When you think of a NFL halftime rock 'n' roll show, you might not immediately think of a string trio.
Think again! The Dueling Fiddlers -- violinists Adam DeGraff, Russell Fallstad and guest Morgan Weidinger -- had a blast playing for 65,000 fans at the Packers vs. Cardinals game Sunday at University of Phoenix Stadium.
Of course, this is not your typical string trio gig, so I had a few questions for Adam. For example, how do you fill such a huge space with sound? How do you make violins sound like they were always meant to be rock 'n' roll instruments? Here's what he had to say:
Laurie: You three managed to produce so much sound for this show, was this all just three violins? What technology were you using? What kind of electric violins, amps, special effects? Was there a loop thingie?
Adam: No loopers thingies. You make me laugh. Three violins. They are Five-String Realist Pro model violins made by David Gage. They are great. I could go on and on about them… I wouldn’t use them if they weren’t the BEST!
As for effects, they were minimal. We all played using compression. A massive subject in and of itself, the basic explanation is that it squashes the super-loud parts down a bit, so that the entire signal can be envolumed. It’s the opposite of classical playing, which uses dynamics and contour. But once you learn how to play with a compressor, it’s quite a powerful tool; it gives you a punch that can cut through other noise. For example, when you are in the car and you are listening to the Brahms Violin Concerto and you can’t hear the violin float above the bassoon after the cadenza, it’s because it can’t punch through the highway noise. Throw a compressor on that bad boy, and problem fixed. (I’m kidding… sort of.) It can introduce some problems as well, but we’ve figured out how to circumvent most of those. The only other effect we used was on Morgan’s violin. She played through a high-quality octave pedal which dropped her pitch down an octave. Basically, she was a compressed cello, which sounded like a fricken cannon in that stadium. You won’t hear it just listening on your computer speakers, due to lack of bass-capable speakers, but let’s just say, people’s spleens were shaking… in a good way! There were no other effects, other than actual techniques we’ve learned: chopping, distortion, whammy, delay, etc. You can buy pedals for all of that, but you can just as easily learn how to play the violin like a rock instrument. Lots of tricks using variable left hand pressure, bow pressure, sounding point, etc. Think ponticello on steroids… and caffeine… and maybe something else.
Laurie: Who arranged the music, and what tunes are in there? I’m loving that you segued from Guns N' Roses to the Pachelbel Canon!
Adam: Russell and I arranged it. Morgan wrote her bass part with our input. The NFL guys gave us very specific timing requirements. Seriously, like they would have shot us if we ran over 6:00. I am not kidding.
What are you hearing? Hell’s Bells (AC/DC), Lose Yourself (Eminem), Back In Black (AC/DC), Thunderstruck (AC/DC), Enter Sandman (Metallica), Sweet Child O’ Mine (Guns N' Roses), Canon in D (but in G, did you notice?), and then ended with November Rain (Guns N' Roses.) We went for big stadium songs, things NFL fans would recognize, but couldn’t resist throwing in some Pachelbel. Our goal, as always, is to mash the songs and relate them to one another so it doesn’t take on the feeling of a medley with song strung to song, strung to song. That be so boring! And, of course, we aren’t fans of classical-sounding rock violin, so we are pretty detailed about making sure the sounds we are creating are of rock persuasion. Russell and I have different takes on this sometimes. I lean towards the 70's; I like to disco things up a bit. (Groovy, right?!) Russell is more of an 80's hair band aficionado. And that is how you can tell us apart.
Laurie: Pretty cool to have a rock fiddle show at halftime, don’t think I’ve seen that!
Adam: It was a real honor to be asked to perform. It was an even bigger honor to be invited back for next season. And I think it is worth saying that when we play, we have a fee we charge, regardless of the "exposure" factor. They paid it, and, I would encourage all musicians to play for what they are worth, regardless of the exposure.
As for the violin, my thoughts are the same as they have been for a while now. Our boundaries as violinist, musicians, and humans are pretty much what we think they are. So if you think violins should end up in a stadium playing for 65,000 fans, they probably will.
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