Classic Mornings

Send A Letter


From time to time, I catch myself listening to the Weekend Edition Sunday puzzle segment with puzzlemaster Will Shortz, the New York Times’ crossword puzzle editor.

I’m excited when I’m able to come up with a few correct answers. Sometimes it can be just as much fun to listen to someone “on a roll” answer every question that Will Shortz has in his magic puzzle bag. After all, these are “big-league” puzzle players who have advanced by correctly answering the weekly challenge and surviving the random selection from among hundreds of correct entries.

On Classic Mornings and the Classic Morning Prelude, where there are no lapel pin and puzzle book prizes at stake, I sometimes play simple “guess who?” games with listeners. I’ll tease with a bit of information, but wait until the end of the music selection to tell listeners whose music they heard or who performed.  It keeps them guessing – and perhaps a bit more engaged in the listening process. Those instances are puzzles of sorts. Since the whole idea behind Classic Mornings is to come together to listen to music and have a good time, I’m simply adding little games that often are a part of get-togethers.

I’m guessing that those who listen to classical music on WILL-FM also get their fair share of unintended puzzles. There are so many unusual sounding names of composers and performers. Sometimes the names don’t look the way they sound. I know from telephone or email inquiries that listeners are relieved when they’re able to match the correct spelling with their own spelling of what they thought they heard me say. Aware of that, I’ll spell a name on the air from time to time or provide a simplified explanation of a musical term that might otherwise leave listeners puzzled.

You can enjoy classical music without getting caught up in all the names or technical terms. Yet once you begin to acquire bits and pieces of information about the music, it really does begin to work on you like the clues of a huge puzzle, inviting you to explore just a bit more. The fact that even music scholars are both dazzled and puzzled by so much should make you feel a little better about whatever you know – and much better about all that you enjoy. You can have fun with word puzzles even when you don’t know all the answers. Part of the fun is learning a few more answers each time you play a puzzle. It’s the same for the word puzzles surrounding classical music.

Recently, in the spirit of having fun with puzzles and prompted by the centennial celebration of a musician, I decided to let the Classic Morning Prelude listeners have a little fun with a puzzle of sorts. I had teased listeners with a similar type of puzzle a while back. So I decided that for the blog, I would repackage the recent puzzle, the earlier one and one I haven’t used. I decided to call the little puzzle package: “Send A Letter.” Here’s how it works. I’ll give you clues about a particular kind of musician (performer, composer, conductor – I’ll specify). You take the last name of that musician and “send” that last name a letter – that is, insert a letter (no scrambling of letters – this isn’t that complicated). The “resulting recipient” of the letter will be a different musician – a different addressee, as it were. I’ll provide clues about the recipients as well.  Here’s an example: If I asked you to send a letter (again, that means insert a letter in the last name) to a 20th century American composer who may bring to mind New England, the resulting recipient (that is, the resulting last name after you have inserted the letter) is a famous 19th Century German pianist/composer who may bring to mind the Rhine River. The names would be Schuman (as in William – composer of the New England Triptych) and Schumann (as in Robert – the composer of the “Rhenish” Symphony).  The letter “n” was the one “sent.” Ready for the others? Here we go:

1. Send a letter (add a letter to the last name ) to a famous 20th century conductor, whose centennial we celebrated a few weeks ago and who spent years at La Scala in Milan and with the CSO in  Chicago. The resulting recipient is a famous late 18th/early 19th century guitarist/composer. Who is the conductor? Who is the guitarist/composer?

2. Send a Finnish conductor of our time a letter. The resulting recipient will be a 19th century Spanish violin virtuoso & composer. Who is the conductor? Who is the violinist/composer?

3. Send a letter – if you dare - to one of the most famous organist/composers of all time, who was just one member of a large family of musicians. The resulting recipient (depending on where you “send the letter” in  the organist/composer’s name)  will either be a rather obscure 19th century English pianist/composer or a late19th/early20th century pianist/composer who had fan clubs throughout the United States in the early 20th Century. Who is the organist/composer? Who are the pianist/composers?

Let me add that the names involved are not necessarily household names for the average classical music listener. Given that fact, the puzzle probably wouldn’t make it to Weekend Edition. Two of the three questions have made it to the Classic Morning Prelude, so there is some prestige involved. I also should mention that I didn’t sit around and cleverly devise this little puzzle in the way that I imagine wordsmiths around the world do. Over the years, I have stumbled over more than a few names on the air, including names that differ by just one letter. So this is like musical lemonade I’ve made from the times when having stumbled over them left me feeling a bit sour. Also, there are some interesting musical typos I have made over the years that made me chuckle – and probably prompted the game more than the “thirst” for “lemonade.” Have fun with it. I’ll let you know the answers in my next blog post in a couple of weeks.

Speaking of lemonade, two generous listener/supporters would like to help us make a bit of a comeback following a couple of recent fund drives that fell a little short. They want to add $40,000. to our pledge total - when listeners pledge $20,000 all in one day. Wouldn’t that be sweet!  It all happens on Monday, June 2nd. That will be the beginning of a 3-day June “Jump-Start” drive to help us get closer to our fiscal year end goal, which we have to reach by June 30th. I hope you can help us out. Thank you if you already have.

Be sure to join me for Classic Mornings, Monday through Friday from 9 to noon, with the Classic Morning Prelude at 8:50 on FM 90.9 and streaming online at