Casey at the Bat Experience with Nat’l Symphony AND Matt’s Bats Chat with Glenn Donnellan
Spring has sprung for baseball fans, with pitchers and catchers reporting for Spring Training this week, but that doesn’t mean that it is warm outside. In fact, it’s a snowy Saturday as I’m writing this. I hope you’re also sitting by a fire and reading this.
On Sunday, February 15, the National Symphony Orchestra played a special family concert of other sports-related music at the Kennedy Center, and Nationals TV broadcaster F.P. Santangelo read the famous poem, Casey at the Bat. I was lucky enough to watch the concert and then go backstage to interview Glenn Donnellan, a member of the National Symphony Orchestra and creator/player of the Electric Slugger, or bat-olin, (an electric violin played on a Louisville Slugger baseball bat). You may have seen him play him play the National Anthem on the Electric Slugger at a Nationals game.
Before I get to my Matt’s Bats Chat with Glenn, let me tell you a little more about this awesome concert.
We arrived at the Kennedy Center a little early so we could experience the orchestra “petting zoo” that happens before each NSO Family Concert. The petting zoo is where volunteers bring out different orchestra instruments for the children to play. I tried out the saxophone and violin, which I had never tried before.
Then it was time for the show to start. Just like at the beginning of a baseball game, the show started with the National Anthem. Glenn Donnellan came out to play the National Anthem on his Electric Slugger. If you haven’t seen him play before, here is a video of him playing in Atlanta:
The National Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Steven Reineke, played lots of sports-related music, like the theme from Rocky, the Olympic Fanfare, and a song about Horse Racing.
Then they got to Casey at the Bat.
Casey is one of baseball’s most storied characters, after he let down Mudville by striking out in the ninth inning to lose a late-game rally. F.P. Santangelo recited the poem with the music in the background. The music really took you to Mudville and the game by doing drumrolls and organists played “Take Me Out To The Ballgame.” And I think that F.P. did a really good job reciting the poem in front of all of those people AND a symphony orchestra playing in the background.
F.P. is the third Nationals broadcaster to do a performance of Casey at the Bat. In 2013, radio broadcasters Charlie Slowes and Dave Jageler recorded their versions of the poem for the Library of Congress to celebrate the 125th anniversary of the poem. Listen to Charlie Slowes HERE and Dave Jageler HERE.
After that, the symphony played Take Me Out To The Ballgame with 4 violinists who acted out a real baseball game. And to conclude the show, they played Stars and Stripes Forever by Sousa.
Everyone was talking about the Electric Slugger on the way out. The people had thought that it was the coolest thing they’d ever seen and were very impressed with their performance. And I was lucky enough to get to go backstage to interview Glenn Donnellan and try out his bat-olin.
Matt’s Bats – Can you tell me a little bit more about yourself?
Glenn Donnellan – I started violin when I was four years old. My mom taught public school strings in Washington State, in a small town called Ferndale. I grew up playing violin in our house and through the school system with my friends. I went to college to study violin performance at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis. I first auditioned at The Minnesota Orchestra and the St. Paul Chamber Orchestras and sat as a substitute in their violin pools. It was great to have two top tier orchestras in the town where I was going to school. I got to hear them all the time and then I got to play with them, which was a dream come true.
The Minnesota Orchestra is a “major league” orchestra on par with the National Symphony. We have major league orchestras, like baseball has major league teams. Then there are other orchestras that are considered “minor league” teams – those are the terms we actually use. The minor league orchestras are in smaller cities. After college I won a job with the National Symphony at an audition, which was just a “pinch myself” moment. I got to play music full time.
MB – Tell me more about the Electric Slugger Bat-olin.
GD – It’s a 34 inch Louisville Slugger, C271 model, 125 wood. Louisville Slugger and I chose this particular bat for me to turn into the Electric Slugger because it’s the most ubiquitous bat in the Majors. It’s the Louisville Slugger that you’ll find swung the most often on every Major League team. They might not be swinging it in a game, but the C271 Louisville Slugger is in their collection of bats. I thought it would be neat to have the most common one. Whenever I need a new Electric Slugger, Louisville Slugger will make one and ship it to me. I then can transform the bat into an Electric Slugger in my garage with my tools.
Louisville Slugger also changes the logo, from “Genuine Louisville Slugger” to “Genuine Electric Slugger” and I get the heat-branded stamp.
How cool is it that Louisville Slugger put his autograph on the bat?!
