Helen Keller, Beethoven Fan?

HelenKellerRadioAstonishing post in the San Francisco Classical Voice about a 1924 letter that blind, deaf, and mute Helen Keller wrote to the New York Symphony (the rival of the New York Philharmonic before they eventually merged in 1928), recounting the experience of tuning in to a  broadcast of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony on the radio:

Last night, when the family was listening to your wonderful rendering of the immortal symphony someone suggested that I put my hand on the receiver and see if I could get any of the vibrations. He unscrewed the cap, and I lightly touched the sensitive diaphragm.

 

What was my amazement to discover that I could feel, not only the vibration, but also the impassioned rhythm, the throb and the urge of the music! The intertwined and intermingling vibrations from different instruments enchanted me. I could actually distinguish the cornets, the roil of the drums, deep-toned violas and violins singing in exquisite unison. How the lovely speech of the violins flowed and plowed over the deepest tones of the other instruments! When the human voices leaped up thrilling from the surge of harmony, I recognized them instantly as voices more ecstatic, upcurving swift and flame-like, until my heart almost stood still.

 

Really? Congrats to San Francisco Classical Voice Writer Janos Gereben for this bit of sleuthing – the letter was apparently in the Helen Keller Archives of the American Federation of the Blind.  But I’m rather surprised that this story has never come up before – and the skeptic in me wonders is Ms. Keller did not indulge in a bit of a creative flight of fancy.  I don’t tend to think of a 1920s-era radio as capable of “surround sound,” but it sure is fascinating notion to imagine that someone who was doubtless as hypersensitive to vibrations as Helen Keller could actually pick out and detect a symphony that way.   Can anyone corroborate this?

A Winter’s Journey III: The Schubert – Chopin Connection

Revisiting a startling discovery from the Radio Chopin series

Take a listen to Chopin’s A Stranger Here Himself…

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“A stranger I came, A stranger I depart…” These opening lines of “Good Night”, the first song in Franz Schubert’s cycle, Winterreise, or Winter Journey resonated with Chopin. So much so that they spilled over into the manuscript for his Sonata for Cello and Piano.

A dead ringer, so to speak! In Schubert’s song cycle the anti-hero is a dying poet. Themes of banishment, lost love and icy despair pervade. Just as they did in Chopin’s life at the time he composed his Cello Sonata. It was winter. His health was in rapid decline. He was twice exiled: he’d left his native Poland for good, and George Sand had just evicted him from their nest with the publication of an exposé thinly-veiled as a work of fiction.

Which brings us back to the first movement of Chopin’s Cello Sonata. It’s problematic. It puzzled even his closest allies. Was it too intimate? Wasting in his deathbed, Chopin asked to hear it, only to find he could bear no more than the first few measures. He omitted the movement from the sonata’s 1848 premiere. Clearly, it had profound personal significance. Most likely because he turned to—and quoted—Schubert’s song at the time of his separation from George Sand, which she had publicly portrayed as entirely his fault. Was it regret? Or, as in the final stanzas in Schubert’s song, did the ailing Chopin recognize his fate was sealed?

These are the last words spoken
Soon I’ll be out of sight
A simple farewell message
Goodnight, my love, good night.

Jennifer Foster

A Winter’s Journey I: Bill T. Jones on Schubert

Yes, a repeat, but brand-new for these ears:  a stunning interview today on NPR’s All Things Considered between host Melissa Block and choreographer Bill T. Jones about Schubert’s “Winterreise.”   Talk about a driveway moment….or, more appropriately, a lonely-organ-grinder-moment….

Bill T. Jones on Schubert’s Winterreise

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Arcane Radio Trivia


Yes, the techno-electro-tainment world is spinning faster and faster – witness iPhones, HSDPA, (Huh? you don’t know the acronym for High-Speed Downlink Packet? Read Jeremy Wagstaff’s amusing column in Friday’s Wall Street Journal), and the cool new T-Mobile service that lets you toggle between Wi-Fi and cell connectivity (e.g., free calls from hotspots!). But radio still makes my heart skip a beat – especially when a find a blog as delightful as Arcane Radio Triviawhich delivers on its promised premise:


There are 14,000 licensed radio stations in America. about 16% of those are non-commercial. That 16% squeezes in more variety than life itself. I am obsessed. I can admit that now.

And in just a few minutes of wandering the site I learned about radio roots of the great bass singer (and voice of Tony the Tiger) Thurl Ravenscroft; the longest-running R & B show in America (The Group Harmony Review on WFUV, and that the great bluesman Elmore James was promoted from the radio-repair bench to rhythm guitar in Lillian McMurry’s radio shop/record label empire in Holson, Mississippi. Okay, the spelling and grammar make me cringe from time to time, but I can admit it, too – go to work for a ten-watt radio station and you’re hooked for life. Now added to the RoeDeo BlogRoll, so you can get your daily fix, too…


“Listeners of Tomorrow are Online Today”

After three days at the IMA‘s (Integrated Media Association) Public Media conference, followed by a day listening to new-Information Age seers Henry Jenkins, Charles Nesson, Dave Winer, Doc Searls, and Dave Weinberger at the Beyond Broadcast 2007 seminar (co-sponsored by the Berkman Center at Harvard and MIT’s Comparative Media Studies program, today I discovered this post from Jerry Del Colliano, Professor of Music Industry at USC. Can’t be much more than a dittohead on this one. Worth reading every word. Sample grab:

“….Now, it’s time to mention the killer app.

When universal WiFi or its equivalent is available and consumers can
take the Internet with them then it’s all over for radio. Ditto for
satellite radio.

That is, of course, assuming that terrestrial radio broadcasters don’t
have an epiphany soon and decide to get into the Internet radio
business. Ditto for satellite.

So far, the excuses are pretty lame.

Radio is a fading industry thanks to the misdirected major
consolidators. They’ve lost the next generation as they migrated to
their mobile devices and the Internet. So what does that say? Well, when
they are not fighting Arbitron’s People Meter or when they stubbornly
try to sell HD radio as the next big thing, they make excuses.

Can’t pay the music licensing fees to stream our terrestrial signals. It
would be prohibitive. No, it would be suicide — not to stream the
signals. Pay the fees and get your programming where the next generation
is — online.”

WHEW. And Jerry hasn’t even seen the Resco Radio application I just downloaded on my Motorola Q Smartphone. More on that in a future post.