Students Collect Gestures in Sound

by Steve Charles

August 2, 2014

Patrick Kvachkoff ’15 never spoke a word last spring when he was playing Charlie Chaplin in Stage Lights, the College's first silent theater production. This summer as he edited stories from dozens of alumni for the 2014 Scarlet Yarns story project, he had nothing but voices to work with.

Yet Kvachkoff says both projects were "kind of the same thing."

"In Stage Lights we weren't speaking, but we were 'saying things' to each other—only with movement instead of words," the theater/mathematics double major says. "And the stories in Scarlet Yarns are gestures in sound."

Those gestures in sound are the memories of 36 alumni from six decades of Wabash experience as interviewed by students during this year's Big Bash Reunion. Kvachkoff was one of five interviewers and served as sound engineer throughout three days of recording. He edited more than five hours of stories down to a remarkable CD for alumni and a series of podcasts posted on the College's Web site here.

"We say it every year, but this is the best Scarlet Yarns yet," says Marilyn Smith, who co-founded the project eight years ago. "And Patrick played the biggest part in making it the best."

Kvachkoff's creativity shines brightest in the introduction, a sound collage of well-known voices from the College's history. Old Wabash plays quietly behind the voices of Wabash presidents and deans—Frank Sparks from his appearance on the This is Your Life TV show, followed by Byron Trippet, Ben Rogge, Vic Powell, Pat White, Greg Hess, and others. Kvachkoff scoured the College archives and other sources to create a stirring opener.

"I was trying to create a narrative arc, so if you were to listen to the whole disk on its own it would feel like one complete experience," Kvachkoff explains. Smith believes he succeeded.

"The historical voices on the intros tie the chapters together as one project," she says. "I never get tired of hearing those voices each time I listen to a segment." 

Media Center Director Adam Bowen mentored Kvachkoff and is proud of the work: "He was resourceful, and that intro he built is perfect. You could try to create it 100 different ways and 100 times and not do it any better."

But Bowen also believes that changing the interview format from video to audio-only—more along the line of the national StoryCorps project—inspired more intimate and compelling stories.

"The audio set-up in the library—without the cameras and lights of previous years—made for a less intimidating setting," Bowen says. "Alumni seemed to feel a little more comfortable telling their stories."

Smith says students' enthusiasm for alumni stories added to that level of comfort. So did Kvachkoff.

"He appeared to enjoy every minute of the recording, talking with alumni, helping them relax," Smith says. "And he was cool under pressure."

And his voice—never heard during Stage Lights—was pitch perfect in providing narration and transitions.

"He projects a genuine interest," Smith adds. "He sounds excited about the project and the stories."

Kvachkoff joins a growing group of Wabash students who have embraced the Scarlet Yarns project, beginning with Josh Owens ’07 and Brandon Hirsch ’10 at the very first session in 2008 and including Austin Myers' inspired work in 2013. All have been supervised and taught by Bowen.

"It's always sort of fun to see a student listen to these stories, for him to actually process it and get something out of it," Bowen says. "They get more familiar with using technology to tell a story, they learn history, how to interact with all these alumni, how to listen. It's an encapsulation of everything we preach at Wabash.

"They shake hands and listen to alumni from the Class of 1950 through today, and these men are baring their souls, so there's a connection almost immediately. It's a real and honest emotional connection."

Which may reveal as much about Wabash as it does the storytellers.

"Doing this project showed me how much people value tradition here, but I think they value each other even more," Kvachkoff says. "Almost everyone I talked with mentioned the people they hung out with, or a student they thought was super impressive during their time at Wabash.

And the "must-hear" segments on a CD that covers everything from dogs on campus to teachers, fraternities, fellow students, off-campus excursions, and traditions?

"Make sure you don't miss the Dean Norman Moore stories and the episodes about Wabash faculty," Kvachkoff says. "Wabash had a lot of professors who made a big impression and were here for a very long time. We have a story from one alum who was here when Professor Paul McKinney began teaching, and another from the last year he was teaching.

"I think the stories give you a feeling of what the College is about. Wabash is a result of what people value, and what people remember and enjoyed about being here. I think the essence of the College can be reflected in people's memories."


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