Behind Dan Brown’s ‘Wild Symphony’: In conversation with Bob Lord of PARMA Recordings

From the #1 New York Times bestselling author Dan Brown, comes this very special, inventive and unique book, Wild Symphony. This marks the author’s debut in picture books and has stemmed from his love of music. Not only are all poems amid an orchestral score with music composed by Dan Brown himself but also with an interactive experience, which the readers can witness as they hover over each page, employing a free smartphone app. This app uses augmented reality to play the appropriate song for each page when a phone’s camera is held over it. This one-of-a-kind book will take young readers on an exciting journey through the trees and across the seas, meeting many animals just like the big blue whale, speedy cheetahs and tiny beetles. Peppered with joyful illustrations, each standalone poem within the book has an empowering lesson for youngsters and champions good emotional health for the very young. It’s humorous, musical, and uniquely entertaining! It’s also embedded with something special for the typical Dan Brown fan – puzzles and codes.

Behind the music for Wild Symphony is the visionary producer, composer, bassist, and the CEO of PARMA RecordingsBob Lord. Lord’s work was nominated in two categories for the 2020 GRAMMY Awards. We spoke with him about his collaboration with Dan Brown, his creative process and the music business at large.

Serenade Team: You’ve come up with this phenomenal work which, in our opinion, should be made compulsory for all kids to introduce them to the world of Western classical music. What got you involved with this project?

Bob Lord: I first met Dan Brown about 15 years ago and we become friends after that. We actually met on stage. My trio was performing at an event here in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Dan was also at the event. I had found out that Dan was in fact a musician and a lot of people did not know this. That is how we really connected. Many years ago he said he wanted to get involved again with music and asked me to be his producer. Five years ago we started recording together and about two years ago was when we really cracked this concept of Wild Symphony. Dan had some of the music created already and with his publishers we started working together. It took us a couple of years to really get the whole thing finished in terms of the music, the book and the app. It has been a long process but I’m glad that the world is finally hearing it and I’m so happy that you think it should be compulsory because I completely agree with you! It is a great way to introduce kids to music.

ST: What was your creative process with Dan Brown towards recording this music? Tell us about the Zagreb Festival Orchestra.

BL: On the process, Dan Brown is a very talented composer. Just as he is a writer, he has some of the same attributes as a composer – he is direct, he is crisp, he knows how to engage an audience and he knows how to create something which is effective. He really has a knack for this in his writing. He thinks orchestrally as well. He writes on the piano. Whatever music he wrote was clearly the result of some thought and planning.

I have worked with an orchestrator for many years. His name is Karl Blench. Karl’s a good friend and we’ve worked together on a bunch of projects. I thought he would be a great fit for this one. It was a really interesting process to work with Dan and Karl. Dan had a clear idea about the orchestration that he wanted. As we worked together, we made some tweaks and tried a bunch of things. Karl had a ton of ideas regarding the colour and orchestration in all of it. It was really interesting to think about the group creativity. Composers are singular creatures, authors are most definitely singular creatures as they sit alone and write! To be together and work in a team setting was really energising for Dan and I think it helped the music really sparkle in the end.

The Zagreb Festival Orchestra existed back in the late 1980s. They made one record and then civil war broke out in Yugoslavia. They were a private enterprise and stopped making music together. A few years ago we were determined to put the band back together! We worked with one of the original violinists to scout the right people for this group. We decided that this group would be great for this project for a couple of reasons. First, we hand picked all the players and know everybody in the group. Second, I believe that music sounds better when it is played by people who are enjoying it. I wanted to make sure we had people who were really feeling it. A good attitude is necessary to make good music. Talent is everywhere all over the world. What isn’t everywhere all over the world is the ability to collaborate and the ability to really give something of yourself when you’re playing. We had to stop takes while we were recording because people were laughing or because they were stomping their foot along with the music. There was a really good vibe that I don’t frequently see when I’m recording with a symphony orchestra. Overall, the result was just terrific.

