Various Thoughts About My Work
(and a few other things)
by Bruce Duffie
First posted in March, 2017, with additions from time to
On editing my interviews...
As you may or may not be aware, my full-time employment from 1975-2001
was with WNIB, Classical 97 in Chicago. Except for four hours overnight
during the week, and four hours on Saturday afternoons, the programming
was exclusively classical music in its great variety. In addition
to my regular duties as announcer, I also gathered interviews with various
musicians for use both on the air and in selected magazines and journals.
In all (through about 2005), I did over 1600 exclusive interviews.
A few guests I met twice, and very rarely even more times. While
it was not the original intent of the management to include atonal or
cutting-edge repertoire, I was able to add that material on my weekend
overnight shifts, and part of those programs were the interviews with
composers and performers of new music.
Preparing and presenting these interviews on webpages is very
different from editing sections for use on the radio. What sounds
good to the ear may not look good to the eye. Hence, various changes
need to be made in order for the resulting impact to be virtually the
Let me state here that it is my purpose and duty to render the
thoughts and ideas of my guests as completely and accurately as possible.
It is also my feeling that I should make the guests look good. This
stands in marked contrast to most other interviewers (whose usual guests
are politicians and business people) who have an agenda, and usually try
to embarrass the guest, often with ‘gotcha’ questions.
I have a genuine interest and overwhelming love of my subject,
and I always tried to solicit ideas from my guests in response to my own
inquires and proddings. Occasionally, I would ask a question that
was purposely ambiguous in order to allow the guest to have the freedom
to answer in whatever way he or she chose. This would, however, come
after at least a few questions that would indicate to the guest that I,
as the interviewer, knew what I was talking about, and that I was interested
in knowing what they had to say.
As to the actual editing, when doing it for the radio, I would
always try to select sections that showed my guest to their best advantage.
I would also make sure to end the section on a positive note.
Let me inject here that when WNIB was going off the air on its
final day, I chose an opera that ended with a positive sound in a major
key — Turandot
— and the final piece of music at 12 Midnight — Lyric for Strings by George Walker
— was also a chosen because of its aural impression, and
the fact that it ended quietly in a major key. My first thought
was to use Adagio for Strings
by Barber, but that piece was so associated with the movie Platoon and other works and dates that
I desired something more unique and somewhat unknown with the same feeling.
To read more about the final broadcast, click HERE.]
When editing the spoken words for visual (print) use, certain
mannerisms and repetitions become really annoying, and when something
is annoying, it detracts from the overall impact. So the phrases
‘you know’ and ‘I think’, and the interjection
‘well’ were almost always dropped. I also
usually removed the phrases ‘kind of’ and ‘sort
of’ in most instances since they diminished the thought and derailed the
impact. My guests were strong and vibrant, and there was
no reason to veil them in any kind of namby-pamby cloak. In speech,
sentences would often begin with the word ‘and’, so I would
either drop the word, or simply connect the thoughts into one sentence.
Parenthetical material, which is meant to amplify or clarify ideas, makes
for tricky reading, so I would often re-order the sentence to get the thoughts
I hope you notice that in all of the instances I never changed
any ideas of my guests, nor did I put words into their mouths. Their
thoughts are what has come through... at least that has always been my
hope, and what I strive to accomplish. On the rare occasion that my
guest would not answer my question directly — or at all!
— I would change my question in the print edition so that my guests could
answer in the way they saw fit. If there were any digressions or extraneous
portions, those were usually omitted, and any glaring errors were either
fixed or explained. Again, those instances were very rare.
I did change English-English to American-English, but mostly only
in spelling. ‘Labour’
became ‘labor’, ‘theatre’
became ‘theater’, ‘programme’
became ‘program’, ‘organisation’
became ‘organization’, and
references to a group became singular rather than plural. ‘The
audience don’t care’ became ‘The audience
doesn’t care’. This adjustment, by the way, is only in
the text of the interviews. The biographical boxes and reprints of
obituaries were left intact.
People whose first language is not English will often become quite
proficient with English vocabulary, but will continue to use their original
structure patterns. Whereas in English we put the modifiers first
— a lovely blue sky — others might speak about ‘a
sky lovely blue’. Those quirks have often
been fixed, though not in every instance.
