A Host of Surprises

October 26, 2017

Maybe it all goes back to the thrill of seeing in the light all that was tossed into the bag in the dark on that October evening over the years. On the other hand, it could be a gradually acquired sense of anticipation from observing the daily wonders that appear with the arrival of each season. Or it might be as simple as having enjoyed so many times what was played next on the radio without knowing in advance.

I like surprises. And I sense that listeners do as well.  225 years after its first performance – and well beyond the point at which it could ever be a secret, I still don’t give away the surprise of the Symphony No. 94 by Franz Joseph Haydn, which is known as the “Surprise” Symphony.  Why? Because on any given day there are listeners who are hearing the work for the first time. And why shouldn’t they have the full effect?

I sometimes don’t tell you what’s coming up on Classic Mornings. Sometimes, I do, but maybe I’ll hint at it rather than tell you everything. There’s a fine line between sharing a touch of excitement that something special is coming up and holding back surprises.

I’ve always been a fan of previews or trailers in movie theatres – that is, previews with a bit of a tease or with just a taste of what the film is about. But some previews have leaned toward telling the entire plot – perhaps spoiling the ending. There are even some national underwriting messages that spell out in just seconds something I’d rather not know about a new film before I go to see it.

Even if I have seen a film many times, I want to be surprised by something I didn’t notice before.  At the very least, I like the surprise that I could still be entertained and fascinated by the way the elements of the film come together even after repeated viewings.

Classical music is a lot like that. Some of the well-established works have been heard in concerts and on the radio many times over the years. But audiences still listen to them over and over – perhaps to different performances or to the same recording with an ear open for something they hadn’t heard before.  Then along comes an arrangement or a live performance of that work, and they discover even more surprises.

As a program host, I keep listeners guessing sometimes about the composer of a work or a performer, but not for long, as I once said in a promo for Classic Mornings. Radio is a medium that thrives on surprise. For one thing, you can’t see the host or the performers. That invites all sorts of imaginings. And I’m guessing that when you finally see a picture of someone you heard, it may not correspond to the image you had formed in your mind.

I used to take delight in the fact that listeners would have to wait until the end of a piece to know what it was – not to torture them, but to let them enjoy, be excited and even anticipate knowing who or what it was. And listeners would call – during or just after a piece to satisfy their curiosity. I would always beam with delight when they went out of their way to find out. That means they enjoyed or were captivated by the music.

Now that we have an online playlist, that can be a potential spoiler for some of the “guess who” or “guess what” moments of the program. But many listeners don’t have access to the playlist while listening. And anybody can choose not to peek until afterwards – unless just the thought of that has already become old-fashioned.

The playlists are beneficial for those who want to make the most of their listening experience. It’s like watching the credits at the end of a film.  Anybody who has stayed around for those knows that sometimes film makers reward audiences. Occasionally there’s an outtake, another moment of the story, an unexpected message or the revelation that somebody famous was in the film for a brief moment.


There can be rewards for those who check out the details of the playlists as well. At the very least, it lets them know how to spell some of those composer or performer names that seem to fly by on the air.

Continue to enjoy listening with all the surprises, intended and unintended, that classical music has to offer. And be assured that I’ll continue to bring you a wide variety of works by famous and not-so-famous composers in performances from old favorite and new recordings. For those of you who listen regularly to Classic Mornings, that should come as no surprise.


Classical 24 Music Playlist

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These programs are partially sponsored by a grant from the Illinois Arts Council Agency.

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