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When Whoopi Goldberg moved into the convent as Sister Mary Clarence in the 1992 film Sister Act, the abbey was forever changed – or at least changed until Sister Act 2 a year later.

The music world might have seen a similar revelation and revolution, if not for society’s limitations on women in centuries past.

Consider two highly musical sisters, Maria Anna Mozart and Fanny Mendelssohn. Both received outstanding musical instruction. Both impressed thoughtful, unbiased contemporaries as immensely talented – equal to or perhaps even superior to their more famous brothers.

Maria Anna Mozart
Maria Anna Mozart

As a child, Maria Anna Mozart (Nannerl) studied with her father Leopold. She and younger brother Wolfgang were both on show as prodigies, touring Western Europe and Vienna with their father.

Maria Anna developed into a thoroughly capable composer, an accomplished keyboardist, and a fine improviser. Her father proudly touted her talents: "My little girl plays the most difficult works with incredible precision … although she is only 12 years old, [she] is one of the most skillful players in Europe."

And yet, as little brother Wolfgang rapidly progressed, Papa Leopold put the brakes on his big sister’s career.

Despite her father’s restrictions, Maria Anna served as Wolfgang’s agent, inviting Haydn to her home and playing some of Wolfgang’s quartets for the older composer. And in one of her letters, Maria Anna said that she had been Wolfgang Mozart’s only music advisor. Indeed, Wolfgang sent her most of his piano concertos, at least up to #21. He expressed amazement at Maria Anna’s skill as a composer, and – despite Leopold’s admonitions – encouraged her to write more. Alas, none of her compositions survives.

As the decades passed, although no radical changes developed, the climate improved somewhat for women musicians.

Fanny Mendelssohn

In the early 1800s, another dynamic sister-brother duo appeared on the scene. Both prodigiously talented siblings in the prominent Mendelssohn family, Fanny and Felix, studied with the finest instructors that Berlin could offer, thanks to their father’s encouragement (and his substantial financial resources).

Fanny Mendelssohn wrote a significant amount of music. But if her brother Felix encouraged her to compose, he drew the line at publication. He wrote that publishing her music "would only disturb her" in her "primary duties" of managing the home.

Of course, he was just echoing the cultural norms of the day – and papa Abraham’s exhortation to his 14 year old daughter: "You must become more steady and collected, and prepare more earnestly and eagerly for your calling, the only calling of a young woman — that of a housewife … music will perhaps become [Felix’s] profession, but for you it can and must only be an ornament, never the root of your being and doing."

Despite these restraints, Fanny persevered. Her surviving works include over 250 lieder, a string quartet, an overture, a piano trio, 125 solo piano works, and four cantatas.

In one of her late songs, Dein ist mein Herz, Fanny Mendelssohn quotes the poet Nikolaus Lenau. She bares her soul to many of those who held her back – perhaps most pointedly to her brother, whom she adored: "The dearest thing I may acquire in songs that abduct my heart is a word to me that they please you, a silent glance that they touch you."

– Sylvia Docking

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September 15th through October 15th is Hispanic Heritage Month. It’s dedicated to folks with roots in Central and South America, the Caribbean, Mexico, and Spain. But it’s also a time for all of us in this great melting pot to celebrate who we collectively ALL are.

PBS Western Reserve Public Media (Channels 45/49) is airing a month long series. Latino Americans is six one-hour documentaries featuring interviews with nearly 100 Latinos – and more than 500 years of History. (See times and dates here.)

I. Foreigners in their Own Land (1565-1880)
II. Empire of Dreams (1880-1942)
III. War and Peace (1942-1954)
IV. The New Latinos (1946-1965)
V. Prejudice and Pride (1965-1980)
VI. Peril and Promise (1980-2000)

Uncounted musicians from Central and South America have transformed lives round the world through their artistry. Here are just a few:

