Service of Mature Music

May 8th, 2009

Categories: Music, Nostalgia

Jeremiah, our guest writer, is a retired international business executive and classical music devotee. Like those who face losing their favorite newspaper or magazine, television or radio program, he is bracing himself for a blow–the silencing of a longtime radio friend and access to the music he loves.

Last night I heard a remarkable performance of Gustav Mahler’s First Symphony at Carnegie Hall, which got me to thinking about how quickly the music I love and so deeply enjoy is vanishing. The number of traditional concerts given there has declined each year the past few years as the audience for them has been literally dieing off. The average age of those in the Hall last night must have been at least sixty.

Worse yet is the sad news that we New Yorkers are about to lose the oldest classical music station in the country, WQXR. According to rumors in the marketplace, its parent company, The New York Times, has had the station up for sale for several years to raise cash, and there was a story published in the New York Post a week or so ago that it is possibly being sold to the sports network, ESPN.

I have been listening to WQXR since 1945, daily in recent years, and most days all day. It has been a close friend and a better one than many. I am already grieving and will grieve still more when the station is actually gone. My first reaction was to rant and rage about the “Decline and Fall of Western Civilization.” My second has been to listen to WQXR as much as possible while it is still possible.

Friends have suggested that I should listen to public radio, but I don’t care for its patronizing political correctness. Furthermore, I feel strongly that the government should not be in the entertainment business. No more should it give tax breaks or subsidies to music makers than to baseball teams! This smacks of “Bread and Circuses.”

However, there is a counter argument. In our culture, responsibility for the old and infirm for many valid reasons has now shifted from their families to the state.

The common sense thing to do would be to let nature take its course, force classical music lovers to accept change as being a natural progression and adapt to liking what I call noise. But maybe we should keep some classical music around to enhance the declining years of the older people who love it.

What do you think?

10 Responses to “Service of Mature Music”

  1. Thomas Yip Said:

    It will be a sad day for classical music fans indeed. I am 27 and have WQXR preset to my car’s radio and I believe there are a large number of classical music fans around my age.

    However, I am a huge fan of WNYC, New York City’s public radio. I enjoy listening to Brian Lehrer and they do play classical music at night.

  2. Ray Pursifull Said:

    I am so sorry to hear about Jeremiah losing access to classical music…I also enjoy the classics. It may be some comfort for him to step back, pour a nice glass of merlot and listen to Andrea Bocelli & Sarah Brightman singing “Time to Say Goodbye.”

    It is truly a shame that the classics are no longer offered in the schools today. The loss will be everyone’s in our society.

  3. Jeanne Byington Said:

    I have a million thoughts going around in my head after reading this post.

    I was limping through a very rough patch years ago and remember a good friend, who’d lived through a similar spell, say, “Just remember—there’s always music,” so losing WQXR makes me sad as well.

    In this economy, I can’t blame the New York Times for giving up a loss-leader when it’s fighting for its life. For years the paper must have been sponsoring the station as a gift, and PR gesture, to NY. According to the article Jeremiah referred to in the NY Post, the classical music station was never profitable. Many of us, these days, are giving up a lot–so losing beloved music on the radio comes as a bit of a shock.

    Listening to music on the radio creates a feeling of community, of not being alone. You hear an MC’s voice announce a piece or the news. You don’t get that when listening to a CD.

    In today’s Wall Street Journal, John Jurgensen writes about digital stores that specialize in classical music in, “New Ways to Buy Bach Online.” Jeremiah and other lovers of classical music will have to adapt as they already have in so many ways. [Jeremiah, in spite of his age, appears to be computer and Internet-savvy.] I wouldn’t be surprised if entrepreneurs like Pierre Schwob, whom Jurgensen notes spent his own $4 million to help found Classical Archives, will also figure out how to create a community for music lovers as well.

    Finally, like Thomas Yip, I love NPR and when I can’t sleep, listen as of 1 a.m. to the smart, superbly researched programs that originally play earlier in the day. I also hear WQXR daily through my computer at work.

  4. Frank Paine Said:

    “Did I miss the announcement?” is a frequently quoted line in one of the few TV series that I pay attention to, namely NCIS. Somehow, I missed the announcement of the forthcoming disappearance of WQXR, to which, like Jeremiah, I have been addicted for quite a long time. And to make matters worse, I have been involved in classical music productions for almost 20 years. It is indeed saddening. Is there any hope that once sold, the new owners will keep the same format? I guess there’s no way to know. I also share Jeremiah’s notions with respect to public radio.

    Well, there’s good news, too. For one thing, there’s the Met’s HD broadcasts into movie houses. I have partaken of these, and find them awesome. You’re right up there with the performers and can see the emotions passing across their faces much better than in the large opera house. So if you are an opera lover, there’s at least some hope. And there’s at least some live music. Up at Bard, for instance, there are some very creative things going on. They are not broadcast though, and the broadcasts are so much more convenient and inexpensive…

    Let’s be prepared to shed some tears, and then…adjust? Don’t wanna…Frank Paine

  5. David Reich Said:

    I, along with many jazz devotees, went through this years ago when WRVR-FM went silent. Actually, the station changed format and became a rock station.

