The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC-Chapel Hill) is a public research institution educating more than 20,000 students on a 729-acre campus. The university offers more than 200 bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees in varying fields taught by 3,887 faculty members. UNC-Chapel Hill is home to one of the nation’s most vibrant arts programs, the UNC Department of Music.
In March 2020, the UNC Department of Music halted in-person studies due to the coronavirus pandemic. This required the department to rethink in-person performances. “Before March 2020, most of our concerts were in person on the same stage with an audience,” explained Jesse Moorefield, production manager for the Department of Music at UNC. “We have three different performance venues in the Department of Music. We have previously live-streamed our concerts on YouTube, but before this year, we had never hosted a completely-virtual concert.”
In October 2020, the UNC Department of Music hosted its first concert since closing the campus due to COVID-19. The all-virtual jazz concert featured five performers: Juan Álamo, percussion; Stephen Anderson, piano; Rahsaan Barber, saxophone; Dan Davis, drums; and Jason Foureman, bass. Both Moorefield and Jay Harper, media technician for the UNC music department, handled the technical behind-the-scenes work while three work-study students managed the cameras and live-stream.
“Visionary’s PacketAV Matrix Series encoders and decoders allowed us to combine our rhythm section, including drums, piano, bass and percussion, with our unmasked saxophone player, Rahsaan, in a different room,” explained Moorefield. “The rhythm section can be masked and six-feet apart on stage while playing. Rahsaan needed to be unmasked while playing and, due to our campus policy, needed to be in a separate room. This allowed Rahsaan to be [in] a separate room and seamlessly follow along with the rhythm section in real-time, and vice-versa.”
Most musicians, especially in jazz, key off by what they see and hear. For this event, the jazz musicians were able to key off each other while performing in separate rooms. “On stage, the rhythm performers were able to see a video display transmitting a live camera feed of Rahsaan,” noted Harper. “Visionary’s PacketAV Matrix Series encoders and decoders provided ultra-low-latency audio and video transmissions, which was the key to making this project a success. It felt natural because latency was imperceptible. In addition to our on-stage musicians interacting with our saxophone performer, we could send the video to multiple locations. We utilized a video switcher to enable our live stream for the audience.”
Featuring ultra-low latency audio and video over IP (one frame), Visionary’s PacketAV Matrix Series encoders and decoders create the ideal product solution for bridging the gap between multiple performing studios, classrooms and concert halls. “The concert was a successful test of future capabilities for the Department of Music,” said Catherine Zachary, communications coordinator for UNC’s music department. “The opportunity to use this again in the future, hopefully with our student ensembles, provides a great opportunity for our performers to rehearse safely in multiple spaces. It is truly the difference between having an ensemble with unmasked players, such as vocalists or wind instruments, to not being able to perform at all.”
The UNC-Chapel Hill Department of Music typically boasts more than 100 events encompassing a variety of genres each year. This year has been quite different, however. “We were all excited to have live music in our auditorium again. It was the first time we’ve been able to do that since March 2020,” noted Zachary. “For our saxophone player, Rahsaan, this was his first time playing in this ensemble because he recently joined our faculty. It was very therapeutic for everyone because we’ve missed performing. Everyone in the Department of Music is here to create music, talk about music and experience music. To not be able to do that for the last eight months has been challenging. This boosted everyone’s morale.”
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