Manuel Barrueco is a Cuban classical guitarist, born in 1952 in Santiago de Cuba. He has toured in the US, Europe and Japan, and serves on the faculty of Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore, Maryland.
Manuel Barrueco
Manuel Barrueco (ML Films)
Carlos Bonilla
Carlos Bonilla
Carlos Galo Raúl Bonilla Chávez – better known as Carlos Bonilla – was born in Quito, on March 21, 1923 and died there on January 10, 2010. He was one of the pioneers of the Ecuadorian classical guitar and an important figure in 20th-century Ecuadorian music.
Juan Leovigildo Brouwer Mezquida was born March 1, 1939 in Havana. He is a Cuban composer, conductor, and guitarist. He usually goes by the name of Leo Brouwer.
Leo Brouwer
Leo Brouwer
(Wikimedia Commons)
Gustavo Dudamel
Gustavo Dudamel
(Music Education UK)
Gustavo Adolfo Dudamel Ramírez is a rising Venezuelan conductor and violinist. He is the music director of the Orquesta Sinfónica Simón Bolívar and the Los Angeles Philharmonic, and honorary conductor of the Gothenburg Symphony.
Antonio Lauro (August 3, 1917 – April 18, 1986) was a Venezuelan musician, one of the foremost South American composers for the guitar in the 20th century.
Antonio Lauro
Antonio Lauro
(WVPM)
Tania Leon
Tania Leon
(Wikimedia Commons)
Tania León (born May 14, 1943 in Havana) is a composer, conductor, educator and advisor to arts organizations. She has been profiled on ABC, CBS, CNN, PBS, Univision, and Telemundo. She’s also been the subject of independent films.

— Sylvia Docking

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Leonard Bernstein
(Wikimedia Commons)

For all the years that I’ve been doing classical radio (and it’s been a few), I’ve pushed back against this idea that somehow only folks with music degrees can Truly Appreciate classical music. It just isn’t so. At the same time, I have to say that music is like almost anything worthwhile – say, baseball or ballet – in that the more you understand about it, the more you love it.

So, about 6 months ago, I wrote about a few ways to build up your music chops. As I suggested then, one of the most enjoyable ways is through Leonard Bernstein’s Young People’s Concerts. These were – and are – not just for kids!

Bernstein’s YPCs were originally broadcast on CBS television from 1958 to 1972. Stop and think about that for a second. We’re talking classical concerts – with music education, no less! – on prime-time commercial television. Let that sink in, and ask yourself where you might find the equivalent today. Go ahead. I’ll wait.

Back to Bernstein. Over the years of YPCs, he answered the kind of questions that make a real difference in understanding music, for people of all ages: What does music "mean"? What makes music symphonic? What’s a melody? What’s a mode? What’s sonata form?

When last I wrote about the Young People’s Concerts, some were available on DVDs – but only about half of them. It wasn’t at all clear what had happened to the rest, or whether we’d ever get to see them again.

Many of these programs are over a half-century old. It’s apparently taken some sleuthing to locate them. (I can understand that. I’d rather not discuss the state of my own personal audio archive, and it’s not 50 years old – yet.)

There are technical considerations, too. These programs were produced for the 1960s, when a 23 inch screen was as much as anyone needed for the living room. With today’s 6-foot wall mounted screens, viewers are more demanding than they used to be. The programs are no doubt suffering a little middle-age physical deterioration, too (aren’t we all). Thus they’ve had to undergo some digital alchemy in an effort to reverse some of that aging process, and bring them as close as possible to modern video standards.

I’ve just learned that the folks at Kultur, who brought out the earlier YPC set almost a decade ago, have finally finished rounding up and polishing the programs for a second volume. They say that they’ve now located and restored all the original YPC episodes. The second volume comprises 27 hours on 9 DVDs, bringing the total to a whopping 52 hours. List price for the second volume is $150. The new set will be released in about 7 weeks’ time (19 November 2013).

Further Exploration:

Leonard Bernstein’s Young People’s Concerts, Volume 1 at Arkivmusic

Leonard Bernstein’s Young People’s Concerts, Volume 2 (pre-release) at CD Universe

Leonard Bernstein’s The Unanswered Question (Harvard Lectures) at HB Direct


Disclaimer: WKSU receives no financial advantage from your use of any for-profit vendor(s) cited in this message. Recordings are available from a variety of sources, both local and online. Links are provided for your information and convenience. They don’t signify an endorsement.

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Teresa Carreño
Teresa Carreño

Maybe you’ve seen Jonathan Goldsmith as "The Most Interesting Man in the World," promoting a certain liquid product on television. It’s sheer fantasy, of course. But how about "The Most Interesting Pianist of the Present Age"?

That title went to a Venezuelan pianist in the late 19th century. The noted critic Hans von Bülow bestowed it. He declared that this pianist "sweeps the floor clean of all piano paraders who, after her arrival, must take themselves elsewhere."

Did you notice that pronoun? In an era dominated by male musicians, von Buelow said "her."

This phenomenon of the piano was Teresa Carreño. Rossini was mesmerized by her. The great American pianist Louis Moreau Gottschalk called her a genius. Claudio Arrau remembered hearing her in his youth: "I don’t think I ever heard anyone fill the Berlin Philharmonic, the old hall, with such a sound."

