Sunday, October 19, 2014

A conversation with Tom Sudholt, Program Director of the Radio Arts Foundation

I wrote a post earlier this year that featured an interview with Patrick Neas, long time Program Director of KXTR Radio in Kansas City, the wonderful classical music station that met its demise in 2010. Our friends to the east in St. Louis endured a very similar situation with their long time classical music station, Classic 99 FM, which left the airwaves on July 6, 2010. But like a phoenix rising from the ashes, the Radio Arts Foundation was born, and classical music has returned to the airwaves. Here is their story, taken from their website:

Radio Arts Foundation-Saint Louis was created by people who believe true art and culture must never perish from the airwaves of St. Louis. Champions who responded to the outcry when our community lost its beloved classical station. Through our radio broadcast and this web site, we intend to build a home for the entire fine arts and performing arts community of St. Louis. Tune in to hear Beethoven. Log on to learn about the local arts scene. Listen. Read. Debate. Relish. We are the Sound of Art.
For over 60 years the sounds of classical music wafted through the airwaves of St. Louis, courtesy of Classic 99 FM. But on July 6th, 2010 as the last notes of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 lingered and disappeared, classical music was effectively silenced and listeners throughout the St. Louis area lost a beloved friend.
RAF-STL is different. Not only do we plan to “bring back Bach,” we’re also devoted to being a community-owned, community-driven asset. With the launch of our new station RAF-STL will become a community asset with an unmatched devotion to growing the arts and cultural community in the St. Louis area by providing:
• Broadcasts of live performances, both in-studio and remotely, from the world’s greatest musicians, including remote broadcasts from Centene Corporation’s acoustical auditorium furnished with a Steinway grand piano
• In-depth, in-studio and remote interviews with performers, conductors and music personalities from around the globe who are charting the path and course of the classical music today
• Diverse, community-driven programming that includes a wide variety of music genres such as orchestral, chamber, jazz, blues, opera, and symphonic music

I was fortunate to meet Tom Sudholt, Program Director for RAF, and have a great conversation with him about RAF and all things classical music.


TH: When did classical music go on the air in St. Louis?

TS: Classic 99 KFUO FM began life as just KFUO FM in 1947. We were one of the earliest, if not the earliest, FM radio stations west of the Mississippi. It was owned and operated by the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, whose world HQ was in Kirkwood, Missouri. Their other radio station, KFUO AM, had started way back in 1924. And of course when FM came into being, it was a combination classical music and religious programming, with of course, a definably Lutheran slant to it which meant lots and lots of Johann Sebastian Bach! But certainly other composers as well.  And it became the outlet for classical music in the St. Louis area throughout its history. In the early 1980’s…I believe 1983…it switched from being a listener supported radio station to a commercial, classical radio station. It was then that the moniker “Classic 99” was created for it. We were at 99.1 on the FM dial. And we decided to go commercial with it. We did classical music 24/7. We were an affiliate for the Metropolitan Opera radio broadcasts. When that was not going on we used recorded opera and broadcast that in the same time slot on Saturday afternoons. It lasted 62 years. It fell victim to shifts of power and priorities. A lot of people within the Lutheran Synod ruling hierarchy wanted to focus more exclusively on the propagation of the good news of Jesus Christ, and they felt that broadcasting classical music all the time was a waste of resources. Those particular individuals got into power and they started to look for a way that they could divest themselves of the 99.1 FM frequency and the business of doing classical music. It was kind of a long, drawn out tug-of-war. It really lasted I guess about 4 years or so. And finally it was sold to a group that is known as Joy FM, and it is a contemporary Christian rock station. And they got the frequency…they bought the frequency with a major, major contribution from Albert Pujols, then of the St. Louis Cardinals. And that was it. Classic 99 closed down on July 6 of 2010. And the voice for the arts…and the main media post for classical music for the St. Louis area effectively ended on that day. And there were a number of very prominent individuals in St. Louis who are very, very involved in supporting the arts in this city. They were already members of an advisory board for Classic 99 and with the demise of the radio station, the group, principally headed by Noemi Neidorff, in concert with the program director of Classic 99, Jim Connett, hatched a plan to create a successor radio station for Classic 99, and unlike its predecessor, it would be a not-for-profit organization. A 24/7 outlet for classical music, not only on regular FM broadcasting, but also on HD radio and via streaming on the internet.

TH: I listen to you all frequently via the internet.

