Cantabile’s Virtual ‘Above and Beyond’ Musical Gala

Shakira Spencer, Cantabile singer (Grade 10)

Live Oak AV worked with Silicon-based Cantabile Youth Singers to produce a one-of-a-kind virtual event.

Cantabile, pronounced “kahn / TAH / bee / lay,” is a youth choir organization in Silicon Valley. Cantabile Youth Singers organizes its members into six different choirs, based on level and age. When 2020 rolled around, they knew they needed to have their annual Gala, but also knew they’d need to be creative to host it in a safe and entertaining way. 

“The event was going to happen—there was no question about this,” Jace Wittig, Associate Artistic Director for Cantabile shared. “But a virtual gala was brand new to us.” 

We love to see our clients pivot and bring us into their planning process, so we can share our expertise early on and help their events succeed. We talked to Cantabile about their innovative event; the technical how-to’s that went into it, and lessons learned.

Planning: Pre-Recording 120 Singers 

Cantabile’s Gala is special; it’s a concert and fundraiser all wrapped up together. The Cantabile team spent the fall researching about other non-profit virtual galas and discussing with their colleagues in other choirs to learn from their experiences. 

Jace said that the Gala Committee leader said that they were really going “above and beyond,” and that phrase sparked the event’s title and repertoire the kids sang. 

They decided that the best way to make the event happen was to livestream pre-recorded content alongside a live auctioneer. 

“All of our 120+ singers participated in this event via audio recordings,” Jace shared. “Our phenomenal Director of Creative Media, Phil Hawkins, gathered our singers for drive-through recording sessions, 20 people a time, each alone and safely isolated in their parents’ vehicles in the parking lot of our regular rehearsal space.” 

Each singer sang into their own microphone connected to Phil’s mixer setup running out of his makeshift recording studio in the back of his minivan. Phil was able to give them a live feed with a good amount of reverb so they could hear one another very clearly through their headphones as they watched the conductor in the middle of the circle of cars. 

Cantabile’s Drive-in Recording Session

“It was a Herculean effort on the part of Phil and the staff,” Jace shared, “with 12 hours of recording time all together and many more hours of post-production… but the recordings sounded wonderful. And remember, this was for audio only! Once the audio was edited and properly compiled, we recorded video during our normal rehearsal times using Zoom.” Phil then synced the audio and video with beautiful background art by artist Alice Amigassi. 

“When we realized we’d need to live stream this with the help of an excellent auctioneer and change between live inputs and pre-recorded content, we knew we’d have to engage a professional AV production company to manage the technical backend. This is how we were connected with Live Oak AV—through our auctioneers, Ron Hippe and Fred Northup, Jr.,” Jace said.

Remote A/V Support from Seattle to Silicon Valley 

Cantabile’s Artistic Director, Elena Sharkova

Since Cantabile is located in Silicon Valley, and the auctioneers and our Live Oak team is in Seattle, we leveraged Zoom meetings for training, support, and virtual rehearsals.  Since we used our stage, Live Oak Live Stream, as the location to live stream the auctioneers, we were able to show examples of the staging and lighting to ensure everything exceeded Cantabile’s expectations.  

To ensure we got all the technical aspects perfect, we attended technical rehearsals by their bidding software provider and problem solved the technical side of integrating the broadcast with their platform.  Additionally, a private Zoom meeting was used during the broadcast for back-channel communication between the tech team in our studio in Seattle and the admin team in the Bay Area. Media, graphics, videos, and PowerPoint presentations were seamlessly integrated using Wirecast professional broadcast software and streamed using a re-streaming service. 

Utilizing JackTrip’s Virtual Studio Technology 

Auctioneer, Ron Hippe

JackTrip™ is open source software that enables live musical performance over the internet without the audio latency normally seen in online collaboration solutions. Jace shares: “Virtual rehearsal platforms such as JackTrip, Jamulus, and others have been around for several years now, primarily to solve geography problems… but most services were created for small groups, like a band, and were hard to scale up to a choir with as many as 70 people rehearsing together. The pandemic created a huge moment of opportunity to optimize this concept with large groups—and this is where the JackTrip Foundation came in.” 

A team of technology enthusiasts and choristers’ parents partnered with Stanford University’s Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics (CCRMA) to create the JackTrip Foundation and launch their “virtual studio ” technology.” This is a plug and play hardware kit that connects directly to a user’s router and routes you to an audio server via ethernet connection. The technology makes it possible to hold real-time rehearsals entirely online, with average sound delay being as low as 3 – 5 milliseconds, which is imperceptible to the listener,” Jace said. 

Cantabile connected with JackTrip Foundation co-founder Mike Dickey in the summer of 2020. “We were the second choir in the country to alpha test this technology and also the second choir to fully adopt it for rehearsals.” Jace elaborated, “We use the Cantabile Virtual Studio to run rehearsals for all of our singers, from age 4 to 18, in combination with Zoom on mute for visual connection. It has been a lifeline for Cantabile during an entire year when regulations prohibited us from singing together in person.” 

A Magical Event 

Ryan Brouchoud, Cantabile singer (Grade 12)

“All of our staff will tell you this Gala was a huge unknown, and we were very nervous about it,” Jace said. “But it ended up being one of our favorite Galas in recent memory. The highlight of the event is always the convivial feeling of seeing our community come together to support something we deeply love and believe in. We were unsure of how well we could capture this emotion online, but it ended up being magical.” 

Because the event was virtual, Cantabile was able to feature all of their singers, which isn’t possible in-person, because there are too many to fit in one room along with attendees seated for a meal. Singers were able to invite extended family from all across the country to watch, which wouldn’t have been possible if the event were held in-person. 

“Jennifer and the Live Oak AV team worked beautifully with our staff. Our amazing auctioneer and emcee, Ron Hippe, kept the energy high and the timeline tight. The event flew by—and it will be a special event we’ll remember for years,” Jace declared. 


Raising Funds Beyond Their Goal

The 2021 Cantabile Gala outdid the 2020 edition in terms of net revenue and blew past their goal by nearly 15 percent. “This was a pleasant surprise to all of us, and we largely credit it to the high production value of the event, along with excellent auctioneer performance,” Jace said. 

It is possible to have a very successful Gala online! We have to attribute our success, as well, to working with good people. Working with good people is always worth the money,” Jace said. “We had explored other options in terms of a lower price point for both auctioneer and AV production, but ultimately we had to go with our instinct to hire a team that we found to be more professional and polished. It was worth every dollar we spent to work with Ron Hippe and Live Oak AV.” 

While Cantabile hopes to have an in-person format as soon as possible, they’re already in discussions about how to utilize a virtual format for other events to bring people together from all across the globe. 

An Above & Beyond Team Effort

“Our biggest takeaway is that we couldn’t have done it without Live Oak AV. The entire event was seamless and professional from a viewer’s perspective. Each of our technical needs was met, and we felt totally comfortable turning the entire event over to Jennifer and the Live Oak AV team when it was time to go live. Our recorded content was good to start with, but timing really is everything when our attendees watch online from their homes, where distractions abound. There was not a second lost,” Jace shared. 

“We are incredibly grateful to Jennifer and her team at Live Oak AV for making this event more than worthy of being titled ‘Above and Beyond!’ We would strongly recommend you to anyone who needed your services. It would not have been possible without you.”

Watch Cantabile’s Gala here.

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