meta-scriptHow Elaine Martone Overcame Self-Doubt And Became A Legendary Classical & Jazz Producer |
Photo of Elaine Martone at the 62nd GRAMMY Awards in 2020

Elaine Martone at the 62nd GRAMMY Awards in 2020


Photo: Jon Kopaloff/FilmMagic


How Elaine Martone Overcame Self-Doubt And Became A Legendary Classical & Jazz Producer

Women may be underrepresented in the production world, but one of its very best in classical and jazz is Elaine Martone—she opens up to about her life and career

Membership/May 14, 2021 - 09:56 pm

Elaine Martone had her sights set on a life in the orchestra early on, but her quest to become a musician was missing one thing. With a degree in performance in hand from Ithaca College, while working her way into shape to audition for orchestras as an oboist, she took on a job at the classical music label Telarc as a way to earn a living while auditioning. She settled in Cleveland, Ohio, because the Cleveland Orchestra was there, and oboists with whom she studied.

But although her musical talents ran deep, "I lacked self-confidence," Martone tells "And if a musician doesn't have confidence in themself, nobody's going to give that to them."

Rather than let that hurdle be her downfall, she dug deeper into her work at Telarc to figure out how she could create and bolster that confidence in other musicians. Martone built a GRAMMY-winning career as a recording producer specializing in classical and jazz. "Funnily enough, I'm actually producing the Cleveland Orchestra's online season now," she chuckles. "My life has made a nice full circle."

At the time she joined Telarc, the label had been in business less than three years. Founded by Jack Renner and Robert Woods (who Martone later married), the label was built for audiophiles and passionately focused on its music niche. "This was before the advent of CDs, but we were already recording with digital technology. By the time CDs came out, we were poised with high-quality recordings. And it was in Cleveland, an unusual place for a record label," Martone says with a laugh. "I knew I was on the ground floor of something cool."

Martone quickly grasped the intricacies of the recording process and learning to edit and produce recording sessions—an unusual role for a woman in the industry, both then and now. But Telarc was a new enough venture with plenty of opportunities, and its founders nurtured and encouraged her growth. Over time, the staff grew to about 50 and Martone ran the production department of 12.

"I never felt held back as a woman. I felt very lucky to grow a department and hire the right people," she says. "A key skill for my work as a producer is that I'm nurturing. I like being of service, including mentoring young women. Women represented about half of my staff."

Throughout her decades-long career, Martone indulged in her passion for orchestral music and produced essential records for legends in that genre and others. Due to her nurturing style, she made close friends along the way, producing the last 18 albums by jazz bassist Ray Brown. Since 2000, she also collaborated to great acclaim with Atlanta Symphony Orchestra music director Robert Spano and has worked with the GRAMMY-winning composer Jennifer Higdon, among many others.

Early on, Martone set her sights on winning a GRAMMY before she turned 50. "My husband has 13 GRAMMYs, and he started winning them when he was 30," she says. "So, I had a long way to go to 'catch up'.  In 2006, I won Classical Producer of the Year, which is the most coveted award in my field. I also have a Latin GRAMMY, and I won a jazz GRAMMY for McCoy Tyner's Illuminations. Especially as women, we denigrate ourselves thinking that if we hide a little bit, people won't take shots at us. But I decided I wasn't going to do that back then, that I was going to play full out, and that I was going to win. Five GRAMMYs later, it's a big honor and a privilege."

Martone's ability to build relationships has been particularly key to connecting through the pandemic. "The sense of community that I've felt through the GRAMMY organization and MusiCares has been incredible and has helped out a few friends that were really in need," Martone says.

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Connection-building was necessary for her production career as well. Having produced the Cleveland Orchestra in the past, the organization reached out to Martone directly to produce their virtual season. "They're arguably the greatest orchestra in the world, and they're right here," she says. "They had the bonus of my 41 years of experience.  I've needed to use all of that. I have been so proud of all of us in this creative community because we kept hope and inspiration alive."

