Guildhall School brings music back with Dante
Thursday, 29 October 2020
guildhall‘The entire campus is now one big studio’
UK - Key to the Guildhall School of Music & Drama’s musical curricula is its annual award for The Gold Medal - a performance competition that began in 1915 and had taken place uninterrupted through 2019. Because of the global pandemic in 2020, the annual May performance had to be put on hold as teaching moved online during the summer term.
“Because of COVID we needed to be swift in our response to ensure things like The Gold Medal could occur and, very importantly, that in-person classes could still take place with full scale participation,” says Julian Hepple, head of recording and audio visual at Guildhall School. “To make that happen we quickly turned to Dante and Dante Domain Manager. And, in September, as we returned to in-person teaching, we were able to hold The Gold Medal and broadcast the performance online."
Dante allows audio, control, and all other data to coexist effectively on the same network. For Guildhall School, Dante enabled them to solve COVID-related challenges both with their live performances and their virtual learning environment.
To adhere to social distancing requirements, The Gold Medal performances were constructed across four separate rooms. The largest space was populated by those on string instruments and the piano, with each participant located two meters apart. Woodwind and brass instruments were split up each into their own rooms, with three meters of space allocated between performers. Finally, the conductor was located in a fourth room. The challenge of this setup, of course, was collaboration between the multiple rooms.
“We had 90 musicians in total across the different rooms and building,” Hepple said. “We needed to manage a number of inputs and outputs across the space and have them be as latency free as possible. They needed to be able to perform synchronously with one another.”
To do this, 40 Neumann, Rupert Neve Designs, Schoeps, and DBA directional microphones were strategically placed across the space to capture instrument audio. These feeds are brought into SSL, Yamaha and Neutrik preamplifiers where they’re translated into Dante-native channels. These Dante feeds then head to Cisco and Dell switch infrastructure across two buildings, and then routed to a Solid State Logic System T mixer that allows for broadcast specific processing. The audio feeds are then delivered out to two locations: to the broadcast mix for live playout via a live production system, and to the other performers via headphones.
“With Dante we were able to deliver the correct mix to the different rooms with an imperceptible level of latency,” Hepple explains. “Our conductor went into rehearsals on day one, and within 20 bars he said he was ready to go. This is someone who has decades of experience in the classical performance space, and it was an immediate acceptance of the new setup.
“There was a time when we were worried this could be cancelled. However, with Dante we were able to keep it alive. And that’s a big deal right now because our rooms, which are normally alive and vibrant, had been silent for six months. Bringing the music back was important for everyone.”
The setup will next be used to present an upcoming Guildhall Symphony Orchestra concert conducted by Jessica Cottis, which will be available to watch online for one week from Saturday, 7 November at www.gsmd.ac.uk/gso.
Dante has also ensured in-person, performance-focused instruction and coursework continues. By using a similar Dante workflow across its multiple performance spaces, the school is able to route audio into video conferencing applications that is of high enough quality to allow collaboration.
“So, for example, we can put three pianists in one large room - or in three separate rooms - and have their audio output via video conferencing to the instructor of the class,” said Liam Halpin, director at DataSound Consulting, the firm that integrated the system. “Those feeds can be heard by anyone on the platform, and they are all high-quality audio. That’s very important to allow an instructor to teach the class.”
Halpin said with the potential for around 70 Dante devices to be in use across Guildhall’s multiple concert halls, recital rooms, and classrooms, the need for both robust management and security was paramount. Thus, the School quickly turned to Dante Domain Manager.
Across the campus, a total of 35 rooms are Dante-enabled by way of 70 different devices.
“We really are performing together while apart,” Hepple says. “Because of Dante our entire campus is now one big studio. It’s beautiful what we’ve been able to create with Dante.”

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