Radio, Radio

Radio, Radio

A live radio broadcast series of a top-notch symphony orchestra has fallen into my lap. Why? Because it was a good idea and clearly nobody else was going to do it. There’s apparently been talk for years about potential collaboration between the Rice University student-run radio station KTRU and the Shepherd School of Music, but nobody has ever had the time or made the effort to commit to putting it together. As director of External Ventures at KTRU and a student of music composition at Shepherd, arranging live concert broadcasts of the Shepherd School Symphony Orchestra seemed like an easy task. I thought all it took was just hooking up the right wires, getting the right people to say yes and then pressing play. Five broadcasts later I’ve learned my lesson that it takes far more than wires and signatures to make a successful radio show.

The process of experimentation has been exciting. There are no rules and the program is brimming with possibilities. I can be as creative as I want—I could reinvent classical radio. Which is sort of the problem: how, exactly, do you reinvent classical radio? What the hell does it even mean to do creative classical programming? For our upcoming broadcast of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony, I’m opening with a mash-up of Walter Murphy’s A Fifth of Beethoven (a remix of the famous motive from Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, used in the movie Saturday Night Fever) and Kanye West’s “Gold Digger.” I’ll also be featuring interviews with the chorus directors from the University of Houston—Kelly Turner and Betsy Weber—and Thomas Jaber, director of the Rice Chorale. I’m expecting at least 200 listeners.

The greatest, most unexpected pleasure of this series has come from the families of Shepherd students. Giving parents from around the world the chance to be a part of their son or daughter’s university accomplishments has been extremely rewarding. I’ve received several thank-you e-mails and phone calls from parents; I’ve heard we have listeners from Canada to New Zealand. Another unexpected pleasure has been making students feel special. I ask them for an interview, I show them that their talent and their hard work is appreciated, and I give their families a chance to be proud. And, you know, it feels good to get some recognition every once in a while. For anyone curious enough to listen, I keep an archive of past interviews and special programming on our new KTRU blog.

Producing my own broadcast series has been a lot of fun and I’ve learned a ton. But I’m running low on new programming ideas. Tell me, what would you do if you had your own broadcast series of orchestra concerts? Would anybody with radio experience care to offer some advice?

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One thought on “Radio, Radio

  1. mclaren

    Putting the composers in context always helps. Find some anecdotes about ’em that grabs you and talk about how the composers related to their era. Handel hanging the soprano out the window, Liszt snapping piano strings in concert, that sort of thing.

    Or you could invite some music students on and do something really off-the-wall, like, if you’ve got a piece by Wagner that night, discuss wihch Star Wars character Wagner would be, and why. Or if you’ve got a bunch of composers like Franck and Hindemith and Dvorak that the student orchestra will be playing, which kind of pizza each composer would be, and why.

    Another idea would be to play excerpts from piano reductions and compare ’em with excerpts from the symphonic version.

    Another possibility: play excerpts from other music composed at the same period and then explain how this particular composer/composition is different.

    Or you might on one particular instrument in the orchestra each week and discuss its development and interview all the students who play that instrument and delve into its background.

    Or you could go off on a wild tangent and compare and contrast pieces of symphony music that use the same orchestration or are the same length as the pieces you’re going to broadcast that night.

    Or you could do a mini-discussion of the history of music and show where each piece fits in.

    Or you could delve into the history of orchestral performances as a whole and explain that not long ago,audiences used to applaud in between movements and shout for encores. And that in Beethoven’s time they’d even insert extraneous movements from other pieces in between movements of a new symphony or concerto.

    Ton of possibilities.


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