Americans on Summer Listening

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While we take a quick break from Summer Listening today, and celebrate our Independence Day, it’s a good time to remember some of the great classical music created on our own continent. Some say “Jazz is America’s classical music,” and while jazz is certainly one of America’s native art forms, we have our own classical music tradition that goes as far back as the revolution.

William Billings (1746-1800) was trained as a tanner, but is known as one of the earliest American composers. He wrote hymns and “fuging tunes,” like this one. Centuries later, William Schuman (1910-1992) adapted three of Billings’ hymns for his New England Triptych for orchestra.

Samuel Barber (1910-1981) is well-known for his Adagio for Strings, but during Summer Listening we’re listening to his Violin Concerto, composed in 1939. Barber is one of the few composers who has won the Pulitzer twice. His violin concerto begins with a lush, lyrical movement, but ends with a blistering, Olympic race for the violin and orchestra. Here is a performance with Anne Akiko Meyers.

Arnold Eagle. Appalachian Spring (1945)

If you hear any classical music that sounds “American,” there’s a good chance it was written or inspired by Aaron Copland (1900-1990). It’s hard to describe the exact qualities that make it so, but when you hear it you know it.Appalachian Spring was written for Martha Graham (and was actually called “Ballet for Martha” before she gave it its actual title). Copland was always amused that people would tell him they “heard spring and the Appalachian mountains” in his music, since he wasn’t thinking of that when writing it. Like Schuman’s New England Triptych, Copland uses an old folk song, Simple Gifts, within this music. It provides the basis for a set of variations about halfway through. Earlier this year, the University of Maryland Symphony Orchestra performed Appalachian Spring with choreography, in one of the most unique performances to date.

And here’s a fun video of Aaron Copland’s Hoe-down from Rodeo!

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Composer Arnold Bax wrote his Violin Concerto in 1937-38 for Jascha Heifetz. Heifetz, reportedly, was disappointed in the work. Bax himself didn’t acknowledge the opus until he was asked to provide a new work in 1943 for violinist Eda Kersey. The work was reintroduced by the soloist with the BBC Symphony Orchestra conducted by Sir Henry Wood.

Bax was initially reluctant to compose music for film, but was persuaded to for the David Lean 1948 adaptation of Oliver Twist. Bax was not partial to Dickens’ novel and felt he couldn’t provide music appropriate to the subject. It was written quickly over the course of 10 weeks.

Three pieces for Small Orchestra date from 1912-13 when they first appeared as a set of four. Bax eventually abandoned the fourth and re-titled the others. The works are titled Evengling Piece, Irish Landscape and Dance in the Sunlight.

We’ll hear these works on English Pastorale, Sunday at 9 am.

Summer Listening Has Begun!

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Welcome to Classical 90.5’s Summer Listening 2014! You’ll discover music and revisit some old favorites during July. We’ll be sending some emails along the way with interesting information about the music, links to hear them online and more!

How do I participate?

It’s easy: sign up here and listen! You can join regardless of your age. Parents, grandparents and guardians: this is great way to introduce your young ones to classical music. All you have to do is turn on the radio or our stream. These emails will you give you some interesting information about the music to pass along. If nothing else, you’ll own the music category at trivia night.

Can I share this with other people?

We hope you will. Forward this email, post something on your Facebook wall, share it on Twitter or print this and give to your friends and family.

What’s this prize package I hear about?

When you sign up, we’ll enter your name in a drawing for a prize package that will include a Classical 90.5 t-shirt, some free CDs, stickers for your car, bike or jet, and more!

You can see the complete list of music at wuol.org/summerlistening and listen during July at 11am and 4pm. (Of course, we have great music 24 hours a day, too!)

Off Air? Here’s Why…

It’s unfortunate, but sometimes radio (and TV) stations go off air for various reasons. It’s as frustrating for us as it is for you. Why does it happen? Why does it last so long, sometimes? Are you aware it happens? All good questions, with good answers. Below are a few situations and explanations as to why we’re off air.

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Automation System at WUOL

1. There’s no sound. Only popping and hissing. This could be a problem at our transmitter in New Albany, Indiana, or with the signal from our studios to the transmitter. We’re still transmitting, but for some reason no music is reaching the tower. This could be a computer error with our “Automation System” (pictured right), when someone isn’t in our studio.

2. My radio is set to 90.5 FM, but I’m hearing a different station. Chances are we have lost power at our transmitter and a nearby station on the same frequency is bleeding on to our channel. This requires our engineer to high-tail it out to the transmitter in New Albany to address the problem, which could range from a fuse blowing to a major power outage, or even damaged equipment (over-heating in the summer or freezing in the winter).

WUOL Transmitter in New Albany, IN.

WUOL Transmitter in New Albany, IN.

3. There is a lot of static. It’s hard to pinpoint this problem since there is a lot out of our control, like atmospheric conditions, the quality of your antenna or structural interference (office buildings, large structures, etc). This is most likely impossible to fix, since too many factors are at play.

4. You’re not playing music. Is someone asleep at the studio? Are you aware of the problem? We are always aware of the outages. Many of us who work at Louisville Public Media receive email and text alerts on our phones when we go off air. It looks like this:
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Contrary to what you might think and hear, we don’t have someone who is sitting in the WUOL studio 24 hours a day. Some of our live hosts are coming to us from a shared service in St. Paul, Minnesota. Why? We simply don’t have the financial support to provide live hosts who work in our studios in downtown Louisville, 24-hours a day. Using this service allows us to provide excellent music in an affordable way. We hope this helps you understand some of the off air issues and how we work to correct them as quickly as possible. If you would like to learn how you can support the purchase of new equipment or new staff people, please feel free to contact our development team at (502) 814-6500. If you have other questions about Classical 90.5, please email us: studio@wuol.org.

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Classical 90.5 studio board

Delius’ America

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Two major European composers became smitten with American “Negro folk” melodies. Both spent time in America and both absorbed these folk tunes into their own compositions. One was Antonin Dvorak and the other was Englishman Frederick Delius.

Delius’ father was a hard-working German immigrant in Yorkshire, England. He expected his sons to follow in his footsteps into the wool trade. Frederick, however, had different ideas. As a last-ditch effort to get his son into business, Delius’ father bought an orange grove in Florida. He hoped that this would convince his son to give up his dream to become a composer. Instead, Frederick spent his Florida days getting to know the locals and soaking up the sounds from the ex-slaves who sang and played on the Florida plantations.

American Rhapsody is one of two versions of a set of variations on an old slave song. The rhapsody is the shorter of the two and was combined with other, more familiar American themes. Delius was unsatisfied with this version and returned to the song later in the more successful Appalachia.

The Florida Suite was written in 1887 when Delius was 24. It was his first major orchestral composition, written while the composer was attending the Leipzig Conservatory of Music. To get it performed, Delius provided the musicians with a keg of beer. The movement “By the River” is the closest to a big Romantic melody the composer ever came.

Delius first heard the ex-slave song with which he’d base Appalachia on while he was living in Danville, Virginia, teaching violin. The work, which was scored for chorus, orchestra and baritone soloist, was completed in 1903.

We’ll hear these works by Delius on An English Pastorale, Sunday at 9 am.