Monthly Archives: May 2016

I Didn’t Get Fired

wrtilogo“I haven’t heard you on the air for a while. Did they fire you?” she asked. “It’s worse than that,” I said. “They promoted me.” Day One of my new job as Director of Content at WRTI is in the books; I officially started my new job yesterday.

Director of Content is a funny title. I was hoping for Director of Intent but I never did get that Masters in Mind-reading. Content, for a radio station, means responsibility over all programming (for us, classical and jazz), over everything on the website and social media, and over audio production. I’ve been telling my friends that, basically, whatever they don’t like about WRTI, from now on, is my fault.

They’d been talking about a Director of Content position for a couple of years; I just didn’t know they had me in mind for it. I had, I thought, been getting somewhat better in the afternoon on-air classical shift as I filled in since late Spring of 2015, and so I applied for that position when they announced to fill it permanently. I didn’t get it. They hired the consummate professional and wonderfully nice guy Kevin Gordon, who has already been a terrific addition to our staff.

No, I didn’t get that. I got this!, and already I’m having fun, enjoying looking under the hood of this great radio station, WRTI, and seeing how we can make it better than ever.

Diners and Concerts: You Just Never Know

[First published in Broad Street Review 15 May 2016 and reprinted here by permission.]

Illustration for Broad Street Review by Mike Jackson of allrightmike.com

A diner is a diner, but you never know. In Cincinnati for concerts of Canticle, a new choral work of mine, I spied a diner in an indoor mall near the downtown hotel where I was staying. When I peeked in and saw peninsulas of counters bordered by padded stools, and when I saw waitresses wearing crisp, collared uniforms, with receipt books and straws at the ready in their apron pockets, I knew where I’d be having breakfast all week.

I don’t need to look at the menu; I already know what I want and I know they’ll have it. Scrambled eggs are what I want in a diner, and whether to accompany them with pancakes or French toast and bacon or sausage are my only decisions. Grapefruit juice, yes, which, oddly, I only ever drink in a diner. Of course, coffee, which is never in a diner what you would call fantastic, but which sometimes does the trick.

Even though I don’t need to, however, I always do look at the menu, and for two reasons. One is because, as I already said, you never know. A Greek-owned diner will have moussaka, but you wouldn’t know Greeks run it until you look at the menu. I’ve never had moussaka for breakfast, but it’s a good thing to know that you could have moussaka for breakfast if you wanted, don’t you think? In the south, grits, you bet, but not just the south. You can get grits in Hatboro. If you see chorizo sausage in a diner, get it, for no other reason than that diners have had chorizo before chorizo was a thing.

So on this, my first morning in Cincinnati, I sat at a counter and retrieved the menu from its metal clasp behind the salt/pepper/sugar/sugar-substitute caddy, and in the list of sides of breakfast meats I saw bacon, ham, Canadian bacon, sausage links, and sausage patties. And “goetta.”

Goetta. Hello.

In all my days I had never seen the letters of my native language arranged in this order. I stared at this word and slowly a smile crept across my face. I placed the menu down softly and looked up. Even though I didn’t know what goetta was, I knew I would order goetta. Anything on a menu I’ve never had is what I will order, and that’s the second reason I always look at the menu.

Getting into goetta

The crisp waitress, having already come by with the coffeepot as soon as I sat down, greeting me with, “Coffee?” (I said yes, and it was good…“no way,” I whispered to the cup), now came back.

“What can I get you?” She spoke in that welcoming Kentucky recitative, her question starting high on “What,” descending to “get,” and flipping back up again on “you.”

“Two scrambled eggs, French toast, and…,” taking a stab at saying “goetta,” said, “goat-uh? What is that?” I pointed to the list of meats.

She looked up from her receipt book. “Gedda.” Then she said, thoughtfully, “It’s meat….”

“It’s” descended to “meat,” which went down and then up again, but it stopped before it went as high as I thought it might. Her voice trailed off, signaling that whatever she was considering saying next was either too wonderful for me to grasp, or too difficult for her to relive. But the coffee had put me in an expansive mood, so in as encouraging a tone as I could muster, I said, “Uh-huh?”

Emboldened, she continued. “It’s ground beef,” she hesitated. “And ground pork,” halting again. “And,” running out of steam, she tried another angle, asking flatly, “Ever had scrapple?”

My eyes lit up. “Oh yes,” I answered helpfully, “I’m from Philadelphia, and I love scrapple!” This really doesn’t follow logically, since half of Philadelphians can’t stand scrapple.

