Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Spreading the Word

Question: How would you grow an audience for WTJU?

Answer: -- ?

I'm firmly convinced that we have yet to reach our full potential audience. Sure, other stations in are market are playing classical music, but their programming is based on a different aesthetic than ours. A colleague of mine who worked at a public radio station in Las Vegas years ago summed up their classical programming this way:

"Most of our major donors are plastic surgeons. So we've been told to program classical music that would sound nice in a plastic surgeon's waiting room."

And I don't think that's a particularly unusual programming concept. Maximize listenership by keeping the music appealing to the broadest possible audience. Recognize that most people just want classical music for pleasant background music as they go about their day.

Nothing wrong with that -- it's serving the needs (although sometimes I think its the perceived needs) of the audience.

Our classical programming runs a little deeper, pushes past the comfort zone, and basically is music by -- and for -- folks seriously into the genre.

Classical music has always been a niche market. Classical record (now download) sales account for about 7% of the market. So if WTJU's programming is appealing to only a portion of that market, how big can we expect our audience to be?

Well, that depends. Most of our announcers are, I think, invitational in their presentations. Don't know Bach from Offenbach? No problem. Just listen. You might hear something you like. And that's what it's all about. Exposing folks to this amazing body of music -- most of it virtually unheard on other stations.

So how do we get the word out? Well, we twitter, we blog, some of us Facebook. We stream on the web, and do everything we can to make our station as accessible as possible. But folks still have to discover us in some fashion.

And that's where you, gentle reader, come in. Chances are you're a regular listener to WTJU. Have you told your friends about us? Have you blogged about WTJU? Chatted about us on Facebook? Twittered us? Mentioned us in any social network?

Your recommendations have weight. If you believe in what we do, please spread the word. And don't forget to include our links!

audio stream:

- Ralph

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

What's Classical Music? Part 4 - Concerto concerns

Continuing the discussion of what makes classical music classical. My basic rule of thumb is that classical music is primarily the creation of a single creative voice. Brahms came up with the ideas for his first symphony. He wrote out the sketch score (didn't hire an arranger), he orchestrated it (didn't hire an orchestrator), he edited it -- the music is the product of a singl musical mind.

But there's lots of exceptions to that rule -- including one most people aren't aware of. Concertos.

These days you can expect to go hear a performance of a Mozart piano concerto and -- if you're really familiar with the work -- will know every note, even the cadenza. It's not to say that the performance can't be thrilling, but it will most likely run down the rails laid down by Mozart in his music.

Except that he wasn't that strict -- and neither were other classical and romantic era composers. When Mozart wrote his piano concerti, it was expected that the soloist would improvise the cadenza (that part near the end of the first movement when everybody stops playing).

In fact, if you pay attention, you can still hear a vestige of that tradition. In most concertos the soloists' cadenza ends on a single trilled note. Originally that was the signal for the orchestra to come back in. This improvised cadenza concept is one still used in jazz, but has mostly vanished in classical music.

By the mid 1800s' composers (and prominent performers) were supplying written-out cadenzas for soloists as an option. Eventually they became standard, and during the 20th Century it was rare that a cadenza was left to chance.

But there's still some remaining messiness. A particular cadenza may be the commonly used one for a concerto -- but if it's not by the composer does it matter? What about other versions? What about a performance where the cadenza is improvised?

This is another exception to my general rule that simply lands on the side of taste. If it sounds good, if the cadenza makes sense musically with the concerto, then I'll probably program it. But that's just me.

- Ralph

Monday, June 15, 2009

Gearing up for a Summer full of music

I got a lovely link to a somewhat local music festival in July. Lorin Maazel and Glenn Dichterow will be performing some of my favorite music in a rural setting, and I'm salivating at the thought!

It's the Castleton Music Festival in Rappahannock County, VA.

Of course, the cost is not for the feint of heart. Having tired of the traffic getting into Wolf Trap, and wanting something a little closer to home with artists I truly enjoy, this seems to be the perfect solution. I'm hoping it is!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

What's Classical Music? Part 3 - Lost in Transcription

In parts 1 & 2 I talked about what I personally define as classical music (at least for the purposes of choosing works to broadcast). Part 1 offered the core definition -- true piece of classical music is the creation of a single mind. Part 2 looked at one of the problems with that definition -- what about early music where that single mind wasn't very specific about things?