TS: None of this would have happened without Noemi and Michael Neidorff.  Michael Neidorff is the Chief Executive Officer of the Centene Corporation.  The Neidorff’s have always been one of the major, if not the major supporters of the arts in this city. And it is because of them, and the hard work of Jim Connett, General Manager, that this station exists. We started operations on April 8 of 2013 and so we've been on the air a little bit over a year. We are also in the process of getting a Development Director. Our broadcasting in terms of traditional FM…we are only operating with a 250 watt transmitter right now. And it’s amazing…it astonishing how far the signal goes for just being a 250 “watter”. Obviously, for the time being, we have to settle with that, which is also why we espouse our broadcasting on HD radio and certainly on the internet. But down the road we will increase power...absolutely. But we wanted a state-of-the-art facility that incorporated the best aspects of what made Classic 99 so distinct. Furthermore we wanted to focus on the fact that we are truly a St. Louis station. The money that is contributed to us is used here in St. Louis…expressly for this purpose of being the mouthpiece for the arts, and being the propagator of classical music on the air.

TH: So you are the Program Director…and everything I hear played on the air is chosen by you?

TS: It is…but it’s kind of like conducting an orchestra. I don’t program everything for people. I’m kind of like the conductor in that I convince them to program and do things a certain way. And generally because they are very capable professionals, they follow the lead and program along those lines. I do most of the major inputting to our music files in terms of the material… terms of the recordings that we use. We had only a rather vestigial data base of digitized music from Classic 99. So yours truly, as Program Director, has been pretty much inputting most of the selections that you hear on the air.

TH: What is the source of your are not spinning turntables?

TS: We are digital. We do not use compressed audio. All of our selections are wave audio. We do stress fidelity. If it is a classic recording of something, I always make sure that I use the latest and or best re-mastering. So if you are hearing a classic Reiner recording, or Klemperer recording, it’s the latest re-mastering. Unless they botched it!

TH: Or unless they didn't re-master it. There’s some stuff out there that hasn't been touched.

TS: Right…lots of stuff. But I always want to have represented in our data bases as many approaches to a particular masterpiece as humanly possible, so long as it has something to say. Boredom for me is a mortal sin.

TH: Kiss of death…

TS: The kiss of death. If it doesn't have blood in the notes of some sort…it may not be my own personal preference, but at least it has something to say. You may take issue with the recording of a masterwork by Leopold Stokowski, but you can never say Leopold Stokowski is boring.

TH: Same for film or art….I understand that it may be a great work, but that doesn't necessarily mean I like it.

TS: Great performances…you do not need a PhD in music to instinctively know when you are hearing a great performance. Because ultimately music exists on a gut, visceral level…and our emotions.

TH: Obviously, you get it. I think I get it. But the world in general doesn't seem too as much. Why do so many people NOT get it? Why is this (classical music listenership) such a small cross section of our culture?

TS: Since the days of the 78 rpm, the average time for a popular song has been about 3 minutes. And with the advent of popular music, even though the technology has changed, the length of the music really hasn’t. I mean, if you run into a pop song that’s 6-7 minutes….that’s a relative rarity. You have people who increasingly are glued to visual media, but at the same time, they’re not conditioned to hear longer pieces. Their attention span goes down, and so does their patience. Everything has to be done in quick bite sized…

TH: Sound bites!

TS: Yes, musical sound bites are what musical conditioning has occurred. Even in substantive content, say news for example, 10 second sound bites. If you talk longer than 10 seconds, and you’re being videotaped for a newscast, you’re going to end up on the cutting room floor. Ten seconds is all you get. This militates against the appreciation of longer form classical music. And also having a society that I think is visually stimulated…blockbusters, CGI, and all that stuff.

TH: We expect immediate gratification too.

TS: The thought of filing into the seats of a concert hall and watching musicians perform a piece does not appeal. Now, I personally find that hard to believe because I don’t think there is anything more exciting than filing into a concert seat and watching a symphony orchestra do what it does.

TH: You are preaching to the choir!

TS: To me it’s totally amazing…100+ musicians, each one of them soloistic caliber, but they all fuse together to form a single musical entity with a range and a dynamism that even the very best recording could not hope to approach….much less capture the electricity. But, you know what? Folks that grow up getting their music freeze dried in 4 minute bites….(shakes head….) There’s always been a so called populist element that goes along with the democratic traditions in the United States of America, and I think that sometimes there is with that a suspicion of anything that requires a certain amount of exertion on the part of one’s critical and or mental…or emotional capacities.

