University of Cincinnati's CCM Launches a New Livestreaming Performance Series, CCMONSTAGE Online

On Friday, Dec. 11, the CCM debuts CCMONSTAGE Online, a series of free, digital concerts featuring students and faculty both onstage and behind the scenes.

Dec 10, 2020 at 11:54 am
click to enlarge University of Cincinnati's CCM Launches a New Livestreaming Performance Series, CCMONSTAGE Online
Photo: YouTube screengrab

On Friday, Dec. 11, the University of Cincinnati's College-Conservatory of Music debuts CCMONSTAGE Online, a series of free, digital concerts featuring students and faculty both onstage and behind the scenes.

CCM students returned to the Clifton campus for the fall semester, but COVID-19 forced the cancellation of all live performances. Plans for livestreaming CCM's stage shows began over a decade ago but — propelled by the urgency to maintain CCM’s presence locally and internationally — the project recently went into hyper-drive.

“It’s a genuine collaborative venture," says Curt Whitacre, CCM’s director of marketing and communications. “Our faculty and administration want to ensure that students have opportunities to perform and to be involved in the production side while being in compliance with CDC guidelines.”

So CCM turned to John Massey, a 2003 graduate of the E-Media program and a highly regarded video professional and co-owner of MasseyGreen AVP, an award-winning video and photography company. Massey and his partner, Matt Green, recruited a full video crew to record the streaming concerts and performances with high-quality production values. The crew includes CCM E-Media students.

Four programs were recorded this semester (in advance of their air dates, just like the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra has done for its streamed concerts from Music Hall). The conservatory's Dec. 11 program features CCM’s Philharmonia performing Respighi, Mozart, Ravel and Julia Perry in the Corbett Auditorium, CCM’s largest venue. The second CCMONSTAGE livestream is the Ariel Quartet, CCM’s ensemble-in-residence, with two members of the CSO/CCM Diversity Fellowship Program. The third episode features CCM’s chamber choir (singing in masks), led by Joe Miller, the recently appointed head of choral studies. The fourth episode is a mixed-repertoire dance concert.

Much had to be worked out for the Dec. 11 show. Over 60 musicians make up the CCM Philharmonia but far fewer will be seen in the livestream. In compliance with COVID-19 guidelines, no more than 50 participants could be in the hall, including performers, stage and tech crews.

“We spent countless hours over the spring and summer figuring out ways we could safely do these performances,” Whitacre says. “We worked out spacing, the use of masks, the use of Plexiglas screens, air circulation and sanitizing surfaces. We also partnered with UC Health on a study of HEPA filters’ efficiency in clearing the air of particulates. That led to installing HEPA filters installed in our performance spaces.

"It was a herculean and campus-wide effort to make sure we provided the safest environment possible.”

You can sense the palpable joy in the performances and in the words of the students themselves. Episodes include brief interviews with students who are visibly emotional about their experiences.

More digital episodes will be recorded during the next semester, but opera and especially musical theater present unique challenges still being worked through. Singing poses a high risk for spreading aerosols; soprano Angel Blue stood 20 feet away from the orchestra when she performed with the CSO in October. That’s even more difficult for musical theater productions that call for large vocal and instrumental ensembles as well as intimate duets.

For the shows, instrumentalists and vocalists adapted to wearing masks, not sharing music stands and using Plexiglass dividers as well as the constant presence of videographers and audio techs capturing their performances. Having an experienced team, many of whom are CCM alums, proved invaluable in navigating the recording sessions.

“Things we take for granted, like mic placement, had to be rethought and they were so helpful and inspired the students working with them,” says Whitacre.

He also notes that CCM’s theater design and production department collaborated on the choral and dance episodes and will be participating in the upcoming livestreams, as will E-Media students.

“Creating visuals for a digital platform is its own challenge and the students came up with really creative designs," he says. "The silver lining in this pandemic is that it’s providing some really cool learning opportunities for our students. Although there’s no substitute for a live performance, there’s no question that digital livestreaming will be increasing as we move forward.”

Major support is from ArtsWave and CCM Power. Whitacre also credits CCM dean Stanley Romanstein with helping to secure underwriting for CCMONSTAGE Online.

Performances last no longer than an hour and can be watched on CCM’s website and its YouTube channel. Closed captioning is included.

Following CCM’s January fundraiser A Movable Feast, programs will be broadcast in two- to three-week intervals, avoiding conflict with CSO livestreams, and will be available “without expiration.”

Whitacre says that livestreaming plays to CCM’s strengths and will continue to expand after pandemic restrictions ease.

“CCM is such a comprehensive arts school. We have programs in E-Media and an in-house theater design and production program with experts on the faculty and these emerging student artists, as well as our alumni. They’ve got state-of-the-art gear to experiment with, the possibilities for a Classical music piece or any performance piece expand when you bring those elements.”

CCMONSTAGE Online launches 7:30 p.m. Friday, Dec. 11. Performances can be viewed at or on CCM’s YouTube Channel.