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Monday, January 13, 2014

A Disapproval of Chorus

Time Wounds Heels Dept.: Pawing through my “radio souvenirs” file yesterday, I found some documents from the start and finish of my brief career as morning programmer and announcer at WMHT-FM in Schenectady, back when the station had an in-house staff that knew something about classical music. Trouble was, the administrators didn’t. The station’s chief honcho not only was admirably ignorant about the music, but hated vocal music and anything with harpsichord.

Artwork by B. A. Nilsson
But! you argue: Don’t you need to know something about music even to hate an aspect of it? Of course, but this was (and remains) a listener-supported station, and the GM’s attitude was shaped by the people who would donate their thirty bucks to the station and then whine when something they didn’t like was aired. It seems that harpsichords and singers topped the list.

Shortly after I started there, one of the GM’s lackeys sent this memo to the radio stations’s program manager:

May 6, 1980
Re: WMHT Opera Policy

Over the months, you and I have had many separate discussions on individual aspects of handling operatic materials on the station. The following is an attempt to collect these points into a single, manageable package:

I. Opera, full or partial, shall only appear on Tuesday evenings with the exception of TV/FM simulcasts.

    A. Use of operatic material such as arias, overtures, etc., may be used sparingly elsewhere.

    B. The use of operatic materials in listener request periods shall not exceed one act per program.

II. Should opera be the content of a TV/FM simulcast other than on Tuesday evening, then something other than opera should be played on the Tuesday of that week, with notice to this effect given during the previous Tuesday's programing.

III. If opera is the content of any (NPR or syndication) regularly scheduled series, there are these options:

    A. Cancel and substitute for that particular program in the series.

    B. Use the material in that Tuesday night's slot.


The part that leapt out at me was in section I, paragraph A, suggesting that “overtures ... may be used sparingly elsewhere.” Overtures? You mean the part that’s played before the singing starts?

This memo – and the controversy that it provoked between FM staff and the cloth-headed administrators – prompted me to create the poster you see, which I hung in the FM studios. It remained for only a couple of days before I was told to remove it.

I was a discipline problem at the station, I will admit. I talked back to supervisors and irate phone callers. I played a Sinatra recording on Cole Porter’s birthday. But what finally prompted me to quit was a memo I saw, from yet another massively stupid administrator, who was charged with the task of reviewing all programming so that those dreaded musical horrors wouldn’t appear.

You’ll see Mendelssohn’s music for “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” among the offenders. It was there because a soprano soloist was listed among the artists. I had chosen that piece, which in fact was only a 35-minute suite of selections from a substantially longer work – and the soprano was featured only in the final, four-minute section.

But how to fight such ignorance? I packed up and left – and four other unhappy employees left when or soon after I did. There’s another story to be told about all that, and I’ll soon get to it. Here’s the programming complaint sheet:

March 11, 1982
Some questions on the programming through the 18th:

Fri., April 2, 2 p.m. – Stabat Mater (Choral piece)

Sat, April 3rd, 4 p.m. – Library of Congress (Lieder)
    followed by Jazzmasters
    followed by Pops
    Five hours of non-regular (for want of a better term) programming!

Sunday, April 4, 6-7 a.m. – My Heart is Inditing/Christ Church Chorus
    (religious=Sunday morning?)

    7-8a.m. – 12 minute harpsichord piece
    1 p.m. – Trois Chansons/Robert Shaw Chorus
    2 p.m. – Helsinki Univ. Chorus
    4 p.m. – Ambrosian Singers
    Too much choral in one day?

Monday, April 5, 1 p.m. – Madrigals

Tuesday, Apr. 6th, 11 a.m. – Midsummer/Incidental Music

Wed., April 7th., 11a.m. – Toccata Prima harpsichord.
    followed by 3-harpsichord concerto – 25:30 of harpsichord?
    2 p.m. Ambrosian Chorus

Thurs., Apr. 8th., 2 p.m. – Schumann/Frauenliebe und Leben

Sunday, Apr. 11th., 2 p.m. – Vancouver Chamber O. Chorus
    3 p.m. Beethoven "Choral"
    5 p.m. DaCamera Organ
    followed by
    7 p.m. Organ Loft
    8 p.m. NY Phil/Caballe followed by
    Choral Tradition

Monday, April 12th., 11 a.m.    Choral Fantasia
    2 p.m.    Dallas Sym. O. and Chorus

Tuesday, April 13th.,    1 p.m. – Trois Chansons Bretonne/Stockholm Chamber O. Chorus

Wed., April 14th., 2 p.m. – Del Tredici/Final Alice

Fri., April 16th., 2 p.m. – Brahms/Temple U. Chorus-S. Verrett

Sunday, Apr. 18th., 6 a.m. – 4 motets: Cantores in Ecciesia (religious=Sunday?)
    1 P.M.    – 4 lieder

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