Closed Captioning Rebels

My daughter Stephanie, who has nothing wrong with her hearing, turns on the closed captioning for most of the television programs she watches. I’ve asked her why she does it. Stephanie explains she does it because the text streaming across the screen often has spelling, grammatical and other errors that make it difficult for hearing impaired individuals to really know what is being said.

My husband Fred does the same thing. In fact, so does my son.

I’d never done it until I was given the charge of closed captioning Rebels on Lake Erie for the Western Reserve Public Media.

Knowing how my family takes such delight in finding errors in closed captioning, I decided I’d provide an exact transcription. My closed captioning would be perfect – no grammatical errors, no misspellings and no odd representations of what was being said. When hearing impaired viewers – or anyone else – switched on the closed captioning, they’d really know what was happening in my documentary.

That sounds like it would be really easy. After all, I had a script, a word-for-word transcription of all the interviews and even the words for the songs we used.

The only thing was we’d made a lot of changes to that script as we tried to get the program down to the required 56 minutes and 46 seconds.

What did that mean?

It meant that I spent a week huddled over my trusty Mac laptop double checking every word so I could send a perfect script to the closed captioning company in Colorado recommended by Western Reserve Public Media. (Please keep in mind, I also had papers to grade and a variety of other documentary-related stuff to do.)

And so when Rebels on Lake Erie finally airs on WNEO and WEAO on April 23, I invite you to turn on the close captioning and check out just how good a job I did.

Kathleen Endres

Documentary Production & Insomnia

This blog entry will – by necessity – be short.

It’s not that I don’t have a lot to share.

Production this time has been fraught with difficulties that I really want to write about.

But dealing with video format questions and issues associated with high-resolution scans of 19th century illustrations that jitter on the HD screen seem beyond my abilities to discuss right now.

You see I have insomnia.

I wake up almost every morning about 2; and, instead of going back to sleep, I start grading papers, laying out the program for the debut of the documentary (April 19, 2012 in Akron), or working on the cue sheets for every photo and/or illustration used in “Rebels on Lake Erie” that Western Reserve Public Media needs.

If I walked around the neighborhood in the wee hours of the morning, I bet I’d see lots of houses with solitary lights burning. It’s not because my neighbors are wasting electricity; it’s because someone in the house probably cannot sleep.

According to a survey of the National Sleep Foundation, 58 percent of American adults report having insomnia a few nights a week. Consumer Reports found that 44 percent of those responding to a survey couldn’t fall asleep right away. The National Institutes of Health estimated that up to 70 million Americans are dealing with sleep problems.

And they can’t be all producing documentaries.

Consumer Reports, National Sleep Foundation and the National Institutes of Health all agree that high stress is the number one cause of insomnia.

No wonder I’m not sleeping at night.

Producing documentaries is a high stress sidelight to my regular high stress job, college professor.

And the stress of the documentarian only increases the closer it gets to the special event public premiere or the broadcast. Unfortunately, both of these events are taking place at the end of the semester, the highest stress time for professor and student alike.

No wonder I’m not sleeping!

So let me tell you what the next three weeks will hold: a public premiere of the documentary (complete with Civil War re-enactors, music and a panel – April 19); a broadcast (April 23 on WNEO/WEAO); a last flurry of papers and final exams (the week of April 30).

Ever the optimist, however, tomorrow I’m going to start following advice that Women’s Health offers insomniacs – no coffee after 2 p.m. and a half hour brisk walk. (My dog Sadie has volunteered to accompany me – what a pal!)

I’ll let you know how that works out….