The “Pro Blemish” bat you see above, means that there was some kind of mishap or imperfection with that bat when they were manufacturing for the pros. Lots of college and minor league players go to the Louisville Slugger factory in Louisville, Kentucky, when they play the UK or Louisville Bats teams to try out the Pro Blemish bats to see which one that they like the most.
MB – How were you inspired to make it?
GD – I played an electric violin in a young person’s concert that the National Symphony does from time to time during the school year. One of the concerts focused on “Music and Science.” Every piece the orchestra played that day had some kind of scientific aspect to it. The Horns section talked about condensation in the instrument and how it affects the sound. Then we wanted to show how an instrument sounds electrified and amplified, so I played the electric violin. I thought it sounded really cool so I decided to make one myself, and I ended up with the Electric Slugger.
MB – How many times have you played the National Anthem at a baseball game?
GD – Over a dozen, but I’ve lost count. But I need to go back and look, because I know I’ve got a winning record, the games that I play at the home team tends to win more often than not.
MB – What does it feel like playing in a professional sports venue in front of 40,000 people?
GD – Its really cool. I try to make sure I don’t hear the music or noise from the stadium speakers because the echo and delay can be very distracting. So I bring a small amp to the field that I stick in front of me and put a microphone in front of the amp. This is what guitar players do in rock concerts. I turn the amp up enough in front of me so I don’t hear the echo or delay coming from the stadium speakers and I can hear my music in real time. But the sound has an echo decay that makes the music sound really big and full in the stadium, which is really cool. I get to stand in the middle of this huge sound picture.
MB – What other ballparks have you played in?
GD – I played on a pink Louisville Slugger bat on Mother’s Day at Citi Field for the Mets to help promote Komen for the Cure. I’ve also played for the Atlanta Braves one time at Turner Field. I also play for the Orioles every year at Camden Yards.
Here’s an MLB video of his Camden Yards performance.
MB – So, are you a baseball fan?
GD – Growing up, the Mariners were my home team, but I lived about two hours north of Seattle and never actually got to a baseball game when I was a kid. My first game was with the Minnesota Twins when I was in college. My cousin, a big Twins fan, took me. Kirby Pucket was the big player there at the time, so I became a Kirby Pucket fan. I still enjoy following the Mariners and the Twins, but now my favorite team is the Nationals, who have also been amazing to me and actively developed an incredible playing relationship. I’ve even started playing with their NatsTown organist, Matthew Van Hoose!
MB – Do you have any interesting stories about when you have played the National Anthem at baseball games?
GD – I’ve learned some cool things about playing in stadiums. The trick about using the personal amplifier when I perform came from the sound techs at Citi Field.
My favorite moment was when I was playing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” during the 7th inning stretch up on the dugout at Nats Park. Angel Hernandez, the home plate ump for that game, walked up to me and threw me a game ball after I finished playing.
Then Joe West, another umpire, called me back to the Umpire Room, where no one gets to go unless they’ve been asked by the umpires. I brought my bat and speaker into the room, thinking they wanted to see the instrument. When I got into the room, Joe West looked at the bat and then handed me $500 and said “Make me one of those.” Turns out that Joe West plays fiddle and guitar and he actually has a couple country western albums out. That story is what started my two year odyssey to get the licensing agreement with Louisville Slugger, so I could make Joe West his bat-olin. That’s probably one of the best experiences I’ve had at the ballpark.
MB – Have you met any players?
GD – I’ve met a few players, but I try to stay out of the way when I’m playing at games. I need to stay professional. Sometimes players do come over to talk to me, but its just a random thing.
MB – What helps you prepare for a performance? Are you superstitious?
GD – I don’t have any superstitions. I just get myself into the right mental zone, where I’ll be able to focus and just let it happen. I remember Davey Johnson telling the guys on the Nats to just relax and let it go and you natural abilities will come out. When he used to talk about that, I felt that’s what we try to do as musicians too. We train and practice over and over again, so when its time to perform, we just let it go and let it happen.
GD – I will be playing at Nats Park this season, but they haven’t set any dates yet. I hope to get 3 or 4 games this year, but you never know!
I hope you enjoyed this post as much as I did going to the Kennedy Center concert and interviewing Glenn. The NSO hosts family and child concerts pretty regularly, the next being The Magic Horn on March 29. Also, you can see Glenn spotlighted on April 11-12 with his wife Jan Chong at a NSO Teddy Bear Concert. He will also be at an NSO Kinderclassic event called Beethoven at the Ballpark on May 9 with the Nats Park organist Matthew Van Hoose. These concerts are great ways to get kids into music and the arts (I definitely like music more after going to the concert) and they have different concepts that can be very intriguing to go see.