From Our Soundbooth | September 25, 2020

This week, we are so excited to feature “Going Home: Voices of the Condemned” by Pinckney Benedict and Anthony Nalker, which was selected by 2020 Miller Audio Prize Guest Judge Alex Sujong Laughlin as the runner-up this year in the Audio Documentary category.

Pinckney Benedict grew up on his family’s dairy farm in West Virginia. His stories have been published in, among other places, Esquire, the O. Henry Award series, the Pushcart Prize series, the Best New Stories from the South series, and The Oxford Book of the American Short Story. He is a fiction professor in the creative writing program at Southern Illinois University Carbondale, where he has recently originated a podcasting lab, a virtual reality lab, and a game design lab for student writers.

Anthony Nalker performs widely in Washington, D.C., currently serving as jazz pianist with the Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra and the National Symphony Orchestra Pops. From 1989-2016 Tony was the pianist of the premiere jazz ensemble of the U.S. Army, the Army Blues, and served as the group’s enlisted leader. Nalker played for the highest levels of the U.S. government and military and performed on USO tours to Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as State Department sponsored musical diplomacy tours to Russia, Kenya, and Ethiopia. Nalker has also composed several works for various settings, including a commission by The National Gallery of Art for a children’s multimedia work about Henri Matisse and a musical adaptation of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter. He received his undergraduate degree from James Madison University and an M.A. from the University of Iowa.

Listen to “Going Home: Voices of the Condemned” below:

Artist Statement – Pinckney Benedict

I spend a good bit of time reading epitaphs, elegies, NTSB transcripts of aircraft accidents, and the last words of famous, infamous, and non-famous people. When I spoke about this habit with my friend and long-time collaborator, the composer Tony Nalker, he suggested that we should create a musical piece using verbatim the words of people who were facing imminent execution. We’ve attempted to create out of this stark material something both dramatic and factual, without polemic. Tony’s music is fluid and beautiful, and with any luck the piece evokes both sadness and surprise.

Artist Statement – Anthony Nalker

Pinckney and I are long-time collaborators, going back to our teen years growing up in rural West Virginia. This project, made at his suggestion, seemed like an interesting and new way for us to combine our disciplines using cutting edge technology. Utilizing the 19th century American folk song “Going Home” for the underscore of the work, I first recorded a virtual choir as a bed, slowly morphing through different keys, trying to not overshadow the text. I then added a jazz-influenced piano line, adding some audio processing to help create the distant and ethereal nature of the piece. “Going Home” is often sung/played at funerals and is a theme used in Antonin Dvorak’s New World Symphony.