Not-mad scientists behind Nov. 23 Starlighting fireworks show

Virginia Grantier

Coming to town, soon, this team: They’re about 39 strong. Some are aerospace engineers and consultants — one is working on NASA’s Jupiter Probe project — and there are physicists, computer scientists and electrical engineers. One works for the U.S. Department of Defense.

They operate out of a remote, unnamed, undisclosed, secure location in a farmland area of Colorado. There isn’t a listed phone number or a website.

And what they’re working on, still designing, is about to explode — in Castle Rock, on Nov. 23.

Like usual.

This is the team — mostly volunteers who earn nothing, just clamor to do it because it’s so much fun — that has been designing for a couple years the annual fireworks show synchronized to music off the top of Castle Rock after the star is lit for holidays.

“It’s a passion. It really truly is … a dream job,” said Marc Williams, 53, of Parker, co-founder of Night Musick Inc., named after composer Mozart’s “Eine kleine Nachtmusik.”

“We like to blow things up,” he said. “We’re super geeks, engineers … We’re a bunch of 12-year-old boys (and girls) masquerading as 50-year-old super geeks.”

They only do about 20 of these projects a year — because of the countless hours to design them and other issues. He said that people couldn’t imagine the levels and layers and regulations in these days and times when explosives are involved — “transportation regulations, storage, state and federal, backgrounds checks,” and dealing with such as agencies as the U.S. Department of Justice and Homeland Security.

That’s the reason for the security and secretiveness of the operation. Although, this team, graduates of some of the top universities in the country — Purdue, Colorado School of Mines and so on — seemed to have passed all tests. Williams said they’re allowed to work with any and all explosives out there.

Safety first

On Castle Rock, they use what are called proximate fireworks, which look like regular fireworks but are so safe and precise they can be set off next to curtains or off a rooftop, he said.

Basically, everything they use, they’ve designed, including all the hardware — designs by electrical engineer and computer scientist Don Kark of Highlands Ranch. Williams said they wrote the code that controls the fireworks display, even designed the tubes that hold aerial shells. If something were to malfunction, a tube’s strength is such it could withstand any unintended explosions within it. The scientists’ equipment standards “greatly exceed industry standards,” he said. And they’ve never had an accident.

Williams, who has been on the Discovery Channel’s show “How Stuff Works,” said from his computer during the show he’ll be able to monitor everything — feedback from field units, will know radio-signal strength, timing of explosives.

He said countless hours go into synchronizing the explosions to music, music ranging from Nat King Cole to Handel’s Messiah’s Hallelujah Chorus, which will always be the finale. He said last year during the finale there were people with their arms up and tearful.

Williams said both of his grandfathers worked with explosives, one in rock quarries, the other in Kansas salt mines, and he was in college when he started Night Musick Inc. with his wife, Theresa Williams, now an aerospace engineer, among other things. She also owns a pet supply store in Parker and competes in dog shows with her Rottweilers.

He said they, both geeks, wanted to in 1986, with the technology available, develop computer-controlled synchronized fireworks displays. And things grew, to putting on shows for rock bands, baseball teams and July 4 shows.

Youths pitch in

This starlighting will have some young designers involved, too.

Andria Deaguero, a teacher at an expeditionary high school in Aurora, wanted to interest her students in science through pyrotechnics. Deaguero, who has a Ph.D. in chemical engineering and her undergraduate degree from Colorado School of Mines, asked a Purdue professor if he knew of anyone who could work with their kids. He did.

So, pieces of this year’s starlighting display, like the red effects during the song “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” are the students’ design. And they plan to see it, coming to Castle Rock on buses. Next year, local students might be involved. Williams has a nephew, Shaun Martin, who teaches at Castle Rock’s Castle View High School.

Williams and crew also will have an FM radio transmitter set up. People who want to listen to the music on a radio while watching the fireworks should, at about 5:15 p.m. Nov. 23, set it to FM 97.7.

This year’s Starlighting event, the 78th annual, is from 2 to 7 p.m. Nov. 23. There will be ice skating available at Rink at the Rock, 414 Perry St. — and other activities such as carriage rides, puppet shows and other performances. From 4 to 7 p.m. will be a chili dinner at the Castle Rock fire station, 300 Perry St.

The Starlighting ceremony starts at 5 p.m. at Historic Wilcox Square between Third and Fourth Streets on Wilcox Street. At 5:30 p.m. is the actual lighting of the star,

And then the not-mad very glad scientists get to work for a fireworks show of about 25 minutes.

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