Watertown native returns home to produce
"The Exquisite Risk of Civil War Brass:
The 1st Brigade Band"
Chuck Werth, Watertown Daily Times, February 9, 2002
While the 1st Brigade Band has often supplied music
for documentaries and other film projects, this is the
first time it has been the focus of one.
A new documentary has been produced about the
1st Brigade Band and its performance of original Civil War
period music on original instruments. It is called The
Exquisite Risk of Civil War Brass: The 1st Brigade Band.
This past summer, Dan Senn, creator of the
documentary, followed the band at performances,
rehearsals and social events to gather material for
the video. Interviews with band members and friends
of the band are featured in the documentary. Much of
the original footage for the documentary was shot in
Watertown. On July 4, 2001, Senn filmed the band's
every movement in Watertown from ladies getting into
Civil War period costumes to walking in the midst of
the band as they marched down Main Street.
Watertown's Heritage Hall, 504 S. Fourth St., the
home of the Heritage Military Music Foundation (HMMF)
and the1st Brigade Band, is featured prominently in
the documentary. Senn describes the film as exploring
the relationship between a Union Army reenactment band
and its collection of vintage Civil War instruments.
Senn sets out to "examine the conscience-raising
influence that instruments, still at a stage of experimentation,
have on the lives and functioning of a band from Watertown."
In that context the video "delves into gender and
authenticity issues as well as the natural inclination to
anthropomorphize instruments which resist easy
performance," according to Senn.
The1st Brigade Band is described by Senn as having
extraordinary originality, leadership and musicianship.
The 40-minute piece is entirely presented in the words
of band members as derived from interviews.
Like Senn's own experimental instruments, these Civil
War period instruments had been experimental in the
1860s and, according to Senn, "exhibited many of the
same peculiar traits of my sculptural instruments.î
He describes these traits as "an innate awkwardness
which rendered them difficult to play by standards of
modern instruments." Senn describes the experience
not of "playing" one of these old horns but "negotiating"
with the instruments.
Senn's curiosity was piqued. "I was curious to learn
the nature of imperfection in their instruments and
how ongoing exposure was affecting band members as
individuals and as an ensemble." The idea for the
documentary was born, Senn comments, ì"I had to find
out and The Exquisite Risk of Civil War Brass:
The1st Brigade Band is the result of these inquiries,
through interviews and recording the band in action."
A synopsis of the filmís contents and more
information about Senn and his artistic endeavors can
be found at http://www.newsense-intermedium.com.
Senn spoke about the creative process involved in
producing a documentary film. "The direction a piece
takes is, of course, impacted by what interests me up
front," he commented, "but once I am on the ground
shooting, I'm quite willing to throw all of that
overboard and to just gather as much interesting
footage as possible. Therefore, the message and
direction of the piece doesn't really take hold until
I'm back in my studio logging all the material into a
database, in this case, all 29 hours of footage!"
As with any video project, hours of film ended up
being cut. All of the original footage will go into
the band's archive.
When asked about the process he used for editing and
producing the final product Senn said, "I decided to
use a kind of non-linear approach to presenting the
For an example, in the video as individuals are
talking about the characteristics of calf-headed snare
drums on one level, "I present, through visual
example, the cooperative spirit of the band on another
and then merge these on a common point later on."
He said, "This multileveled, and almost nonlinear
approach enables me to reveal far more content in
just 40 minutes than if I were to stick with more