Televised Annual Event Recognizes Career Achievements of Great American Artists
NILES, IL, December 17, 2009 - On December 6th, the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts held its 32nd annual Kennedy Center Honors event. Each year, five top American performing artists are selected to receive the awards and are celebrated with a lavish show honoring their lifetime achievements. This year’s event, which will be televised December 29th on CBS, honored writer, actor, director, and producer Mel Brooks; jazz pianist and composer Dave Brubeck; opera singer Grace Bumbry; actor, director, and producer Robert DeNiro; and singer/songwriter Bruce Springsteen. The honorees watched the show from the first mezzanine boxes with President and Mrs. Obama.
“It’s one of the classiest events on the calendar, and definitely one of the toughest tickets in Washington,” notes veteran broadcast production mixer Ed Greene, who has worked on all 32 Kennedy Center Honors events. “They put together a tribute segment for each honoree, which includes speeches, performances, and a film package highlighting their important works. One of the great traditions is the appearance of surprise guests, which really makes the whole night special. It’s definitely one of my favorite events.”
House audio for the event is by Baltzell Audio Design, known for its work on major televised events ranging from the Academy Awards and GRAMMY® Awards to the Super Bowl and Olympics. Pat Baltzell works with Ed Greene to ensure a smooth, sonically superior show. “Ed mixes for broadcast and I do the live house mix, so we do our planning as a team. We work together a lot, so it’s a great partnership,” says Baltzell.
This year’s show was ambitious, requiring 32 channels of wireless, supplied by ATK Audiotek in Valencia, California. Baltzell and Greene elected to go with the Shure UHF-R® system. “When you’re doing everything from high opera and acoustic jazz to show tunes and hard rock, all on the same stage, with the President and First Lady in the audience, you go with the people and the equipment that you trust,” Baltzell states. “Ed and I both love the sound of the Shure mics, and now that they have a micro-bodypack for costume work, they are an excellent choice for this show.”
The UR1M micro-bodypack was employed throughout the show, starting with host Caroline Kennedy. It was also used on the Broadway-style production numbers honoring Mel Brooks, where it was hidden in wigs and costumes; and for Romanian soprano Angela Gheorghiu during the tribute to opera star Grace Bumbry. During Gheorghiu’s number, Shure’s standard UR1 bodypacks also came into play, for a unique arrangement of choir mics. “We had very little time to set the stage and couldn’t use hanging mics,” recalls Ed Greene. “Because the show is taped in hi-def, we needed something that would basically disappear on camera, so we devised a set of six wireless choir mics using Shure bodypacks.”
To create those wireless choir mics, Shure UR1 bodypacks and battery-powered phantom power supplies were secured to a standard Atlas mic stand base, which supported a short desk stand holding a seven-foot length of welding rod, with a black Countryman Isomax2 micro-miniature choir mic at the end. “The welding rod is about the diameter of a coat hanger,” details Pat Baltzell, “and the mic cable is just as thin. We taped them together, and they all but disappeared on camera.”
On cue, a group of stage A2s carried the stands onstage and positioned them about four feet in front of the choir. “The mics were in perfect position, high and in front of the group, yet didn’t interfere with the shot,” relates Baltzell. “When you see it on video, it’s like magic –superb sound with no mics in view. It really worked out great.”
Where visibility was not an issue, Shure handheld transmitters were in ample evidence throughout the evening. “It’s really one of the main reasons we went with Shure wireless,” says Ed Greene. “First and foremost, I love the sound. We used both the KSM9 and SM58® capsules on this show, and you just can’t argue with the quality of those mics.”
That quality definitely came into play in the Kennedy Center Honors final performance segment, honoring Bruce Springsteen. A diverse group of high-profile artists, including Sting and John Mellencamp, paid homage to The Boss, and every wireless vocal was performed with a Shure UR2/KSM9 transmitter.
“The Springsteen tribute performance was awesome,” says Baltzell. “For me, it all starts with the vocal mics, especially with wireless, so that’s where I start the mix. I want the lead singer to sound as natural and warm as they possibly can, and it really showed in that segment. That’s why I’ve always been partial to the sound of the Shure capsules.”
For a program with the high profile and diversity of artistic performances at the Kennedy Center Honors, there was little room for error. “This is the first year the program was shot in hi-def, in 5.1 surround,” notes Ed Greene. “We captured some great performances, and the Shure wireless systems were flawless, a great credit to the microphones and the crew operating them.”