Kathleen Endres

Rebels’ Theme Song

The theme song for our documentary, Rebels on Lake Erie, is “The Rebel Soldier.”
It’s a song older than the Civil War. Folk singer Jerry Silverman dates the tune back to a British ballad in the Seven Years War (1756-1763). Another source simply calls it a traditional Southern Appalachian song.
Whatever its origin, this song seemed ideal for the purposes of our documentary. Okay, we admit, there’s lots of sexism in the words. The unknown lyricist blames poor Polly for the soldier’s decision to fight in the war. Yet the refrain, “I am a Rebel soldier, and far from my home,” seemed perfect for our story, a story of Confederate officers imprisoned on Johnson’s Island and the pirate who tried to free them.
“The Rebel Soldier” is a well known song that has been recorded by many artists, including Waylon Jennings, Bobby Horton and Dave Mathews. Each artist brought his own distinct sound. Jennings’ rich sonorous voice offered a sad perspective but it had a more modern-sounding melody; Bobby Horton’s version had a faster pace that seemed inconsistent with the lyrics; Dave Mathews’ adaptation had a full orchestra that wasn’t quite right for our documentary.
Our documentary is using folksinger/musician Jerry Silverman’s arrangement of “The Rebel Soldier.” Silverman is well known for his arrangements of historical songs. This arrangement — used with his permission – comes from Silverman’s Civil War Songs and Ballads for Guitar. Silverman has published other music books, including his most recent The Undying Flame: Ballads and Songs of the Holocaust.
Silverman’s arrangement of “The Rebel Soldier” is a slow, haunting tune. It was designed for the guitar but a variety of instruments play it during the documentary. Each instrument brings its unique sound but the sad melody remains, whether it is played by the piccolo or the banjo, the violin or the viola, the trumpet or Irish tin whistle. You’ll hear the words as well. Popular Ohio folksinger/composer Chuck Keiper sings the song in the introduction.
We hope you agree that Silverman’s arrangement of “The Rebel Soldier” is the perfect refrain for our documentary.

Rebels on Lake Erie & Music

Over the past six months, a dozen musicians have worked with 19th century sheet music as they recorded for the documentary Rebels on Lake Erie. The result has been extraordinary. The music has added so much to the story we’ve told.

All the musicians have been fabulous. All donated their time. When you see the documentary, I’m sure you’ll agree that they are tremendously talented.

However, one musician in particular has been central to the musical success of Rebels on Lake Erie – Katrina DeFord. Katrina is a former music major who now studies Communication at The University of Akron. I’m certain she never expected to play quite the role she did when she first joined our Saturday editing sessions in January. As a production major, she just wanted an opportunity to watch our Emmy-award-winning editor — and nice guy–Matt Rafferty work his magic on the Avid editing system.
That first day, in a lull in the editing, I asked Katrina what her major had been. Music, she innocently replied. My ears immediately perked up. Do you play an instrument? Yes, she replied, the viola.

Matt Rafferty and Gabor Smith, the assistant editor/audio editor, know me pretty well and they figured something was up. By the end of the editing session, Katrina had agreed to record some music for the documentary. She’s very good.

Over the past couple months, she’s spent a lot of time in the recording studio in Kolbe Hall. In addition, she’s brought her sister and brother in law into our musical team. But Katrina has also served as our musical consultant, advising us on music placement and what we still needed with regard to music.

Now that all the music is recorded and placed and the editing is done, I was reluctant to let her off the hook. So I asked Katrina to write a bit about the whole experience of using 19th century arrangements in this documentary.

So, below is Katrina’s perspective on the music of Rebels on Lake Erie.

“Throughout recorded history music has served as a mirror of society, reflecting people’s hopes and dreams as well as their conflicts and pain. In experiencing music of the Civil War era we relive in part what the citizens of that period lived in full, in particular the emotions that coursed through our nation as our country was torn apart.
In performing this music on my own instrument, the viola, I attempted to capture the mournful longing of soldiers who feared they might never see their home again. The original melodies were primarily folksongs, well-known to boys far from home, and perhaps the only familiar element of a life left far behind. These time-worn melodies allow us to share even now what our fellow Americans experienced over a century ago.

The selections I recorded for this documentary were taken from transcriptions for solo voice with piano accompaniment from the Historic American Sheet Music collection at Duke University. As such they sometimes required transposition to adjust to the range of the viola, which is pitched somewhat lower than the more popular violin. However, the viola, better-known for carrying the middle voice in the classical orchestra, is well-suited to the somber mood of many Civil War pieces, such as “Do They Miss Me at Home?” Often written in the minor mode, these lonesome melodies depicted the longing of the soldier for home, and the worry of those left behind. Without a single word the sadness of loneliness and death are clearly portrayed.
As with every war, people also need music to lift their spirits. The music in this documentary also includes pieces such as the glorious “Riding a Raid,” which was recorded on piccolo. These upbeat tunes are generally composed in major keys, often with syncopated rhythms, a triplet feel, or a march-like beat, in contrast to the slower tunes recorded on viola.

The music in this documentary thus reflects both the hardships and hopes of those affected during the Civil War, supporting the recorded facts with the emotion appropriate to the story being told.”