Taking that inspiration, Martone approached the Orchestra's virtual season seeing opportunities to create a new experience rather than seeing limitations. "Cleveland Clinic was advising the Orchestra, and that included not using winds or brass," she says. "So we started with 42 string musicians distanced nine feet apart. That's no way to make a very good ensemble, but the thing that's beautiful about the Cleveland Orchestra is their sense of blend and ensemble and being able to respond very nimbly. Producing what amounted to two records a week in this virtual season has been a production schedule on steroids."

Another of Martone's pandemic highlights has been producing new records from the GRAMMY-winning percussion ensemble Third Coast Percussion and Atlanta Symphony Orchestra harpist Elisabeth Remy Johnson. "Elisabeth messaged me and said she was interested in a record with all women composers, composers who were neglected like Amy Beach and Fanny Mendelssohn," Martone explains. "We worked remotely during the Pandemic. The Oregon Music Festival is also considering a recording at Abbey Road in November, also with all women composers and has asked me to produce. I feel inspired and energized by these projects."

Whether in her earliest recording sessions or the heart of the pandemic, the factor uniting Martone's experiences has always been her love of the creative process—and of being in the same space as people reaching their peak. "When I'm producing, I can't be thinking of anything else at the moment," she says. "I'm in the state of flow, almost an active meditative state. That's helped me work on over 200 records. Making a difference for others and having fun makes for a life well-lived."

For the past 60 years, the Recording Academy's Chicago Chapter has recognized and celebrated the creative accomplishments of our members across the Midwest, fought for their collective rights, and supported them in times of need. We are proud of our legacies and excited to continue looking ahead. Here's to the next 60.

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"Bridgerton" Season 3
"Bridgerton" Season 3

Photo: Netflix


"Bridgerton" Composer Kris Bowers & Vitamin String Quartet Continue To Make Classical Music Pop For Season 3

The Netflix show returns for its third season on May 16. Composer Kris Bowers, alongside the Vitamin String Quartet and other artists, masterfully reimagines modern pop with a classical twist, including a Taylor Swift hit.

GRAMMYs/May 16, 2024 - 02:31 pm

No one is arguing that “Bridgerton” is realistic or even particularly historically accurate — in fact, leaning into anachronisms is the point. Entering its third season, which premieres on May 16, the pulpy Netflix show based on a series of romance novels by Julia Quinn — often classified as “bodice rippers” — mixes modern life ideas with Regency-era social rules.

From Lady Whistledown's tantalizing gossip columns to the complex romances of the Bridgerton siblings, the series grips viewers with its blend of historical drama and contemporary flair. One key note in that chord is classical music. Instead of using current tracks like some historical-contemporary-hybrids (most famously “A Knight’s Tale" in 2001), “Bridgerton” has mastered the art of the classical cover. 

Paired with original compositions by Kris Bowers, an Oscar winner and GRAMMY nominee — including one for Best Score Soundtrack For Visual Media for "Bridgerton" — the tone of the show is that of a heightened, classic world. Bowers, along with music supervisor Justin Kamps collaborates with the Vitamin String Quartet and other artists to create a full circle sonic landscape. They make the classical music in “Bridgerton” pop by re-recording, rearranging, and reimagining contemporary pop songs as classic pieces. 

Over three seasons, as well as with the spin off, “Queen Charlotte,” the team has included a mix of the newest songs as well as nostalgic favorites. This season features GAYLE’s “abcdefu,” which was released in 2022 as well as a cover of Pitbull, Ne-Yo, and Afrojack’s “Give Me Everything,” which was released in 2011, which can appease the full gamut of millennial and Gen Z viewers.  

Regency traditions 

The Regency period in which the show is based, spanned from 1811 to 1820, and was known as an era of elegance and refinement in British history.  In the first chunk of the 1800s, pop music included pieces by Beethoven, Liszt, Haydn, and Mendlesson (famous for the “Wedding March”). Waltzes were all the rage, and this “new” music was considered much more emotional and passionate than previous offerings. The romance of being swept away in a dance increased the thrill, and string quartets were highly popular. 

As seen throughout the series (and much like today), society placed a significant emphasis on social gatherings and music played a central role in these events. Balls, soirées, and intimate musical evenings were common, the perfect backdrop for orchestrating romance. 