It always was my intention to present these conversations as something
to learn from and enjoy. The transcripts are not of the ‘legal
stenographic’ kind. My guests were not on trial.
I was a guest at their concert venue or in their hotel, or they were guests
in my home or studio. I always treated them with kindness and
respect, and allowed them to express themselves without fear of any
kind of accusation or derision.
It is special to be able to do it at all, but I have managed to
do it quite well in both the audio medium and the printed renditions.
Not to toot my own horn, but most people seem to think I am pretty good
at both. I have found it necessary to look not only at the big,
overall picture but also the smallest details. I’m sure
there is nothing new or extraordinary about this, but keeping that in my
mind as I edit goes a long way to strengthening the impact of each interview.
I know these interviews are generally long,
but they are what I have, and I want to share what is there. In
a radio broadcast, people have to sit there until it is over... or go
away and miss whatever comes next. On the printed page, readers can
interrupt their journey and (hopefully) come back at some point to pick
it up again without missing a beat.
Occasionally I will update the pages with new photos and links.
So even though a date at the bottom might indicate the page was uploaded
before others, that is why later interview links can appear. I
do not do this chore very often, so there may be links which could be
on a page, but are not. However, as long as there is the possibility
of additions or corrections, things might get improved!
On that thought, it always pleases me to be able to include links
to other interviews within each new one that is posted. In most
cases, these are names that are brought up by the guest, or appear in
the biographies or obituaries. Only occasionally have I introduced
them in the course of asking questions, and in each case, the reference
was, I hope, relevant and logical.
= = = = = = = = = = =
A few pointers for interviewers — suggestions
which I have always tried to follow myself. Obviously, if you
are trying to trip up your guest, to embarrass or make him/her look bad,
these suggestions will not apply. Indeed, these ideas can even
work to your advantage by showing what not to do. If that is
the case, I truly feel sorry for you, and hope your work is discredited
and derided. Objectivity and neutrality seem to have been lost these
days, and while news reporters need not be cheerleaders, they have a responsibility
to present their findings without bias either for or against the topic
and viewpoint of the guest.
That said, I freely admit to being a cheerleader for my topic
and my guests. This is not a bad thing since I am not a news gatherer,
but rather a feature reporter. Since my interviews were Features
rather than News, some of the basic rules and formats did not apply.
For instance, the old adage for news gathering is to ask these questions:
who, what, where, when, why, how, huh? That last one (which I have
added) is usually where I got the best and most interesting responses.
Know your subject, but don't ever feel you know more than your
guest knows about it. You might, in fact, know more, but to go into
the interview with that assumption will close doors in your mind, or will
hamper you from inquiring further about one or another detail.
Don't ask questions where the only possible response is 'yes'
or 'no'. If you box your guest in so that they cannot make their
own reply, you've squandered the opportunity to learn anything.
In the same vein, keep your questions short, and don't give possible
answers. [Poor examples: "Would you rather do this or that?"
Or, "Is it correct to say such-and-such?" Or, "When you did this,
did you feel (this way) or (that way)?"] Let your guest respond to
an inquiry rather than select from a few choices you've given him or her.
Also, though it doesn't really apply here, let your guests finish their
responses. It's so annoying when an interviewer interrupts the guest
when they are making their response. This usually happens when the
guest is presenting a view which is contrary to the one held by the interviewer,
but the advice is good for any eventuality. When two people talk
at once, it's impossible to understand what either one is saying.
That's the beauty of the operatic ensemble — two or more people
can be saying their own lines, and it all comes out in perfect harmony...
but that's the topic for another discussion!
= = = = = = = = = = =
The following list appears on a couple of the interview pages,
but since people continue to ask, here is the answer . . .
I have done interviews with several musicians who were
born in the Nineteenth Century. My guest with the earliest birth-date
(March 10, 1892) was soprano Dame Eva Turner.
However, composer John Donald Robb, though three months younger than
Turner was nearly two years older at the time of our conversation.
Hence, a clarification is needed when I am asked who my oldest guest was!
