Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Operating Instructions

Friends of mine who live outside WTJU's coverage area expressed an interest in listening to my show. "No problem," said I, "just go to and click on the Listen Now! button."

Well, it turns out there was a problem -- sort of.

Said friends are Mac users. Now if you've visited our live streaming page, you'll see two options for streaming. The PC option's pretty easy. Just click on the Windows stream, and your computer will play the stream through it's built-in Windows Media Player.

Mac users can't do that, of course (unless they're running Windows in Boot Camp, but the folks who can do that will not be puzzled by our streaming page in the first place).

For all you Mac types, you need to use the Og Vorbis stream. When I first looked at the page, I was not at all happy with the thought of having to download a media player just to get the stream.

But fortunately, you don't have to do that. The Firefox 3.5 browser has an Og Vorbis player incorporated into it. So in Firefox you just click on the Og Vorbis stream, and voila!

Not using Firefox as your browser? My personal opinion is that it's worth downloading and installing. First off, it's one of the more secure and stable browsers around. Secondly, it's customizable.

My Firefox browser has the current weather forecast in the bottom toolbar, a button to show my Twitter feed in a side window, colored tabs, customized background and font set, a switch to emulate Internet Explorer 7 (for those sites woefully behind the times), and a number of other things that make my work day easier.

But more to the point, it will allow you to listen to WTJU easily.

So to all my Mac friends (and perhaps you, too), I say: love your taste in computers (I rock a PowerBook myself). Download or upgrade to Firefox 3.5 and start enjoying some good radio for a change!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

A Stirling Discovery

It's not hard to figure out how a piece should go -- you just follow the music (we'll keep the discussion simple and leave interpretation out of the equation for now). But what if there's no score to follow?

That's always the problem with music from the medieval and early renaissance. Sometimes there's no music, or if there is, it's very sketchy. Take the case of the castle decoration.

Really. In the process of studying some 16th century carvings on Stirling Castle, Scotland for restoration, scholars discovered an unusual pattern circling the medallions. They turned out to be musical notations. The three symbols indicated different notes. And (as you can hear on the BBC website), they work.

And that's how modern musicians recreate the music of the distant past. As Huw Williams of the BBC wrote,
So what we're actually hearing is a combination of sound musical scholarship and educated guess-work.
The music might not be quite the same as it was performed in the 1500's, but it still sounds pretty good to me.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Bach: Crab Canon Visualized

Music may be an audible art form, but sometimes visuals can help, too. Jos Leys, who normally works in the field of mathematics, has created a short film illustrating Bach's "Crab Canon" from the "Musical Offering" in action.

Now, I could tell you that what makes this composition such a tour-de-force is its simple complexity. A crab canon, or cancrizan, is sort of like a round. A melody starts off, and then the second voice comes in a few beats later, and this single tune layered against itself creates the harmony (like "Row, Row, Row Your Boat).

But a crab canon has the second voice enter with the melody in reverse. So the art is to construct a tune that makes sense forwards and backwards - and can harmonize with itself in the process. Hard to understand? I agree. That's why I like this video. View, and enjoy.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose

The more things change, the more they remain the same.

I had a conversation recently with a classical music lover. He had no use for modern music -- he only wanted to hear the great composers because, well, life was just too short. His underlying assumption was that the pantheon of great composers (and works) were handed down unchanged from time immemorial.

But the reality is quite different. My friend considers Mahler part of that pantheon -- but when he was alive, Mahler was considered a great conductor who composed, but not a great composer. Actually Wilhelm Furtwangler has the same reputation. Both wrote symphonies that contemporaries didn't think much of.

In Furtwangler's case, the assessment seems to be justified. His symphonies are big, portenous works that never seems to get off the ground (they kind of remind me of Bruckner on a bad day).

Mahler, on the other hand, when championed by Bernstein and other conductors in the 1950's found a place in the standard repertoire -- a combination I think of sympathetic conducting and the changing of audience tastes.

Had my friend lived in the latter part of the nineteenth century, he might have placed Joachim Raff in the circle of great composers. Although Raff was arguably more popular as a symphonist than Brahms during his lifetime, his works are now only heard on recordings.

In fact, Raff's symphonies vanished from the repertoire very soon after his death. Tastes changed, and they simply didn't bear up to repeated listening the way Brahms' works did. I personally find Raff's music quite nice -- but I'm hard pressed to hum a single motif after the work's over. No staying power.

In the late 1700's everyone agreed that Bach was an important composer -- and so was his brother. Johann Christian Bach was the toast of France and England, while Carl Phillip Emanual Bach had the Germanic nations in thrall. It would be much later that the general public rediscovered their father, Johann Sebastian and consigned them to relative obscurity.

In every age music lovers have felt that the list of greatest composers was immutable and unchanging -- which it never quite was.

And now that we're well into the 21st century, I wonder who will emerge as the unquestioned masters, and which will prove to be a passing fad. Unlike my friend, I don't believe I have a lock on the answer -- and life's never to short for me to hear a new musical work.

- Ralph

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

WTJU - Coffee or soda?

The best way to judge the value of something is to remove it. If you've ever had your car break down, or Internet access go out, or lose power in a storm, you know what I'm talking about. Things that are so integral to our daily lives that we don't even notice them become extremely important when they're gone, even momentarily.

So what would happen if WTJU went away? No, it's not going anywhere (that I'm aware of) - this is just a thought experiment. What if you didn't have classical music in the morning, or the Sunday night opera, or Ann Shafer's "A Time for Singing," or the early music show, or any of the other classical programs that we present?

Would it change your daily routine? It would sure affect mine (and I'm not just talking about being able to sleep a little later on Wednesdays).

And that's really the question to ask yourself if you're thinking about supporting WTJU financially. How much should you give is really a function what the station is worth to you and what you can afford.

Personally, I'd love to write a single check for $50,000 and give the operating budget a real shot in the arm. Realistically, I can't do that -- but for what the station gives me, I have to give something back.

Here's another way to think about it. When it comes to beverages, coffee's worth more to me than soda. I don't drink a lot of sodas, so if they were taken away, I wouldn't miss them, nor pay to replace them.

Coffee, on the other hand, is part of my morning ritual, as well as a default dessert option, and a mid-day pick-me-up (sometimes). So if coffee went away, I would really miss it (even without the resulting caffeine headaches). And I'd probably pay a premium price to get coffee back into the house if that was the only option.

So is WTJU the soda in your life, or the coffee? And what is that presence worth to you?