In “Bridgerton," the show's modern portrayal of the Regency period occasionally features or references music from the time period, such as Vivaldi’s “The Four Seasons,” which was written a century before the events in the show but was and is still a popular piece of classical music. The show frequently uses arrangements of classical songs in a slightly modern way, but most often, it underscores scenes with either classically arranged covers of pop songs or original music by Bowers. 

Contemporary music covers

Choosing between a cover or original music is a nuanced decision for the music team. The music team considers “whether or not, there's something that can, lyrically, even though we don't hear lyrics, speak to a moment really well,” said Bowers. Absent a cover by an outside band, Bowers arranges pop hits to suit the tone of the scene. He said, “when you're saying something with a song, you're making commentary on what's happening.” 

When they do outsource tracks, more often than not, these covers come from Los Angeles-based Vitamin String Quartet. VSQ is the new Mendlesson in that they have been the predominant wedding-march artist for nearly a decade, known for producing string renditions of highly eclectic mix of artists including Cardi B, Lana Del Rey, Björk, and Sigur Rós

They contributed four covers in season one, including Billie Elish's “bad guy” and Ariana Grande's “Thank U, Next,” about which Leo Flynn, VSQ Brand Manager at CMH Label Group said, “Talk about a great track changing the temperature of a room.” In season two, VSQ’s cover of Robyn's “Dancing on My Own” played under a dance scene. 

When we spoke to James Curtiss, Director of A&R at CMH, the song placements for season three were still a mystery. Curtiss shared, “When we finished that Taylor [Swift] record, we sent it right over to the people at ‘Bridgerton.’” 

[Spoiler alert:] Since then, we have learned Swift's “Snow on the Beach” will be featured in season three. This isn't the first time Swift's music has been featured in the show: Duomo’s cover of “Wildest Dreams” played under the honeymoon scenes in season one. 

Composer Bowers added his favorite cover of the season is in episode eight, the finale, but what title that is will be a surprise. The surprise of an “unexpected cover” as Bowers calls it is that when you “hear a song that you know, and have this strong indelible connection with it that is represented in this style that you typically don't feel like is for you. People get excited by having this music that they really love be elevated to this other level.” He said the familiarity makes “you feel connected to this time period, these characters, and these people in a different way.” 

Flynn said, “There’s something about the past that’s inherently romantic,” and the use of VSQ songs “unites something from the past with what’s going on now.” Because classical music “feels very idealized and formal,” he said, “there’s all this history and mystique built into it.” 

Flynn also mentioned that “Bridgerton” fuses past and present on a “major storytelling scale” between the historically-inspired stories themselves, the “visual feast” of the show, and the music. Curtiss added that the “romantic nature of the string quartet” juxtaposed with pop songs helps viewers tie the feeling of going to a bar or club to the experience of hearing “the popular bangers of the day,” as he called Beethoven et al., at a ball in the Regency era. 

Original compositions

When the music needs to set a specific tone without taking the audience out of the action to try and name that tune, “Bridgerton” often uses original compositions by Bowers. Bowers said, “Looking at pop music for those things like rhythm and tempo and all that stuff also helps in moments where we want to have the score feel a little bit more modern and not as traditional.” He continued, “I’ll put something in the violas and the celli that have this kind of guitar and bass feeling to them even though we’re looking at it orchestrationally from a classical perspective.” He explained that “borrowing the rhythms or the way that parts interlock from pop music” makes it feel like a modern classical sound. 

Each character and couple has their own theme. Bowers explained that it was enjoyable to create themes that could fit both heartbreaking and celebratory moments. “The melodies are still the same even if the harmonic tone is changed,” he said.

Instrumental Pop In Visual Media

The “Bridgerton” style of using instrumentalized versions of pop songs is not unique. Famously, “Promising Young Woman” used a haunting version of Britney Spears’ “Toxic,” adapted by Anthony Willis, and “Westworld’s” Ramin Djawadi used adaptations of Radiohead among others. “Wednesday” featured a stirring string version of the Rolling Stones’ “Paint it Black.” The popularity of Vitamin String Quartet and other classical cover bands has not waned and, if anything, is becoming more of a mainstream staple.

