"LIVE!" at One Symphony Place
by Jan Austin

Robert Swope spent years as a classical trumpeter. Now as president and CEO of Sunrise Entertainment, a Nashville-based television production company, he was being asked to document the building of the Schermerhorn Symphony Center and shoot "live" the opening gala of the Center and the Nashville Symphony's premiere performance inside their new world-class home.

"We followed the design and build process of the Schermerhorn from groundbreaking on and have 700 hours of footage on this," said Swope. "I don't think anyone else has documented something like this in its entirety."

The challenges were unique. Robert and Alan Valentine, president and CEO of the Nashville Symphony conferred frequently to develop a plan on how best to present opening night. The decision was made that no cameras would be seen in the room which meant no customary use of jib arms and cranes. There would be no hand-held cameras on stage that would effectively capture the performance but disturb the visual they wanted the audience to experience. Instead, Robert found medical cameras called Iconics cameras that are no larger than a chicken's egg.

"On opening night," remembers Swope, "there were 12 of these cameras in the world and I had ten of them on that stage. I hid seven other cameras around that room, in doorways and all kind of places. All of the cameras were running to a 73' by 20' double expando truck in the loading dock."

But as director for the event, Robert wanted a moving shot and needed to discover a way to create movement without the typical use of a jib or crane. Three years before the opening, Robert began to tackle the issue.

"I designed a flying camera rig. The day we opened, it was the first High Definition flying camera rig in the world. It was one-of-a-kind and flew on one cable over the top of the entire audience 73 feet in the air across a span of 168 feet."

Using parts from radio controlled airplanes, Robert experimented with five different motors before he found one that could be used in the room without being heard by the audience or picked up on the television audio.

"Audio was a huge problem because the room in the Schermerhorn is so acoustically perfect. You can hear someone repositioning themselves in their seat from the other end of the room. We ran a very expensive microphone rig and as a consequence, we could hear everything. I mean everything. Nothing happened in that space without us picking it up and we never had a mic anywhere except on the orchestra. When the audience applauded, it sounded like a herd of buffalo coming at you."

On opening night, the broadcast was beamed live to the world. PBS carried it regionally. The two-hour broadcast became the highest-rated music special in public television history. Robert eagerly offers credit to many in the making of this once-in-a-lifetime event.

"The performance was elegant and powerful and we were blessed enough to capture it all and broadcast it perfectly. We had no errors. There were no problems."

As the end of the performance neared, Robert made a critical decision to extend the broadcast by two minutes in honor of everyone who had dedicated so much to the building of the Schermerhorn Symphony Center and the presentation of the long-awaited opening.

"I got PBS Master Control on the phone and said, 'I am not going to black at two hours. I'm taking an additional two minutes because the orchestra has earned it. I want two minutes of applause before I go to credits.'"

PBS agreed.

Robert Swope makes no attempt to hide the emotion he feels as tears begin to well up in his eyes and he remembers the closing moments of what he considers to be one of his greatest efforts. "We ended in exactly two hours and two minutes to the second," he said. "I went to black and cried for ten minutes."

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