Dean Letter: Our Audio-Visual Ministry

Transcript of interview between the Dean and Mike Thornburgh about the cathedral’s audio-visual ministry

Penny:             Hello St. Paul’s. This week I’m talking about our audio visual ministry. As you know, several years ago, a generous donor underwrote the installation of a high end television system. And we started regularly streaming services, extending our reach to all parts of the world. When the pandemic hit, we were blessed to have a three to four year archive of worship videos from which we could draw to enhance our online services. That archive has helped us stay together as a community, and to minister to thousands of people who haven’t been able to attend their own churches. Our broadcasting has been one of the most critical ministries of the cathedral over the last year. And it wouldn’t have been possible without that generous gift. And it also wouldn’t have been possible without the skills and experience and commitment of Mike Thornburgh. And Mike has joined me today from the audio-visual control room at the cathedral to share some thoughts about the ministry. So, Mike, would you mind introduce yourself to the St. Paul’s community?

Mike:               Yeah. Hi, everybody. I’m Mike Thornburgh. I’m retired, a retired lighting director from ABC television. And I’ve been doing this now for some time, mostly in lighting, but I’ve learned to become a technical director. A technical director is the person who controls the switcher, is the boss of the engineering crew, and the guy who has to figure out everybody else’s schedules. So that’s basically what I do. Now, the problem, of course, is that we don’t have a lot of other people to do schedules that I need to figure out. So one of the reasons I’m speaking to you today is to see if we can enter some more people in joining up. It’s not as intimidating as it all looks back here. I mean, this, I know, it looks a little bit like a 747 control panel, but it’s not really; it’s eminently learnable and works very well. Listen – if I can learn it, so can you: not a problem.

Penny:            We kind of dragged you into this, you were sitting on the sidelines, in a sense, at St. Paul’s, you hadn’t found your ministry, and then somehow, you heard about the audio-visual ministry, and it was a perfect match. And I just don’t know what we would have done without you these last few years. And without getting too technical, perhaps you would describe in lay terms, the audio visual system at St. Paul’s, and I’m going to share my screen and show some photographs as you talk.

Mike:               Okay, very well. First, let me let me amend your original statement. My wife, Claudia Dixon is the ministry leader for the Showers of Blessing part of the outreach programs. And I became involved in that mostly by cracking eggs in the morning, and doing some heavy lifting. And then I became volunteered by my in-house higher power to work in television yet again. And I must say that there are days when it feels like I never left ABC.

Now we’re looking at the editing computer. This is where Jim Langston very patiently taught me how to edit our Sunday services, primarily the audio portion. And he, God bless Jim, he’s just so patient and he put up with several weeks of mistakes of mine. Anyway, this is the computer where we used to do that, That has changed, by the way lately. Now this is the audio and video control consoles; on the left part of the frame is the switcher you see in our various functions, various video functions that come into the switcher, the preview monitor, the various cameras; in the very center of your picture you see all four cameras, and a preview monitor and the line monitor. The line monitor is where we view what actually goes into the recording. And below that you see the switcher itself, where we choose the cameras and crossfade the cameras. On the right side of the frame is the audio mixer, the GLD Allen and Heath audio mixer, which is that one there, and it’s a very good mixer. And I must say that although I was not an audio engineer in at ABC, I was around it all my career, mostly by the fact that I was fighting with the audio engineers creating boom shadows on the people. And the idea was to make it look like real life where there are no boom shadows, and satisfy the audio engineers at the same time. So that was that one.

And you can just barely see down below; there we also have a stash of operations manuals, which I put together, so that virtually all phases of this operation are documented, and easy to read. I assumed that the people who would read these would know nothing. So that’s the way they’re written and the way they’re laid out. Complete with illustrations, a project started, by the way, by Marshall Moore.

Penny:             That’s wonderful. I’m going to go back to couple a of pictures I flashed by, just because I think some people may not even have noticed the cameras in the cathedral. How many of them do we have?