Next in birth-order is composer Paul Amadeus Pisk (May 16,
1893), followed by composer/pianist Leo Ornstein (December
2, 1893), and lexicographer Nicolas Slonimsky (April
27, 1894). Then comes mezzo-soprano Sonia Sharnova (May
2, 1896), composer/critic Virgil
Thomson (November 25, 1896), and composer Vittorio Rieti (January
28, 1898). The order continues with composer/pianist Ernst Bacon (May 26, 1898),
followed by composer Marcel
Dick (August 28, 1898), conductor Werner Janssen (June
1, 1899), and composer Alfred Eisenstein (November 14, 1899). The remaining
four are composers Elinor
Remick Warren (February 23, 1900), Otto Luening (June 15,
1900), and Ernst Krenek
(August 23, 1900), and finally publisher Hans Heinsheimer (September
The rest of my guests were born in the Twentieth Century.
Perhaps, if I have the opportunity, I might interview someone born after
January 1, 2001, and thus have conversations with people born in three
different centuries and two different millennia! Though there is
no clerical error involved, and it is not my intent to pad my statistics,
somehow the film Mr. 3000 comes
= = = = = = = = = = =
Many of my guests are mostly or completely unknown, and in an
odd way, that pleases me very much. If someone who is little-known
becomes more-known through my efforts, then I have succeeded in bringing
forth something special to the composite knowledge of mankind. A
lofty statement, certainly, but when one thinks about it, each of us is
asked to push our tiny segment forward, and my task seems to have been to
enrich the musical world through discovery of interesting items. Yes,
I have also presented some of the best-known and most popular figures, but,
as John von Rhein mentioned in a Tribune
article about the station, he admired my collection of ‘oddball’
composers and performers. Many times, after doing a program featuring
one of them, I would get a call or two asking why this person was not better-known.
The callers would remark to the effect that the music or performing artistry
just presented could certainly stand up against the output of the well-knowns.
Editing these interviews from a quarter-century ago or more, I
often find interesting sidelights and tidbits that either amplify ongoing
ideas, or give new insight into little-explored or un-spotlighted areas
of the subject. It is truly amazing that these thoughts would be
found in the most remote places and come from such unlikely sources.
This is why I do what I do, and I hope that others both enjoy and are enlightened
by it all.
= = = = = = = = = = =
Despite the fact that my early exposure to great music was on
radio (mostly WEFM, the station sponsored by Zenith in Chicago), and
that I built up a huge collection of recordings on LP and open reel tape,
and that I made my living at another station (WNIB, Classical 97, also in
Chicago), I maintain — and have said openly many
times — that the real place to hear great music
is live in a concert hall or opera house. The collision of these
two worlds becomes the so-called ‘pirated’
performances. Usually operas, these gained wide circulation amongst
the cognoscenti, and in my teens and twenties I found a number of people
who traded copies of various things with me. However, once I became
a professional radio announcer, I was very careful NOT to use any of this
material on the air. First of all, the sound quality was often poor,
and even though those of us who obtained these performances understood
this, the casual listener would not be expected to be aware of the reason(s)
for presenting something in poor sound. Besides that, broadcast rights
were very tricky, and I did not want to involve the station in anything
which would have caused legal problems. It is a thorny issue, and
the musicians I have spoken with have not come to any kind of consensus
about it. Many of them collect copies — not
just of themselves but of others, both past and current — even
while decrying their use and existence! I remember specifically one
top record executive remarking on the Texaco Opera Quiz that he does, indeed,
collect them, but would immediately bring suit against anyone who tried
to distribute copies of one of the artists on his label!
These days, though, I am not involved in the day-to-day broadcasting
activities, I am posting interviews with my guests and illustrating the
webpages with photos of the artists and their recordings. I find
things on the internet, but try not to use any copyrighted material, and
I eschew the placement of images of pirated recordings on my sites.
The commercial recordings are fair game, especially since I am giving them
free publicity, but usually not the broadcasts and in-house items which
seem to abound.
= = = = = = = = = = =
A few random thoughts.............
Whoever named the Butterfly committed a spoonerism. I think
that every time I see one flutter by, no matter what the articles on
its etymology say.....
Technically, I was born in Elmhurst on March 11, 1951. My
mother’s doctor was at Elmhurst Hospital, so that is where
she went to deliver me. My father, however, always insisted I was
born in Evanston, since that is where we lived at the time. With
the myriad suburbs surrounding most major and minor cities, I wonder
how often this kind of thing happens... It is pleasing to me that
I am exactly — to the day — 100
years younger than Rigoletto.
