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The 2020 West Point Graduation

George Petersen • July 2020Production Profile • July 10, 2020

The wide, socially distanced spacing of the 1,100 cadets required a system that could handle a large area.

Founded in 1802, the U.S. Military Academy at West Point is a federal, four-year, co-educational liberal arts college located 50 miles north of New York City. Its mission is to educate, train, and inspire its corps of cadets for a career of professional excellence and service to the nation as commissioned officers in the U.S. Army.

Due to COVID-19 delaying graduation, members of the class were commissioned on May 23 as second lieutenants during an oath of commissioning ceremony from remote locations. It definitely marked another unique venture for the new second lieutenants of the Class of 2020 within their 47-month journey. However, the graduating cadets were brought back to West Point for a ceremony with president Donald Trump as the commencement speaker on June 13, 2020. “We are honored to host the commander in chief as we celebrate the many accomplishments of our graduating class,” said superintendent of the USMA, Lt. Gen. Darryl A. Williams.

With health safety considerations for cadets and the entire West Point community in mind, the size and scope of the 2020 graduation was quite different from that of past years. Rather than take place in the 38,000-seat Michie Stadium, home of West Point’s football team, the ceremony was moved to the Parade Field on the campus Plain, a massive grassy expanse encircled by statues of generals Washington, Eisenhower, Patton and MacArthur. Another change was that the 1,100 cadets would be seated across the field in a widely spread, socially distanced configuration, with no spectators or family present, although the event was streamed live on C-SPAN and various news outlets.

Handling the live audio, mix feeds to broadcasters, video and supplemental lighting for televising the daylight ceremony was Eastern Stage Productions (ESP) of Edgewood, NY. Well-experienced in large, high-profile events, ESP brought in CODA Audio line array system for the commencement’s P.A. needs.

“We’ve handled many Presidential and government events over the years, including almost every West Point graduation ceremony for the past two decades, ” says ESP’s founder and CEO Bill Danilczyk . “During a normal year, we would do about 250 high-end corporate, concert, public address, fundraising and private events, but of course anything involving the President of the United States is definitely a little different. Having worked with the White House Communications Agency (WHCA) for many years, when they call us they know everything is going to run smoothly and be done right.”

The view from FOH

It’s Complicated

There were other obstacles as well. Given the circumstances going on worldwide and with the New York state lockdown procedures put in place, all event preparation had to be done with masks and safe social distancing in mind, keeping everyone’s wellness a matter of utmost priority. These safety precautions extended every step of the way, from the initial planning stages, all through the install and event itself and continued for the duration of the loadout. “Aside from the P.A., there’s a lot of interfacing with the broadcast feeds and archive recorders they operate. We handle all the P.A, press feeds, video and lighting integration— the dias was the traditional West Point Graduation Stage while the band was on a StageLine SL320 portable stage. The performance stage as well as all other risers were supplied by Eastern Stage Productions. In terms of the latter, Danilczyk added “there was a multi-camera shoot going live to broadcast with a very intensive — to White House spec — brightness on the stage with some super-bright lights. Since ESP’s first Presidential event back in 1989 with George H. W. Bush, we have proudly recognized and carried out the strict standard of consistency in the lighting, audio and cameras that is required for every event slated for the archives.”

As is always the case with outdoor events, a weather can provide a —somewhat unexpected aspect. Fortunately, there was no rain during the event itself, but a huge storm had come through in the days before setup. “The field was very wet when we came in, so we had to set up plywood ‘roads’ when we arrived to transport and roll in all the gear to its designated locations,” says Danilczyk “We used around 120 sheets of plywood to create those roads in order to protect the grounds from any damage. As is the case with any event, you must always be cognizant of your surroundings and the venue space itself. We also used 650 cable ramps and two 500-kilowatt generators.” This was definitely not your typical graduation gig.

The same could be said about the personnel. “Normally on a weekend like this, our company would have — give or take — five events going on, this year there was only one,” Danilczyk explains. “Because of the current COVID environment all work was performed by our top 14 audio engineers, each of whom would normally be running their own shows this time of year. Given the scope of this event we also added some additional onsite crew members this year, particularly in regard to the lighting techs, for a total of four all together, one generator tech, one wireless tech and one video tech.”

Security

Every event has some level of security, but when the President is involved, things step up a notch — or twenty. “Before issuing passes, the Secret Service does background checks on everyone that will be onsite, and for the event itself, only a limited number of our crew could be present. Basically, if you weren’t essential, you weren’t there,” Danilczyk explains, adding: “As with any presidential event, there are always a number of steps that need to be taken for security measures. On the day of, our crew readied the equipment early after which they were then sent to a holding area for a two-hour lockdown prior to the start of the event. A full security sweep of the entire area was then performed by the Secret Service, during which no one is allowed on site. Then, when we walk back in, it’s just us.”

