Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Between River and Mountain latest audio book

Earlier this month, I completed production of my latest audio book. “Between River and Mountain,” an historical romance, by Sally Walker Brinkmann.

I’m happy to say the book has just been released in time for holiday season downloading and gift giving.

The book is set during the American Civil War. Sally Brinkmann, born in Washington but a resident of West Virginia for more than half of her life, populated her story with a very large cast of characters whom she skillfully weaves in and out of the sprawling three hundred page novel.

The area in which Sally Brinkmann chose to live, as well as her strong interest in its history, strongly informs the narrative. The portion of Virginia that would become West Virginia, especially Morgan County, was a turbulent area on the border between North and South, its residents having conflicting loyalties, often paying dearly, during or after the war, for being on the “wrong side.” While the novel begins in this hill country, it also takes place in other parts of Virginia, including Richmond, as protagonist Rob Johnson’s activities include the transport of slaves northward via the Underground Railroad.

As a voice actor, I found it an irresistible challenge to delineate and bring life to the rich mix of characters.  Indeed, I remember telling Sally as I was working on the final chapters that I was going to miss this project when I finished it, as I genuinely liked so many of the characters, their strengths, their flaws, their grit, their special, often endearing, quirks.

The project was something of a departure for me. As I read the audition script, it suggested to me that the narration might be voiced as if contemporaneous with the events. I chose an old Virginia flavor, sort of on a lark, and with some amount of trepidation, as Virginia has many different regional sounds, to say nothing of the hill country regions that would become West Virginia. When the rights holder informed me that the author liked my read on the audition, the course was clear as to how I’d proceed. I hope this approach, as well as the portrayal of the wide range of characters will create some effective “theater of the mind” moments for those who purchase the audio book. 

Here is a longer clip. This second montage begins in the Point Lookout prison camp in Maryland, where a wounded Rob meets Irishman Tim Foley, who will arrange an escape. It also includes scenes subsequent to their escape as they return to Confederate territory and are initially taken for deserters.

The two month project even affected me as a photographer, as the narrative was so rich in descriptions of the terrain and the different kinds of light that mark the seasons in this hill country. I know I will enjoy exploring it with the cameras.

The audio book, which runs 10 hours 45 minutes, is available on, and, by the time you read this, should also be available for download on Amazon and iTunes.

If you are at all attuned to audio quality, I should mention the following. I’ve often been known to cringe at some of the brutal audio compression that appears on certain web sites. This is usually done in the name of the quickest loading, but, speaking personally, it does nasty things to my voice quality. Thus, while the audio book itself has none of that “compression nastiness,” if you’d like an idea of what the production actually sounds like before making your purchase, please use as your guide the embedded player above (or go to my SoundCloud page, accessible through my web site) to listen rather than the audio clip that appears on the Audible site.
©2015 Steve Ember

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Tuesday, November 17, 2015

The “Enigmatic” Serendipitic Connection ‘twixt Surgery and “A Sea Symphony”…

…or do you really gotta have surgery to hear the Sea Symphony?”

"English Ships in a Light Breeze" (oil painting by Charles Brooking) from my EMI recording

Two of my very favorite works of British symphonic music are the Enigma Variations by Sir Edward Elgar and Ralph Vaughan Williams magnificent “A Sea Symphony.”

The latter is a work involving a large chorus, two soloists in verses by Walt Whitman, and a very large orchestra. When performed in a great concert hall, it is a stunning experience. Whether experiencing it live or on a fine audio system, it is most definitely on my special list of “goose-bump-raisers.” Perhaps because of the large forces required, one does not get the chance to enjoy it live all that often (at least not around here).

Or maybe it’s just the fact it’s not by Mozart or Beethoven?

The wonderful Enigma Variations enjoys a bit more frequency in terms of live performance hereabouts, but still not often enough for me. Oh, well, that’s why we have CDs, LPs, and large stereo amplifiers pushing fine loudspeakers.

While I’d loved “A Sea Symphony” for years (and played it often on my programs when I was hosting classical music on the wireless), it wasn’t until 2004 that I got to enjoy it live in the concert hall.

In April 2004, I underwent surgery to rebuild my left thumb joint. The operation, I’m happy to say, was a complete success, and as I was recovering and still several days away from having my big hand cast sawed off, I heard radio spots for an upcoming performance at the Kennedy Center of the “Sea Symphony.”

Fortunately, it was April, so no bulky overcoat would have to be negotiated with the “Royal Blue Monster Claw.” Thus, as quick as one could say “Vaughan Williams,” I was on the phone to the Kennedy Center to reserve my seat for that Sunday afternoon performance. Even splurged on a Parterre Box seat up front on the left side of the Concert Hall to get as “up close and personal” with the orchestra, chorus, and soloists as possible for this first live hearing of this monumental work.

What a memorable concert, and a very nice treat I gave myself as a post-surgery present!

In the years that followed, I always kept an eye out for a performance of “A Sea Symphony” (also known as the Vaughan Williams Symphony No.1). But, unless I missed notice of it, as far as I know, it lay dormant, at least in terms of a Washington or Baltimore performance.

Now, here is the “Enigmatic” serendipity…

It’s eleven and a half years later, and I’m a couple weeks into recovery from an operation to repair an inguinal hernia.

You guessed it, didn’t you? Radio ad for a performance this Sunday by The Washington Chorus  of “A Sea Symphony” at the Kennedy Center Concert Hall. Not only “A Sea Symphony” but the chance to enjoy - on the same program! - a performance of Elgar’s masterful “Enigma Variations.” It too, especially the (highly Elgarian!) final variation is on the “GBR” list.

Care to guess where I shall be this coming Sunday evening?

And a special thank you to Dr. Martin Paul at Sibley Memorial Hospital in Washington, whose deft laparoscopic surgical touch earlier this month would ensure I’d not miss this “traditional” post-surgery musical treat.

Oh, yes, if you’re wondering what I meant by the goose bumps reference above, why not sample a bit of this special treat from the 2013 BBC Proms performance at the Royal Albert Hall as Finnish conductor Sakari Oramo (who, you can tell, really enjoys  British music!) conducts the BBC Symphony Orchestra, BBC Symphony Chorus, BBC Proms Youth Choir and soloists Sally Matthews & Roderick Williams.  

This is where I want to be when next I immerse myself in “A Sea Symphony!”

Gee, d’you suppose I might be able to do that one without the surgical prelude?

©2015 Steve Ember

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