Saturday, January 16, 2010


Early on, I recognized several things about high-tech digital approaches to the distribution and storage of serious music:

(1) The rapid evolution of the Internet would result in a transition in the preferred formats for transmission and storage.
(2) The market for popular music would dictate the “winning” formats.
(3) Niche markets such as classical music and jazz would have to accommodate.

Consider the storage of recorded music. In my time, I have owned 78 rpm shellac discs, 45 rpm and 33-1/3 rpm vinyl Long Playing discs and digital Compact Discs. My music library consists of some 600-odd CD’s and 100 LP’s that I haven’t the heart to abandon. I don’t intend to transcribe the CD’s or LP’s to MP3.

I am not a Luddite. I first used a mainframe computer 50 years ago using machine language. At Xerox, I had on my desk a $75,000 research prototype of the world’s first personal computer beginning in the early 1980’s. My administrative assistant had a duplicate unit at her desk, and we used the Arpanet long before the World Wide Web was conceived.

MP3 simply does not have the audio quality that I require. MP3 is optimized for playing rock, rap and C&W music on low-cost players. For serious jazz or classical music aficionados with high fidelity equipment, there are higher-quality music recording formats. If I transcribed to them, the quality would be there but I wouldn’t know what to do with all the commentary printed on liner notes and CD inserts. So for the time being, I continue to buy CD’s ... usually chamber music purchased after concerts directly from the artists ... and think about shifting to digital storage.

But I have shifted from listening to National Public Radio on my Bose radio to listening to simulcasts on my Imac. The icon for WCQS (88.1 Asheville) is in my Itunes menu, and so are icons for WNCW (88.7 Spindale) and WDAV (89.9 Davidson). I am researching the purchase of external speakers with higher audio quality. Speakers have always been the weak link in any high fidelity system, and you can’t spend too much money on upgrading them.

Listening online to a variety of NPR stations, both in North Carolina and nationwide, makes me realize how many have shifted emphasis to programs such as Talk of the Nation, Car Talk and This American Life. News, humor and commentary seem to be crowding out classical music and jazz on these stations.

One North Carolina station stands out with its continued commitment to classical music. That is WDAV, associated with Davidson College. General Manager Benjamin K. Roe arrived at WDAV in July 2008 after twenty years with National Public Radio in Washington, DC, where he was producer of Performance Today and served as Director of Music and Music Initiatives. Among his accomplishments there was an Internet portal that provides access to streaming music on NPR stations nationwide.

Since Roe’s arrival, WDAV has taken over production of National Public Radio’s World of Opera and in collaboration with South Carolina ETV/Radio will co-produce a new program Carolina Live, a weekly two-state regional review of classical performances similar to Performance Today. WDAV shows signs of becoming the Carolina regional powerhouse for classical music programming.

Other stations continue to provide gems of programming. Dana Whitehair, General Manager of WNCW 88.7 Spindale, recently emailed me to say that at 8:00 pm on Monday, 1/18, WNCW will re-broadcast the 1983 Eastman Philharmonia world premiere of Joseph Schwantner’s New Morning for the World. This piece celebrates Martin Luther King, Jr. in the same way that Aaron Copland’s Lincoln Portrait celebrates the 16th President, through narrative readings that punctuate the piece. I attended that 1983 concert in Rochester, NY, conducted by David Effron and featuring baseball great Willie Stargell narrating the Martin Luther King, Jr. passages in an exemplary fashion. This is a fine piece of 20th century music. You may be sure I will be listening online Monday night, MLK Day.

© 2010 Edward C. McIrvine
Arts Spectrum column #464
January 16, 2010

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