Big Drums, No Baton, And A Roasting Swan

Intro from Jay Allison: This piece was produced as part of the Transom Story Workshop Spring 2015 session. Listen to more pieces from this Story Workshop class here.

Listen to “Big Drums, No Baton, And A Roasting Swan.”

About “Big Drums, No Baton, And A Roasting Swan”

The only thing I knew about classical music before making this piece was that my piano teacher forced me to play it between the ages of five and ten. I no longer play piano. Needless to say, this was a somewhat random endeavor and, well, I was drawn to it by less-than-honorable motivations. The event description for the Cape Cod Symphony Orchestra’s upcoming performance described Carmina Burana as a “lusty, rowdy masterpiece” with “raw, sensual energy.” Sold. But upon reflection, this turned out to be a useful place from which to approach the piece precisely because of my lack of background knowledge and genuine curiosity about this supposedly “lusty” and “sensual” piece of music. During interviews, it was very clear to me when to press further (“Wait, what do you mean there’s someone who plays a roasting swan?”) and when to move on to the next question. If I could understand what people were saying I knew beyond a doubt that everyone else would be able to too.

But interviews were only half the battle here. Figuring out the best way to record rehearsals was by far my biggest challenge. How do you make 150 people on one stage making A LOT of noise sound good? Well… there were three days of rehearsal and I tried a different recording method every day. On the first day, I put one mic on the conductor to grab his interjections and teachings and then sat in the front row with a stereo mic to grab the music from the orchestra. On the second day, I plugged into the soundboard to get the feed from the chorus mics to get nice vocals. On the third day, I got the full live mix from the soundboard. I’ll probably stick to one method as opposed to three in the future, but I did end up using clips from all three days so experimentation proved useful in this case (as did many conversations with Rob Rosenthal about recording technique).

Working on this piece was the most fun I’ve ever had making something (not including all the animal collage art projects I made in kindergarten… hard to beat those). Stressful at times, sure, but just so fun overall. When you listen I hope you learn something about classical music, what orchestra conductors actually do, and, of course, about Carmina Burana. But, more than anything, I hope you have fun listening to it. I sure as heck had fun making it.

Josh’s Sonic ID

Listen to “Josh’s Sonic ID”

I stumbled upon a brochure in a coffee shop one day for an alpaca farm on Martha’s Vineyard. There were pictures of sheep with long necks and buckteeth on the front. Alpacas! I knew I had to go. Fortuitously, the one day a year when the farmers shear their entire herd (70 alpacas, one llama) happened to be the following weekend. My girlfriend came to visit that weekend and nothing screams “romantic getaway” like a day at an alpaca farm. So, off we went, recorder in hand. The whole scene was Sonic ID heaven –- alpacas making strange noises, electric shavers that sound like chainsaws, and the nicest alpaca farmers I’ve ever met. I found David behind the barn carrying trash bags filled with newly sheared fur to the truck. He graciously spent a few minutes talking with me and the rest is history: Shearing day at the alpaca farm, Sonic ID version.

Listen to more pieces from this Story Workshop class.

Josh Swartz

Josh Swartz

Josh Swartz is an independent radio producer motivated by the power of sound and story to directly engage hearts and minds. He hails from Brookline, Massachusetts, studied film and sociology at Middlebury College, and is currently somewhat of a nomad, living wherever his car is parked (presently: Canton, NY). Give him a shout at Josh is a member of AIR and you can find more of his work at PRX or on his personal website.

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