“the bass drum heard ’round the world”Posted: August 8, 2016
Today I was looking up obituaries of Frederick Fennell (looking for birth and death dates, but that’s another story). Fennell is known as the father of the mid-century band revival in North America with his fifties Mercury Living Presence recordings of existing band classics, played by his creation the “wind ensemble” (45 piece band with only one player on many parts), at Eastman School of Music in Rochester, NY. A generation of band masters was influenced by his conducting style which physically evidenced both his passion and his nuanced understanding of those works and which was clearly evident in those recordings. When I was an impressionable high school/university player and first heard those recordings, Fennell instantly became my band hero. The first one I owned was “British Band Classics” which included the Holst First Suite. Fennell captured Holst’s third movement success at reaching a polyphonic climax made up of the themes of the first two movements and crowned it with a gigantic bass drum accent, before a more subdued ending.
One of the Fennell obituaries I read was from Telarc. Telarc’s story was that they were one of the first recording companies to use digital techniques in the mid seventies and were looking for a way to demonstrate the superior dynamic range of their invention. They soon thought of the Fennell Eastman Mercury recordings and, since both Telarc and Fennell had originated in Cleveland Ohio, it seemed appropriate to have Fennell recruit the Cleveland Orchestra brass, woodwind, and percussion sections (and friends) to carry out the demonstration recording. According to Telarc that original digital recording made a great impression on audio-philes, bragging about the many reports of home speaker systems blown apart by what they dubbed “the bass drum heard ’round the world”.*
- For the benefit of non-Americans: the iconic quote “the shot heard ‘round the world” was (is?) known to every school child in USA to describe the opening gun shot of the American Revolutionary War. “heard ’round the world” may not seem amazing in the global digital age but in its time may have been an example of an inflated American national ego.