Overdubbing, or: How I learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Microphone

by Jim Nova

When I was a little kid, I came home from school with my report card and it had all As and one solitary B+. My dad pointed at the B+ and said, “What is this? These need to be all As!” I told him, “I did the best I could” (which was not true) and he responded, “No excuses! There are 24 hours in a day. You will find a way to make the impossible, POSSIBLE!” I rolled my eyes and thought to myself, “Who talks like that?” Put a pin in that…

It’s incredible for me to realize I’m in my 12th season as the 2nd trombone player of the mighty brass section of the Grammy Award Winning Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. In addition to playing 2nd, I’m also the “Utility” player which is a fancy way of saying I’m the “Mr. Fixit” of the trombone section. I primarily play 2nd, but I also play 1st and bass trombone parts as needed, sometimes at the last second if a last-minute illness or emergency arises. I’ve performed on stage at Heinz Hall deploying the entire orchestral trombone family which includes alto, tenor, bass and even contrabass trombones (sometimes several on one concert!).

This battle station is QUITE operational! (2016)
Jim Nova in his recording studio
Jim Nova as Superman!
Jim Nova as Superman!

In the summer of 2012, before the start of the PSO season, I wanted to find a new fun way to get my chops back in shape for the rigorous demands of the PSO brass section. I thought, “What if I take one of my trombone choir arrangements of John Williams’ music (which I absolutely love) and see if I can record ALL the parts myself?” I chose the “Superman March.”

This started a journey into a fun and rewarding activity known as overdubbing, or multi-track recording. I really had no idea what I was doing at first, but I was a fast learner and picked up steam quickly. I began by posting my recordings on a website called SoundCloud which is like YouTube but just for music. I thought maybe a couple of trombone players might listen to my projects and boy was I wrong! As I type these words, my SoundCloud site has passed 1.2 Million listens! Who knew? This activity is not only incredibly rewarding artistically but has helped me maintain and improve my playing in ways I never thought possible. It’s become a cornerstone of my practice and teaching efforts.

Then…enter 2020…

With COVID hitting arts organizations so incredibly hard and everyone being forced to stay quarantined, all of a sudden, this fun and productive skill I had been using over the past eight years was globally relevant. Turns out I was WAY ahead of the curve.

My text message and email inboxes became flooded with people all over the globe wanting desperately to know, “Yeaaaah… ya know that whole overdubbing thing you do? How do you do that? Can you teach me? I don’t even know where to begin!” Friends from orchestras all across the country from the NY Philharmonic to the Seattle Symphony were in touch. To help as many folks as possible, I actually made a YouTube video called “Overdubbing for Beginners.”

As I was unable to play with my wonderful PSO colleagues for the foreseeable future, I decided to treat this difficult time as an “unplanned sabbatical” and in addition to making more overdubs, I dove into the other side of musical production: video editing. I acquired a new piece of software called Final Cut Pro and after some tutorial videos, got to work developing my own YouTube page! 

The first video I made was of a beautiful trombone trio titled “In Memoriam: A Chorale After Bruckner,” written in memory of Murray Crewe by his former Duquesne University student, Brian Pappal. Murray was the long-time bass trombonist of the PSO. When I joined the orchestra in 2012, we became fast friends and he sadly passed away in 2017. 

After this project, I decided I would venture out and see if I could get some of my PSO brass colleagues involved in a project. I went to back to where it all started with overdubbing and I arranged the “Superman March” for brass ensemble. After many Zooms and phone calls, I was able to get my PSO colleagues Chad Winkler (trumpet), Mark Houghton (horn), and Craig Knox (tuba) up to speed on home recording and created what is still my most popular video! As I write this, it has almost crossed 43,000 views! 

Chad Winkler, Mark Houghton, Craig Knox, Jim Nova
Chad Winkler, Mark Houghton, Craig Knox, Jim Nova
Blues Hymm by Wycliffe Gordon

Since the first PSO Superman video last April 15, 2020, I’ve been a busy bee creating some 43 videos in total, which have a combined 150,000 views and 6,300 hours of view time! These have involved many of my PSO colleagues as well as many other wonderful musicians including many of my students. In addition, since the pandemic started, via Zoom, I’ve given 18 Masterclasses at a variety of conservatories, colleges, and high schools extolling the use and value of technology to have fun getting better on your instrument and collaborating with others, even at a distance.

As we all see the light at the end of the tunnel of this pandemic, I am excited to get back to Heinz Hall. In the meantime, I have tried to make the best of this difficult time to maintain and improve my playing and teaching. Someday soon this will be all over, and I plan to be ready to go! 

The older I get, the smarter my Dad gets (I’ll never tell him that…lol). Let’s continue making the impossible, POSSIBLE!!

A Memorial Day Tribute: Chorale from "Hymn to the Fallen" by John Williams
A Memorial Day Tribute: Chorale from “Hymn to the Fallen” by John Williams