Collaborating With The Mystery

photo of Bud Brown

Intro from Jay Allison: We have a series here at Transom we call “Short Lists” where you hear a list of things and then find out how they’re connected. Hairpieces, Coyotes, Village Portraits, Grind Core Punk, Personal Tragedy, Songwriting, Fibromyalgia, Singing at Funerals, Roller Derby… okay, that’s a list of the stories produced by the Transom Story Workshop this fall. The students came here from all over the country (and two from Canada this time), somehow discovered these stories hidden away on Cape Cod, and then, using the skills they just learned, turned them into radio. It’s quite a trick—to go from never having done it, to doing it well. I’m amazed every time.

Listen to “Collaborating With The Mystery”

About “Collaborating With The Mystery”

As Rob Rosenthal says, “Plan in pencil” and “notice what you notice.” I initially planned to do a profile of the band. In preparing to interview them, I listened to their songs and heard Bud Brown sing “Let the Mystery Be.” I loved the song, and I loved Bud’s voice. You don’t hear singers Bud’s age very often and, to me, his voice made the lyrics all the more moving.

Still thinking I would profile the band, I recorded one of their rehearsals. I asked them to play “Let the Mystery Be.” I noticed that Bud seemed hesitant, but he agreed to sing it. When I interviewed each of the band members after rehearsal, I asked Bud about his reticence. Noticing Bud’s ambivalence about singing the song is essentially how this story came to be. All of the guys in the band were so generous with their time, and gave great interviews. But Bud’s relationship to this song — and the way he spoke about it — stuck with me.

I am a planner. I like to go into a situation feeling as prepared as possible. In the workshop, we created outlines and planned scenes for our story ideas before we did any interviews. I think it’s incredibly useful to come up with a hypothesis before you go into the field. But you also have to make sure that your preconceived notions don’t prevent you from discovering something in the moment — from noticing what you notice.

“Simple” is a tricky word. It’s often confused with “easy” or even “boring.” But one thing I strived for in this story was simplicity. For example, I first recorded Bud singing the song with the band. It was beautiful, and I ended up using some of the instrumentals in the story. But I went back and recorded him singing a cappella.

In one way, this is a simple story about one man, singing one song. In another way, I hope, it’s about something more. I do hope you have a listen.

Mary’s Sonic ID

Listen to “Mary’s Sonic ID”

I met Antonio, a cook, when I interviewed the staff at a restaurant. The question I asked everyone was “How do you avoid burning out at work?” Antonio stood out for a few reasons:

  1. Without prompting, he repeated the question I asked him, like a professional interviewee: “Well, what do I do to avoid burnout on the job?”
  2. Most everyone said they take breaks to avoid burnout. Antonio essentially said the same thing, but the way he said it was different. He created a scene: “I just close my eyes, and I get in deep thought, and be like: just calm down; relax.”
  3. That ear massage anecdote – I mean, come on. That’s just good advice, and people need to know about it.

Listen to more pieces from this Story Workshop class.

Mary Quintas

Mary Quintas

Mary Quintas is a radio producer and oral history interviewer. She produced the StoryCorps series Stories from Homeless Rhode Islanders for Rhode Island Public Radio, as well as items for their newscast. She has conducted oral history interviews for the Library of Congress' Veterans History Project and the Latino Oral History Project of Rhode Island. In addition to the Transom Story Workshop, she’s completed workshops with Columbia University's Oral History Program and the CUNY School of Journalism. You can find more of Mary's work at PRX.

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