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RANGELY | For decades, residents have been making sounds, some of them musical, in Rangely’s reverberant sound space known as The TANK. Local musicians recently took advantage of a new opportunity at The TANK Center for Sonic Arts: create a Christmas album.
The project, conceptualized and funded in October by longtime Rangely supporter Sam Tolley, brought together more than 40 local musicians to interpret Christmas carols anew, from a wistful, lingering version of “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” to an ethereal interpretation of “Carol of the Bells.” Most participants are vocalists, but the album also features strings, horns and wind instruments.
Miranda (Jackson) Hayes, a well-known Rangely singer whose low-range alto voice found its niche in the music of Patsy Cline and Martina McBride, moved to Nashville as a young woman to pursue a singing career. Last year, she and husband Scott returned to her hometown with their five-month-old son, Cooper.
Despite having grown up in Rangely, Hayes had never been in The TANK.
“It was overwhelming how awesome it was,” she said of entering the space for the first time. “The sounds coming out of there were sounds I had never heard before acoustically.”
Hayes joined singers Marie Morton and Amanda Garcia and cellist Michelle Jones for a TANK rendition of “We Three Kings.”
“Working with (musical director) Bruce (Odland) was great because he can take three people who are talented but may not know how to put everything together and make them feel confident about what they’re doing,” Hayes said. “Never having sung with the others, it was nice to hear new voices, and working with Bruce, it was like we’d been singing together forever. He turned it into something magical.”
Nov. 3-6, musicians involved with the project put in hour-long rehearsal and recording sessions. Contributors ranged from two school ensembles to local family band Fiscus and Gravy to tenor Kelvin White, who recalls watching welders reconstruct The TANK near his childhood home in the early 1960s. Musicians practiced independently in The TANK before solidifying and recording songs with Odland, recording/mastering engineer Mark Fuller and assistant Samantha Wade.
Odland, a “sonic thinker” and a prime mover behind the “Save The TANK” campaign that raised more than $46,000 to preserve the structure in 2013, welcomed musicians new to The TANK, like Hayes, and those familiar with it thanks to The TANK’s first open season in 2016.
“It was great to see how many people who’d come in casually on Open Saturdays and gotten used to The TANK marshalled their musical powers to do this thing,” Odland said. “This was not easy for people to do. I think it was most people’s first recording session.
“Everybody just developed super rapidly and we got beautiful recordings,” he said. “It sounds like Rangely and The TANK: the voices, the choice of material, the way people chose to play it. It’s really an expression of the heart of the town. It’s gorgeous.”
Unseasonably warm weather, musicians gathering in the sound studio to review takes and kids playing kickball outside The TANK between sessions characterized four days of rehearsals and recording. Saturday evening, 20 community singers joined soloist White and guitarist Dan Fiscus in a group sing of “Silent Night.” The song is the last of 13 tracks that, together, compose more than 40 minutes of music.
In the October brainstorming session that initiated the project, Tolley’s focus became twofold: raise money for local entities struggling under a downturned economy and draw people together for a common purpose.
“I thought it would be a way to bring the community together,” Tolley said. “I mean, things are tough. A lot of people are hurting, so let’s do something for The TANK and for the schools. We haven’t had a real bright spot for a while, but with kids up there singing in The TANK, I think it’s worked and that will continue…Everybody wants to change the world, and we can’t all do that. But we can change our little part of it.”
Tolley believes that a community that trends toward giving and a solid product in the CD, called Rangely A’Caroling at The TANK, could mean a real benefit over time to the schools.
“I know that Christmas CDs outsell all other CDs combined,” he said. “We can sell them next year, too. When this all started, I said, ‘I think we could sell a million of them if we could turn out a good product.’”
Now, post-production, Tolley believes the end result fits the bill. The CD is available at Rangely schools and retail stores and online at www.tanksounds.org/caroling for $10, with proceeds from the first 1,000 CDs going directly to the RE-4 School District. Half of all subsequent profits go to the public schools, with another 25 percent going to Colorado Northwestern Community College and 25 percent to The TANK Center for Sonic Arts.
As the CD approached the final stages of production, Odland reflected on the process.
“We set out to do something almost impossible,” he said. “Nobody in their right minds would try to do 13 groups of people in a 65-foot-tall tank with 40 seconds of reverb in two days. This was an insanely difficult schedule. Fortunately, Mark (Fuller) and I were the only ones that knew that. And so everybody just acted naturally and did their thing. And everything flowed beautifully.”