Behind-the-Scenes: On the Bach’s Brain Set

by Abby @ Quaver on November 20, 2012

in At Quaver HQ,In the Quaver Classroom!,

Yesterday, Quaver gave us a peek inside Bach’s Brain – an exciting series of video vignettes connecting music with real life skills through the lives of history’s greatest composers!

Today we welcome Bach’s Brain Producer Hannah Alley to take us behind-the-scenes on the set of Bach’s Brain!


Take it away, Hannah!



What is my favorite thing in all of Quaver’s Marvelous World of Music?

I’m glad you asked! For me, hands down, without a doubt, it has to be Bach’s Brain. Okay, I’ll admit, I am a bit biased, but I hope Bach’s Brain becomes one of your favorite tools to use in your classrooms, because… well… it is pretty special.

What began as a jar with a brain in it on the Quaver set, slowly evolved into so much more. We love how it turned out, and made many important decisions along the way that make Bach’s Brain what it is today. It was all about improvisation!

We started by filming Handel’s story as a test.

We knew what we wanted to communicate in the stories – the life connections between music history and students today. But we had a lot of decision to make about HOW to communicate that! During the Handel shoot we were able to try out elements of our storytelling and see if they would work for future Bach’s Brain stories.

Extra Characters

We knew we wanted the stories about composer’s lives to be told clearly so that students would remember them. We could have done this with Quaver telling the story straight into the camera, but we decided to add more characters during the first shoot! That meant we needed to find extra costumes and props to add more characters right away. During the shoot, Production Assistants were running to the store to buy crazy stuff like lollipops!

Speaking of which: the actors! All the extra people you see in Bach’s Brain are members of our talented Quaver family – from interns to graphic designers, marketing coordinators to illustrators, and editors to me! Everyone did a fabulous job, so make sure you look out for our supporting men and women. Working for Quaver has many unexpected surprises!

Storytelling Style

Handel’s story was told entirely from Graham’s memory. After the shoot, we edited around Quaver’s voice, making the video fit the story, instead of forcing the story to fit the video. This aspect gave it a very organic, natural storytelling feel, which we love and chose to emulate in our other videos.  To keep the stories seamless, we even decided to have Quaver do the voices for all the individual characters. Our actors lip-synced their lines while listening to Quaver’s recorded voice, and the result is a quirky and effective storytelling style!



After the story was shot and edited, we had to decide how to set the scenes with background graphics. Our main choice was between photographs as background images versus illustrations. We chose a graphic novel or a story book look because it would be the most interesting for children, and feel a bit like bedtime stories they’d read in the past. We had two incredibly talented illustrators (Steve and Chris) create the worlds the composers live in. They had the challenging task to weave what is real-life into the graphic worlds of the composers. This is best seen in Mozart’s story, when Mozart and his father are sitting on the pew in the Sistine Chapel, or in the audience in Ravel’s story. The transition from what is graphic to what is real is flawless.


I hope you and your students enjoy the final product of all our on-set work – Bach’s Brain!

Quirky Facts about some of the stories:

  • In Handel, the character of young Handel is seen hugging a tiny stuffed bear, that is actually my cat Skinny Jean’s favorite chew toy. Don’t tell Graham…
  • In Handel, when Handel’s mother is seen carrying a harpsichord on her back. To achieve this shot, we originally filmed me carrying a keyboard across the set! I never knew it before, but keyboards are heavy!
  • The tiny player piano seen in Mozart’s story is actually a vintage toy from the 1960s. My grandmother graciously let us use this, and now it has found a home in the office.
  • In Wagner’s story, we originally chose the Valkyrie’s costumes for large men. Turns out after further research, Valkyrie’s are traditionally female characters! There were quite a few safety pins used to make them fit!
  • In Mozart’s story, Graham actually figured out and sang the nine different parts to Miserere. We used a flapper’s wig (seen in Ravel’s story) to get the nine different looks for the choir boy.
  • Graham enjoyed playing the heart throb Siegfried a bit too much. You can see him being a hunk in Wagner.
  • In Beethoven’s story, Graham and Chris actually had to kneel/lay on tables draped with green fabric in order to get the floor shots.
  • Easy as shooting fish in a barrel… NOT. We had to toss the two fish around 50 times to get the one shot of the fish going into the trash can used in Bach’s story.
  • There are eight wigs and thirty-six costumes used in the six stories.


Thanks Hannah! Here’s a clip from the Handel episode she mentioned – check out the full story in Bach’s Brain in your Online Quaver Classroom Lobby!


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