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Nashville's Fireworks Show Has Its Own Maestro

KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

Nashville takes its fireworks seriously and the music that goes with them. The fireworks are not pre-programmed to music. Amy Eskind of member station WPLN reports that Nashville's display is carefully choreographed to live patriotic medleys by the local symphony.

AMY ESKIND, BYLINE: The fireworks in Nashville have their own maestro. Larry Trotter is a pastor, a former disc jockey and rock band guitarist.

LARRY TROTTER: We want the music to accentuate the fireworks and vice versa. We want them to really marry.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

ESKIND: On July Fourth, Trotter sits on the symphony stage behind the trombones. He fixes his eyes on the conductor, timing the fireworks to the live music. Months of planning go into this night.

TROTTER: Yeah, every second of the show is scripted in terms of fireworks, every second. OK. What's going to work here? What's going to work there? What shells?

ESKIND: Trotter works for Pyro Shows, based in Tennessee. They are masters at selecting the cascading sparkles, thunderous booms, strobes, hearts, stars, Saturn rings and ribbons of color to illustrate the songs. Then, Trotter studies the musical scores to get the fireworks to explode at the precise moment. Numbers are assigned to each launch.

TROTTER: All right, this is going to be cue number 20. And on cue number 20, it's going to launch these things and these things that have compatible launch times.

ESKIND: So this is what it sounds like during the show -

TROTTER: Ready 33 - fire. Ready 34 - fire.

ESKIND: Trotter has to do a calculation. For instance, at the end of "God Bless The USA," Trotter wants to have big shells break on the last letter. It all depends on the symphony's tempo.

UNIDENTIFIED SINGER: (Singing) And I won't forget the men who died.

ESKIND: Every firework has its own timing, but for those shells, it should take six seconds from the time he yells fire until they actually explode in the sky, so he has to back-time.

TROTTER: Then you go back on the soundtrack 6 seconds and you put that firing cue in.

ESKIND: Trotter gives the command to fire on the word God.

UNIDENTIFIED SINGER: (Singing) God bless the USA.

TROTTER: And then six seconds later, boom. And it works really well.

ESKIND: On the night of the show, he doesn't watch the fireworks. The score that he's looking at may include parts for 40 different instruments, so it's easy to get lost.

TROTTER: The mistakes that I've made have been when I knew we were doing some killer effect in the sky and I just took a second to glance back, and then you turn and you go, oh, no, oh, no. I think I'm two measures behind.

ESKIND: While quieter segments are paired with wind bells that flicker and hang in the air, heavier horn and percussion segments call for serious fire power.

TROTTER: The "1812 Overture" is probably the most fun.

(SOUNDBITE OF PERFORMANCE OF "1812 OVERTURE")

TROTTER: Because of all those cannons. You know, we try to reproduce the sound of the howitzers that were actually written in the original song. But we use these big 3-inch salutes that are insanely loud. Even from across the river you can feel them. They're not just like boom, da-da-da-da (ph) da-da-du-du-da (ph), boom, da-da - he actually scored them randomly so that it would sound like random cannon fire.

(SOUNDBITE OF PERFORMANCE OF "1812 OVERTURE")

ESKIND: Directing the fireworks to live music takes years to develop, and it's time to teach the rare skill to an understudy. Tonight, a high school choral director will stand behind Trotter, learning what it takes to sync up 60,000 explosions with a live symphony. For NPR News, I'm Amy Eskind in Nashville. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.