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We polled eight SNC professors for their favorite sounds, and their answers range from amusing to insightful to instructive. Enjoy listening in to this first in our two-part series!

Listening In

Sound is a powerful thing. Whether we’re talking the gentle patter of a spring rain, the roar of a fighter jet or the celebratory popping of fireworks, any given sound can evoke numerous emotions. Research even suggests various sounds can do everything from reduce stress to promote healing.

With this in mind, we polled eight SNC faculty members about their favorite sounds. Their answers ranged from amusing to insightful to instructive. Here are responses from four of the eight. Later this summer, we’ll unveil what the others had to say. Enjoy!

Bonnie McVey (Computer Science)
listeningin_mcvey220.jpgMcVey’s favorite instrument is a well-played guitar or piano. She says that when the computer science lab is too quiet, she threatens to start singing to break the silence.

Sing in the shower or car? I sing in the shower, the car and on my Harley. I am never quite sure if anyone can hear me singing while I am riding my Harley – I hope not. While riding on Sunday mornings, the songs are usually hymns I remember my parents singing. Other times, anything goes!

First live concert: The Doobie Brothers, followed by Chicago. Both were in 1978 at the Brown County Arena. The best live concert I attended featured Garth Brooks – great energy. Currently I attend performances by Bent Grass, a local bluegrass band in which my brother, John, sings. I also soon hope to hear and dance to Groove Knight at our wedding reception – the leader of this band from Austin, Texas, is Dave Pankratz Jr. [McVey and Dave Pankratz (Computer Science) are to marry in June. Dave Pankratz Jr. is Dave's son.]

Can’t live without: Sirius XM radio, turntable, CD player. When home, most of my music is on LPs, 45s and CDs. Thank goodness turntables made a comeback.

Birds singing or wind in the trees? Every sound Mother Nature makes for us is awesome.

Foghorn or church bells? Church bells ringing joyfully.

You’d never guess: How many things you really hear when you go to a quiet place.

Whistling or humming? Neither.

On my wish list: To hear the natural voices of my students, without being digitally transmitted. To always enjoy and appreciate the sounds of nature around us. To always hear what is in the hearts and minds of those I love.

The Rev. Mike Brennan ’99
Brennan is chaplain of the college parish, and one of his favorite sounds are the bells that ring 10 minutes before Mass on Sundays and weekdays. “It brings me great joy to be out on the sidewalk welcoming our students, visitors and parishioners inside for the celebration of Mass,” he says, adding it’s one of the moments he’s missed the most during quarantine.

Favorite instrument: Either piano, drums or pipe organ. I took piano lessons when I was in grade school; I liked playing, but hated practicing. The final song I learned for a school recital was Beethoven’s “Für Elise.” I definitely regret stopping piano lessons and have often thought about taking it up again. I like the drums, but have never taken lessons. As for the organ, as a member of St. Norbert Abbey, I have come to appreciate the organ. We chant morning and evening prayer accompanied by the organ. It is such a rich instrument that accentuates the beauty and depth of the chanted psalms.

Podcast vs. TED talk: I have never really gotten into the podcast thing. The only one I listened to faithfully for a while was Father Jordan and Frater Johnathan’s “Canons on the Run.” [We featured A Running Saga of Religious Life in our Spring 2018 issue.] There was a time when I would go down the TED talk wormhole and listen to several in one sitting, but I haven’t seen one in quite some while. I’ve been meaning to listen to Carol Bruess’ TED talk, so hopefully admitting that I haven’t listened to hers yet will be inspiration enough to do so before this is published. [Carol Bruess ’90, professor emerita from St. Thomas University, studies communication and family relationships.]

First live concert: Live in Milwaukee first day of classes freshman year with my roommate, Pat Mannion ’99, and buddies of his. I have probably only been to one or two other concerts since.

Can’t live without: Silent prayer time before the Blessed Sacrament in the Abbey Church, and “Tantum Ergo,” “O Salutaris Hostia” and “Holy God, We Praise Thy Name” as part of Eucharistic Adoration.