The stage left stacks, flanked by a Stryker armored troop carrier and Apache attack helicopter

The System

The audio system design/implementation was done by Danilczyk and Glenn Davis, ESP’s operations manager and one of its top engineers. Throughout his two decades of employment with ESP, Glenn has been the head project manager of every West Point graduation as well as the lead coordinator for many other events. Among his multiple other duties, Glenn also tuned the system using Linus Control and mixed the program as well. They selected an all-CODA Audio rig based on its AiRay and ViRay line array enclosures with APS frontfills. Both the double-12 AiRay and double-8 ViRay are three-way bi-amped enclosures with coaxial DDP-driver (Dual Diaphragm Planar-wave-driver) MF/HF sections and can integrate with a range of sensor-controlled double-15 (Coda SC2) and single- (SCV) and double-18 (SCP) subwoofers. Everything was powered via CODA Audio’s LINUS 14D series Loudspeaker Management Amplifiers with onboard DSP specifically tailored for the CODA loudspeakers and Coda Linus Control software. The AiRays measure in at just 26.5 inches wide and just 88 lbs (svelte for a double-12 design), making them an ideal choice where a minimal visual imprint is required.

The main left/right P.A. each had two sets of four AiRays each atop one SC2 bass extension per side, with these side-by-side stacks splayed inward and outward for wide 160° coverage. Four SCP double 18″ subs were placed under the platform on each side. The corners were handled by two single-18 SCVs, each supporting three ViRAYs. Delays had one stacked 18 SCV subs with three ViRAYs.

“This system really covered everything— everywhere,” notes Danilczyk, “The DDP mid-hi devices are a game changer. Their extended top end (250 Hz – 22k Hz, -6 dB), consistent off-axis response and 114 dB output with 1 watt (148 dB max) give the system extreme headroom with near-perfect phase response and minimal harmonic and IM distortion. The system throws great distances with almost no degradation in sound.”

Danilczyk added, “At one point they wanted us to crank it up, and we could cover the entire space of four football fields with dance-level sound, which is incredible for that small number of boxes. Not only was there a huge volume of sound, but it was quality sound with tremendous clarity, coverage and high-end response that was truly impressive. At one point during set-up, I felt the bottom-end sounded really great, then I noticed that the subs were muted! It was just the bass extension double-15” (35 Hz – 150 Hz, -6 dB). So even without the subs, it sounded like a normal system would sound like with subs.”

At the podium was a Shure SM57 — the traditional presidential mic of choice

Big Job in Monitorworld

The 20-plus piece Army Band was located separate from the main stage, off to house left on the SL320 stage, with all the members separated by Plexiglas screens and individually miked with large and small diaphragm condenser mics.

Everyone in the band had individual wireless in-ear monitors. This was a necessity created by the need for social distancing, the barriers between the players and being 150 feet away from the dias stage and main P.A.

As if that was not enough to contend with, the mixing task for mains, which was being done by West Point’s Army band engineer Sgt. Brandie Lane and ESP’s monitor engineer Don Hanna, was far more complex than usual. Fortunately, there were five days of rehearsal prior to the event, so Hanna, working on one DiGiCo SD10 console and Brandie on the other, could lock in the mixes for everyone earlier in the week.

The ceremony concluded with the customary hat toss

Hats Off!

“Eastern Stage Productions has worked on live events for all of the last five Presidential administrations — although there are always some changes from one to the other, we do each with a consistent dedication to professionalism to ensure absolute perfection in every event.” says Danilczyk. “As to be expected, given the high standards ESP upholds itself to for all of our clients, this one was no different and went flawlessly. Even despite all the changes, challenges and new restrictions due to COVID-19, this event went without a hitch. And in my opinion, the Military Academy was very happy with the results. It was, to say the least, an excellent event.”

 

The 2020 West Point Graduation

CREW
Sound Company: Eastern Sound Productions

System Design: Bill Danilczyk, Glenn Davis

System Engineer/Crew Chief: Glenn Davis

FOH Engineer: Brandie Lane

Monitor Engineer: Don Hanna

RF Coordination: Anthony Bandelato

Generator Tech: George Harrington

Lighting: Gary Haspel

Video: Anthony McGraw

Techs: Dave Albanese, Harold Apping, Jason D’Aversa, John Daleo, Joseph Daniele, Aaron Headley, Carey Joseph, Derek Prescod, William Reid, Max Rudkin, Benjamin Suarez, Stephen Swope, Thomas Timko, Tim Wright

FOH GEAR

FOH Console: DiGiCo SD10, Soundcraft Vi7000 (production)

Main P.A.: (8) CODA AiRAY with (4) SC2 bass and (8) SCP subs

Corner Fill: (3) CODA ViRAY with(2) SCV subs/side

Delays: (4) CODA ViRAY with (4) SCV subs

Amps: CODA LINUS 14D series

MON GEAR

Monitor Consoles: DiGiCo SD10

IEM Hardware: Shure PSM-1000s

Podium Mic: Shure SM57

Wireless Mics: Shure Axiom, Shure ULX-D

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