Accuracy versus entertainment – 10 rounds

by martha on March 29, 2013

Nearly 140 interviews into the tenor book, I’m trying to wrangle all the material. I have binders full of transcripts, and tapes yet to be transcribed. Typing up a verbatim record of the conversation is hard to do. The hardest part, I’m not kidding, is deciding on the punctuation. Think about it: no one talks in complete sentences unless he’s reading a speech. And when you’re discussing topics and themes that are hard to put into words anyway, you don’t have the thought fully formed as you start to speak. There are starts and stops, changing direction, finding the right words, jumping to another thought that suddenly occurs to you. How could I translate all this to the printed page? Where do the commas go? or a semicolon? how about an ellipsis? when would a dash be better?

It was important to make sure I was retaining the flavor of the conversation, preserving the rhythm and cadence, conveying the personality and intelligence of the speaker, and sharing the fun we had in talking about everything under the sun. After the transcribing’s done, I listen to the tape again, following along on the page, correcting, adjusting, notating as I go. Everything stays in except the umms and mm-hmms, though even those are in the transcript. But not in the final product.

I take out most of the repetitions, most of the incomplete thoughts. With some of my multi-lingual interviewees, I have occasionally Anglicized a word or phrase (no matter how charmingly descriptive), so he or she will not come across as uneducated—the truth is exactly the opposite, as my subject’s English was always far better than my halting, fragmented Italian, Spanish, German, French or Russian. But I wanted to show the thinking that was taking place, the struggle we sometimes had to find the words. Bottom line: I haven’t “corrected” the quotes to the point of perfection.

But everyone can seem either pretty stupid or stale as Saturday afternoon’s toast when their animated comments are no longer linked to the inflection in the voice, a twinkle in the eye, the sound of laughter. Most of my interviews have been with performers who were, at times, playing to me, sometimes more than a little; and sometimes that was as much a comment on what was being said as the words themselves. To that end, as needed, I have tried to tell what was taking place with a description of facial expression or gesture. But when reduced to letters on a page, what was dynamic and fluid in conversation can appear lifeless as a court transcript being read back to the jury.

Lifeless is not what I want here, so let’s just say that the interviews are being, à la Rosemary Woods, “edited for clarity.” So what exactly does that mean? How accurate are these comments? The answer is, very. I have no wish to sanitize anything and I certainly don’t want to make my conversation partner sound like me—otherwise, I’d have just made all this up and not bothered doing the interviews. These are their stories and their words.


Mixing things up

by martha on May 7, 2012

As I start getting back into the book, I’m running into options. Forks in the path. This is my favorite part of a writing project, the not-knowing-where-it’s-going. Can’t wait to see the twists and turns it will take (and take me with it) towards the final form.

The way I answer the questions that come up helps determine that path, of course. Here’s one: cameras and film. When I go to meet these new interviewees, which camera do I take? Film or digital? 99 percent of the photography in the book, including interviews, has been done with film and it gives a look that can’t be matched by pixels, no matter how many mega they are. Add in that a major theme of the book is the historical lineage of teaching, singer-to-singer, and I feel… I want… I think I should stay with what brought me to the dance.

Here’s another: interviews. Do I need more interviews? I’ve talked with some 110 people already and the majority were filled with discoveries and parallels that intrigued me at every turn. When I found myself, in the last 2 or 3 interviews, knowing what they were going to say and not finding anything new, I realized I’d gathered everything I needed. But a few years have gone by and the focus of the book has shifted a bit.

To fill in some gaps, I’ve started a list – and the requests – for interviews with a handful of young tenors… with a couple more (current) big stars… and some who can link the teacher-to-student legacy for me.

Keeping track of which teachers, for instance, I have conversations with, I’ve always kept my interview list in alphabetical order within voice/job type. A few days ago, I decided to do something I’ve always done when shooting – that is, to look from another perspective. I re-ordered the list chronologically, and thought it was a disaster, showing up the difference between working on the book full-time versus part-time. But my book mentor saw the glass half-full, and said Wow!

So, keep going. Renewed energy. Clearer vision.

Here’s what I found – number of interviews/locations:
1998 (Oct – Dec)
22 – 4 in San Diego, rest in LA, SF, NY
1999 (Jan – Oct)
71 – SD, Mission Viejo, Irvine, Palm Springs, LA, NYC, upstate NY, Mass, London, Faversham, Chicago, Bloomington IN
5 – 4 SD, 1 LA
5 – 4 SD, 1 Cerritos
3 – SD
1 – SD
1 – LA
4 – SD, LA, Virginia
1 – SD
2 – SD, Seattle
2009, 2010, 2011
probably 5 – 1 SD, 4 SF
working on it…


Hey, old friend / What d’ya say, old friend?

April 8, 2012

Today: recovering from a particularly intense (and tense) week at work, intended to catch up on homework for my class. What did I actually do? Spent every moment I could find with my old friend, the Tenor Book: organized files, electronic and paper glanced at some of the work I’d done over the years, both […]

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Once again…

April 1, 2012

The tenor book. During the last 14 years, this project has variously been my frustration, my focus or my inspiration, and sometimes all at once. More than 100 interviews, 65,000+ miles of travel and thousands of hours in, I’ve dealt with one interruption after another – “life getting in the way” I call it. I […]

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She’s back… with some whine

March 27, 2011

Has it really been a whole year? Ay ay ay. Been working on the site, new design, mental commitment… hasn’t quite translated into sustained activity. I tell myself I’m getting there (does that count?) and console myself with awareness that this is connected to my real work, my writing. And try not to make myself […]

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How your Blurb book can deliver perfect happiness

February 19, 2010

I’m happy with my book. Maybe that obsessively perfectionist streak of mine pays off. Or maybe it’s just the research geek in me. Yesterday one of my FAB friends reminded me that there is no problem/topic/issue that cannot be squashed flat by piling enough research on top of it. Made me laugh, because I can […]

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How to survive self-publishing

February 17, 2010

I’ll never be any traditional publisher’s dream client. I don’t fit in. I mean, I’m pretty happy to have gotten my elevator speech on the current book down to four and a half minutes, but that doesn’t make for easy marketing. So it’s a good thing I have a day job. Figuring I’d sell fewer […]

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How to write a book, 15 minutes at a time

February 2, 2010

What, am I nuts? I work full time at a high-stress job. I go to school at night. I’m the sole caretaker for my 84-year old mother. And I think I’m going to write another book? Me? I don’t have time to write. That was a year and a couple months ago. This week I’m […]

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“Finish” isn’t a word in an artist’s dictionary

January 31, 2010

Attention to detail can turn into paralyzing perfectionism in nothing flat. The former is a wonderful characteristic to have, while the latter prevents me from completing work — and moving on to something new. I’m hardly alone in this; most artists have this problem. It’s the nothing-is-ever-quite-good-enough reaction that comes from turning your insides out […]

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Camera Lineage

December 12, 2009

In my journeys with cameras, I’ve worked almost exclusively in black and white, enjoying the affinity I have for the shades, the grays—and for film. As digital cameras started to become more available, I stopped shooting. Though I now have a digital SLR and find it… umm, utilitarian, it’s just not a creative tool. It […]

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