Mike:               Well, this is this is a picture taken this morning, this is camera one, sitting on the pillar there and camera one is coming into the alter area from camera right. This is a cool picture of a close up of it. And these cameras are what they call PTC cameras, which means pan tilt and zoom. I mean, they’re movable cameras, but they can do everything, right, they can do it. And they are limited now because they come to a stop, you can’t tilt anymore, you can’t pan anymore, you can’t do it. Anyway we actually have a total of six cameras in the cathedral. This is a picture of camera two, which is on the audience left or the stage right side of the cathedral, the audience left. And that is another camera that can go all the way from the altar, all the way up to the rose window in the western end of the nave. Again, we have five or six cameras, one is directly above the altar. Another one is all the way back in the western end of the nave above the font. And then there’s one that’s way up below the rose window. It has a wonderful view of the entire nave There’s a couple of others. One other, which we use, we use all of these cameras all the time. For instance our fourth camera has a good close up of the keyboards of the organ. This is the camera we use primarily for organ recitals. And so there’s your cameras.

Penny:             It’s a very extensive system. It sounds to me as, a lay person, like a lot. But before we get  to the people side of things, tell us about the control room. I showed a couple of pictures, but tell people where the control room is – they may not know that.

Mike:               The control room is up on the second floor and is adjacent to the old choir room. I say old choir room because there’s going to be a new one. But it’s adjacent to the choir room. And to get to it, you have to go through the choir room. And then you go and it overlooks the Queen’s courtyard. And if you’re looking at the Queen’s courtyard from the Fifth Avenue, there’s a couple of windows up to the left above the big red doors; I’m sorry, up to your right. And yes, that’s stage left for those of us who are in the room. And that’s where the control room is. It contains also one of the pictures that I don’t know if you saw, the amplifier and a power rack that controls all the amplification and computer systems for the whole AV system.

Penny:             This room is about as secure as any of our rooms at the cathedral, because there’s some very valuable equipment in there.

Mike:               Absolutely. As long as I lock the door. Yes, it’s true.

Penny:            Let’s talk about the roles and the people. You are obviously the boss, the chief videographer, the engineer, the director. I know that Todd Harrell was involved in getting this started. You mentioned Jim Langston doing pretty much all the editing at this point. Are there other people involved? I think we’ve had some other people on the team.

Mike:               Oh, yes, we have. We’ve had a succession of good camera and recording operators, who have subsequently, for whatever reason, like they moved out of town was one, and another one they left the cathedral; leaving Jim Langston and me as operators. Todd Hurrell was the guy who really started this operation and training people to operate all the equipment, including the control of the volume of speakers in the nave itself. It’s a whole separate operation. But Todd Hurrell had to go back to work. So I’m retired, so what happens is that I get called upon: my wife says, “You’re going to answer that phone again?” And Todd had to go back to work, leaving it in our hands. Jim Langston was the senior editor at the time and taught me about editing. But subsequent to that, there’s many other participants.

Even now it takes a team of people to put together each Sunday’s broadcasts. They are taking archived clips, that’s true. Plus, we are recording the lessons and the Gospels and various portions of the spoken scenes in any service, appropriate for the calendar date. We record those scenes every week. And they are then integrated into a completely edited service. And that team consists of several people who are doing several different functions. I’m involved in putting the 10:30 service together, but primarily, it’s Jeff Martinhauk involved. Also Paul Young, who doesn’t get a chance to sing in the choir these days. But he’s a wonderful technician and editor. And his wife, Kelsey is also an editor, she tries her hand and works very nicely with the Evensong performances. The same procedure takes place for the Evensong performances.

And then we have to not only edit them and modify, if needed, the audio. And then what happens is we have a completely rendered service, which then must be scheduled for streaming, I get to do a lot of the scheduling for streaming. And oh, yes, Wayne Riehm is involved: he makes titles for us. And Alex Kajokeji is involved also: he does titles for us. And I mentioned Liam Semple, but unfortunately, he’s gone back to Harvard. So he can’t help us out just now. There’s a whole team of people that is producing these Sunday services for the cathedral.

Penny:             It sounds like at least six people are involved every week and each one has a different role and different set of skills. But you’re It really for the actual videography at the moment, I think. About how much time would you estimate you spend on this each week?

Mike:               On Wednesdays for the recording sessions, I spend about three to four hours. And on Thursdays we also do the organ recitals live. We stream live on Thursday evenings at 5:30. Lately that’s been Martin because Gabriel’s been recuperating. These are live broadcasts. They last for about a half an hour just prior to the evening prayer services at 6pm. And I do those too because right now, Jim Langston used to do them when we were live in the cathedral before, but he’s not always available. And he’s kind of taking it easy during the pandemic, and I don’t blame him one little tiny bit. And so I get to spend about two to two and a half hours to do that. But also at home, and also scheduling: scheduling takes oh I don’t know, a couple hours depending, and also putting together slideshows. I’m the guy that gets to do the slideshows. I think I’m doing one this week. I’ll have to double check anyway. But we’re also putting together another slideshow for Palm Sunday. But that’s another story. And so we’re all of us involved all the time in the editing, actual editing. Putting together the complete rendered service is usually Jeff Martinhauk and Paul Young: they do that.

