A little over a year and two months ago, Steven Byess (music director for Portland Columbia Symphony) asked me if I wanted to perform Ney Rosauro's Concerto for Marimba with the orchestra. I couldn't believe it! This is a piece that I have been in love with since I started playing marimba 25 years ago, the most famous piece ever written for the instrument, and what an honor to get to play it with the orchestra!
While the concert season as proposed had to be abandoned due to Covid-19, a new season of concerts started to take shape. I proposed that we put the Concerto back on the program and record it virtually. This approach, if filmed correctly, would give the audience a completely different experience than what they were used to in the concert hall. They would get to see the marimba up close and personal. If we placed the mics close to the instrument, the audience would hear what I hear when playing, the sound that made me fall in love with the instrument.
What better instrument to show off than my brand new 5.0 octave Marimba One Wave I had just purchased. Since the instrument was going to get so much up close exposure, I thought it would be worth a shot to ask if they wanted to sponsor the concert. When they agreed to be a sponsor, I couldn't believe it! It keeps getting better and better!
When recording any piece virtually (all parts recorded at different times and edited together), you have to create a "recording track" which amounts to recreating all of the pieces entirely the computer. To give the musicians the feeling that they are playing with other musicians, and of course to keep everyone playing at the same tempo, this is a terribly important step. The musicians then play along with the tracks in headphones when recording and then all recordings are edited together and match completely. This part of the process took a month by itself. The track has to feel human so its easy to play with. It has to follow all of the dynamics, all of the speeding up and slowing down, and it has to provide a point before the playing starts where the player clicks their sticks on camera "to the beat" to give a sync point visually and audibly.
This task takes time as every note of every piece has to be entered into a midi grid in the recording software before "virtual instruments" can be applied to the parts. The Lacrimosa was easy as the kids and I had already created a track in Zoom class (we had been working on this since before the concert was proposed). Water was easy as I had already written out the sheet music and could transfer the midi over from the sheet music notation program. The Nimrod backing track had also already been created by Jim CasellaÂ when Tapspace published my arrangement andÂ made a recording of the piece as an audio sample. A couple back and forth versions with Jim's help and we were set for Nimrod. But the Rosauro concerto was the biggest piece and was going to take a long time.
I decided to reach out to Ney Rosauro's publishing company to see if they would be willing to sell me a digital copy (midi) of the Concerto. They told me they would reach out to Ney and see if he still had the digital file of the music (I freaked out at the idea that Ney was going to be contacted on my behalf-again, Marimba Royalty). A couple days later I got an email from Ney Rosauro himself and just about fell out of my chair. Alas, he no longer had the file for the music, but I was now in direct contact with the COMPOSER!!! I saw that he was doing lessons on Zoom and so I asked him if I could get a couple lessons on the piece before I started the final recordings, and he was delighted at the idea. Floating on air for a few minutes, and then the reality sunk in that the composer of the piece I would be recording was going to hear me play it. Marimba Royalty....... I had been practicing the Concerto for 1 1/2 hours a day for the last nine months. After that I'm sure I was getting close to 3 hours a day. I think it took three weeks to get the backing/recording tracks made for the Concerto, and then I quickly made versions of each movement at multiple tempos so musicians could practice with the track at full tempo and at slow tempos for the tricky spots. I sent the tracks out to musicians and started formulating a plan to be able to record each piece/movement visually.
Once we had an outline on how to record everyone else's parts for the concerto, I needed to dial in how I was going to film my portion. I wanted the visuals to be as stunning as the sound, so I reached out to some filmmakers I know to see if they could set up there fancy cameras and lights in my studio so I could record for a couple days. Even on friend prices, this was going to cost more that I had in the budget for the whole project. I needed to look good, so I decided to spare no expense. I bought two Black Magic 4k cinema cameras, 6 lenses, black back drops, lighting, and got my editor on zoom to help me frame up my shots for the concerto. I made notes for each shot on aperture, color light temperature, ISO, marked the floor for tripod placement, built a structure on my ceiling to hold the lighting and cameras, and took test shots. Video, wow- I have a new appreciation for the directors, editors, and colorists that work on films and visual media.
Once I had all of those notes done, I needed to figure out the shoot for Water. Here the idea was to film me playing the marimba solo I had written and then Erwin would edit in shots of Kenton painting the pieces that inspired the music. Erwin lives in Jakarta, so we met on Zoom in my early morning/his late night to talk through his brilliant plan. I was blown away by the level of detail, vision and thought he had already put into the project. He provided me with hand-drawn story boards and a list of lenses and exposures that I should use for each of the 12 shots (beginning to end) that he needed from me. I had set up an extra 42" tv as a monitor and ran long HDMI cables to be able to see the camera frames, and be able to share it with someone on Zoom. (could not have done this project without Zoom). I needed to get him the footage of me playing first so he could start putting everything together on his end. As you will see, his editing job was more demanding than anything else on the concert combined. We are all so spoiled!Â