Classic Mornings

Full Sail Singing & Yo-Yo Ma On Mars


Listeners might say that he hasn’t steered them wrong. And why should he? For one thing, his name sounds like “rudder,” though it’s spelled R-u-t-t-e-r.  John Rutter has helped to steer many a chorus and orchestra over the decades. And unlike the rudders located in the rear of a plane or boat, John Rutter has been found in front of those ensembles as a conductor. September 24th was his 70th birthday.

Rutter is a composer and arranger as well as a conductor – a record producer too. He’s best known for his work with the chamber chorus known as the Cambridge Singers, which he founded back in 1981 for the purpose of making recordings. There have been many over the years, of both sacred and secular choral music.

Born in London, his first musical experience was singing in a choir. But he’s also told stories about singing nursery rhymes at home and a variety of songs in singing class at school and at scout camp. He seems to be rather fond of folk songs and childrens’ songs. He remembers them as part of a shared musical culture that brought him delight and pleasure as a child. He said they still do, though the pleasure “has become tinged with nostalgia because, for the most part, they are forgotten and gone from our lives, perhaps forever.”

The song Happy Birthday isn’t going away. In fact, it was in the news recently. Happy Birthday dates back to the early 1890s and is attributed to the Hill sisters: Patty, a school teacher in Kentucky, and her sister Mildred, a pianist. A court has just ruled that there no longer is copyright protection for the lyrics – which originally, were: “Good morning to you…”  – only certain piano variations on the tune.

On a Classic Morning Prelude shortly after the ruling,I played Peter Heidrich’s 1994 “Happy Birthday” Variations, inspired by the styles and tunes of Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Dvorak and others. Heidrich’s composition was included on a CD titled “Happy Birthday” that was released a dozen or so years ago.  It features Kremerata Ballitca led by namesake Gidon Kremer (Nonesuch 79657) Heidrich wasn’t hauled into court for borrowing the Hill sisters’ tune. But before I played excerpts from his variations, I asked listeners to imagine sitting on a jury and being asked to examine them as evidence at the request of attorneys representing the estates of Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven and Dvorak.

Now that you can sing Happy Birthday everywhere, presumably that includes Mars, where it might create a splash. I couldn’t have said that before the recent discovery that there’s water on Mars. On a Classic Morning Prelude, I suggested that somebody in the musical world is probably planning a truly “out of this world” performance of an old classic.  George Frideric Handel’s Water Music was first performed on the Thames in England. Who knows what body of water will celebrate the work in its first performance on the red planet.

Mars-bound players of another instrument must have had their performance appetites whetted as well, especially since that instrument requires water: Benjamin Franklin’s invention, the glass harmonica, for which Mozart wrote music.  Even wind players who need to wet their whistles, so to speak, can be excited about the news that there’s water on Mars.

Yo-Yo Ma and Kathryn Stott can play “The Swan” from Camille Saint-Saëns’ Carnival of the Animals on Mars. It’s not that you need water for that one, but Yo-Yo Ma says in the notes to their new recording that for that piece, he envisions the magnificent creature gliding across the water. It couldn’t hurt to have at least a little pond around to inspire the cellist.

“The Swan” is the piece they’ve played most often, we are told.  And recently, they celebrated 30 years of performing together. Their new CD is titled Songs From the Arc of Life (Sony 88875 10316). Yo-Yo Ma said the idea was to record a collection of their favorite pieces which together make up something of a soundtrack of their lives. Looking back, he asks a number of questions, searching for some of the answers in the music they play. Kathryn Stott reminds him that he couldn’t stop playing Tchaikovsky’s Valse sentimentale during rehearsal. I played it for listeners too – from the recording, which arrived just in time for Yo-Yo Ma’s 60th birthday on October 7th.

I can’t begin to imagine Classic Mornings on Mars. Nor can I begin to even imagine them at all without your support. Thank you for your contributions during our recent fall pledge drive. I invite you to tune in to enjoy that which you so generously helped to make possible. Join us Monday through Friday from 9 to noon, with the Classic Morning Prelude just before on FM 90.9 and online at