stage. It’s just going to be a very well rounded place for kids to go and work hard, first of all and perform.

“Sound Design: Music and the Art of Foley,” that’s a new program. What attracted you to the program as an option?

Well, I went to the University of Miami back in the early ‘80s. I did film scoring. Film scoring is exactly what this “Music and the Art of Foley” is. I was looking forward to do something like that, to be honest with you. When I saw that they were starting this program, I said “I definitely want to get the kids on this” because this is something that I experienced and now, obviously, it’s all about the kids and getting them to do different things in music. Before we had all the computer music and using computers or electronic keyboards, everything was done with live music. Everything. So with this “Music and the Art of Foley,” what other way can you give the kids the full understanding of all that without participating? Now, they have a video and you’re performing the music synchronized with the film. This is just a win/win situation and they have to really work hard at it.

How far ahead did you get the score?

They give you an option . . . they wanted to give me an option. “Do you want to sight-read it like you’re going in the recording studio and sight-reading on spot, or do you want to prepare for it?” I told them to send me the music as soon as possible because I felt that if this going to be everlasting and this is going to be recorded, it’s going to be on a DVD, I don’t want to make this an exercise. I want to make this a performance. When you record, you record, you know? With all my recording experiences and some of them being good and some have been bad for my personal self. I wanted it to be positive for the kids. For the kids, I want them to be prepared. I want them to understand musicality. So getting the music ahead of time, two months ahead of time and thus working on the whole gamut of musicality. Dynamics, articulation, execution, shaping. Really making it so it sounds like a recording. Universal Studios did a little video with Robert W. Smith. I said “You’ve got to put a video up on Robert W. Smith so the kids understand who he is, where the music is coming from, the writer, and what he expects.” So what this does, it gives these kids the opportunity to understand. They hear movies. I wanted them to experience the same thing. That’s why I chose the “Sound Design.”

What did you do, if anything, with your kids to prepare them for the experience of sitting in front of microphones and following direction from a producer?

The year before, I went down and observed and they wanted me to write a few notes down of what I observed with their “Sound Design” performance from another band. So what I wanted the kids to do — I actually did in my band room. I actually did everything soup to nuts. Even walking in the band room and getting prepared like they’re walking inside a music studio. So a simulation of what’s going to go on and just recording one time and then getting up and walking out, I even did that. So I tried to simulate the entire experience. Again, just playing one time through with mistakes and all, whatever happens, happens. Following me, keeping their eyes on the conductor and trying to improve upon their skills, playing their instruments and playing the music, executing their music and trying to put the whole thing together because it is really traumatic. When they’re in there, it’s going to work on them. They’re going to get nervous, simply nervous. A little stage fright is going to be setting in there. But Universal does the job at making them feel very comfortable, very accommodating, and very comfortable. The area that we performed in was excellent. It looked like a studio. It had video screens set up so the kids could watch the movie. At the same time, I was conducting; I had the headphones on. It went according to plan.

How did you feel about conducting to a click track?

I actually have, if you will, a very complete, large sound system in my band room and I play a click track in my band room so every single student can hear quite it clearly. That’s how I rehearse. I rehearse just about every ensemble with the click track. That’s one of the advantages I’ve invoked into my entire tutorial. I’ve even done it at the college level. Just with any ensemble I work with. For instance, I’m doing a professional day tomorrow. I’m going over to Kingsbury High School and they asked me to come by and do a workshop with their jazz band. I drive the director nuts. I said “Well, get your sound system cranked up. I’m bringing my metronome and we’re plugging it, too.” They get a little annoyed at the click track. I said “Well, you can get annoyed at it, that’s fine with me. The bottom line is you’re playing to it because the metronome is the boss. That’s the true. There is no other way to play.” So the bottom line is, click track, I practice with it. When I went there, it still didn’t come together the first time. So I had to really animate, if you will, and I was very animated in my conducting to make sure the kids stayed with the click track.

How did the students like the sound effects and the vocal improvisation part of that program?