Another Verdi opera, Don Carlos
also had its premiere on March 11, but in a later year (1867). I
also share that date with composer Carl Ruggles (1876) , and band leader
Lawrence Welk (1903). A quick Google search just now also revealed
many others, including Shemp Howard (1895). [Related story... I met
Michael Fine when he was producing one of the recordings made by the Chicago
Symphony Orchestra. I inquired if he was related to Vivian Fine, whom I had interviewed.
He said no. I then asked if he was related to Irving Fine, another
composer, and he said no. Finally, I asked if he was related to Burton
Fine, principal violist of the Boston Symphony. Once more, the answer
was no. He then volunteered that he was related to Larry Fine of the
Three Stooges.] More March 11 birthdays... Astor Piazzola (1921),
Mercer Ellington (1919), and Henry Cowell (1897). When I interviewed
Geraldine Decker, we
had a great laugh that she, also, was born on March 11 (1931).
They left out the letter ‘D’
from the name Arizona. I’ve never been there, but I
know it’s quite arid in the South West...
There are three major musical works in three different languages,
all of which the public quite often mistakenly adds the word ‘the’
before the name. To wit, Messiah,
Pagliacci, and Winterreise. Each one is named
as just shown, NOT The Messiah,
nor I Pagliacci, nor Die Winterreise.
What is with this overwhelming compulsion to cite the excrement
of the male cow?
English is not the easiest of languages… It can be
understood through tough thorough thought though.
= = = = = = = = = = =
[September 1, 2017] While there have always been doomsayers
and other prophets predicting the end of time, in the past twenty years,
there have been three distinct events which many people truly believed
signaled the End of Days. Obviously, they were wrong, but it is interesting
to make note of them...
(1) Y2K. In anticipation of the numbered-year leaving
the 1900s and moving to the 2000s, the hue and cry was heard all over
the world that the computer systems could not handle that change, and all
our electric and electronic grids would fail, and we would be destroyed.
Much time and effort was put into correcting the problem, which
(2) One version of the Mayan Calendar simply stopped on December
21, 2012, and many people felt this was to be the last day of Earth. Another
version which carried on for many more years was later discovered, but that
did not seem to stop a few people from weeping and wailing and gnashing their
(3) On November 2, 2016, the Chicago Cubs won the World Series.
= = = = = = = = = = =
[December 26, 2017] A number of people have asked me about
how I selected which interviews would be used on the air, and when they
would be presented. These days, on the WNUR series — and
also on the late (and hopefully lamented) series on Contemporary Classical
Internet Radio — there really is no rhyme nor reason
for selection. Programs were prepared, and now the ones which exist
are simply repeated after two or three years, and usually in a different
month. HOWEVER, in my quater-century at WNIB, I was very careful
and rather ingenious about timing. Fairly early on, I stumbled onto
the use of ‘round birthdays’. This simply meant that when
a composer or performer had a ‘round birthday’ —
50, 55, 60, 65, 70, etc. — they got a show. Every five
years each one would come up, and a few of the early interviews aired
several times. These programs were in addition to any promotional
use — such as when one of their works was being presented
in live performance in the Chicago area, or in conjunction with a new recording.
The advantages of this system meant I did not have agonize over who
had been done and who might be neglected, and so forth. It also was
completely color-blind and gender-blind. There are only 366 possibilities,
and everyone has one whether they like it or not. It also suited my
style, in that I celebrated life and not death. Yes, I mourned and
eulogized my guests when they passed away, but I did not, thereafter, mark
their dates of death with special progams.
What brings all this to mind is a brief article in the newspaper,
which is reproduced at right. Since I am not doing fresh interviews
any more, I wondered just how well I did during the time I was gathering
them, from 1978-2006. So, I counted up just the composers, and of
the 496 names, 62 are women (12.5%), and 15 or 16 are African-American
(approximately 3%). The discrepency is a man named Roque Cordero.
He was included in the series of recordings of music by Black Composers
issued on Columbia LPs, but in our interview he told me quite forcefully
that he did not like that label. He insisted he was Panamanian,
not black. There are probably others — both in general
and on my list — who dislike or even disown one category or another,
but that is for another discussion. As to other minorities, I cannot
accurately compute them for various reasons. First, I am often unaware
of their background. A name might come from a few generations back,
or perhaps have been lost or changed through marriage or assimilation.
