Running the Gamut 4 – A Thousand and One Questions
Since July 11, 1991, I’ve been hosting a classical music morning program on WTJU, 91.1fm in Charlottesville Virginia.. The three-hour program had a simple programming tenant — never repeat a work. (read more at Running the Gamut – A Thousand and One Wednesdays)
Wednesday, May 22, 2013 from 6-9am we’ll mark the 1000th program with a mini-fundrive, special guests, and a few surprises.
As May 22 drew close, interest started to grow about the program. The Daily Progress (the local paper) ran a feature on the show. And then the questions started to roll in. Some of the information I’ve already shared in the three previous posts about this (see the links at the bottom of the page), but there are a few that I might not get to on the air.
How do you select your music?
I strive for variety. So I try to represent at least three of the major style periods of classical music.
- Middle Ages – 1100 – 1300 (that’s not the full range of the historic time period, but 1100 AD is about the time of the earliest music manuscripts that have survived and can be deciphered)
- Renaissance – 1300 – 1600
- Baroque – 1600 – 1750
- Classical – 1750 – 1827
- Romantic – 1827 – 1890
- Post-Romantic – 1890 – 1920
- Modern/Contemporary 1920 – Present (I know, that covers a lot of ground, but it works for my purposes)
I also select work with a variety of musical forces.
- Orchestra- can also include concertos (solo instrument plus orchestra
- String orchestra – without the brass, woodwinds and percussion, this ensemble has a similar but different sound than a full orchestra
- Chamber group – can be anything from a string quartet, to a clarinet sonata (clarinet plus piano), a brass trio or even a mixed group of instruments (usually one player per instrument type)
- Solo instrument – solo piano, solo guitar, etc.
- Early instruments – a lute sounds quite different than a guitar, just as a harpsichord differs from a piano. I also include larger ensembles — such as a group of 30 musicians playing Bach on instruments of this period — into this designation
- Solo vocal music – the human voice, like the human form, is a beautiful thing, and we should not be scared of it
- Choral music – choruses either a capella or with instrumental accompaniment
Between those two parameters, it’s easy for me to establish a flow. So I might start with a renaissance choral work, then a post-romantic piano work, then a baroque concerto grosso, then a contemporary chamber piece, and so on.
What about that no-repeat thing? How do you keep it all straight?
I have a master playlist that I update during every program. It’s nothing fancy — just a Word document. But using keyword search I can quickly find if I’ve aired a work before or not. And if I look at the list of works by a composer (especially the ones with catalog numbers), I can usually see where the gaps are.
Why do you sometimes play music by the same composer several weeks running?
Two reasons. First, it helps build up familiarity with a composer. You, like me, may not have heard of Ferdinand Ries before I started airing his piano concertos. But by playing one Ries concerto every week until we had completed the cycle, it was possible to gain some familiarity with his style. By the third week, one could make an informed evaluation about Ries’ music.
The second reason goes to the previous question. In addition to keeping a master list, I also have two other systems. For CDs from my personal collection, I put a sticky note on it with all track numbers. As I air them, I cross them off, and when all the tracks are crossed off, I’m done with that recording.
The CDs in WTJU’s classical library are assigned a number when they arrive. I keep sheets of papers with those numbers on them. Next to each CD number are the track numbers. As they’re aired, I cross them off. If the release only has duplicates of works I’ve already aired, I cross it off the list. I do some skipping back and forth to satisfy my programming requirements (see the question above). The library is approaching 5,000 CDs. I’ve aired pretty much everything in the first 1,600.
What’s up with that theme music?
The opening theme music is Alfred Schnittke’s “March from an Imaginary Play.” It’s a rollicking little march with a wordless tune belted out by the conductor. What better way to wake people up at 6AM?
The closing theme music is a faux-classical selection by Ken Thorne. It’s the end credit music from the 1968 movie “Head” starring the Monkees. Its exaggerated ending seems a perfect way to bring the show to a close.
So now that you’ve reached Program 1000, are you going to do a regular show?
Hardly. The same day I wrote this post, a colleague suggested I air Arnold Sartorio’s Op. 1000 for the big show. I had never heard of this Italian-German composer before — let alone any of his music!
And while Sartorio might not be the greatest post-romantic composer around (I auditioned what little of his music has been recorded), it just shows that there is still a lot of music left to explore.
So we’ll keep pressing forward.
Part 1: A Thousand and One Wednesdays
Part 2: A Thousand and One Milestones
Part 3: A Thousand and One Lessons
Part 4: A Thousand and One Questions
Part 5: A Thousand and One Thanks