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Turkey Calls Just One of Many
Thanksgiving Sounds Filling Corridors of Geisel Library

Ioana Patringenaru | December 1, 2008

Turkey Call
Glenn Motil showed how to use instruments that imitate the sound of turkeys calling.

It’s not often that patrons at the Geisel Library hear the sound of turkeys calling—or eggs frying, or a cow being milked for that matter. Yet these are exactly the sounds that could be overheard Wednesday in the building’s Arts Library. And, no, patrons weren’t suffering from a collective case of Thanksgiving fever. They were just taking part in the library’s special pre-Thanksgiving performance.

Before the event, staff member Scott Paulson had joked that his target audience was staff members who couldn’t get away early the day before Thanksgiving. And indeed, Wednesday, most audience members seemed to be employees on their lunch break. A few seemed to be students. All looked like they were having a great time.

One of the performance’s high points came when Matt Swagler, a bright pink hat on his head, stepped up to demonstrate how hunters use crude instruments to imitate turkey calls. He held a small disk made of resin, and rubbed it with a stylus. At first, the resulting noise just sounded like scratching. “You have to be patient,” Swagler explained. And indeed, little by little, the noises mutated into turkey calls, much to the audience’s delight.

Turkey Call Turkey Call
Left: Scott Paulson demonstrates how to clean an oboe with a turkey feather.
Right: Matt Swagler uses an instrument that imitates turkey calls.

Swagler was followed by Glenn Motil, clad in a hunter’s camouflage coat. His two instruments were much easier to use, essentially imitating turkey calls at the push of a button. “This requires no talent,” he joked. The trick is to make faces, which make it all seem really hard, he went on to explain.

Soon after the turkey calling was over, it was the audience’s turn to get into the act. Some were wielding slide whistles, eggbeaters and other noisemakers that Paulson’s partners in crime had handed out before the performance.  They got to use their “instruments” during the program’s last piece, titled “Heroic Farm-Style Pancake Breakfast.”

Paulson called it a “tone poem,” but it didn’t involve what you would traditionally call musical instruments. Instead, bells, pots and pans, egg beaters and the like, most held by audience members, were used to re-create a family’s routine on Thanksgiving Day. The bells were for the alarm clock noise that started off the piece. The eggs beaters were for the sound of the pancake batter being mixed. The pots and pans were for re-creating the sound of a Thanksgiving meal. Finally, the audience was asked to cheer, just like they would upon watching a football game.

Turkey Call Turkey Call
The audience, including University Librarian Brian Schottlaender (right, first row), took part in Wednesday's performance.

“This piece is very dramatic,” Paulson instructed everyone.

The audience had a “score,” made up of pictures showing the piece’s various scenes—an alarm clock at the beginning, a teakettle whistling in the middle and someone washing dishes at the end. They even got to do an encore for the benefit of a local TV station that was capturing it all on camera.

Wednesday’s performance also included a selection of turkey-themed oldies played by D.J. Priscilla Lázaro, two songs performed by library songbirds Katie Spencer and Robin Chandler , a Thanksgiving story read by Health Sciences staff member Melanie Treco and even a piece of French classical music, sung by engineering staff member Satomi Saito. Paulson himself performed on the oboe the song “Autumn Leaves,” with original lyrics by French poet Jacques Prévert.

Turkey Call
One of Paulson's partners in crime uses kitchen utensils to imitate the noises of a Thanksgiving meal.

“I loved it,” said Lee Ann Swingle, a staff member at the Geisel Library. “It’s so fun.”

She said she came to see the performance because she enjoys Paulson’s work. She had brought her two children, Murphy, 15, and Rory, 12. Swingle said one of her favorite moments in the performance came when everyone in the audience received plastic, “vegetarian” wishbones.

“They will make wishes come true in a snap,” Paulson said. “Vegetarians take note: no fowl.”

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