Further, I have met a number of composers who belong to countries
other than America. How should I count them? Are they to be
lumped into a vague category of Minority-Citizens? Then, to discount
the entire exercise, it is not my desire nor intent (nor responsibilty!)
to ascertain any kind of pedigree. My interest is their music, and
their ideas about its creation and presentation. Beyond that, I truly
do not care. Their race or sexual orientation or any other factors
are not my concern. As long as they are part of the Classical Music
community, I accept them as such, and will give them their shot (as I like
to say). In truth, I consider all these kinds of labels
both insulting and unnecessary. We are all people, citizens, musicians,
etc. Naturally, I do not want to purposely include or exclude anyone,
and without really paying much specific attention to the matter, I think
I have been rather fair and equitable. Looking at the numbers mentioned
above, I assume that this percentage also holds for the performers... though
the women will have a higher resulting-number since they account for nearly
all of the sopranos and mezzos! As to conductors — which
are even more neglectful of the distaff side — there are
14 women in the group of 224 interview guests, which is 6.25%, plus six African-Americans.
= = = = = = = = = = =
[January 6, 2018] During this Holiday Season, I was listening
to some old favorites, including The Typewriter, a novelty piece
by Leroy Anderson. It occurred to me that it might not be too many
years until that device, which was once ubiquitous, would not be even recognized
by most of the populace. In musical terms, it would be like mentioning
the Ophicleide or the Serpant...
Just a note regarding soft timbre... Throughout musical history,
usually the brighter and louder instruments have won the battle. However,
the actual idea of being ‘loud’
is, ironically, soft-pedaled! There are two significant instances where
the idea (and nomenclature) of being ‘loud’
was dropped. One of the early hammer-struck keyboard instruments was
the ‘fortepiano’ or the ‘pianoforte’. Forte
means loud, and piano means soft, so it was literally the ‘loudsoft’
or the ‘softloud’, indicating its ability to be both, contrasting
to the plucked-instruments such as the harpsichord and the virginal.
Quickly, the name was abbreviated to simply ‘piano’,
as we know the instrument today. So, the idea of being
‘loud’ was dropped. The same thing happened to the box which actually
turns electrical signals into sound, namely the ‘loudspeaker’.
We all know it as a ‘speaker’, which, again, drops
the idea of being loud. [You may insert here any and all puns involving
the word ‘allowed’.]
= = = = = = = = = = =
On the subject of things that are obsolete, I have wondered for
a long time if the slide rule was the object which went the fastest from
being absolutely necessary to being completely useless. Everyone who
did any kind of mathematical computation needed one, and relied on it in
every instance. But as soon as the electronic hand-held calculator
came out, the slide rule was immediately pushed aside, never to return to
any kind of use... except as a relic of a bygone age.
Of course, we can always look back even farther in time to the
abacus . . .
Chinese type (5 plus 2) above; Japanese type (4 plus 1) below
Noting the two different systems shown, today, one might think of
the rivalry between Mac and PC, and realize that such dualities have existed
for centuries. Recently, there was the debate between VHS and Beta
video tape systems, between 45 rpm and 33 rpm records in the late 1940s,
and cylinders vs. lateral cut 78 rpm discs at the turn of the Twentieth Century.
There was no real problem with the introduction of electrical recordings
in 1925, since reproducers in the home could accommodate both. The
only real need for new equipment was at the production end, and the record
companies invested in the new system. The same could not be said for
the introduction of stereo in the mid-1950s. There, the home consumer
had to be persuaded to purchase new equipment, and this was not even a decade
after everyone had to abandon their 78 machines in favor of the LP players.
A similar upheaval in the music industry was seen with the advent of
cassettes and CDs.
A story I heard many years ago (and have repeated in the hopes it was
mostly or completely true) involves the size and playing-time of the compact
disc. It seems that one of the people who were calling the shots at
the time of its creation was a Japanese man who knew that his countrymen
were mad about the Beethoven Symphony #9. So, to accommodate
that piece of music, the CD needed to hold 74 minutes of sound. The
story may or may not be true, but it makes a good legend, and I simply choose
to believe it.