As season three approaches, the unveiling of the time-spanning, romantic soundtrack is highly anticipated. Four episodes air May 16 and the second half of the season airs June 13, with original compositions by Kris Bowers and additional music by various artists, including Vitamin String Quartet, who will be taking over Pandora’s Classical Goes Pop in anticipation of their fall, “Bridgerton”-music-filled tour. 

Overall, to find the tone of the whole series, Bowers said, “Season three actually has a lot more lightness to it. (Showrunners) Shonda (Rhimes) and Jess (Brownell) really want to have a lot of fun this season so there's a little bit more of a playful, youthful quality to the music.” Whatever tunes make it into the season, they are sure to be a feast for the ears. 

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Mike Piacentini
Mike Piacentini

Photo: Screenshot from video


Family Matters: How Mike Piacentini’s Family Fuels His Success As His Biggest Champions

Mastering engineer Mike Piacentini shares how his family supported his career, from switching to a music major in college to accompanying him to the GRAMMY ceremony for his Best Immersive Album nomination.

GRAMMYs/Apr 26, 2024 - 07:17 pm

Since Mike Piacentini’s switch from computer science to audio engineering in college, his family has been his biggest champions. So, when he received his nomination for Best Immersive Album for Madison Beer's pop album Silence Between Songs, at the 2024 GRAMMYs, it was a no-brainer to invite his parents and wife.

“He’s always been into music. He had his own band, so [the shift] wasn’t surprising at all,” Piacentini’s mother says in the newest episode of Family Matters. “He’s very talented. I knew one day he would be here. It’s great to see it actually happen.”

In homage to his parents’ support, Piacentini offered to let his father write a short but simple acceptance in case he won: “Thank you, Mom and Dad,” he jokes.

Alongside his blood relatives, Piacentini also had support from his colleague Sean Brennan. "It's a tremendous honor, especially to be here with [Piacentini]. We work day in and day out in the studio," Brennan explains. "He's someone who's always there."

Press play on the video above to learn more about Mike Piacentini's support system, and remember to check back to for more new episodes of Family Matters.

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Cheryl Pawelski and Jeff Tweedy
Cheryl Pawelski and Jeff Tweedy

Photo: Daniel Boczarski


Jeff Tweedy & Cheryl Pawelski Sit Down For "Up Close & Personal" Chat: 'Yankee Hotel Foxtrot,' Writing One Song & More

Cheryl Pawelski is the producer and curator of 'Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (20th Anniversary Super Deluxe Edition)', which won a GRAMMY in 2023 for Best Historical Album. On Feb. 27, she sat down with Wilco frontman Jeff Tweedy about all manner of creativities.

GRAMMYs/Mar 11, 2024 - 02:48 pm

"We don't get the applause. That's later."

That was an offhand comment from Sarah Jensen, the Senior Executive Director for the Recording Academy's Midwest Chapter — ahead of a conversation between Cheryl Pawelski and Jeff Tweedy. But given the nature of the ensuing chat, it's oddly apropos.

On the occasion of the 20th anniversary of Wilco's seminal Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, four-time GRAMMY winners Tweedy and Pawelski chatted before a hometown audience at the Rhapsody Theater in Chicago. Pawelski produced and curated Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (20th Anniversary Super Deluxe Edition), which won Best Historical Album at the 2024 GRAMMYs; Pawelski accepted the golden gramophone on their behalf.

Today, 2002's ambitious, deconstructionist Yankee Hotel Foxtrot is just about universally revered as a watershed for alternative music. But in a David-and-Goliath story told and retold since its release — especially in the documentary I Am Trying to Break Your Heart, Yankee was rejected by its label, Reprise.

Wilco left their label, published Yankee on their own website, and it became a tremendous hit. Nonesuch — which, like Reprise, operates through Warner Records — picked them up, meaning the same record company, in effect, paid Wilco twice.

Ever since, the applause for Yankee Hotel Foxtrot — the one with the immortal "I Am Trying to Break Your Heart," "Jesus, Etc." and "Ashes of American Flags" on it — has been unceasing. And, naturally, a hefty chunk of Pawelski and Tweedy's conversation — for the Recording Academy's "Up Close & Personal" interview series, and MCed by Chicagoan family music artist Justin Roberts — revolved around it.

According to Tweedy, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot was a pivot point, where they decided to move away from any sort of pastiche.