As a child, Carreño took a few lessons from Gottschalk. Anton Rubinstein tutored her for a time in London. When she was a teenager, Liszt heard her in Paris and offered her lessons on the spot. Strong-willed even then, she declined his invitation, refusing to follow him to Rome.

Not only was Carreño an accomplished, powerful virtuoso pianist, she was quite attractive and possessed a gorgeous mezzo-soprano voice. She even conducted, and, for a time, ran an opera company.

Carreño wowed President Lincoln in a White House performance – but not before expressing her disapproval of the piano! As a virtuoso in Europe, she was just shy of canonization.

But Carreño was rather less than a saint in her private life, which really wasn’t very private at all. One German publication reviewed the "Walküre of the Piano" thus: "Frau Carreño yesterday played, for the first time, the second concerto of her third husband at the fourth Philharmonic concert."

In fact, Carreño eventually married four times. Two of her husbands were brothers. Legend has it that she kept a loaded pistol on her piano to ward off unwelcome guests.

A most unlikely friendship and mutual admiration developed between this enchantress and the staunchly conservative New England-born composer Amy Beach. Beach even dedicated her Piano Concerto in c sharp minor to Carreño.

Teresa Carreño may indeed have been one of the most interesting pianists of all time.

— Sylvia Docking

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Radio Silence
(Gnokii / openclipart.org)

(Pssst. This way. Over here. That’s it.)

Our daytime classical music hasn’t gone away – it’s just moved to a different neighborhood. We’re now on the digital side of town. But that doesn’t mean you have to be a computer expert to listen. Let’s see how.

First up: HD radio.

For about the last decade, American radio has been cautiously dipping its toes into the digital stream (so to speak). We’re not like television, belly-smacking the icy digital lake and leaving the analog laggards unplugged on the beach. None of that for us; Grandma’s Atwater Kent still picks up stations, thank you very much, and I don’t see that ending any time soon.

The downside of that strategy is that because you don’t have to get a digital radio, chances are pretty good that you haven’t yet. Right now, digital radio is in about the same state that FM was in, say, 1964.

Make no mistake about it, though; digital radio is here. The FCC approved it over a decade ago. In July of 2008, WKSU signed on with a digital transmitter. By the following summer, all of our stations except the Ashland repeater were broadcasting digitally.

Generically, our digital system is called In-Band On-Channel (IBOC) digital radio. HD Radio is a type of IBOC, but the two terms might as well be interchangeable – so far HD is the only IBOC flavor that’s made the scene. (That’s probably a good thing. Remember the Betamax and VHS wars?)

HD Radio is a proprietary system from Ibiquity Digital Corporation. If you’re interested in the details, you can read more about HD radio here in Wikipedia.

This isn’t television, and the letters "HD," Ibiquity reminds us, don’t mean "high definition." What do they mean? Ibiqity isn’t saying. However, I like to think of HD as meaning "hidden digital," because hidden inside WKSU’s radio signal are four extra digital signals. One of those signals plays classical music 24 hours a day. Another is 24-hour folk music, and one is 24-hour news and information. The last one is a digital version of what you hear on an ordinary analog radio.

If you’re just after WKSU’s classical music, an HD radio receiving that 24-hour classical signal is hands down the easiest way to get it, and possibly the most economical. A few HD radios sell for $50, a couple for even less than that. Unlike satellite radio, you don’t need a subscription, and there are no ongoing fees.

If you have a high-end component audio or home theatre system, you may want to consider an HD radio tuner.

I’ve seen one very inexpensive model – well under $100 – but can’t recommend it. The good stuff is assuredly not under $100. HD tuners are aimed at audiophiles, with price tags to match. A Denon TU-604ci with an HD radio card will run you between $800 and $1300, depending on how sharp your bargain-fu is this week. The Macintosh MR88 is, well, the Mac of HD radio component tuners, with a price about what you’d expect for a Mac.

If you don’t mind used gear, you might look for a Sony XDR-F1HD. They’re no longer made and have a strong audiophile following – strong enough that used ones now sell for 2-3 times what they cost new! Another discontinued HD radio tuner to watch for on Craigslist and Ebay is the Sangean HDT-1X.

Given the cost and availability of component HD radio tuners, I recommend that you think about an Internet radio tuner instead. We’ll talk about that a bit more later.

What if you want to listen in your car? In the last few years, the major automakers have been gradually adding HD radios to their lines. They’re starting with the most expensive and sophisticated cars and working down the range, which is the way they handled FM radio vs AM radio about 4 decades ago. But it’s a pretty good bet that the next car you buy will have an HD radio.

If you don’t want to wait, you can get an HD radio installed in place of your factory car radio. See below for some Yelp reviews of Akron-area car audio installers.