A reader asked a valid question: what about arrangements and transcriptions? It's another area of messiness. The Canadian Brass have a fine arrangement of Vivaldi's "Four Seasons," but it doesn't fit my personal criteria. Vivaldi very clearly orchestrated the work the way he wanted it heard -- and it didn't include any brass!

But while modern transcriptions of baroque and renaissance works are easy to classify, others blur the line.

It was a common practice in the 1800's to offer piano transcriptions of orchestral (and sometimes chamber) works. Some of it was hackwork, but not always. Brahms created piano four-hands versions of his symphonies. When it's the original composer making the decisions as to what get emphasized, what goes to the background, etc., it increases the validity of the transcription in my opinion (enough that I might actually air it).

Composers regularly create concert suites out of their ballet and opera scores. All perfectly legit. But what if one composer arranges the music of another?

Many professional arrangers are very, very good -- but their arrangements tend to be facile and superficial. The Browns aren't interested in a five-piano version of Schoenberg's piano music -- they want crowd pleasers like "Rhapsody in Blue!"

Mussorgsky wrote "Pictures at an Exhibition" as a solo piano work. But Maurice Ravel's orchestration of it has becom part of the repertoire. So is it legit? I think so, because Ravel's added depth to the work through his orchestration (although I would still think it important to hear the original).

Brahm's "Variations on a theme by Haydn" uses Haydn as a starting point and constructs original material around it -- definitely legit. And Brahms wrote both an orchestral version and a two-piano version (both of which I've aired).

For me, whether a transcription or arrangement works depends on whether the composer did it themselves (legit), or brought something musically significant to the original work (like Ravel did for Mussorgsky, but not like the Canadian Brass' arranger did for Tchaikovsky).

But wait, there's more. What about works started by one composer and finished by another? We'll save that discussion for another post!

- Ralph

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

What's Classical Music? Part 2 - Medieval Mystery

In part one I outlined some of the guidelines I personally use to select music to air on "Gamut." And for the most part, that rule works pretty well. What is classical music? Primarily (IMHO) it's music conceived, composed, arranged, and notated by a single person.

OK, that's pretty straightforward if you're dealing with Beethoven, or Vaughan Williams, or Brahms, or Corelli. But what about music from an earlier time?

The importance of the composer is something that really didn't come about until the 13oo's -- and even then it was primarily in the field of sacred compositions. It would be another 200 years before composer names were regularly attached to the more popular forms of music.

And there's the question of notation. Scholars may debate how loud Mozart intended a passage to be played when he marked it double forte. But the notation makes it clear that he wanted a particular combination of instruments to play louder (to some degree) at that spot in the composition.

But musical notation hasn't always been that exact. Instrumental combinations (or in some cases even voices) weren't specified in many compositions from the renaissance and earlier. The earliest examples of notation are little more than lines above the text, indicating the general direction the melody should take. They served more as reminders for singers who (presumably) already knew the tune.

And up through the 1400's, secular music wasn't written down at all. Musicians were expected to just know all the top hits, in the same way that modern professional musicians can play the standards without referring to the music.

What makes music classical when we don't know who the composer was, or what forces he (and occasionally she) intended? My personal rule for early music is this: if the performance gets as close as possible to the original intent and/or sound of the composition -- and is an engaging performance in its own right -- then I'll air it.

There are many different versions of the anonymous "Greensleeves" that I'll air. Solo lute, lute and voice, renaissance instrumental ensemble -- all those are valid, and represent the music as it would have been heard at the time. An arrangement for brass quintet? Sorry, no.

Ditto for the loosey-goosey scores of the medieval and renaissance sacred composers. We may not know how many voices Machaut intended on each part, but we do know he intended it to be sung. So a small vocal quartet works, as does a large choir. A saxophone quintet? No.

So rule two: if the composer's exact intentions are unknown, then performances that come as close as possible to what scholarship indicates they might be qualifies as classical music for me.

But there's more to the messy world of classical music. I'll explain in part 3.