"There are a lot of things on the boxed set," he said — referring to the plethora of alternate versions of well-known tracks — "where I would listen to them now and go, 'That was good enough.' But it wasn't satisfying… Rock and roll was built on that thing, above all else… be yourself, without any apology, and on purpose."

The "Up Close & Personal" session didn't start with Yankee, though; it started with How to Write One Song, Tweedy's 2020 treatise on the process of… well, writing one song. Which gets as psychologically and spiritually incisive as Tweedy fans would expect.

"I think music in general is a safe place to fail," the prolific songwriter stated. "When you take your ego out of it and you look at it as a daily practice of spending time with yourself in your imagination… once you do it for a long time, it really makes the notion of failure almost quaint or something."

When it comes to songwriting, the 11-time nominee said "nothing's really ever lost. You learn something about yourself writing terrible songs. I know myself better because of the songs that you've never heard."

Tweedy offered other helpful concepts and strategies, like accumulating enough voice memo ideas — for so long — that you can treat them like the work of a stranger. "I'll go through and listen through a bunch of stuff like that," Tweedy quipped, "and go, 'Who wrote this?'"

Pawelski went on to elucidate her rich legacy in the music business — including her fight to get the Band's deep cuts, like Stage Fright, included in Capitol's music budget. (She's worked on archival projects by everyone from the Beach Boys to Big Star to Willie Nelson across her decades-long career.)

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Tweedy also discussed the magic of collaboration. "I've gotten really good at being alone with people. So I think that facilitates collaboration to some degree," he said. "What I mean is being as forgiving of myself with other people in the room as I am with myself alone."

What was one of his favorites, Roberts inquired?

"The one that probably will always be the most proud of is getting to work with Mavis Staples and contributing something to her catalog, to her body of work that seems to have resonated not just with her audience or a new audience, but with her that she likes to sing, that means something to her. I think that would've satisfied me without it winning a GRAMMY [in 2011]."

When the conversation drifted to Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, Pawelsky discussed the foreboding process of digging through the sessions' flotsam and jetsam.

"The world kind of changed during the making of this. The band certainly changed, and also, technology changed," she explained. "So we had everything — we had DATs, we had ADATs, we had tape, we had cassettes, we had CD-Rs."

About her process: "I go backwards and try to reconstruct how things happen, and it's always incomplete and I don't know what I'm missing, so it's extra fun. But this particular record was done and undone in a lot of ways… some of the latter recordings sound like they're earlier recordings."

As Pawelski admits, the prospect of stewarding Yankee was "kind of terrifying" because of how meaningful the record is. "It really was a Rubik's cube. I would get the orange side done and I'd turn it over."

As the talk wound down, the subject of Wilco's latest album, Cousin, came up — as well as Wilco's rare use of an outside producer, in Cate Le Bon.

"I thought that it would be really a catalyst for getting something different out of the songs that I write," Tweedy explained. "I like the idea of working with a woman, which I felt like has not happened that much in rock and roll, from my perspective

"So that felt like an inspired bit of lateral thinking," he continued. "that felt so right to me to get to — and that she wanted to do it, and that we were friends, and it did."

To go "Up Close & Personal" with Tweedy is unlike most interviews; his brain simply works different than most, and you walk away pleasantly scrambled and transformed.

Which is what the Yankee Hotel Foxtrot sessions were like — and thank goodness for Pawelski, who shows it's not merely a masterpiece: in all its alien transmissions, vulnerable one-liners and shattered poetry, Yankee continues to engender GRAMMY glory.

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Brandy Clark performs Recap: A Celebration Of Craft: 2024 GRAMMYS
Brandy Clark performs onstage during A Celebration of Craft Presented

Photo: Leon Bennett/Getty Images for The Recording Academy


Inside A Celebration Of Craft: A Historic Event Highlighting Songwriting & Production Perfection At The 2024 GRAMMYs

GRAMMY Week 2024 kicked off with A Celebration of Craft, a special event presented by the Recording Academy's Producers & Engineers Wing and Songwriters & Composers Wing.

