[Dixielandjazz] Megaphones? Sound systems

Larry Walton Entertainment - St. Louis larrys.bands at charter.net
Fri Nov 17 08:49:16 PST 2006

I have been toying with the idea of using megaphones for some time.  The 
only thing that has held me back is the need to carry more stuff.  I agree 
it's a great stage prop.  I have been looking for the small ones that are 
about 12" high with an opening of about 6".

In defense of sound systems.  There is a huge difference in ambient noise 
today from lets say 400 years ago.  The recorder flute is a very delicate 
sound especially in the bass recorders, yet they were used universally and 
actually most string instruments are rather delicate in sound.  A good 
example is the violin.  To fill a large hall with sound you need 30 or so of 
them.  You can't even go to  a movie theatre today without whole groups of 
people talking through the movie.  It's the same at concerts.

Today our venues are much larger and the people are infinitely louder.  I 
know it might be a quaint idea but people used to actually listen to music. 
You didn't need any sort of amplification.  Too often I don't think that's 
true today.

A few years ago I was at an event that was going to start with an informal 
dinner for about 300 people.  Some friends had a Dixie band and were 
playing.  There was a guy who played clarinet with them who I particularly 
admired.  I was about 50 feet from the bandstand and I couldn't hear but 
occasional notes from the clarinet.  Now in some fairness this player wasn't 
noted for his ability to project.  No one in the room seemed to be actually 
listening to the band except me.  I would have appreciated a little 
amplification.  The question rises why play if no one is listening and you 
can't be heard anyway.  The answer is of course they were getting paid for 
the gig.

There is another factor too.  I don't think the general run of the mill 
musician has any concept about how to blend into the sound and volume of the 
other players.  Too often it's every man for himself.  Sort of a volume 
contest among the band.  It takes effort to make a unified sound and be 
aware of what's going on around you.  Too often people bury their heads in 
the music and just wail away.  It's so much easier to balance a band with a 
twist of a knob.  Some bands have sound guys whose primary mission in life 
is to even out the sound and of course make it louder.  Did you know you can 
actually get a college degree in this stuff.  It's done every day when sound 
guys do mix downs.  They take a group of people who haven't a clue how to 
balance their sound and they do it in the mixer.  Presto instant 

I have a little exercise that I do with my band kids.  They will be playing 
a passage and I will stop them and ask who has the melody.  Did you know 
that the vast majority of the time no one knows, not even the kid that has 
it will know.  They fail to know what is important and what isn't. They are 
playing their part and to hell with the rest.  Yes that's my job to teach 
them and I try but I don't think many band instructors do anything to get 
kids to balance.

I went to a band concert that was professional level.  A couple of friends 
were in the percussion section and the cymbal crashes were absolute 
perfection.  The question arises how did that percussionist know how hard to 
crash the cymbals to produce that perfect blend where I sat.  Well years of 
experience helped but the real answer is that he was listening to the volume 
of the band, (St. Louis Brass Band) making a musical judgment and applying 
musical taste and finally making an effort to blend his instrument into the 
other sounds.  What can I say, even cymbal players can play musically on 
this most un musical instrument if they are listening and make an effort.
Larry Walton
St. Louis
----- Original Message ----- 
From: "Ministry of Jazz" <jazzmin at actcom.net.il>
To: "Kent Murdick" <kmurdick at jaguar1.usouthal.edu>; 
<dixielandjazz at ml.islandnet.com>
Sent: Thursday, November 16, 2006 11:53 PM
Subject: Re: [Dixielandjazz] Megaphones?

> Shalom Kent,
> First of all, I'm with you about hating sound systems and all the nonsense
> that goes with them, as well as clutter on the stage. I like to keep 
> things
> as clean and simple as possible. But I always have to fight my players 
> about
> this, and often the customers too, until they hear what real natural music
> sounds like. Before I die maybe I will convince a young person or two that
> music can be made without electricity!
> Here in Jerusalem, I found an old fellow in the farmers' market who makes
> buckets and such out of sheet metal, and I asked him if he could make me a
> couple of megaphones. At first he didn't understand what I wanted, but I
> drew him a picture and put the dimensions, and he got it and made us 2 of
> them, about $25 each. Mine is about a foot long, 2 inches wide at the 
> mouth
> end and 6 inches at the business end, with a handle. Haven't tried using 
> it
> with a stand, but it's light and easy to pick up and put down. The main
> problem is, it dents easily, and should really be carried in a protective
> case, but I'm just very careful with it, and so far it's been OK. It could
> be painted but I haven't done that yet either. Not sure how much that 
> would
> affect the sound, but I think it would be OK.
> So does it work? We did a gig with our full 5 piece band when I first got
> the thing, at a very noisy outdoor circus event. It was my first full gig 
> on
> trumpet -- 2 hours with no break -- and I needed to sing because nobody 
> else
> in the band does and my lips need the break from the horn. My players 
> fought
> like mad trying to tell me nobody will hear me and I should just play
> trumpet. And I told them if I do that they will have a trumpet for only 
> the
> first 2 songs then nobody will hear that either. So I insisted on singing
> and using the megaphone, which they thought was just a visual prop. When 
> we
> stopped strolling and reached a place we would stand and play, and the 
> crowd
> could sit and listen, my partner hollered at me again not to sing. So I
> picked up the megaphone and asked the audience (100 people or so) if they
> could hear the vocals. Without hesitation every hand went up.
> Now the effective range of the thing width wise is more or less limited to
> the angle of the sides of the megaphone, and you still have to belt out 
> the
> tunes. You can't croon. You can pan a bit to cover a wider angle. Distance
> from the audience depends on how strong your voice is, but we were some 50
> feet from most of the people. The girlfriend of one of the players was in
> the audience, and she later told us she could hear the vocals clearly. It 
> is
> rather amazing how well the thing works if you use it properly. And the
> crowd liked the effect -- audio and visual.
> Good luck,
> Elazar
> Dr. Jazz Dixieland Band
> Tekiya Trumpet Ensemble
> Jerusalem, Israel
> www.israel.net/ministry-of-jazz
> +972-2-679-2537
> P.S. Doctor Jazz will be playing for a city of Jerusalem event 3 
> consecutive
> Thursday nights at one of the museums in the Old City, at the south end of
> the Temple Mount. The event will be heavily advertised and is free to the
> public, including entrance to the museum.
> -----Original Message-----
> From: Kent Murdick [mailto:kmurdick at jaguar1.usouthal.edu]
> Sent: Thursday, November 16, 2006 11:40 PM
> To: dixielandjazz at ml.islandnet.com
> Subject: [Dixielandjazz] Megaphones?
> What's the deal with megaphones?  Where can you get a good one?  Are
> there megaphone stands avaiable or should I just modify a mike stand?
> BTW, our group does not like amps, sound men, music stands, music lights
> or music just to name a few things.
> Kent
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> Dixielandjazz at ml.islandnet.com
> http://ml.islandnet.com/mailman/listinfo/dixielandjazz

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