Various Thoughts About My Work (and other
by Bruce Duffie
First posted in March, 2017
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 same.
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 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
try to select sections that showed my guest to their best
advantage. I would also make sure to end the section on a
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
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 together.
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
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
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
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 — such a lovely blue
sky — Germans, for example 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
I know these interviews
are generally long, but they are what I have, and I want to share what
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 . . .
done interviews with several musicians who were born in the Nineteenth
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
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
(June 1, 1899), and composer Alfred Eisenstein (November 14,
1899). The remaining four are composers Elinor
(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 millenia! Though
there is no clerical error involved, and it is not my intent to pad my
statistics, somehow the film Mr. 3000
comes to mind.....
= = = = = = = = = = =
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.