TH: If you are getting it right, it’s pushing on your emotional buttons.

TS: Most people want to hear a nice little sob story on American Idle about how this lovely little singer defied the odds and made it big……that’s not a journey to the abyss like say the Mahler 6th Symphony….with the hammer strokes of fate. Classical music can be demanding. It doesn't always have to be. One of the things that I've done throughout my career, and I bring the same approach here…Jim Connett and I are both in agreement here….is recognizing that the music lives. Sure, the composers are dead…we know that…but their music isn't. Their music’s alive. So when you’re announcing it on the radio, and you’re talking about it, make sure you don’t sound as dead as the composers are….because the music lives. And that’s part of the problem I have with a lot of the classical music radio industry…this pomposity, and this “we know what’s better for you” attitude…

TH: Snobbery….

TS: Yes…and lack of joy. You are not going to help classical music survive in this culture if you have that attitude.

TH: There is so much to learn and discover in the classical repertoire. It’s so vast.  I will never know it all and I like that!

TS: I like that too. I’ll never know it all either…and you know what? It’s going to be a sad day if I ever did learn it all! And even the stuff you know…your perception may change. That’s why they are masterpieces.

TS: I know it’s not PC to admit this…our conductor here in St. Louis, David Robinson, loves this guy…but I have a lot of trouble with Olivier Messiaen. I’m trying to tune into the Messiaen wavelength…and I will continue to try. When I was young, I didn't care for Brahms and I didn't care for Sibelius.

TH: Wow!

TS: Wow…my same reaction. Now, they’re damn close to being my favorite composers. Because you know, another thing that makes classical music so wonderful….so deep…so wide…is that people like Beethoven, people like Brahms and Sibelius…there’s absolutely no bullshit in the music. Brahms…not a trace of it.  There isn’t anything about Brahms nor Sibelius nor Beethoven that’s false. It’s always 100 percent for real. And that’s why I like their music, and that’s why it’s great music. And guess what…you don’t have to know a lot about classical music to tune into that.

TH: I totally agree, and I am trying to help people understand that. Just listen to it!

TS: I have been in the classical music radio business in one form or another for 27 years, and during that period I have constantly heard about the impending demise of classical music in this country. And what do you know, it’s almost 30 years later and they’re still talking about it. It’s an awfully lively corpse! It’s just keeps kicking and kicking and kicking…..

Sunday, October 5, 2014

A conversation with Emily Granger, Harpist

The Heritage Philharmonic is celebrating it's 70th Anniversary this season. Our upcoming concert is devoted to the music of France, and features harpist Emily Granger. Here are the details:

Join us for the first concert of the season!

  Music of France

Saturday, October 18, 2014, 7:30 pm

Tri-City Ministries

4500 Little Blue Parkway

Independence, MO 64057 

Gounod     Ballet Music from Faust

Ravel     Pavane for a Dead Princess

Debussy     Danses sacrée et profane

Saint-Saëns     Morceau de Concert

Bizet     L’Arlésienne Suite No. 2

Emily Granger, harp soloist

Emily grew up in the KC area, and began studying the harp when she was 12 years old. She is returning to KC as a performer for the first time since she graduated from Park Hill South High School. Emily currently lives in Chicago and is a member of the Chicago Harp Quartet. She is a graduate of the prestigious Jacobs School of Music at Indiana University. I was very happy to be able to speak with her recently and learn more about her career, as well as the challenges and joys of being a professional harpist:

TH: Did you start out playing the harp?

EG:  Actually, I started out studying piano...that was my first instrument. I gave a “go” at jazz piano, but that was definitely not my calling. But I do play a little piano. In fact, I just got keyboard for my apartment so I can keep working on my skills.

TH Where are you from?

EG: I’m from Parkville, MO.  I graduated from Park Hill South after three years. I did my first year of undergrad work at the University of Michigan. And then I transferred to Indiana. IU has one of the most respected harp studios in the country.

TH: How long have you been playing the harp?

EG: Since I was 12….so 13 years.

TH: How did you get started playing the harp?