Something new has shown up on my radar recently – a HD radio adapter for the factory radios in many cars. I have to admit I don’t know how well these work, so if you try one, please post a comment below.

They remind me a little of the FM adapter I had for my ’65 Dodge Dart (yes, I actually drove one, back in the day). However, these don’t hang under the instrument panel like the FM adapters did. According to the manufacturer, your car looks the same, but the radio gives you HD radio reception. The cost depends on what car you have, but typically it’s around $200 plus installation.

You can also add one of our apps to your smartphone or tablet (see below), and plug it into your car’s auxiliary audio input jack. Our IT folks and engineers can walk you through the process, and help you get the proper cable. Just call us during business hours at 800 672-2132.

Another answer is to plug a portable HD radio into that same auxiliary jack. How well this works will probably depend on how close you are to our transmitters. Make sure you can return the radio if it doesn’t work for you.

How’s digital radio sound? Great! You’ll sometimes see it advertised as "CD quality." I don’t agree with that, but if you’re OK with YouTube sound, you’ll probably be OK with digital radio. Now and then choral voices and applause can sound a bit watery, but – glory be! – the hiss and crackle of analog radio are gone.

However, as with any appliance, you’ll want to make sure you get an HD radio that suits your needs. Although WKSU’s digital signal covers about 90% of the area our analog signal reaches, you may find you’re not too happy with a $50 set if you’re at the outer edges of that region. A digital radio that can’t get a strong enough signal will revert to ordinary analog reception. That means no classical channel, so what’s the point?

Before you lay down your cash, read the online reviews, and make sure you can return the set for a different model if it doesn’t work for you.

You might also want to consider a few other options.

If your home or office has wireless internet (WiFi), check out Internet radios. For about the same price as an HD radio, or maybe a bit more, you get a compact box that sits on your desk or counter, and reaches out to your WiFi access point or router. Unlike an HD radio, it doesn’t matter whether your Internet radio is 5 miles from our transmitter or 5000. Anywhere you have Internet service – even halfway round the world – you can have WKSU’s 24-hour classical music.

If you already have an audio or theatre system, you might want an Internet tuner instead. They don’t have built-in amplifiers or speakers, so you have to plug them into your existing system. They look like an HD radio tuner, but cost way less, and they’re available in a wider variety of models and prices. Most will work with WiFi Internet, or can be plugged into an Ethernet port. Sangean and Grace are two brands, but there are others.

An Internet radio or tuner has one somewhat fiddly requirement, which applies only if you use WiFi for it: you’ll probably have to enter your WiFi password to get it working. That usually means a couple of minutes to find it in your files, and a couple more to press the keypad or turn the knob. You’ll only have to do this once, though. And radios and tuners that connect to the net via Ethernet don’t need passwords at all.

Like most media gadgets these days, Internet radios are really single-purpose computers. (You could argue that, these days, that’s also true of almost everything, from cars to heating systems.) You can listen to WKSU’s 24 hour classical music on the computer you already have. So why would you want to buy an HD radio or Internet radio?

It depends on how and where you listen, and what kind of sound satisfies you. Let’s face it, the teeny-tiny-tinny speakers in the average laptop, netbook, or tablet probably aren’t quite what Franz Welser-Moest has in mind for his orchestra’s sound. That’s no problem if you’re listening on good headphones, but if you don’t want to be tethered to your computer – or if you want to share the music – the bigger speakers in an HD radio or Internet radio are probably going to make you happier.

You could add a better set of speakers to your computer, of course. Good quality speakers can make our mp3 and AAC streams sound remarkably clear. Of course, if you’re using a portable device – laptop, netbook, or tablet – it becomes rather less portable with wires and extra boxes hung on it.

And it’s hard to beat the little hand-held gadgets for convenience. If you want to go that route, with or without added speakers, we have apps for Android and Apple smartphones and tablets. More on these here.

Bottom line: our daytime classical music may be missing from your old analog radio, but it’s not gone. It’s just in those Hidden Digital signals. Check the links below for some ideas on HD and Internet radios that can uncover it.

Explore more:

HD Radio Reviews from CNET
HD Radio Reviews from HD Radio Home
Car HD Radio Reviews from CNET
Internet Radio Reviews from CNET
Internet Radio Reviews from Good Housekeeping
Mobile Device Apps from WKSU
Custom Auto Audio Installers in the Akron area from Yelp.com
HD Radio Adapters for Factory Car Radios from Axxess*

*Please note: I have no direct experience with these adapters and thus can’t endorse them. If you try one, please let us know how well it works for you.

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