Part-Time Passions: September 2010

An IEEE member in Chicago does stunt work and a member in Hawaii plays trombone

8 September 2010

Brian Connelly
Professional Daredevil

There's practically nothing like a three-story fall to get the juices flowing. That's the idea behind IEEE Member Brian Connelly's hobby: stunt work. Since helping to start the company Asylum Stunts seven years ago, Connelly has been performing and choreographing stunts, as well as training people for movie and TV shoots, commercials, music videos, plays, video games, and live events. You might have seen his team's handiwork in the film Public Enemies and a Gatorade commercial featuring basketball star Yao Ming.

Connelly is chief software architect for Miskatonic Software, the Chicago IT consultancy he founded seven years ago. As director of Asylum Stunts, he practices with a group of about 10 aspiring stunt professionals. "We're mostly hired for fight choreography, battle scenes, people falling out of third-story windows, down staircases, and out of cars, and for wire work-stunts that involve getting hooked up to a crane and flying out of explosions," he says.

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Amazingly, he hasn't gotten too banged up in the process. "I've had some hairline fractures and a few cuts that maybe should have been stitched," he says, "but nothing you couldn't Krazy Glue shut."

Connelly's interest in stunts began in his mid-30s, but the seeds were sown much earlier. He attended Iowa State University, in Ames, on a gymnastics scholarship and went on to dabble in other activities, including martial arts, horseback riding, fencing, skiing, and rock climbing—all of which would later help his stunt work.

In 2001, he happened on the Chicago Stunt Team practicing at a local gym and was hooked by the variety of skills required. He began working with the group on basic stunts, like learning how to fake a punch or cushion a fall, and then progressed to more complex ones such as timing moves to coincide with explosions and other special effects. After two years of creating and performing stunts with the Chicago group, he became codirector and then left to form Asylum.

He is now gearing up to direct fight scenes for the Minneapolis cult stage hit A Klingon Christmas Carol when it makes its Chicago debut later this year.

"It's hard to get tired of my hobby, because of the variety of stunts I get to come up with," he says. "It always challenges me."


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Susan Garrod
Trombone in Paradise

IEEE Member Susan Garrod plays well with the guys. One of the few women in her engineering company, she says she is among only a handful of trombone players in Hawaii.

"When you want to recruit women into engineering," she says, laughing, "start with the band's brass instrument section," which includes trumpets, horns, tubas, and trombones. "Playing the trombone, or any other male-dominated musical instrument, is fabulous preparation for women entering engineering. Playing an instrument is creative, collaborative, and good mental training, and the music and math connection is very strong."

When Garrod is not working as a commercial account manager for Hawaii Electric Light Co., in Kailua-Kona, she spends up to 25 hours a week rehearsing and playing trombone with the Olliephonic Horns big band, the Kamuela Philharmonic Orchestra, and two ensembles she helped found, the Kona Brass quintet and the Casablanca jazz quartet.

Every so often, she gets to combine science and art. Last year she helped create a concert program for the island of Hawaii's Volcano Art Center, which was celebrating the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing. The concert used music and commentary to tell the story of the space race. After Garrod narrated the historic accounts, she and Kona Brass performed music from the 1960s, as well as such thematic songs as "Fly Me to the Moon."

Garrod has had a passion for playing trombone since age 10, while growing up in Cleveland. Her elementary school's music program introduced her to the instrument, and her parents signed her up for lessons. "I already played piano, but that can be a very solitary instrument," she says. "The trombone was unique. I was typically the only girl in the trombone section, so I learned how to both compete and collaborate with the boys." While earning bachelor's, master's, and doctoral degrees at Purdue University, in West Lafayette, Ind., she played with several university and local bands and orchestras.

Playing trombone requires consistent practice to maintain strong facial muscles to create and control notes at the mouthpiece and a developed ear to adjust the slide, which has no markings.

"The trombone provides the greatest variety of sounds available to a musician," she says. "Plus, trombonists have a great sense of humor. You can't take yourself too seriously when you play such a fun instrument."

Watch videos of Garrod playing "Sweet Georgia Brown" and "Tequila" with the Olliephonic Horns big band.

If you have an interesting hobby you would like to share, e-mail the editors:

Photos: Jeff Millies (top), Bob Borns (bottom)

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