Dan Brown with Miran Vaupotić, conductor, and the Zagreb Festival Orchestra at Wild Symphony recording session at Blagoje Bersa Concert Hall at the Music Academy of the University of Zagreb in Zagreb, Croatia | Photo: PARMA Recordings

ST: Recording today is not the same as before due to budgets shrinking year on year. What do you think is the future for the music business?

BL: Music is no longer a commodity as it was in the past. Classical music as a commodity has a different value proposition. It is not the same thing as rap or pop. Music wasn’t always a commodity – it became one. And now we’re on the other end of that spectrum. More creators need to embrace that concept. It is very difficult to keep doing what you want to do when there isn’t a mechanism in place that generates the required capital. At present, there is the deep commoditisation of music that is happening around the world. The streaming revenues are such small slices of the pie, coupled with the virus situation and health circumstances, which are precluding the primary mechanism for classical music. I don’t think classical music is just about tapes, records or CDs. It really is about history, culture, the concert hall and that whole experience. What we are seeing in the market is that there has been way too much great content neglected for way too long. There are thousands of composers who have never been heard before. It is a tragedy. I really do feel that as the music industry develops and as we continue to see more convergence points of styles, which is of course what I love as a rock-n-roll kid who became a classical music producer, it is those interceptions of music that I really love. In the market we are seeing the blending of styles of music and the way in which ensembles conceive of themselves. That is a great thing. I hope we continue to see more music by women, by people of colour and by neglected minorities. Where I see the future going is definitely towards recording new music for new audiences.

ST: What gives PARMA Recordings a competitive edge over the traditional studios?

BL: The interesting part about our company is that we’re a studio without a studio. That’s the one thing that we don’t have. Human resources are the most important aspect of any organisation. I really believe in long term working relationships. We’ve had the same management team for over 10 years. When I began this process of putting together this company, I wanted all of the production control and none of the responsibility which is the ideal situation. when I put the company together, I wanted everything under one roof thereby controlling the entire production cycle thereby ensuring that we’re not going to have any kind of errors that occur frequently. I knew then and I know now that this one-stop-shop approach has been really beneficial. That’s what I want to give to our artists and people that I work with. The challenge right now is having to do things remotely which took a bit of an adjustment for us. This team is one of the best and it matters when you care. We are also lucky to have an international team. We have staff in four countries and that has helped to make us to be flexible especially during these times. Our exposure to other markets puts us at an advantage.

ST: What advice do you have for young producers and composers who are starting out their careers?

BL: It is really important to hold opposite concepts in your head all the time. Life is full of contradictions and if you can’t do that then you’re going to be in big trouble in this business. I believe everybody needs to have an open artistic viewpoint, to have a blue sky approach to things where there are no limits or restrictions, where there is nothing holding you back to truly allow your mind to go and say, ‘What if?’. I have been so fortunate to live my dreams and work with my idols. I got to produce a record with Pete Townshend from The Who. He is the reason why I got into this business in the first place. I have been really fortunate to dream crazy things as a young kid and then to make them happen. Anything is possible. On the other hand, there are practical matters at hand as far as sustainability, revenue and your career is concerned. The potential producer or modern composer need to have a sense of what the output is. That is really important to understand what the purpose is. Life is long and you end up meeting the same people. Be honest, be kind, collaborate and help others. What goes around really does come around.

‘Wild Symphony’ will come roaring to life onstage at the Croatian National Theatre in Zagreb on October 9, 2020 at 2 PM EDT. The world premiere will be performed by the Zagreb Philharmonic Orchestra under the baton of Miran Vaupotić. For those in attendance, the hall will be kept safe with ‘Wild Symphony’ decorated face masks, socially-distant seating with stuffed animals taking up seats between parties, and more. The performance will also be streamed on Dan Brown’s official Facebook page, and will be free for all viewers to tune in and enjoy.

Click Here to Order the Book

Click Here to Hear the Album

Click Here to Download the App

Click Here to See ‘Wild Symphony’ Live

Wild Symphony album cover with illustrations by Susan Batori