Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The Ever-Expanding Repertoire

My program on WTJU, "Gamut," is one of exploration. When I started the program, I decided not to repeat any work -- each show would have music that I had never aired before.

One of the questions I'm repeatedly asked is, "Won't you run out of music?"

Not likely. We're talking about 1,000 years of music, and more being written every day. And there's more being discovered, too.

Last week, two piano pieces by Mozart came to light. Sure, they're over 200 years old, but no one's heard them since they were composed, so the music's certainly new to us!

The music resided in the Mozarteum Foundation of Salzburg, and was only recently authenticated. Mozart wrote a finite number of works, and its natural to assume that his catalog of works was set shortly after his death. And even if there are early works and unpublished manuscripts not found initially, that the chances of finding them would dramatically decrease over time.

After all, these manuscripts would be stored (most likely) in central Europe. The places where they resided would have had to survive the ravages of the Napoleonic Wars and two World Wars. Not to mention fires, floods and other natural disasters. And the inevitable decay of the paper itself, becoming more brittle and fragile over time, the ink fading as it chemically breaks down. And the custodians themselves -- some consider old documents a historic treasure; some just so much waste paper to burn.

It's natural to think that after two centuries whatever was going to be found has been found. But the world continues to surprise.

So I'm not worried about running out of music for "Gamut." I haven't even played all the Mozart currently available, and after last week, I need to add two more works to my list!

- Ralph

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Favorite Composer?

One of the most difficult questions for me to answer is this:

"Who's your favorite composer?"

For some, it's easy. I know some folks who consider Bach the greatest composer of all time. And a few others who think it's Mozart. And they consider that composer to be the greatest because that's who they enjoy the most.

But it's more difficult for me, because I try to listen to each work in the aesthetic context it was written in. I'm not prepared to say that a Palestrina mass is better (or worse) than a Brahms piano sonata. Or that a Haydn symphony is superior to a Dowland lute song. Composers are partially bound by the resources and aesthetics of their day -- the ones that transcend those limitations and speak to us today are the truly great ones.

I have a selection of favorite composers, but I freely admit that not all of them are considered the "greatest," and no one composer matches my emotional need for music all of the time. Sometimes I like the over-caffeinated restlessness of Steve Reich's compositions. Other times the calm serenity of a Dufay mass fills the bill.

Beethoven may have written the greatest symphonies (according to many), but Alan Hovhaness' Symphony No. 2 "Mysterious Mountain" is a work I find consistently moving.

Maybe that's why "Gamut" is the type of show it is. I haven't found that one favorite composer yet, and so I keep looking.

No worries, though. Searching through the collected body of classical music from the past thousand years has been more than half the fun.

- Ralph

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The Painless Fund Drive

As I've done for the past decade, I attended the Public Radio Marketing and Development Conference. I go as an exhibitor for our business, DCI, which works with public radio stations across the country. But I also sit in on as many sessions as possible as a representative of WTJU, trying to get ideas on how we can fund-raise more effectively.

Don't kid yourself -- the University of Virginia holds our license, provides us with a space, and pays the salaries of the paid staff. But it doesn't cover all of the expenses of running a radio station. And anyone who tells you it does is simply misinformed.

About half of our operating budget has to be raised from the community. Because money comes from different sources that vary, I don't have an exact figure, but it's somewhere around $56,000 we still need to raise this year. Some of it comes in through underwriting, but it's our listenership that has provide the bulk of that shortfall.

Our marathons are a lot of fun, and eagerly anticipated events, but as fundraisers go, their not always completely successful.

So what's the solution? Well, it's sitting in the lower left hand corner of our website. There's a "Donate Now!" button you can click and go straight to our secure server. Make an online donation, and you'll have done your part to support your favorite radio station.

Here's the thing: research has shown the public radio audience is moving increasingly online -- for listening, and for pledging. So if you're listening to us online from somewhere outside the Charlottesville area, donating online makes a lot of sense.

But it also makes sense if you're within our terrestrial coverage area. Because it's something you can do when you want to, any time of day.

We'll have our fall fundraiser coming up in a few months, and phone lines will be open, but you don't have to wait until then. Contribute now, and you can just enjoy the programming.

And here's a concept that was front and center at the conference: What if enough listeners contributed online to meet our fundraising goal before the marathon started?

I'm thinking it would mean we would have 10 glorious days of special programming with no on-air fundraising pitches. If we had 500 listeners donate $100 before October 1, the fund drive would be over before it began.

What's that worth to you? Enough to make you one of the 500?

I hope so. And I hope 499 others think the same way!

- Ralph

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Where do you get your music?

Anne Midgette, classical music reviewer for the Washington Post has a survey going on her blog. How do you get your classical music?

UK reviewer Jessica Duchen has some interesting thoughts in reaction to the survey. She outlines (for her) when CDs are best, when the radio's the choice, and of course, live performances.

Personally, I pick up classical music everywhere. One of the things I like about WTJU is that no two announcers are alike -- so I hear a large variety of music over the course of the week as each DJ presents the compositions and recordings they prefer. I also read a lot of reviews, mostly Gramophone and BBC Music Magazine, which keeps me up on new releases and sometimes leads to the discovery of new composers and works.

As far as owning classical music goes, I prefer CDs. That's not to say I don't have a digital library. I do. But it's a digital library on my terms. Let me explain.

There are several things I like about classical CDs.

1) Liner notes -- especially important for vocal music. Its difficult to fully appreciate a vocal work in a foreign language without a libretto (and translation).

2) Backup -- hard drives fail. I've had three fail so far, and lost many files (I now do regular backups, but still). If all of my music only exists digitally, then a good portion of it will be gone forever (and there's some tunes that Iwon't miss). I like having hard copies of the important stuff.

3) Sound Quality -- Classical music, more than other genres, rely on very subtle harmonic and timbral shadings that tend to get lost with heavy file compression. OK, some classical music can be bought with sampling rates of 256kbps (about double the normal MP3 bitrate), but there's still a lot missing. Especially when you consider that file is only about a fifth of the size of the origianl from a CD.

By ripping my own discs, I get to decide on the sound quality (which for me is Apple Lossless).

4) Creative Control -- Downloads were designed for popular music, and all of the organizational tools are oriented in that direction. Try finding classical selections on most download sites -- it's a mess. Missing opus and catalog numbers render titles virtually meaningless. Performer fields may have the performer, or perhaps the composer. In some cases the composer's not even listed.

When I rip CDs, I can set the data fields to show what I want them to. My classical music files are always easy to find, and search.

5) Too Much Music -- Again, digital music programs were designed for 4-minute songs, not 2-hour operas. Purchase a symphony as a download, and you get four separate tracks (billed separately, too). Want to hear them in order? You'll need to create a folder for them, and you can only hear the movements in sequence if you select that folder.

In iTunes, I can join consecutive tracks on a CD before importing. So the movements of a symphony are always locked together and treated as a single work in my iTunes library -- even on shuffle play.

But there's a drawback. I can only join together tracks from a single disc. So the best I can do with a 2-disc opera is create two files. But I can't join them together once I import them.

So my solution is just to leave the operas out. I'll pull in the overtures, but if I want to hear a complete opera, I'll just to have to pull the CDs off the shelf, and open up the booklet to follow along.

But that's not necessarily a bad thing at all.

So you do you get your classical music? Take the survey and let us know!

- Ralph