    Eventually, WBGO in Newark came on the air and remains on.

    A big difference now is access to music of all sorts online. So if QXR does indeed sell out and drop classical, the music can still be found online. And perhaps QXR may continue programming online. And, although it costs a few dollars, there’s also the choice of commercial-free satellite radio.

    But, Jeremiah, I feel your pain.

  6. Daniel Klein Said:

    It is a great loss, I agree, the world of classical music is in a process, like most of the arts, of trying to figure out where or what just happened and what do we do about it. The average age of a symphony goer today is much older, there are numerous studies to prove it. At one time in america the average age of a subscriber was 30, this is no more. On the plus side, there is the internet. The glut of classical music out there is amazing, besides the dozens of stations that you can stream through itunes or the like there is also a plethora of music available for subscribers and downloads.
    I know this is little consolation, there was something wonderful about turning on the radio and hearing something new or hearing something familiar, but what ever it was would be of the familiar whine of violins.
    I think we get into the trap of seeing classical music as being something solid and unmoving. The new music world is rather vibrant and compelling, and the boundaries between genres is thankfully getting blurred.
    Briefly I will tell you a story, I recently heard one of the finest renditions of Mozart String Quartet in G K 156 ( i think it was 156) at the Living Room, which is known for live rock groups performing. On this evening it was a bluegrass band called the Punch Brothers, and it was played on fiddle, mandolin, banjo and guitar. It was all acoustic, the room was packed with people, standing room only, and it was hushed and silent as it began and it was followed by shouts of Bravo as you would expect at any classical concert. QXR maybe fading away, but classical music is not. If it is something you love, you need to go out there and support people who are making it now. We sometimes fall into a trap of classical music being some sacred temple, it shouldn’t be this so much as it should be a celebration of life.

  7. Jeremiah Said:

    Thomas, I say, “bravo.” I am delighted to hear from someone under 30 that is listening to the music I love! Unfortunately, that doesn’t change the statistic that only 3% of all CDs sold are defined as classical.

    Ray, Thanks for the cheering thought. I will do just that and pour myself a glass of red and listen to Beniamino Gigli on records singing in a way that no one living can. (He was the greatest singer I ever heard in person — Maria Callas comes in a close second.)

    Jeanne, Frank, David, and Daniel, as a devout Darwinist, I must agree that you are all right each in your own way. I must adapt as the environment in which we live changes.

    However, even though I flew a vast number of miles each year for many years, I have never become comfortable listening to music through something stuck in or over my ear. Nor do I think I will ever get used to watching conductors in pseudo Nehru jackets or grand opera attended by audiences dressed in blue jeans. (Obviously dress has nothing to do with music, but at least for me, it does have something to do with the atmosphere in which music is presented. Just watch the Vienna Philaharmonic march in to play, and you will see what I mean!)

    Yes, there will be new radio stations, new internet music vehicles, new and better HD opera broadcasts, not to speak of brilliant young artists coming on the scene, (I heard one at Bard a couple of weeks ago, a violinist who was absolutely extraordinary in the Shostakovich’s First Violin Concerto. No mean feat.), and yes, there will be new music too. (Daniel is right. We must not fall into the trap of making classical music a “Sacred Temple.” Ask Frank. he performs new music, and it is worth listening to.) Speaking of that, how about somebody digging up more of the appealing music from centuries past now forgotten in theater and music archives around the world? (A good example of such is Filippo Marchetti’s melodic “Ruy Blas.”)

    Even so, there will still be no more “front page of the New York Times” at 9:00PM, and that is a pity.

    Jeremiah

  8. Barbara Said:

    We must do something to keep classical music on the radio. Any ideas?

  9. Frederick Willman Said:

    I was once a Times writer who wrote the news for QXR and I am sorry to read of its passing; but that doesn’t mean the game is over.

    I listen to the greatest music station in the world, BBC 3, on the internet. That it comes from London rather than New York makes no difference to me or its million of listeners around the world. For good or bad, conventional radio stations are on the way out and an exciting future of thousands of accessible music stations around the world awaits us.

    Cheer up.

    Fred Willman
    Madison, WI
    fbenjul@hotmail.com

  10. Jeremiah Said:

    Thanks for your cheering words, Frederick!

    I’ve spent much time in London over many years and agree with you about BBC-3. It’s a great station, but there is more to a station than just the music. As a former news writer for WQXR, you must know what I mean. (I used to rely on that station for my news because I had learned how to “read out” the “Times” bias; I don’t anymore because the news is now Bloomberg, and guess it will be NPR in a couple of weeks.) Coincidentally, I’m a subscriber to the BBC internet news, which I find — with some important exceptions — not much better than “USA Today.”

    I had thought of trying to listen over the internet to BBC-3 or to a Connecticut station that has interesting programming or to a Washington Station, WGMS, if it is still around, but I’m worried about the cost of the additional equipment I’m likely to need to receive FM quality reception.

    In any case, thanks to you, I’m going to look again at the idea.

    Jeremiah

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