Edgar Stanton, backstage booster
August 6, 2009
The founding board members of the Aspen Music Festival populated the audience of nearly every concert, except Edgar Stanton. Edgar resided backstage for decades performing an important role – recording the concerts.
As had been arranged by Harold Boxer, a director of the Voice of America Radio, all concerts (excepting student performances) were recorded for broadcast. Boxer provided Ampex single track (later two track) tape recorders and a Sennheiser microphone that dangled from the stage ceiling. Stanton acted as the on-site recording engineer. The tapes were dispatched to Boxer, who discarded those ruined by background storms and edited those remaining.
Edgar was a “type A,” meticulous creature of habit. He arrived 30 minutes before each concert and carried three Samsonite suitcases full of Ampex equipment and a black doctor’s bag of odds and ends from his car to a picnic table located right behind the main stage door. There he set up his equipment, placing the recorders on one-inch wood blocks to reduce vibration. After plugging in the equipment, he pulled the microphone cord down from above the stage, attached the microphone and reset its height. He placed reels of blank tape on the recorder, then turned his attention to the New York Times crossword puzzle.
One could surmise that Stanton was not fond of music. Often he turned his monitor off, seeming indifferent to the music on the stage. Occasionally he donned headphones and played his own music on a second deck. What was he listening to?
Opera. Edgar was a passionate fan. When visiting his Red Mountain home, you would hear it before reaching his doorway. He equipped his spacious, cathedral-ceiling living room with the finest and largest built-in speakers. He turned the volume to high. Stanton knew every aria by heart and would silently sing along. He was willing to sacrifice his seat in the Festival’s audience except for opera performances.
To enliven his solitary sacrifice, Stanton carried on a timing game with conductor Walter Suskind. It was important for Stanton to know how long each piece ran, owing to the length limitations of magnetic recording tape. Whenever he found himself near the end of tape on one deck, he would start a second deck to provide an overlap that Voice of America could use for seamless playback. Stanton relied on a reference book that gave the expected length of each composition. Suskind, inordinately focused on his conducting speed, would tell Stanton before going on-stage what he planned for timing, down to the second. When Suskind returned backstage between bows he would look at Stanton, who would check his stopwatch and announce the exact time.
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As a founding trustee of the Festival, Edgar served on the executive committee for many years. He never missed a concert and modestly shared Festival music with millions of Voice of America listeners.