GRAMMYs/Feb 2, 2024 - 01:39 am

"Is there a show happening on Sunday?," seven-time GRAMMY winner Leslie Ann Jones quipped to thunderous applause. "Because this is the place to be." 

Jones was the main honoree fêted during A Celebration of Craft — a joint event presented by the Recording Academy's Producers & Engineers Wing and Songwriters & Composers Wing. The 2024 GRAMMYs Week event was held on Wednesday, Jan. 31 at the GRAMMY Museum.  

With its breathtaking night view of downtown Los Angeles and a casual, cosmopolitan vibe, the Museum’s Ray Charles Terrace was indeed the perfect location for dozens of songwriters, producers and engineers to celebrate the behind-the-scenes craftsmanship that sustains the music business. Fueled by lifelong passion and an obsessive attention to detail, their artistry often goes unnoticed by the general public. 

In his opening speech, Recording Academy CEO Harvey Mason Jr. noted the evening’s historic significance — it was the first time that a GRAMMY Week celebration brought together the wings of Songwriters & Composers with Producers & Engineers. "The world needs more music right now," he said. "It needs more of what we do."  

Noting how special it feels to be a songwriter at the Recording Academy, Songwriters & Composers Wing Chair E. Kidd Bogart and Susan Stewart invited the nominees for a GRAMMY in the Songwriter Of The Year, Non-Classical category onstage. It was inspiring to see such a diverse group of creators being recognized — from Edgar Barrera, who reinvented the urbano genre through massive hits for Karol G and Bad Bunny, to country mastermind Shane McAnally, whose current nomination encompasses songs performed by the likes of Brandy Clark and Walker Hayes. Nominees Justin Tranter and Theron Thomas were also in attendance; Songwriter Of The Year, Non-Classical nominee Jessie Jo Dillon was unable to attend.

While introducing Leslie Ann Jones — who was also the first woman chair of the Recording Academy’s Board of Trustees between 1999 and 2001 — Mason Jr. emphasized what an extraordinary person she is. "She is a classicist, but also a forward thinker and a trailblazer," he said. "She set the bar high in terms of passion, equality and inspiration — but she is also at the peak of her career, still leading the charge."  

The daughter of drummer and bandleader Spike Jones and singer Helen Grayco, Jones delivered a highly quotable speech that summarized her 40 year-old career in music. She recalled being mesmerized by the Beatles and the Temptations as a kid, and how her appreciation for their songs only grew as she developed her career as the sonic architect of pristine recordings.  

"We’re all very lucky to be surrounded by music every day," she said. "Music transcends everything. Someone with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia will smile when a song plays, and sing along to the lyrics. My service to our craft has given me a sense of purpose."  

Complimenting Jones' words with sound, singer/songwriter Brandy Clark (who has 17 GRAMMY nominations of her own) took the stage and launched into "Buried," a dazzling cut off her 2023, self-titled fourth album. The song’s gorgeous vocals, understated melody and witty lyrics about getting drunk on wine and dance exemplified the transformative power of a great song.  

Clark looked vulnerable as she performed the confessional gem "Dear Insecurity" — alone onstage in a sparkly black outfit, armed with her guitar. Underscoring the complexity of her artistry, her singing sounded delicate and incredibly powerful. 

Next up was Michigan husband and wife duo The War & Treaty, currently nominated for Best New Artist and Best American Roots Song at the 2024 GRAMMYs. Theirs was also a pared-down setup: Tanya Trotter on vocals and tambourine; Michael Trotter Jr. on keyboards and voice; and Max Brown on guitar. But the intensity and grit in their sound evoked the monumental scope of an avant-garde gospel orchestra.   

"And I’ve seen the devil... Chasing after the innocent with them blazing guns," Trotter Jr. belted as he played jazz-influenced chords on "Ain’t No Harmin’ Me" — a tune that shimmers with the mystique of a classic anthem from decades past.  

On "Blank Page," the group’s groove reached its finest combustion whenever the couple’s vocalizing harmonized together with abandon. But the musical backdrop — a sophisticated fireball of soul, blues, rock and folk — is both visionary and rooted in the classics.  

"Thank you for being you," said Trotter Jr. before bringing this unforgettable evening to a close. "Thank you for being authentic. Thank you for being badasses." 

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