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Tuesday, August 20, 2013

The Big Bang by John von Daler

                The little man with all the audio equipment recorded every show we ever played: school concerts, our youth orchestra, plays, musicals, he was there. His miniature, pale presence could be discerned from the stages of our schools if one looked long and hard at the orchestra pit, stage left. At some point his bald head would pop up like a wayward horseshoe on a little, round pile of light sand; he would be turning dials and watching meters. The seriousness of his concentration testified silently to the importance of what we were about to play: this would be preserved for the centuries. Our grandchildren would as adults curl up on a sofa in some remote town to hear grandfather play The Peer Gynt Suite with his high school band. We would need either to be on our toes or to suffer the heavy judgement of the generations.

                Before every concert he ran around putting up microphones, clapping his hands importantly to hear the echos and timber of the room. Then he would sit down at his little, portable desk and put on his earphones.
                Before one performance he approached me. He had as always watched our dress rehearsal to familiarize himself with the program we were going to play. We had scheduled Aaron #Copeland's "Fanfare for the Common Man". This bombastic work started with all the drummers hammering away simultaneously. I was on the biggest and loudest instrument, the bass drum.
                I was talking to friends when I noticed him by my right elbow.
                "You play the bass drum in the Copeland", he said and squinted through his glasses. I nodded yes.
                "You see, I've got the whole piece measured off, dynamically speaking, except for the first few notes. They are too loud. I can't record them and the rest of the piece at the same level."
                I tried to find a solution for him, "Then can't you just record the rest of the piece at a lower level?"
                "No, no!" he said and looked around at the walls. "Then you don't get enough sound into the rest of the recording!" And he studied the ceiling.
                "Couldn't you turn the sound down after the first few measures?" His eyes grew large in disbelief.
                "So you could hear the change in dynamic level on the record? No, no!"
                We stood looking at each other.
                "Couldn't you please play a little more softly?"
                The conductor had asked me to take over the bass drum just this once. I was not used to playing the drums. You do not really get a chance to wham away at a violin, so at age fifteen I was looking forward to my little thunderstorm.
                "I'll think about it", I said and walked away. The little man went down to his chair in the pit. I walked over to the conducter and explained the problem to him.
                "You haul away and hit that damn thing as hard as you can!" he said.
                So when the house light went down, the audience got quiet in the dark, and the conductor strode onto his platform and without stopping swung his baton through the air like a thunderbolt. We drummers hit our drums with every bit of energy we had. I was deeply concentrated on my music, but over the edge of the music stand I saw a pair of earphones fly straight up in the air. The little, bald man sprang to his feet and flipped dials and switches as if he were stopping a runaway locomotive.
                After the concert I made a beeline for the door. I guess that was one of the first times I had ever had to take a stand for an artistic interpretation, but at that moment I would not have had the words with which to defend it. I never did order the record. After all, who wants a flawed recording... 

                My book, Pieces: A Life in Eight Movements and a Prelude (WiDo Publishing) is now available. Order through, the publisher or your local bookstore. Click to buy Pieces at the top of the blog. Please feel free to write a short review of the book in your own language at or GoodReads. Thanks for your support!


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