Creating magic: Televising ‘Melodies of Christmas’

Recording, editing the spectacle for TV audience is no small feat for Bob English and crew
The Empire State Youth Orchestra and Chorale are seen on stage at a past “Melodies of Christmas” concert.
The Empire State Youth Orchestra and Chorale are seen on stage at a past “Melodies of Christmas” concert.

The annual spectacle of “Melodies of Christmas” opens Thursday and runs through next Sunday. But while the Proctors crowd thrills to the Empire State Youth Orchestra and Chorale, dancers from Orlando School of Dance and the Northeast Ballet, Professor Louie and the Crowmatix and Grand Central Station, CBS 6-TV broadcast director Bob English and his backstage crew will be creating magic for the television audience.

It all starts months before in English’s living room.

“Ray Bono, my music director, gets the sheet music of all the songs. Then we tear down the music measure by measure and take copious notes as to when things like a piccolo solo or drum solo happens,” English said. 

This information determines what each of the seven cameramen will focus on during the show, which also includes the audience and the four hosts: Liz Bishop and Greg Floyd of CBS-6 (the show’s producer), Jerry Golub of Price Chopper/Market 32 and Bill Sullivan of Freihofer’s (the show’s sponsors).

“Before the show begins, everything is pre-produced,” he said.

At rehearsal days before the opening, English checks to make sure any glitches are fixed. Then at 6 a.m. on Friday, his crew, which also includes several from Proctors,  will lay down the up to half mile of cable, 100 microphones, and where the cameras will be set up that will feed the information to English’s truck out in the parking lot. They record only the Friday and Saturday shows because the truck is rented from a Maine outfitter. By 9 p.m. on Saturday, everything will be disassembled and the truck will be on its way to another event. He does, however, record the audience response on Thursday and Sunday, he said.

Meanwhile, during the show, English in his truck will be viewing his seven monitors determining if he wants another shot of the Professor or a close-up of one of the dancers.

“I love doing the show. It’s my 38th,” he said. “But it gets more complicated. Equipment has changed from tape to digital. And the audio is a different animal. We hire out to an outside company.”

But English said he’s very proud of the show. The extravaganza is a fundraiser for the Melodies Center for Childhood Cancer and Blood Disorders at the Albany Medical Center. To date, the show has raised $8 million, said Elizabeth Guerin of CBS-6. 

To bring the show’s message home, 26 children who are or have been treated at the Center will come on stage to sing “Silent Night.” Also, this is the third year that ornaments commemorating the show will be sold at $5 each, which to date has raised an additional $28,000, Guerin said.

The newest addition to the show is the guy who’ll be onstage conducting it: Carlos Agreda.

“I’ve not conducted a Christmas concert like this before,” he said in an email. “It is particularly interesting for me to get to learn carols in English (Agreda is from Columbia) and it is fascinating to discover how different they are from the carols we sing in Latin America.”

Besides the usual Christmas fare, the ESYO will play some Rimsky-Korsakov and Tchaikovsky’s “Nutcracker” for the dancers, another new venture for Agreda.

“Working with dancers is particularly challenging because it demands a lot of precision from the orchestra. We need to play everything at the right tempo, not too slow, not too fast,” he said.

Out in the lobby at intermission, members of the orchestra’s CHIME program will entertain.

Once the show is over, English’s job begins.

“I spend the next four days editing the show – probably 40 hours – very intense,” he said. “I edit for time down to the second. It must be ninety minutes and I must insert commercials, audience responses. I mix and match. There are so many moving parts that it’s as big as a Broadway show. People think the show just happens, but there’s a lot of planning.”

Broadcast dates are: Christmas Eve at 10 p.m. on CW-15; Christmas Day at 5:30 a.m. and 6 p.m. on CBS-6.

‘Melodies of Christmas’

WHEN: 7 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday; 3 p.m. Sunday (Dec. 16)
WHERE: Proctors
HOW MUCH: $30, $25
MORE INFO: 518 346-6204;

Categories: Entertainment

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