EG:  I somehow got it stuck in my head that it’s what I wanted to play. I had a Celtic music CD from my cousin that I remember listening to in the living room with my mom, and asking her about the instruments. And there was a lot of harp on it, as there is in a lot of Celtic music…and it just got ingrained in my brain that I wanted to do that. I had never seen a harp before in my entire life. I had no idea what a harp looked like or what was involved in playing the harp. And so for a year, I begged my parents to let me take harp lessons. And I told all of the teachers at school that I was going to play the harp in orchestra next year. And they all just kinda laughed at me...”OK, yeah, sure you’re gonna play the harp…right.”  I must have been very persistent because after a year my parents found a harp teacher in the area…in Lenexa, KS…and that was my first time ever seeing a harp, at my first harp lesson. And the rest is history!

TH: Did your teacher provide you with a harp?

EG: Yes, she rented me a little Celtic harp.

TH: Are there different sizes of harps?

EG: Yes there are many different sizes of harps, especially when it comes to lever harps…Celtic or Irish harps…those vary in size greatly. What I play on now is a concert grand pedal harp. They are very standard…47 strings, and it has 7 pedals that change the pitch of the strings. This is what most concert harpists play.

TH: How is it tuned?

EG: The harp is tuned to C-flat major. Each string is a note….C-D-E-F-G-A -B …etc…and the pedals have three notches that change the note from flat-natural-sharp. So for example, the C-string can be C-flat, or C-natural or C-sharp, depending on where the pedal is.

TH: Wow, so not only do you have all 10 fingers and thumbs going on 47 strings, you have both feet as well in action on 7 pedals?

EG: Yes, except we don’t use our pinky!

TH: No pinky?

EG: No pinky, correct (laughing).

TH: So it’s a lot more complicated than just fingers on strings…I don’t think most people realize how difficult an instrument it really is to play. The pedals actually perform a very important function.

EG: Very important. You can be playing all the right strings, but if your pedals are in the wrong place you end up playing wrong notes.

TH: When I think about pedals, I also think about how busy an organist is with both hands and both feet going at the same time.

EG: Exactly!

TH: When did you realize you wanted to be a professional harpist?

EG: I think I knew in high school that’s what I wanted to do. I spent a couple of summers in Michigan at the Interlochen Arts Camp, and that was where I first realized there were other kids my age who were just as passionate about their instruments…and that there were harpists that were better than me! (laughing)!

TH: Tell about the logistics of being a harpist. How do you get the harp to your gigs?

EG: I stick it in my car and I drive. I have to have a big car and it has a lot of miles because I’ve driven all over the country with it, harp in tow.

TH: What about harp maintenance…is it sensitive to humidity and temperature?

EG: Yes, but lucky for me being in Chicago, I live a mile away from the world’s largest harp manufacturer, Lyon and Healy. That’s where my harp is from so if anything goes wrong, I can just zip over there and drop it off and they’ll take care of it for me. I get my harp regulated by a harp regulator twice a year. There are 2000 moving parts inside of the harp that can get just slightly off and cause a buzz, or will cause the intonation to go out… for example the F-natural could be in tune, but the F-sharp  could be out of tune…just one particular string. So they go though and make sure every string is perfectly in tune.

TH: So do you have to tune the harp yourself…or do they do it for you when you take it in?

EG: I tune the harp myself every single day.

TH: That seems like it would be a time consuming job?

EG: (laughs) It is. People may notice in rehearsal or at a concert in between pieces, I may be tweaking a couple of things because it fluctuates.

TH: How important are posture and ergonomics?

EG: Very important.  I suffered from tendinitis at a very young age and there was actually at a point in my career when I worried for a little while that I was going to have to quit. …it was just so bad. I was seeing a physical therapist twice a week, an acupuncturist once a week and going to see a message therapist once a week.  This went on for many years…it would flare up and down. I ended up having a cortisone injection in my wrist. And I met with a hand surgeon because they could not figure out what was causing me so much pain. But thankfully the cortisone injection has really helped. So I am very conscious about my body when I am playing…and even when I’m not playing. I am doing the right stretches, taking frequent breaks. The biggest key for posture and pain management is relaxing…..being able to know how to relax those tiny little muscles in your hands, your wrists, your forearms, your shoulders…..I am constantly thinking to myself “relax”. I still go and see a message therapist about once a month to work on my back and shoulders. I also go to the gym and work on strengthening.

TH: What do you sit on when you play?

EG: I have a really nice, cushy piano bench.

TH: A friend of mine is a guitarist, and he has to maintain the fingernails on his right hand in a special way because he uses them to pluck the strings. Do harpists pluck the string with their fingernails?

EG: I use the fleshy part of my fingertips, not the nails. So I keep them nice and short.