“Well then,” she said, recovering her professional assurance, “you’ll like goetta.”

“Great!” I said, remembering as she turned, “and a small grapefruit juice?”

“Sure thing,” she said over her shoulder.

And it was great. Goetta is a lighter tan than scrapple, with a milder, earthy spice. Oat grains, instead of corn meal, hold it together, making it chewier. I later discovered that half of Cincinnatians can’t stand goetta. I felt at home.

The grapefruit juice factor

That week I loved other Cincinnati foods: Graeter’s ice cream, and spaghetti blanketed with chili blanketed with cheddar—with oyster crackers on the side—who knew? Whenever I’m anywhere, I look for the things that are there and not anywhere else.

I look for that in live music, too. There’s always that grapefruit juice factor, something that you get only in a concert. At the second of the Canticle concerts, at a section beginning with the words, “The little white dove has returned to the ark with an olive branch,” the choir hit a new level of honesty and intensity. I knew the music, of course, but I warmed inside at the commitment and love of these singers and this conductor.

And just then—right there, at those words—a bird started singing, loudly and liquidly and beautifully, outside an open window of the church. Beaming, incredulous smiles broke over the singers’ faces. I thought they would stop singing; the bird was that loud. We talked about it later, struggling for words. Audience members thought I had added a birdsong recording, like the one in The Pines of Rome; they told me that, I’m serious.

Something always catches you in a concert, if you pay attention. Performers glow with love or they beam at words that go deeper than we know. In your own piece, you think you know what happens next, but, well… you order scrambled eggs, and a bird sings. A diner is just a diner, but sometimes you talk to your coffee, and sometimes there’s goetta, and sometimes, as I said, you just never know.

American Music on Its Own Two Feet: Chadwick

On Discoveries from the Fleisher Collection, Saturday, May 7, 5-6 p.m.

George Whitefield Chadwick (1854–1931): Angel of Death (1918)
Chadwick: Symphony No. 2 (1883–1885)

AngelDeathOn this month’s Discoveries from the Fleisher Collection, we continue our recent survey of the earlier American composers with a visit with George Whitefield Chadwick. It’s a revisit, too; on four previous occasions—from last month’s show all the way back to our third program in 2002—Chadwick has been turning up on Discoveries broadcasts.

But he’s never held a broadcast all on his own, and it’s appropriate that he takes that on now, because as American music grew from the late 19th century into the 20th, no one better epitomized that growth than George Chadwick. He was pre-eminent in what has been called the Second New England School of composers, or sometimes, the Boston Six. Although John Knowles Paine, Arthur Foote, Edward MacDowell, Horatio Parker, and Amy Beach were all excellent and recognized talents, Chadwick had the position, timing, longevity, and depth of repertoire to become the most influential.

As the elder statesman of American music, he would direct the New England Conservatory, write a lionized book on harmony, and teach a generation of composers. But Chadwick’s beginning wasn’t particularly august. From rural Massachusetts and practically self-taught, he did become an organist. He traveled to Europe for the putatively requisite proper compositional training but interspersed studies in Leipzig (with Reinecke and Jadassohn) and Munich (with Rheinberger, as we saw last month) with a long trek to France with friends, including the American artist Frank Duveneck.

Art inspired one of Chadwick’s last major works, Angel of Death. It premiered at the New York Symphony Society’s February 9, 1919 memorial concert for Theodore Roosevelt, who had died on January 6 of that year. But Chadwick had already finished the work in 1918, the genesis for the music being a memorial in Forest Hills Cemetery called “Death and the Sculptor,” “The Angel of Death and the Young Sculptor,” or The Milmore Memorial. Daniel Chester French created this bronze (a marble copy, shown above, was also created) for brothers Martin and Joseph Milmore, who died three years apart in the 1880s. The powerfully evocative sculpture inspired Chadwick’s work, likewise moving and grand.

A quarter of a century earlier he had been proving himself with his symphonic writing. The Symphony No. 2 had two premieres of sorts, both with the Boston Symphony Orchestra. The year 1886 saw the five-year-old orchestra premiering the complete symphony, but two years earlier it had given a hearing of just the spry second movement.

Already, the not-yet-30-years-old composer was so esteemed in this center of musical culture in America. Listeners immediately appreciated the symphony’s combination of European craftsmanship with American openness. Dvořák’s breadth, Tchaikovsky’s lyricism, and Mendelssohn’s wit all come together in a sparkle—a “wink,” one contemporary called it. Make no mistake: George Whitefield Chadwick was his own man and was one of, if not the, best American composer of his time.