On Tuesday, February 6 at 11:00 am, Chicago Classical Music hosted a chat with Bill McGlaughlin, host of WFMT's Exploring Music. The chat was moderated by Steve Robinson, Senior Vice President for Radio at WFMT. Below is an edited transcript of the chat.
Steve Robinson (WFMT): Bill McGlaughlin is a distinguished conductor, composer and radio host. His radio series, St. Paul Sunday, has been heard throughout the U.S. for 25 years.
In 2003, the WFMT Radio Network convinced him to host a new series, Exploring Music. It’s now finishing it’s third year and is a smash hit. Exploring Music is a DAILY, one-hour program that each week explores a single theme.
It’s heard on WFMT every Monday to Friday at 7 p.m. and is also heard on 37 stations nationwide including five of the top 10 markets. As for as I’m concerned, no one can top Bill in the way he conveys his passion for music on the radio. He is aided on this endeavor by WFMT’s Noel Morrison and Jesse McQuarters. Bill can handle any question you can throw at him. So have at him!
Jesse McQuarters (WFMt): Good to "see" you, Bill!
Steve Robinson: Welcome back, Bill...how do you select the themes for Exploring Music?
Bill McGlaughlin: Necromancy. Tequila. Much prayer, even more listening.
Steve Robinson: lol! Seriously....
Bill McGlaughlin: Yeah, me mum warned me about playing the foo.
Steve Robinson: Do you throw darts at Groves and see where it lands?
Bill McGlaughlin: Okay, seriously. We first met at Steve's dining room table in Willamette.
I'd brought about two hundred composers names as potential topics, we added in things like Shakespeare and music, Nationalism, various forms of music, genres, so to speak — Mozart pf cti., Haydn symphonies, Beethoven
Beth Schenker: I didn't know that.
JJR: Well, Bill, have you seen the Thanksgiving Day Balloon sets for the new Magic Flute at the Met? And what's your take on them
Bill McGlaughlin: I did see Julie Taymore's production of Magic Flute at the Met about a year ago. I loved it, but I love the element of the child in Mozart anyway. A week or so ago I caught a little of the show on tv and found it less effecti
Bill McGlaughlin: Howdy, Noel, howze Larry?
JJR: I found the fiber glass lions a bit much. But you it's really not possible to go too far with Magic Flute.
Perusing your topics, why not share with us some songs still sung that first appear in Shakespeare, or Elizabethan songbooks.
Bill McGlaughlin: I agree. Back in 1991 I conducted a Magic Flute in San Antonio which was directed by a native American from Montana. William's conception of Tamino as a prince of another tribe, wandering into new territory and dealing with t
JJR: eg, Greensleeves sounds Elizabethan. But is it?
Bill McGlaughlin: I love the Shakespeare song idea. But sadly, I'm a bear of little brain. Send us a list.
I think Greensleaves is mid-sixteenth century, but that's only a wild guess.
JJR: I do recall Henry 8th is credited with Summer is a Comin In, but that isn't sung any more.
Gotta run. Nice talking with y'all.
Bill McGlaughlin: Pleasure.
BJ Lovescats: Where do you produce the show physically? what city, I mean . . .
Steve Robinson: I know that Noel, the producer, works here in Chicago and you do your work in New York at WQXR. How is it to work with a producer who is 1800 miles away?
Bill McGlaughlin: It's a great pleasure to work with Noel at any distance. We've been been squoze into little tiny spaces for the Wolf Trap series for years and have thrived. For some producers, 1800 miles isn't enough
Steve Robinson: How do you think classical music is faring on the radio these daze? From where I sit, things look good.
Bill McGlaughlin: It's a mix. The audience is fractured, compared to even 1980 or so, when I first put my foot in the waters. I do believe people are desperate for enaging, touching experiences and classical music can provide that brilliantly.
Drawing people inside the music seems the clue to me. Human beings are wired for delight when we figure something out.
Steve Robinson: You must find the listener response very gratifying, because the email is always over the top.
In my 40 years doing classical music radio I've never seen anything like it.
Bill McGlaughlin: That's true Steve. Our listeners are some of the most interesting, savvy, funny, intellectually curious people I know.
Steve Robinson: The letters range from a person who had never heard a string quartet before and wanted to know where to buy one to a listener who graduated from Juilliard and found your comments on Ravel to be enlightening!
ilenepatty: I think it's because Bill's demeanor is so infectious and engaging.
Noel (WFMT): Just to add intrigue to the 1,800 miles subject, I think our record would be far greater. I once had to produce a show from Disney World.
