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Sunday, July 29, 2012

Another obit: Al Swanson

It seems I'm writing too many obits lately as posts, but that's a consequence of getting older, I guess.

Al Swanson was two years older than me, but we (and his wife-to-be Eileen) were in Rod Eichenberger's University of Washington Chorale together. I sang in the choir at his wedding, in particular a setting of the Gloria from the Mass, composed by fellow student Alan Dorsey--I still have a copy.

As you'll see by the obit below, Al was an amazing recording engineer. After UW days we didn't keep in close contact, but Eileen, an accomplished violist, played for me sometimes, and my PLU choir did several projects with the Northwest Chamber Orchestra, where she was an original member and principal violist.

When I took on the Seattle Symphony Chorale from 1990-94, I was again in contact with Al, since he recorded all the SSO concerts and worked on the Delos recordings we did (I prepared the Chorale for 8 or 9 different ones in those four years). Later I also worked on a couple CDs as "producer" with Al for friends: one of Janeanne Houston's CDs and the Northwest Chamber Chorus with Steve Demorest.

Through recording so many artists, Al touched countless lives. He'll be greatly missed, most greatly by his family: Eileen, two children, and what will be their first grandchild this fall.

Albert Swanson

Albert George Swanson

Albert George Swanson - audio engineer, musician, essayist, philosopher, photographer, crossword puzzle creator, and adored husband, father, and friend - died July 24 after battling an overwhelming blood infection. He was diagnosed in 2010 with a rare autoimmune disease, Wegener's granulomatosis, and had been on immunosuppressants from that time.

Al was born Sept. 15, 1948, to Albert George Swanson and Aris Shankle Swanson in Tacoma, where he grew up. He attended Mount Tahoma High School and the University of Washington, playing trombone in the Seattle Youth Symphony and in the Husky Marching Band. While studying music and psychology as an undergraduate and ethnomusicology as a graduate student at the UW, he began recording music, which became his profession after college. Al went on to produce recordings for dozens of musical groups throughout the Pacific Northwest and beyond for more than four decades.

He served as the Seattle Symphony's audio recording engineer from 1983 through 2006, recording the Symphony's live performances and editing them for radio broadcast on Classical KING FM 98.1. As the Symphony's audio engineer, Al participated in the majority of the Seattle Symphony's prodigious discography of more than 140 recordings - some 50 of which were reissued this year -including the 12 that received Grammy nominations, working with labels Delos, Naxos, JVC, MMC, and Reference Recordings, among many others. Al served as principal recording engineer on numerous Seattle Symphony albums, including the works of American composers Alan Hovhaness and William Schuman.

Al's projects ranged from orchestras, soloists and choruses to rap videos and bagpipe bands. Al regularly recorded ensembles such as the Orcas Island Chamber Music Festival, Music of Remembrance, Husky Marching Band, Seattle Youth Symphony, Seattle Choral Company, Seattle Peace Chorus, the Esoterics, and Seattle Girls' Choir, and he spent 25 years as the choir director at Zion American Lutheran Church in Wallingford. He was instrumental in the development of the Seattle film-score recording scene in the 1990s, serving as chief technical consultant (look for Al's name in the closing credits of "Die Hard: With a Vengeance" and "Mr. Holland's Opus"). In 1995, Al recorded the ballet score of "Swan Lake" in Saint Petersburg, Russia, for the Houston Ballet, and in 1996 he recorded organist Carole Terry on the legendary Ladegast Organ in Schwerin, Germany. Of Al's 2009 recording of the Icicle Creek Trio, Jerry Dubins of Fanfare magazine wrote: "The results are astonishing. ... Without a doubt, this recording captures the stage in one of the most transparent, lifelike sonic images I've yet to hear. It's as if the musicians, having been teleported from the recording session, simply materialize in my living room."

In 1977, Al was one of the founding committee members of the Audio Engineering Society's Pacific Northwest section. He continued as a committee member through 1981, and served another term on the committee in 1990. Al was elected chair of the Pacific Northwest section in 1992, and vice-chair in 1991 and 1993.

Al was a man of his mind, and his gift for wit and irony lives on in writings and essays on all subjects. At any given time he was likely to be speaking, reading or writing about topics such as corvid intelligence, quantum physics, the artistry of Carl Barks, temperate rain forests, the psychology of music, home construction, international linguistics, photographic techniques, volcanology, and the health industry. He loved baseball, and in season he could typically be found in his favorite easy chair with the Mariners on television, one or more cats on his lap, and his composition book in his hands.

After his diagnosis of Wegener's granulomatosis in 2010, Al became a self-taught expert on the condition. He was active on forums and blogs dedicated to Wegener's for the rest of his life, dispensing wisdom and serving as a resource for those suffering from the rare disease.

Survivors include wife Eileen; daughter Amy King and husband Geoffrey of Seattle; son Stephen and wife Jeanne of Spokane; sister Pat Kaer and husband Bjarne of Goodyear, Ariz.; numerous nieces and nephews; and his first grandchild, due in October. The family's thanks go out to the staff at the Swedish Medical Center ICU and to Dr. Robert Winrow for taking such good care of Al.

A celebration of Al's life will be held at 7 p.m. on Sunday, Aug. 5, in the chapel at Bastyr University, 14500 Juanita Drive N.E., Kenmore, WA, 98028. Please visit Al's online obituary and guestbook at www.bonneywatson.com. Memorials may be made to the Vasculitis Foundation at www.vasculitisfoundation.org.

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