Classic Mornings

There and Then and Back When…


Boston isn’t exactly a desert island. 

Yet I was reminded of the BBC program Desert Island Discs when I was invited to select a handful of CDs to present to the audience of the Boston-based Here and Now, the NPR daily news magazine. The program is hosted by Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson, who was born and raised in Urbana and who had his start in radio here at WILL. (In case you didn’t know, Jeremy is the son of pianist/conductor/U of I music professor Ian Hobson).

I was honored to have been asked to appear on the program.  I have to admit that I was a little nervous about the idea at first. I had never really given much thought to a “Desert Island Discs” list of CDs that you would select to keep you company on a desert island. The BBC program asks its guests to select 8, including a favorite from among them. As it turns out, I was asked to select 4 or 5. It wasn’t so much “Desert Island Discs,” but a handful of CDs and accompanying stories that might get non-classical music listeners excited about classical music. It was more like welcoming to the mainland of classical music those who had been off on a desert island in terms of having heard much classical music. The more I thought about it, I realized it’s what I do every day for the audience in central Illinois.

Suddenly the idea became rather enticing. A handful of CDs came to mind in no time. There were many possibilities. It wasn’t supposed to be a list of the 5 greatest recordings, compositions, composers or performers of all time. I would hesitate to compile a list like that. I’ve come to expand over the years the number and variety of compositions and performances which I’m excited about sharing with listeners. To suddenly think of narrowing that down to a handful would be a complete reversal – and somewhat impossible. Though the “DJ Sessions” of Here and Now typically feature a program host sampling new recordings in various music genres, I was not limited to new recordings. That made sense to me. It wasn’t so much about new releases as it was about classical music entirely new to audiences of other types of music. I did include one new release, just because it fit the description of something that might excite both a non-classical music listener as well as an avid classical fan.  I like to reach out to both audiences with everything I select.

I had listened to Here and Now on occasion, as well as other network programs on which recordings are selected and introduced. I had an idea of what might catch the ear of such an audience. I’ll let you listen to the segment to hear what I selected if you haven’t already.  It’s hard to convey the enticing elements of a recording by describing it with words, even as critics attempt to do that all the time.  Only a brief moment was played from each CD, but certainly representative of the CD.  Of course there was so much more I could have said about each of the CDs. The entire segment was about 8 or 9 minutes. I know it sparked at least one inquiry at the Here and Now web page as a listener inquired about getting the sheet music for one of the pieces.  If it resulted in any number of listeners wanting to hear more of any of those pieces of music, I’m excited. If it only made them think that perhaps they’ve been missing out on something by not exploring classical music, I’m just as excited.

Speaking of excited, I was reminded recently of having had the chance once upon a time to meet some of the superstars of public radio, some of whom are still featured on programs. It was at a public radio conference in New Orleans. Among those I met were Tom and Ray Magliozzi of Car Talk. I was just one of many who stood in line for the once-in-a-lifetime chance to say hello and exchange a few words and laughs with Tom and Ray.

For years, I have told the story of having gone for a little walk between conference sessions the next day. I stopped to check out what looked like an inviting local eatery. Inside I spotted the Magliozzi brothers sitting at one of the tables. They recognized me from the day before and invited me to join them. I guess you could call it a “second-chance-in-a-lifetime!”  It was small talk rather than car talk. As you might expect, there was more than a bit of laughter too.  It’s probably not the healthiest way to eat breakfast. On the other hand, lots of folks have chosen to have breakfast with Tom and Ray regularly via the radio for generous helpings of laughter.

This past Saturday morning I sat for quite a while at the breakfast table, listening to the program which Ray Magliozzi and the Car Talk staff had put together to remember Tom, who passed away earlier in the week. Ray said that Tom would have wanted to be remembered with laughter. I can’t recall having laughed so hard in such a long time. In all the tears of laughter, I’m sure there were more than a few sad ones, knowing that I and many would miss Tom. I’m sure that neither Tom nor his laugh will be forgotten anytime soon.

One of the things that came to mind afterwards was that so many different kinds of people have been fans of Tom and Ray over the years. You could hear that just in the sampling of voices from this past Saturday’s program. Everything from technical information about cars to zany stories, letters and commentaries have attracted all those people. How wonderful to realize that a public radio program could achieve that. It made me all the more excited about reaching so many different kinds of people with classical music!

It’s funny. By the end of Saturday’s program, Tom’s laugh almost began to sound like a recurring musical phrase. Forgive me for putting it into classical music terms, but it almost was like hearing variations on an uproarious theme. I know of no piece in the repertoire that comes close to coaxing such laughter from the audience. I’m guessing Tom would have had a great comeback for that and would have laughed hysterically. I would have enjoyed that too.

Thanks for checking out the Classic Mornings blog. Join me for Classic Mornings Monday through Friday from 9 to noon, with the Classic Morning Prelude just before at 8:50 on FM 90.9 and online at