Stay tuned for more stories of the music of Rebels on Lake Erie.

Music & Rebels

In 1862, a reporter for the New York Herald (a great newspaper during this era) observed, “All history proves that music is as indispensable to warfare as money….” That was a popular sentiment. Confederate General Robert E. Lee once said that without music, there would be no army.

Both were clearly overstatements; but, as Irwin Silber in Songs of the Civil War (1960) observed, the Civil War was the “catalyst of the development of our music.” No war before – or after – has produced such a variety or quantity of songs

Timing may have been a part of this.

During the antebellum period, Americans had a seemingly insatiable appetite for music. There were singing schools and musical societies, brass band concerts and music in the home. The sheet music industry was blossoming, so middle-class Americans could purchase popular parlor music.

Given this enthusiasm for music, it was little wonder that songs could be heard throughout the Civil War – around the campfire, while soldiers marched into battle, or in the home as families attempted to keep up spirits.

Music was also vital to the documentary, “Rebels on Lake Erie.”

Over the past six months, we’ve been working on locating sheet music that would capture the many moods of our story. As much as possible, we wanted to use the musical scores of the Civil War period.

Luckily in this time of the internet, this proved to be relatively easy.

So for those of you musical purists, who want REAL Civil War music, here’s some sources that we found especially helpful during the preparation of “Rebels on Lake Erie.”

By far the most helpful of all the websites was Duke University’s Historical American Sheet Music Collection. I’m really partial to this collection because I first found the song “The Prisoner’s Lament” there. That song had been written and composed by two Confederate officers imprisoned on Johnson’s Island. Although I’d seen the lyrics in a private collection, I had never seen the score before. Popular Ohio folksinger Chuck Keiper — accompanied by Vicenzo Volpe on the Irish tin whistle – used the original score when they recorded the song for the documentary. I cannot say with absolute certainty – but I think this may be the first time this song has ever been broadcast — and it’s probably been decades since it’s been performed.

The 3,042 pieces on the Duke University website are fully searchable. According to the website, “The collection is particularly strong in antebellum Southern music, Confederate imprints, and Civil War songs.” And, having browsed the collection, we can attest to the strength of the holdings.

One of the benefits of just “browsing” is seeing the extraordinary illustrations used in the sheet music of the day. There’s humor; there’s patriotism; there’s racism; there’s sexism.
The illustrations alone reflect American culture during the Civil War.

Of course, there are other websites that offer sheet music from the Civil War. The Library of Congress offers more than 2500 pieces (again all searchable) in its Civil War Sheet Music Collection – and many of them cite Duke’s collection.

One of the popular musical genres of the Civil War, of course, was band music. And the Library of Congress offers an online collection drawn from its own Music Division and from the Walter Dignam Collection of the Manchester Historic Association in New Hampshire. What’s interesting about this collection is that it provides – in addition to the 700-plus musical compositions – photos of brass bands and recordings.

The Library of Congress also offers access to more than 1,300 pieces of African-American music from antebellum days, the Civil War, the Gilded Age and early 20th century. There are 1,305 (fully searchable) pieces in the collection, which is from Brown University. As is the case with the band music, the Library of Congress includes photographs as part of the website.

The Library of Congress has also started its National Jukebox initiative. You can browse through some nice historical recordings – and photographs. For our project, however, we preferred the (searchable) Cylinder Preservation and Digitization Project from the University of California, Santa Barbara. It specializes in cylinder recordings, obviously, from the late 19th and early 20th century, which is a slightly earlier period than what the Jukebox initiative covers. The version of “Battle Cry of Freedom” is from the Santa Barbara cylinder collection.

If you don’t care to use the original sheet music, there are a number of songbooks that cover the time period. The ones we’re citing are all available – full text – from the National Archives website: S. Brainards’ Sons, Our War Songs North and South (1887); Wilson Smith, Grand Army War Songs (1886); George F. Root, Charles Carroll Sawyer and Henry C. Work,
Our National War Songs (1892).

If you are interested in Civil War music, check back to the blog this week because you’ll learn more about the special issues associated with Civil War music and integrating music into a documentary.

If you’d like to hear a fuller array of the Civil War music we used in Rebels on Lake Erie, you may want to swing by the public premiere of the documentary, 6:30 p.m. April 19 at the historic Quaker Square Inn, 135 S. Broadway, Akron. If you want more details, email endres@uakron.edu