TH: Are there any particular harpists who have been influential in your development?

EG: Definitely. My teacher Susann McDonald at Indiana University is one of the most well-known harpists in the world. She’s literally taught everyone. She taught at the Julliard School for many years and has students in the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the New York Philharmonic and the Philadelphia Orchestra, National Symphony, and Detroit Symphony. Getting to study with her was just incredible. She changed my life and my playing. And it’s been incredible to stay in touch with her over the past couple of years since I’ve been out of school. My harp quartet played a big concert this past summer. Lyon and Healy, the harp manufacturer I told you about, had their 150th birthday festival this summer. They invited the biggest names …the biggest harp soloists in the world… to come and perform. And they invited my harp quartet to come perform as well. It was a huge honor to be invited to perform at this festival. Miss McDonald was there….she came to hear us play. It was really incredible…to show her what I am doing after school. Another big influence in my life has been Sarah Bullen, the Principal Harpist in the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. I studied with her at Roosevelt University. I earned my Master’s degree there with her. She is an in incredible woman….she is such a powerful force when it comes to playing the harp. She’s just got it figured out. She was in the New York Philharmonic for many years before she won the job with the CSO and has played with the best conductors and musicians in the world.   Spending so many years playing in the best orchestras in the world… being surrounded by that sound…she has this incredible sense of style and character. She’s able to hear so many details that can take you from sounding mediocre to perfection. In our lessons, I would often play an excerpt for her. She would yell at me (nicely!) to get up and let her play it. I was always blown away by her power and sensitivity. I’ve been so lucky to have such unbelievable women mentors.

TH: I developed this blog to celebrate classical music. Do you listen to it? I know you play it of course, but tell me about your musical tastes.

EG: Being a harpist, we play a more obscure repertoire…solo, chamber etc…and also symphonic works that include the harp. Recently I have been on a quest to start listening to all of the great repertoire that does not include the harp.  (laughing) I’ve been listening to a lot of Beethoven lately….his chamber works and symphonies. And Brahms and Schumann…Schubert…Haydn symphonies too. I love the piano and I enjoy listening to great pianists, Glenn Gould probably being my favorite. I really love listening to the solo piano works of Chopin and Rachmaninoff, two of my favorite composers. I actually have a cat named after Rachmaninoff!

TH: Do you listen to other types of music too? What’s on your playlist these days?

EG: Oh yes. My favorite band is Little Dragon. I am actually going to go see them in Denver right after my last performance in Kansas City. I try to go to a lot of live concerts in Chicago. Recently I’ve seen James Vincent McMorrow, St. Vincent, Jessie Ware, and Sigur Ros.

TH: I am concerned and interested in the acceptance and appreciation of classical music in our society today. What do think about classical music in our world these days?

EG: I am not concerned.  Maybe I should be but I’m not because I think that young musicians like myself and my colleagues that I went to school with are doing interesting things that are speaking to people in a new way. I don’t think this world would exist without classical music, or without music in general. I’m not worried. Classical music is going in a new direction.  I hope that what I have to say through the harp will reach people and get them thinking…or feeling something they haven’t felt before.

TH: I am happy to hear your optimism. My friend Patrick says that classical music is “hip”.

EG: It is…definitely. In Chicago we have concerts in Millennium Park. 11,000 people showed up for a free concert ….of Opera. People recognize greatness...and the best artists… and they want to hear it.

TH: We are so excited to have you come to KC for the concert with the Heritage Philharmonic. How did this come about?

EG: Jim Murray and I met when I was a freshman in high school. I competed in the concerto competition… I played one movement of the Handel Concerto ...the slow movement, and I was one of the winners. So I performed that concerto with the Northland Symphony. Jim was conducting.  We reconnected a couple of years ago and have stayed in touch. He asked me earlier this year if I would be interested in coming back to perform and I said “absolutely!” My passion is performing. There is nothing better for then getting up on stage with an orchestra …its really special.

TH: And you still have family here?

EG: I do.

TH: It will be wonderful for them to come and hear you play!

EG: Absolutely. I have not performed in KC since I was in high school. I am very excited.

TH: I can’t wait. Thank you so much for your time.

EG: I also wanted to say I'm playing 2 solo recitals while I am in the area, one in Clay Center, KS and another at KU.

TH: That's awesome. Have a wonderful time! And thank you for speaking with me.

EG: You are most welcome.

Here is a link to Emily's website: