Various Thoughts About My Work
(and a few other things)
by Bruce Duffie
First posted in March, 2017, with additions from time
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
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’
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
which 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,
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’
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
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
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 (June 12, 1892), 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 25, 1900).
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 prevent a few people from weeping and wailing and
gnashing their teeth.
(3) On November 2, 2016, the Chicago Cubs won the World
= = = = = = = = = = =
[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.
= = = = = = = = = = =
[June 29, 2018] Alert observers might notice that as of the
end of March, 2018, many of the links to my interviews which appear in
Wikipedia articles have a slightly different format. Specifically,
my name has been removed from the line. For several years, it was
<<<Interview with (name of guest) by Bruce Duffie,
on (date of interview).>>> Because someone complained
that I was spamming, and felt the only reason for these links was my own
self-promotion, that person urged the removal of all of these links. A
discussion was launched, and several Administrators weighed in with their
opinions. Fortunately, enough of them saw the importance of the interviews
themselves, and the complainant was admonished to cease the battering, and
even urged to apologize (which did not happen). After about a week,
the discussion was formally closed, and the upshot was that I removed my
name from many of the links, and am not including it in future postings.
However, a number of the old-style links remain, so there might be
a bit of confusion since they are not uniform. For anyone who cares
to read it, the entire discussion is reproduced HERE.