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Heard round the world: Concordia’s Virtual Concert Hall approaches reality

Members of the Concordia Band play during their home concert on Feb. 9. The performance was streamed live and archived for later viewing as part of the Virtual Concert Hall. Courtesy Virtual Concert Hall page.
Members of the Concordia Band play during their home concert on Feb. 9. The performance was streamed live and archived for later viewing as part of the Virtual Concert Hall. Courtesy Virtual Concert Hall page.

It is easy to see Concordia students perform music: Attend one of the several concerts, recitals or gigs on the Moorhead campus. Distance is an issue for some, but people are working to eliminate that gap.

Concordia’s Information Technology Services and music department recently collaborated to bring a new website to Concordia and the virtual world beyond. Endowed with the name “Virtual Concert Hall,” the website will do exactly as the name implies – house performances on computer screens across the globe.

Bruce Vieweg, head of ITS and leader of the team responsible for creating the program, claims the website will branch from Concordia’s current home-page.

“It’s to put a single point of access to all of (Concordia’s) performances,” Vieweg said.

The Virtual Concert Hall will allow internet users access to live streams of concerts as well as previously archived performances. Archived performances will remain on the Virtual Concert Hall website where anyone can access them on demand.

Foster Beyers, director of the Concordia Orchestra, describes some of the issues Concordia faced with previous archiving.

“Some of the concerts were archived online,” Beyers said. “But it was a little bit disorganized … it was put online chronologically and wasn’t really systematic.”

Vieweg points out the filtering capabilities of the new website. Viewers can search for specific performances or music ensembles within the archived videos. Viewers can also request email notifications of specific upcoming live streams, according to Vieweg.

“You could filter by choir, instrumental, ensemble or by a specific concert,” Vieweg said. “You don’t have to dig.”

Vieweg recalls a prior issue of bandwidth limitation. An internet server’s bandwidth will only support so many viewers of an online live stream. If too many people demand the stream at once, video and sound quality suffer.

“We were limited by our own bandwidth,” Vieweg said. “You can’t exceed your own bandwidth. We had a lot of complaints.”

To solve the problem, Concordia has subscribed to a bandwidth provider called “Ustream,” allowing far more access to quality high-definition streams, according to Vieweg.

Vieweg recorded the number of views from select concerts streamed through Ustream. Concordia’s “Weekend Family Showcase” had over 1,000 live-streamers and 560 archive hits, and Concordia’s “Frosh Frolics” scored 856 post-performance views. These views sourced from 45 countries and 49 American states.

According to Vieweg, Concordia partially relies on family and alumni for support, and The Virtual Concert Hall will allow those demographics to stay in touch with campus.

“There’s a huge value to alumni … and to families,” Vieweg said. “Here’s a way for (families) to connect, either on real-time or on their own time.”

Concordia is not the first institution to develop a virtual access to concerts. St. Lawrence University, St. Olaf College and the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra also host footage of their concerts.

Concordia Band Director Peter Haberman points out some potential differences between Concordia and other institutions’ web services.

“All of them have their issues, and I think we’re doing our best to bring the best of all those (programs) together into something that hasn’t been done this way before,” Haberman said.

For example, The Virtual Concert Hall will provide viewers with a downloadable “PDF” copy of all concert programs, according to Vieweg.

Haberman, Beyers and Music Department Chair John Roberts support the Virtual Concert Hall and illustrate its impact on prospective music students.

“(Prospective students) are not looking at old posters on the wall anymore; they’re looking at the websites,” Roberts said. “It’s an amazing outreach.”

Haberman also appears positive, recalling previous live streams.

“The ‘digital side’ gave us a doubled concert attendance,” Haberman said. “What if we doubled our attendance for every concert? That’s twice as many people who know of Concordia and all the great things we do here.”

Beyers highlights some of his own experience viewing Concordia from afar.

“When I applied for this job three years ago, the first thing I did to find out about Concordia and its orchestra (was go) on Youtube and search ‘Concordia Orchestra,’” Beyer said.

Roberts claims the archived footage could help future Concordia graduates.

“Students or faculty can go back in time; pull up a concert that went really well,” Roberts said. “They can use all of that archiving as an incredible resource to help promote their careers.”

“It’s like a great frame for a piece of artwork,” Haberman said. “It’s really (going to) frame the music department in a good light.”

The Virtual Concert Hall is scheduled to arrive on Concordia’s webpage by the end of the semester, Vieweg said.

“All we need to do is move it out there,” Vieweg said. “It’s a question of when we want to turn the key.”

This article was written by Hans Peter, contributing writer.

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