The Artistry In Lighting The Night Sky

Randy Beckham says designing large-scale fireworks displays is sort of like conducting an orchestra.

By Hady MawajdehJuly 4, 2017 9:30 am, , ,

From KERA:

Over the next few days, North Texas will be celebrating the Fourth of July with more than 30 different firework displays. That means there’ll be close to one million rockets, fountains and other pyrotechnics professionally set off in the region’s skies. Art&Seek wanted to know if there was more to the world of fireworks than simply lighting a fuse and we found that it’s an art.

Randy Beckham has been working in pyrotechnics for 38 years, but his interest in lighting up the night sky began as a teenager. In his youth, he would put on small firework shows for friends and family members. But he almost didn’t enter the industry because he pursued a career in media. Luckily, his entrepreneurial spirit told him to follow a different path toward entertainment.

This will be his final year in the industry. He’s retiring in September.

The Fourth of July is all about the fireworks. Sure there’s barbecue, patriotism and independence. But if we’re being honest, there’s nothing more exciting than the sound of whistling fireworks soaring into the sky and those beautiful bursts of light.

But designing a large-scale fireworks show isn’t easy. Randy Beckham says it’s sort of like conducting an orchestra.

“You hear certain music and you know certain fireworks will fit that music,” says Beckham.

Beckham’s the owner of PyroTex, a fireworks company based in Leonard – 70 miles north of Dallas. He’s been designing and executing spectacular firework shows for nearly four decades.

“It was just me – for probably the first eight or nine years,” Beckham says. “Then we started growing. And as demand changed,we changed.”

During those early years, Beckham made a name for himself by crafting indoor firework shows. And back then, his customers were traveling bands.

“We did shows for Nazareth, Thin Lizzy, ZZ Top, Reba McIntyre, George Strait, Styx and The Commodores when Lionel Richie was still with ’em.” Beckham says, laughing.

Of course, these days, indoor fireworks are illegal. And PyroTex does all sorts of fireworks shows. So many that Beckham is baffled when people say what he does isn’t an art.

“Theatre is art. Dance is art. Pyrotechnics?” Beckham asks. “To most of them, it’s still just a 4th of July show, and they don’t see any of the other things we do all year long.”

Beckham has designed firework displays for television shows, movies, weddings, corporate gatherings and signature events like New Year’s Eve in Fort Worth’s Sundance Square.  On the Fourth alone, he and his team will set off 31 displays across the state – including Willie Nelson’s Fourth of July Picnic in Austin. Beckham designed them all.

Here are a few of the things that Beckham considers when he’s designing a show:

“Money, length of show and where the show’s going to be,” Beckham says. “Then I start thinking about what the client wants.”

Most clients have songs in mind but not much else, so Beckham begins by becoming familiar with the music. Then he maps things out in his mind.

“Horns like a lot of big shots and blasts,” he explains. “Strings like a lot of sweeping, c-shaped back and forth stuff. Each piece of music has a sort of piece that’s correct.”

The sky is his canvas and the fireworks are his paint. Before he can put brush to canvas though, he’s got to map it out.

“There is design involved. I envision what the show will look like as I hear the music. And then I write it down with a pen on a legal pad,” says Beckham.

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