Saturday, 20 October 2012

Strings Are Cool Now -- by "J"

Being the fangirl that I am, I follow any number of Doctor Who-related news feeds on my twitter.  Last spring, Anglophenia, which is run by BBCAmerica, posted a link that got my attention immediately: a youtube video of a performance by the “Doctor Who Fan Orchestra.”  
Yep, it was, in fact, an orchestra made up of Who fans, playing Who music, arranged by yet another fan.  Being a band nerd/orch dork myself, one who loves playing film scores probably more than anything, I was doubly intrigued.
Ten minutes later – the amount of time it took to watch the performance – I had ascertained a few key points. One: this was an orchestra comprised of individuals who recorded separately, sent in their performances, and were then combined into a group.  In short, it didn’t matter where you were located, or if you were a professional.  Two: they’d be starting signups in a few short weeks for their next piece, a suite from “The Impossible Astronaut,” which is probably one of my favorite episodes of New Who and some of the most memorable music, just sayin.’  And three: I knew I had to be a part of this, no question.
The next few weeks were agony, as I hit up the DWFO facebook page, waiting for the video to be posted with details on how to participate.   I submitted my info immediately when it finally did, and it’s a good thing, too; they had so much interest they had to cap the number of applicants at 600.

The Process

For a “fan-run,” “amateur” organization, it’s sure more efficient than some more established groups I’ve been involved with!  My music and a click track were emailed to me within a few days, along with an email that preemptively answered every question I’d eventually have throughout the recording process.  Even if I’d had more questions, the other members of the orchestra were happy to discuss the nitty-gritty of recording, offer tips and tricks, and compare notes on the actual performances (bowing, for example, is something I’ve never personally had to deal with but appears exceedingly important to string players).
The submission deadline was firm from the very beginning, and even though it was months away, the summer did fly by!   As someone who has always been a major procrastinator, both the deadlines and the constant flow of discussion from orchestra members were key in keeping the project at the front of my mind.

Take Thirty-Two

After practicing the piece for a few weeks with the click-track, I knew it was now or never.  I bought a USB mic off of Amazon – a Samson Go Mic, I believe – and clamped on my headphones, and I was good to go.  Well, or so I thought.
Turns out finding the perfect spot in the room for the mic – not so close that it spikes on forte and not so far that it doesn’t even pick up on piano – is not as easy as it seems.  I messed around for an evening, both with the gain on the mic and my own positioning, until I found a spot that worked.  Then I was ready to play!
And mess up.  And try again.  And mess up.
In retrospect, it wasn’t as bad as it seemed at the time – I think I was satisfied after two or three nights.  And maybe I could have done it in one night, except after a few hours I hit a point where I only make more mistakes, and I know when to quit.  Sending off the audio was rewarding, exciting, nerve-wracking – all the nerves of a live performance, really.
The video was another issue altogether.  I knew I would be leaving town, so I had to make it in one night if I wanted to make the deadline.  The good news is, the audio is stripped out and the finished mix put in, so it wouldn’t actually matter if I messed up, as long as I looked like the note was pretty.
The bad news?  Someone probably had to listen to it to line things up before the audio was taken out!  I’m envisioning them comparing the submitted audio with the submitted video and wondering if I broke my hands and face in the interim.  Oh, and something else I learned: keeping a normal face when I’ve just flubbed a note is not as easy as it seems.  Now I think back to every concert I’ve played, with the look of disgust I now know I get telegraphing every error.  Poker face I am not.


Today I was surprised to see that the completed video is already up!  Doctor Who loves its nods to the past and running jokes, and the fans are no different.  There are quite a few clever and funny costumes, props and jokes in the video – but I’ll let you watch it for yourself because, you know.  Spoilers and all that.
But I’m not just here to toot my own horn, as it were; at the end of the video is a preview of the next piece the DWFO will be performing, and I can’t wait to sign up!  But what about you?  Are you, or some Whovian in your life, a musician as well?  Start dusting off those reeds, doing those vocal exercises, and tuning those strings, because to be a part of this is fun you won’t want to miss!

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