Brandenburg Productions, Inc.
sept_2008v2013006.jpg sept_2008v2013005.jpg sept_2008v2013004.jpg sept_2008v2013003.jpg sept_2008v2013002.jpg

The Milwaukee Journal

Saturday, December 12, 1992




High-tech system puts Torme show on the air



of the Journal staff


        The unseen voice from the command trailer was quiet but urgent: “Roll tapes, please.”

        “Unitel,” echoed another voice, “roll tapes and confirm when rolling.” 

        “We got speed back there,” came the confirmation.”

       “We’re rolling!”

        “Here we go!”

        It was exactly7:30 p.m. on a snowy, brisk Thursday in downtown Milwaukee.  Impressively arrayed beneath a triangular bank of lights on the stage of the Auditorium were the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, the Waukesha Children’s Chorus, the Concordia University Handbell Chorus and Doc Severinsen’s former Tonight Show band.

        Hovering in the wings in glittering holiday garb were the evening’s stars, pop singers Maureen McGovern and Mel Torme, and the multi-talented Severinsen himself.

       Outside, unseen by 5,000 or so patrons, was a trio of cavernous tractor-trailers, each packed to the lead-lined walls with space-age electronic gear.  In the largest trailer, a video-mixing center on loan from the Philadelphia firm Unitel, director-producer Phil Byrd peered into a bank of video monitors and sent crisp orders to stage managers and camera operators.

       The first of two tapings of “The Christmas Songs,” a two-hour TV musical extravaganza, was under way. 

       “Stand by, now!”  Byrd’s index finger rested on the first line of a detailed sequence of shooting setups.  The monitors revealed a quietly tense Severinsen, poised to walk on stage.  “Whenever you’re ready,” Byrd said.  “OK, send Doc out....”




        A burst of applause greeted the neatly mustachioed conductor-trumpeter as he loped into the waiting pool of and struck up the first few notes of Leroy Anderson’s “Sleigh Ride.” 

       Eight widely disbursed cameras, five on the perimeter and three constantly moving for intimate setups, fed into the system. Seventy microphones provided sound for a stereo mix laid down in the audio trailer, considered the world’s most advanced mobile recording studio. 

        The sprawling, multifaceted show will be aired at 8 tonight and 7 p.m. Sunday on WMVS-TV (Channel 10) in Milwaukee.  At the same time, it will be telecast by many of the 250 PBS stations to which the program was bounced by satellite.

        “The Christmas Songs” is designed to serve both as a Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra holiday pops concert and nationwide fund-raising tool for Public Broadcasting System affiliates.  Its production marked the fastest turnaround time anyone here can remember for a major, nationally aired special put together and largely staffed by local talent, enhanced by guest lighting designer Bill Greenfield, recording engineer John McClure and mixer Steve Colby.

       “Normally,” Byrd said, “we would have shot two performances, taken a year or so to edit it and had only to turn it around for next year.  As it was, when we were asked to do it for this year, we took a deep breath and said, ‘Well, OK.’”

       Byrd is a Manhattan-based freelancer and Channel 10 director-producer from 1975 to 1980 who, with his wife, Janet Shapiro, operates a two-person shop called Brandenburg Productions Inc.  “The Christmas Songs,” co-produced by the MSO and WMVS in conjunction with Byrd and Shapiro began to take shape in September in “two long meetings” in New York with Torme, McGovern and Severinsen.

       “It’s been a real stretch,” Byrd went on.  “It’s a complicated show, one in which we didn’t get the forces together until the last minute.  Fortunately, Channel 10 is a very sophisticated facility.  Its personnel are very solid in doing this kind of program.”

        Thursday’s initial taping had its lows and highs, from a “train wreck” – a discombobulated entrance by the orchestra – early in the first half to a warmed up, thoroughly proficient series of numbers during the second.

        As a result, the completed special consists in the main of the first two parts of Friday’s concert and the last two parts, polished and judiciously re-edited, of Thursday’s, with titles and applause segments edited in.

        “It’s difficult in that huge amount of space to get all of those elements playing together,” Byrd said.  “It’s remarkable how few ensemble problems we had.  And that’s partially due to the fact that the Milwaukee Symphony plays under a lot of conductors and is very good at watching the stick.”

        Principle funding for “The Christmas Songs” was provided by PBS affiliated stations and Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Co. Of Milwaukee. The concert will be released later as a home videotape by Koss Classics.