Penny: Because Jeff, of course doesn’t have anything else to do as a full-time priest! It’s all a huge time commitment. And I imagine you’d like some help with that, to share the burden a little. What kinds of interests, skills, and gifts are helpful to participate in this ministry?

Mike:               You know, anything. If you’re interested in photography, that’s great, because we’re always looking for good pictures. And if you’re interested, if you know something about computers (almost everybody knows about computers these days, except me, of course). If you have an interest in computers and photography, that’s great. If you’re an audiophile, a lot of guys come around and they say you know I’m really an audiophile. Well, come on down. That’s great. To balance the sound is terrific. This is a wonderful hall, the nave is a wonderful hall to record in, with good acoustics and a wonderful audio system. And we always try to make it better. But it kind of almost helps itself. But if you’re interested in photography, if you’re interested in television or any kind of production work at all, please contact the church and the office. Or you can contact me. [] But you can contact the cathedral, and I’d be more than willing to train people. And I’ve got a couple of people on the hook now. One, a close friend of ours, is Jim Wright, who takes duty sometimes in controlling the audio in the hall during services. He’s very good at that. He is interested in doing this. And I think that he’s waiting for the pandemic to kind of subside also, as are a lot of others.

Penny:            That’s why I think the timing, for us talking about this, is good, because now that the vaccinations are coming out, people are starting to get a little braver and think about it. I hear from what you’re saying, how much you enjoy it. And it’s clear that you’re enthusiastic about this ministry; to have you as a teacher would be a great thing, because that enthusiasm is contagious. Would you say something about how it gives you satisfaction to do this? Or what it means to you?

Mike:               Yes, sure, I can. One of the things that I have done in life is that I’ve committed my life to some form of service. And not only does this fulfill my desire to be of service; there was a period of time after I retired that, you know, I played a lot of Freecell on the computer, and had urgings from my spouse to get out and do something. Part of the time when I lived in New York, I worked not only at ABC, but I also taught a course at NYU. for about seven years, I was an adjunct instructor at NYU teaching, oddly enough, television lighting. And when I came here, I looked around for some television, lighting jobs here at San Diego State, San Diego City College, etc. And sure enough, that was the great recession; nobody was hiring anybody. So it came to pass that I got involved with the cathedral, with Claudia. And she, like I mentioned, volunteered me to Todd Hurrell to get into this business, but I find it very rewarding. And I really like doing it.

As I mentioned, I spent my career in television, some days, it’s like I never left. But also it’s something that I know and I can contribute to. And generally speaking,  I can bring a measure of professionalism to the program here. And I really enjoy doing that. And like I say, that is a great source of satisfaction to me plus being of service. I mentioned that the pay is not all that great [editor’s note: this is an unpaid position]. But the satisfaction surely is dandy. If I do a good broadcast, I feel like I’ve accomplished something. And I’ve provided something for a lot of people. For you. For years and years I worked on soap operas, I was lighting director on “One Life to Live” for a long, long time. And “All my Children” for another four years. And you might think that that’s kind of a frivolous kind of occupation. Well, okay, frivolous occupation, maybe. But I, I remember talking to people outside the industry: that brings them a lot of pleasure, and brings a lot of joy. A lot of people really look forward to that. It’s not only entertainment, but there’s something else that they get from it, the relationships and the people, blah, blah, blah, all kinds of any number of reasons. Well, that’s kind of the way I’m thinking about what I’m doing now, and I hope to keep doing it for as long as I can.

Penny:             I hope that you’ll keep doing it for as long as anybody can imagine. And I hope that at least two or three people will watch this video and get intrigued and like the thought of playing with all those buttons and screens, and build up a team so that so that it’s not all on you. I think your professionalism speaks for itself in the results. We have so many comments that come back about how wonderful our videos are. And so much of that is down to you. And you’re a pleasure to work with. We owe you a great debt of gratitude. And I hope that you’ll continue working with this and that you have some apprentices soon. I’m going to sign off now with our Cathedral folks and say thank you, Mike Thornburg. And to everyone else: see you on Sunday.

Mike:               Thank you.

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