The Well-Tempered Ear

Should classical music radio hosts give us performance info before and after? | September 14, 2009

GillilandBy Jacob Stockinger

It’s happening again.

As I’m writing, I have on Wisconsin Public Radio’s “Midday Concert.”

I have it on a lot when I write. I love WPR.

They’re playing a lovely solo piano piece (the same way another host in a WPR studio is doing in the photo above). Excellent choice. It sounds like Scarlatti.

Except now it has more than one movement and sounds not so baroque. So maybe it’s C.P.E. Bach. Or maybe early Haydn or early Mozart.

Or maybe it’s another Scarlatii sonata in a medley. (They sometimes get tricky and do that.)

In any case, the host didn’t announce the piece, the composer or the player.

Just BAM!!! There it was — like it or not, know it or not.

They just launched into it — like I have the same time they have in the studio booth to wait for the mystery to be solved, for the answer to be revealed.

I guess they call such devices “teasers” for a good reason.

But, really, who likes being teased?

I’ll bet they don’t.

I, for one, hate it when that happens.

My understanding is that WPR gives its radio hosts discretion about when to announce such information — before or after or both – and what information to announce.

Some hosts are better about it than others. So maybe the station should standardize the format.

I can’t tell you have many time I have muttered maledictions on one or another of the hosts for failing to tell me a piece I joined midway, or left before it was open, or got called away from because of the phone or someone at the door.

“That was Chopin’s waltz in A-flat,” a radio host said recently.

Great, I thought, which waltz in A-flat?

Now, I happen to know that Chopin wrote two famous waltzes in A-flat. But I bet lot of listeners don’t know that.

And still won’t know it after listening to this particular host — who also announced one day “That was two of Debussy’s preludes from Book 2.”

Terrific, except which two? There are 12 — and they all have names, not just key or numbers.

Sure, the hosts can say, you can always go on-line and find a listing for what you heard.

What a pain.

Some of us fill our time with other activities than doing some else’s job for them.

I say: Just do our job right and inform me first about what I’m about to hear or then what I have just heard. Give me full disclosure of the piece, composer and performer like you’re an arts journalist and not just a DJ. I may want to avoid it, or I may want to get a copy for my own listening pleasure. So don’t get coy or cute.

Aha! It turns out my Scarlatti is really John McCabe performing Haydn’s Piano Sonata No. 20 in B-flat Major.

So it was indeed early Haydn.

Satisfaction at last.

Good thing I wasn’t out shopping for groceries and either left the car or returned to it in frustration when they were into another piece.

But  now it’s happening again. I can’t believe it.

They just started playing an early Mozart string quartet (No. 8 in F Major, they say, but no Kochel catalogue number and numbering schemes differ) without telling me the performers I’m listening to.

Good thing I have some almost-great music to soothe my rising anger and impatience with such laziness and myopia.

Hey, am I the only one?

Anyone else out there feel the same way?

Anyone else want to know all the relevant information before and after the performance or airing?

Tell me and the radio hosts about it.

Does any WPR radio host want to explain or defend not providing information?

The Ear wants to hear.

Posted in Classical music


  1. Explanations notwithstanding, pieces (INCLUDING ARTIST) should be announced before and after.

    Comment by Marius — September 18, 2009 @ 3:30 am

  2. Thanks for listening! Thanks also for the thoughts on the topic of what’s included in WPR’s classical music announcing.

    Personally, the more welcoming and inviting I can be with information, the better. If someone’s new to classical music, how do they perceive opus/catalog detail? And as you mentioned, it’s all available online.

    As for starting a piece of music without announcing what it is – I do that occasionally if there’s been a long break or lots of talk beforehand and the piece is pretty short.

    Also, sometimes there’s a timing issue – the music is chosen in advance, and if there are more announcements than usual or I spend too much time on an intro, I have to trim somewhere. (There are some specific timing markers to hit over the course of the day, whether one of the regional stations is joining us, we’re synching with the 24-hour classical network or connecting with NPR.

    These are just my own thoughts. Thanks for listening and for the feedback!


    Comment by Steph Elkins — September 17, 2009 @ 11:16 pm

    • Steph: Thanks for reading the blog and commenting, and thanks too to you and all the others at Wisconsin Public Radio for playing so much music and such good music. You make us a lucky city to live in and add to our lives.

      I appreciate your explanations. They strike the right tone and are well thought out. Nonetheless, I still would like to hear a piece’s title, composer and performer both before and after an airing. It takes less than 10 seconds.

      Opus or catalogue numbers aren’t necessary, I agree — unless there is possible confusion. (Scarlatti wrote a lot of keyboard sonatas in E Major, so a Kirkpartrick or Longo number is very helpful.)

      As for the web, that’s a good back-up, but a lot of older listeners (and supporters/donors) don’t use the web. Besides, one shouldn’t really frustrate people.

      But that’s me. I’ll be anxious to see if other readers have other ideas or reactions.

      The Ear

      Comment by welltemperedear — September 18, 2009 @ 1:48 pm

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