A Devilish Endeavor

Recording the music in Devil’s Trill. A story within a story.

We wanted to do something different.

Something creative. Something artistic. Something that had never been done before. With Devil’s Trill, we wanted to make an audio book that integrated music and narrative.

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And there was so much music to go with the mystery! Hours of it. Should the music be performed in full? Should the compositions come at the end of the chapters in which they had been part of the story? At the end of the book in the form of a recital or master class, perhaps? My producer, Alison Larkin, and I discussed countless possibilities.

Ultimately, we decided that for the sake of the story we’d adhere to the philosophy, “Less is more.” The story was king, and the music must serve the story. We would use excerpts of the music to augment, to highlight, and to provide clues to the listener regarding the theft of the infamous Piccolino Stradivarius and the murder of Victoria Jablonski.

So the first task was to decide: What music to record? During the course of the book there were performances or discussions of countless repertoire, including the Mendelssohn Concerto, the Beethoven Concerto, the Paganini Concerto in D, Sicilienne by Paradis, the Sarabanda from the Bach Partita in D Minor, Zigeunerweisen by Sarate, and of course, the most important composition relative to the story, the Devil’s Trill Sonata by Giuseppe Tartini.

Oh, and I’m leaving out an unknown composition by the legendary (and mythical) diminutive 17th century violin virtuoso, Matteo Cherubino (aka Il Piccolino). I would have to compose three minutes of a wistful Sarabanda which he improvised for his lover, the Duchess of Padua, as he stood naked in a cold bedchamber.

With these tasks in hands I started practicing months in advance of our goal of finishing the project by the end of 2016.  As I practiced all this music I had to not only hone my technique, but also distill the hours of music to the essential excerpt for the purpose of the story. They had to fit within the story.

When I was finally ready for that I went to a recording studio in Utah which provided incredible state of the art equipment and a first rate recording engineer who created the sound of a European chamber music hall as the context of my recording. He gave me the cue to start and let me go. Most of the music was for violin alone, but there were a few things that required piano. A local pianist, Jayne Galloway, whose able playing I’d known for many years, arrived at the studio. We started to record without even rehearsing, but within a half hour we felt we had accomplished what we needed to for the Paradis Sicilienne and Paganini Concerto. Then, for the next few hours I just played and played and played each excerpt–each of which was anywhere from 20 seconds to three minutes–until I had a sufficient number of takes for each composition from which I could select one that was good enough. At least that was my hope.

The engineer sent me a single audio file, several hours long, to my computer. I put on the headphones. I  had to listen to each take endless times to make sure there were no flaws, either technical or musical. For example, for Piccolino’s Sarabanda, I used a different violin tuned down a half step to reflect the intonation of 17th century Italian Baroque music, and played with selective vibrato that was the performance practice at that time.

Once the excerpts were selected was the next crucial step: where exactly to insert them into the reading of the story. (The reading, by award-winning audio book reader Jim Frangione, had already been completed at a studio in Massachusetts.) So again, with my headphones on, I stopped and started the playback of Jim’s reading to decide upon the exact split second, noting where each excerpt should start, how long it should go on before the reading recommenced, and whether at that point the music should end or simply taper under the voice.

Having made all those decisions, I shared my ideas with Alison and Jim for their input and we further refined the process. I then got on a plane and went to Massachusetts to huddle with them in a tiny studio in the basement of recording engineer, Jason Brown. I had my fingers crossed that Jason could accomplish a couple of special special effects I requested. For Piccolino’s Sarabanda he was able to create the echoey sound of the violin resonating in a stonewalled room with a high ceiling, and for the Paradis Sicilienne he was able to add the distinctive scratchy sound of an old 78 recording. We spent hours haggling over timings, volumes, and fades. Everyone had their own opinion, voiced from the perspective of their own expertise. It was a fascinating process and though we were exhausted by the end of it, we emerged still friends and with a unique and amazing Devil’s Trill audio book. You can listen to a sample HERE. And between now and August 21, for every download purchased on this link $5.00 will be donated to the Stockbridge Sinfonia, a wonderful amateur chamber orchestra, for its student scholarship fund.

Having gone through the process, we’re ready to move on to the next book in the Daniel Jacobus mystery series, Danse Macabre. Some of the great music in Danse Macabre is the spectacular Kreutzer Sonata by Beethoven, the elegant Sonata in D Major by LeClair, and of course, the diabolical Danse Macabre by Camille Saint-Saens in which the devil raises the souls of the dead from the grave with his beguiling violin. I hope you will enjoy my performance by clicking on the link HERE.

To raise money for the production costs of Danse Macabre, I’ve established a KICKSTARTER CAMPAIGN, which in its first weekend raise more than 25% of our goal! I invite you to become one of the backers of a unique musical literary experience and be a part of mystery!




“A musical feast for mystery and music lovers.” Library Journal


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