Birds singing or wind in the trees? Wind in the trees is much more peaceful, although I do love the birds singing in the afternoon. But birds singing also make me think of the turkeys gobbling outside my window at 4 a.m. – let’s just say peaceful isn’t the word that comes to mind.

Foghorn or church bells? Church bells, especially those at St. Norbert Abbey and those at Old St. Joe’s.

You’d never guess: I really like to sing, even though I am often told that I do so poorly and off-key.

Joy Pahl (IBLAS)
listeningin_pahl220.jpgPahl’s favorite instrument to play is the piano, while her favorite instrument to listen to is the guitar. A member of Audible since 2005, she says it seemed like a technological miracle to be able to access nearly any book in a professionally produced audio format.

Sing in the shower or car? Both. And usually loudly! Growing up, my dad, one of my brothers and I always had a song for everything. It was normal to burst into song when something happened that seemed to connect to a song we knew. This continued with my own children. I do realize, however, that it is quite possible that not everyone appreciates living in a musical, so I try to control myself.

Podcast vs. TED talk: My favorite podcasts are “More Perfect” (about the U.S. Supreme Court), “StartUp” (about business startups and entrepreneurship), “Revisionist History” and “Radiolab.”

First live concert: Hall & Oates, age 19. Of course there is a story here, but I will refrain!

Can’t live without: Something to listen to in the car – audiobook, podcast, music or talk radio. Also, I cannot resist blasting any song by Journey while in the car.

Birds singing or wind in the trees? Birds singing, especially mockingbirds. When I was in graduate school in South Carolina, the mockingbirds were extraordinary – truly the grandmaster of song birds.

Foghorn or church bells? Church bells. Although I would rather hear them from a distance than while standing directly beneath them! 

Kindle or Audible? Audible! I have been listening to recorded books since the early ’90s when I rented cassette recordings of books and listened to them on my Sony Walkman. I just finished listening to “Nothing to See Here” by Kevin Wilson and narrated by Marin Ireland.

Worst earworm: “The Lion Sleeps Tonight.” My husband plants this earworm from time to time by whistling it.

You’d never guess: During junior high and high school, I played the snare drum in a bagpipe band with my two older brothers (one played the bagpipes and one played the tenor drum). The band was actually pretty good!

Whistling or humming? I like to whistle, because I think I am quite a good whistler. However, I have zero tolerance for other people whistling. I’m not sure why, although maybe it’s because when I’m around other people whistling, it’s usually my husband whistling “The Lion Sleeps Tonight.” Unfortunately, I mentioned my zero tolerance for whistling to my friend and colleague, Matt Stollak (Business Administration), and now he whistles whenever he walks past my office.

Leah Hutchison Toth (English)
Toth’s scholarly focus in Modernism is sound studies. A former music writer and concert promoter, Toth also creates music under the name amelia courthouse. The feminist record label Spinster released Toth’s first album last November.

Sing in the shower or car? Both, and almost always nonsense songs about my dog, Virgil.

Favorite instrument: For playing music, these days I really like the shruti box, a drone instrument with origins in India – similar to a harmonium. It’s fun to play and figure in to all sorts of musical contexts. Every shruti box is a little different, so it has a unique resonance in recordings.

Podcast vs. TED talk: I don’t like listening to recordings of any kind of talking or lecture, but I do like listening to classic country music on the radio during short drives. A lot of the songwriting is cheesy, but there’s a formula to it that’s remarkably hard to get right. When it’s done well – say, in Toby Keith’s song “I Ain’t as Good as I Once Was” – it’s delightful wordplay.

Can’t live without: Modal jazz or the Grateful Dead. Both constitute joyful music, and both make me very happy when I’m listening, usually while cooking dinner.

Worst earworm: Various sitcom themes: “The Patty Duke Show,” “Sanford and Sons,” “Taxi,” “The Andy Griffith Show.” These aren’t worst in the sense of being bad; they’re worst in that they’re catchy and get stuck in my head.

You’d never guess: I was a church organist when I was in high school and, later, in college. I used the money from the first wedding I played to buy tickets for a Metallica concert.

Watch for Listening In, Part 2, in our next issue. Among our interviewees will be Elaine Moss (Music), Debra Faase (Education) and Bob Kramer (History).

July 24, 2020