Thursday, June 13, 2013

A Curious Potpourri

It's not that people don't like classical music.  It's that they don't have the chance to understand and experience it. ~ Gustavo Dudamel

I lived near and in Cleveland, Ohio for about 30 years Frankly, aside from the occasional burning river, it wasn't the most exciting place to hang out.  But it had one immense saving grace:  WCLV-FM.

WCLV was. and still is, a full time "classical" music station.  I put "classical" in quotes because, as I've explained before, classical refers to a specific period of music.  The correct term is "serious" music to distinguish it from pop music.  To keep life simple, though, I'll stick with classical.

At any rate, WCLV played nothing but classical music, except for Saturday nights (I'll come back to that), 24 hours a day.  They played concerts from the Cleveland Orchestra and other great orchestras as well as recorded music.  They played opera, which is a form I have never taken to, but I'd give it a whirl now and then.

Thing is, classical music stations are hard to find these days.  NPR used to fill the void, but they apparently found that endlessly repeating news programs was a cheaper way to go than actually have someone spinning platters or spending some of the Corporation of Public Broadcasting money for live concert broadcasts.  PBS slips in an occasional concert, but they are a once-in-while sort of thing.  For a little while, a network called Ovation was showing concerts, but they figured out showing the same movies over and over was cheaper.

So people miss the joy of hearing a Bach partita, a Beethoven sonata, or a Prokofiev symphony.  Which is truly sad.

However, I wanted to talk about Saturday nights.  Back in the 20th century, WCLV had a program on Saturday nights called WCLV Saturday Night.  Okay, that's not blindingly original, but the show's content certainly was.  The show was hosted by Robert Conrad (not the Wild, Wild West guy) and feature an eclectic mix of show tunes, folk music and comedy.  Lots and lots of comedy.  For example, it was on a Saturday night, I first heard the insanity of the Goon Show.  The show featured Peter Sellers, Spike Milligan, and Harry Secombe in 30 minutes of inspired lunacy.  There were many others, including a group called Beyond the Fringe, which featured a young Dudley Moore.

It was on WCLV Saturday Night that I first heard music from the original cast of Hair (besides the title song and "Good Morning Starshine").

However, the thing that will always stick in my mind was the night they did a "name that tune" sort of contest.  Mr. Conrad announced that they would give a prize to whoever could name the song with the following ending, which they then played.  Except, I didn't hear anything.  I figured it was just a joke.  But they kept repeating it.

Finally, Mr. Conrad came on and said that people needed to quit calling in with a certain title because that was completely wrong.  To prove it, he said, he would play the ending of the incorrect song, followed by the one that we were supposed to guess.

Ok, now I had to know, so I cranked the volume on my portable radio up to full.  What I heard was two notes, played by plucked bass strings:  thum thump!  This was followed by the mystery song:  thum thummmmm.

I may have those reversed.

At any rate, unbelievably, someone with really good hearing and an incredible knowledge of music finally got it right.

They also had a little piece written by someone at WCLV which made fun of the penchant at the time for edited versions of classical music.  To get people interested in buying classical music records, a couple of the big recording houses put out these anthologies which would include about two minutes of each piece.  Aside from being a waste of vinyl, it was sort of like throwing a starving man some bread crumbs.

WCLV's response to this was the "Great Square Inches of Art."  The premise was that people had such busy schedules (where have we heard that one before) they didn't have time to spend looking at entire paintings or sculptures.  Besides, everyone knows than any great work has some key element that is the focus of the work.  So, for a nominal monthly fee, you could receive that little bit of a painting or sculpture and save yourself the time of looking at the whole thing.  Imagine having your own copy of Mona Lisa's smile or a Reubens' buttock.

I do believe they actually got requests from people wanting to join up.  Never underestimate the power of a generous posterior.

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