Bill McGlaughlin: I remember you're being on the phone from Disney World. I was really impressed with your concentration. I'd probably have dropped my cellphone during one of the rides.
SJMurray: I don't know if I'm a typical listener , but I enjoy the commentary.
Noel: One step behind... sorry. Here's a nice letter we got this week from a listener in Hawaii: Thanks so much for the Titanic ;-)effort involved
ilenepatty: Bill, is there anything you DON'T like??
Steve Robinson: Excellent question! (I hope he doesn't say, the executive producer...)
Bill McGlaughlin: Yes, there's plenty I don't like. I'm leaving out discussion of politics and the environment for the moment. One of the pleasures of working on Exploring Music is finding new wonderful pieces of music or coming to uunderstand familiar pieces in a new way. Given that a piece I may have heard a few times too often might be your favorite, I feel it's better to stick to the things I love.
ilenepatty: Good thing that the things you love are such a broad array!
Noel: Yes---for us, we're just sinking under the weight of all this wonderful email. It's very nice. Often as our work (on composers, in particular) progresses, I notice Bill's enthusiasm for that subject growing.
Bill McGlaughlin: But a packet of e-mail weighs so little and buoys us up.
Steve Robinson: Bill: you dodged the question! There must be a composer or two you can't stand.
Bill McGlaughlin: Boy, if you weren't my boss. And my friend, I'd duck again. There was a time when I'd played the Franck d minor too many times with uninspiring conductors. But you know, I've stayed away for a long enough time
Steve Robinson: (Note: Bill was a trombonist and performed with the Philadelphia Orchestra, among others.)
Noel: I can think of a barn-burner that you don't like, Bill. I know another conductor who doesn't like it either. But, I wont tell if you wont tell.
Bill McGlaughlin: For some reason, I just thought of the week we did on Richard Strauss. I loved the early tone poems but by the time we got to Symphony Domestica, with Baby Strauss gurgling in his bath water, it was feeling too self-involved. No, self-satisfied in an unattractive way. But by the end of the week, listening to Metamorphosis and the Four Last Songs, I was a fan again.
Noel: Also, there was one composer whose life we considered... The more you got into it, the less you liked him... yes, it's Strauss.
That's not the barn-burner, though. I have a distinct Picture in mind of a piece you've heard one too many times.
ilenepatty: Staying in Germany through the war?
Bill McGlaughlin: Most Germans stayed in Germany through the war. Some villains, some heros, most of them sort of like the rest of humanity. Schoenberg was very understanding toward Strauss and said simply that artists are usually like children when it comes to politics. I believe Schoenberg was replying to Hindemith, who had taken a strong stand.
This rhythm is weird. And Noel, you know me very well. We were both typing about Strauss.
Noel: He was an old man by then. Weak, covering his own posterior, but a lot of people did worse things than that.
Steve Robinson: Well, it's almost noon, does anyone have a big question for Bill they've been waiting to ask???? Don't be shy.
Noel: Bill, you've done some wonderful discoveries, like when we thought we'd skip over the first hundred years of the symphony in one day.
Steve Burkholder: Bill, what other kinds of things do you work on in the (212)?
Bill McGlaughlin: Hi Steve Burkholder and thanks for helping get aboard with Firefox. I'm still doing the odd bit for MPR, some continuing work with Wolf Trap (Noel and Vic are my accomplices) and trying to work as a composer.
Most recently I've been working on a number of charts for a concert I'm giving with the Omaha Symphony next week. These feature Karrin Allyson and her rhythm section. She's up for a Grammy this weekend, by the way.
Steve Burkholder: Karrin Allyson = sublime!
Bill McGlaughlin: Steve B., you sure know how to talk to a fine jazz singing lady. I'll pass on the compliments. Go Steelers. And wait til next year you danged Indianopolites.
Noel: All right. Let's all send Karrin our best wishes.
Bill McGlaughlin: Boy, are we slackers! Looks as if we're out of time. I expect Bill Siegmund in the control room any time now.
Steve Burkholder: Great talking with you Bill!
ilenepatty: Thanks so much for doing this! I hope you do it again, and I'll try to have better questions!!
Steve Robinson: Thanks very much, Bill!!!!
Bill McGlaughlin: My pleasure
Noel: Until next time, Bill (five minutes from now).
Jesse McQuarters: Has anyone seen the outtakes web page for Exploring Music? If you go to exploringmusic.org, click on "Behind the microphone", and then on Bill's nose, it'll take you to a hidden outtakes page, top secret, of course :)