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Friday, July 23, 2021

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Twelve musicians, mostly SDSU students, contributed to the first San Diego Online Digital Big Band video -- some more than once.
 


Miles Apart and All Together: A Big Band For Our Times

Music education major Chaz Cabrera assembled students for a seamless, digitally crafted group performance one expert believes could be a look at things to come.
By Jeff Ristine
 

The San Diego Online Digital Big Band has an impressive sound for a group that has never performed together.

San Diego State University music education major Chaz Cabrera said he wanted to bring his fellow students together to create music while forced to stay at home.

“I just decided that the community has a need, a morale boost, so that’s what I’m going to do,” Cabrera said. “I’m going to arrange a medley full of recognizable tunes, and I’m going to get some musicians involved...and hopefully we just go from there.”

In a time of social distancing and online everything, Cabrera and 11 others recorded a suite of movie music on saxophone, trombone, trumpet, drums, piano and guitar, all completely apart from one another, with all but two of the performers being SDSU students.

It may not be immediately apparent, but all of the instruments were recorded separately over a period of at least two weeks. The musicians used audio cues called click tracks to stay in sync. A difficult task? Yes.

They uploaded their performances to Cabrera, who recorded four performers himself who didn’t have suitable video equipment at home. As the uploads trickled in, Cabrera updated the backing tracks for those who hadn’t yet submitted their music, something he said helps instill some “human emotion and elements” into the process.

The band needed four trumpets, so Cabrera had one student record his music on four separate tracks. His trombone player also doubled up.

Then came the hard part, for which Cabrera admits he was not completely prepared. The editing and mixing process “was a whole new deal for me,” he said, something he had only watched others do.

It became the equivalent of a fulltime job over a period of four weeks. The result shows all the work that went into the effort.

Cabrera isn’t the only one to work with a virtual band concept. The idea goes back at least as far as 2009, when American composer Eric Whitacre created an online virtual choir of more than 100 singers. A more recent example of the practice includes the Columbus Symphony Orchestra and Chorus performing Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus for Easter.

Music professor Bill Yeager, director of jazz studies for the School of Music and Dance, said that Cabrera’s is as good as he’s seen.

“This video is truly groundbreaking,” said Yeager, who has performed with Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, Tony Bennett and Dizzy Gillespie. “His advanced use of technology and musical excellence is world class.”

Yeager sent the video to peers throughout the world and heard a lot of favorable reaction. “Great music, combined with technology, is at the forefront of how the arts are to be expressed in the future,” he said.

Cabrera, a San Diego native who transferred to SDSU from Grossmont College, teaches at two public schools in the region and volunteers at the audition-only San Diego School of Creative and Performing Arts in the Paradise Hills community. He expects to graduate at the end of the fall 2020 semester and hopes to work in a high school music program.

The digital equivalent of passing a hat allowed Cabrera to pay his ensemble a little for their work. (To donate, click here.)

What sets the Online Digital Big Band apart is that the movie-music video is no one-shot. Now drawing from a rotating group of musicians, Cabrera already has several additional recordings coming in.