Various Thoughts About My Work (and other things)

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’ 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.

bdkcAs 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 MidnightLyric 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 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 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.

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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!

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bdThe 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 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 to mind.....

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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.

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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 timesthat 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 copiesnot just of themselves but of others, both past and currenteven 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. 

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