That was absolutely — and like the kids would say, man, “That was off the chain.” They had so much fun with that. I wanted them to, because after all of the seriousness involved in performing — for instance, they crumbled paper for the fire. They had to make sounds to simulate all kinds of screaming and things like this. Then of course, one of the students, they asked him — you know what to improvise what to say when Frankenstein is being born. One kid yelled out “It looks like Romano.” So the kids loved that. I think that’s where Universal Studios nailed it. They nailed it — it’s still serious. It’s still a performance. But at the same time, by having the kids do all the music, and all the sound effects and then they are creating it on the spot. The kids come away knowing they did that and it’s fun to do. I think it brought the lighter side of it also. I think they nailed it right there. I can’t see anybody not wanting to do something like that. So they have the recording, the sounds effects. It’s a complete package. There’s a lot to look forward to. They’re making the kids feel good. So it’s a positive reinforcement of everything we just talked about. Performing, being a part of and it’s going to be memories forever and ever.

Music Instrument Industry Partnerships

I also learned that Universal has partners in their music programs that make coming to the parks to perform easier on bands requiring certain hard-to-transport instruments, to help with staging, and more. Wenger is the official supplier of musical staging equipment and portable stages, including risers, for Universal Orlando’s STARS Performance Program. Pearl/Adams is the official supplier of percussion equipment for Universal Orlando’s STARS Performance Program. Timpani, concert bass drum, marimba, xylophone, vibraphone, chimes, orchestra bells, gong, and Bobby Allende congas are provided upon request.

Seeing It in Action

As I’ve mentioned, I shadowed Shadow Mountain & Paradise Valley High School Orchestra at the parks for their performances and workshop. I saw them perform at CityWalk, which was a lot of fun. After their performance, the group kindly gathered in front of the giant Universal Globe for our cover photo this issue. I also got the opportunity to witness them taking part in the “Sound Design: Music and the Art of Foley” workshop. The workshop took place in a soundstage at the back of the Universal Studios Florida park, and on my way walking in I saw two 42” video monitors up facing the orchestra so they could see the wav forms of their performance captured in real time by the digital audio workstation setup for the session. Two workstations were set up using 27” iMacs – one to record the performance, the other to do the sound for picture work with video production software. There were audio engineers helping with the session, along with video editors for the video work. The room was abuzz with helpers placing microphones, running cables, helping get sound levels checked, and everything else a real recording session in the professional world would have going on. I thought that was great for the students to be able to experience, likely for the first time in their lives, what goes on in a working recording session.

Director Murilou Chilman conducted the orchestra through multiple rehearsals and run-throughs of the score before the producer called them to start their takes, captured by large diaphragm condenser microphones strategically placed at just the right spot to capture the stereo imaging of the sound. After a few takes, the students gave just the right performance, which was captured in Pro Tools, then ported over for the video producers to use in Final Cut Pro. After the score was captured, the students were given a piece of paper, and instructed in three sections on how to crumple it for a certain type of effect to make the sound of a crackling fire. Next they were asked to make the sound of steam hissing. Both sounds were recorded and while the students were listening to the sound of doors slamming and asked to choose the sound that best fit the door, they saw on the screen their fire and hissing parts they had performed were already being synced with the film. The producer interacted with the band to have them suggest dialogue parts to add when the monster came alive, and selected a girl from the band who shouted, “It looks like Jennifer Lopez!” Next the producer selected a boy from the band who delivered the best evil mad scientist laugh, and both were taken to a microphone, showed where to stand, how to address the microphone, and recorded their parts. With that, the producer continued to tell the students about the production they had taken part in, answered questions, all the while the video editors were doing the post-production work of putting it all in place before playing the film clip with the new score, dialogue, and sound effects back from the students over the video monitors. I saw Ms. Chilman’s students really paying a lot of attention, immersed in the process, and having a great time. It’s hard to imagine a band program taking part in this workshop and not enjoying it. With that, the workshop was finished, the video will be delivered via URL for the director to download and burn to disk for her students; after the workshop producers add the band’s name and various production credits to the final product.

On Transformers: The Ride – 3D, your students will join film characters like Optimus Prime as they fight Megatron and the Decepticons.As I continue my adventures editing SBO, I intend to cover as many travel programs, festivals, and destinations as I can to help fill our readers in on what they can expect when choosing where to take their band students. As you might expect, there are a lot of places to take a band program, around the USA, around the world, or even just in the Orlando, Florida area alone. My impression of Universal Orlando Youth Programs for school band programs was that it was an exceptional value for the students, an outstanding educational opportunity, and one that provides an array of experiences that will positively impact a student’s life beyond the performance opportunities as a young musician. Those are all really great reasons to consider a band trip to Universal Orlando. If you want to learn more about taking your band program to the parks, applications for your band or orchestra to participate in the Universal Orlando Youth Programs can be found on their website, under the performance section.


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