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Saying "the school of life" sounds so trite, but I think it's largely true for me. I went to Oregon State University for four years, but wriggled through cracks in the bureaucracy to avoid declaring a major, and avoid getting a degree. I wanted to know about everything, so each semester I took whichever classes I wanted to take, without paying any attention to departments or pre-requisites. Psychology, philosophy, chemistry, film studies, math, astronomy, literature, soccer, German, religion, geology, rhetoric. It never added up to a degree, but I was happy.
There are so many other things I'd include in my "educational background," even though they aren't academic. Studying music (classical piano, jazz piano, guitar, Afro-Cuban rhythms, bagpipes), touring with bands, being a part of institutions and relationships as they bloom and fade. Trying to maintain the bloom, or at least an annual cycle. From hopping a freight train once, I learned an important lesson. Don't hop freight trains unless you're SURE where they're going.
I stumbled into radio at Oregon State. There was a student-run station (KBVR, named for the OSU Beavers) where everyone wanted to be a rock DJ, no one cared to be on during the morning jazz shows. I signed up as a jazz DJ, even though I knew next to nothing about jazz at the time. But it meant I could get on the air, and make a million mistakes with only eight people listening. Three years later, I went to Oregon Public Broadcasting, where I was the anonymous voice between programs telling you about the compassionate corporations who had underwritten the programming, what time it was, and to stay tuned for A Prairie Home Companion. It was a wonderful ten years at OPB, because I was asked to do everything. "Produce this Christmas special!" OK. "Host this concert broadcast!" All right. "Host the local bits of Weekend Edition, do the afternoon music, erase the evening music tapes, and write and voice this comedy show!" Well, OK. I got to learn about every aspect of radio, and discover what I loved most.
How did you become interested in classical music?
My father played a little piano, the occasional Stephen Foster song. It was magical to my five year-old self. He ran his fingers over what looked to me like a piece of furniture, and the air around me was filled with not just sound, but with emotion. I demanded to be taught this enchantment. My teacher started me with CPE Bach, and from then on, it seemed normal to me to be surrounded by great music, whether it was Beethoven or Ella
Fitzgerald or Steely Dan. My mother took me to concerts, I listened to the radio constantly, and saved up my allowance and lawn-mowing earnings to buy a record every month.
What book you are currently reading?
"Mason and Dixon," by Thomas Pynchon. It has the funniest passage I've ever read, involving a ten-foot four-ton wheel of cheddar rolling down a hillside. I also like the duck that falls in love with the French chef. It's a strange book.
Favorite piece of music:
That's impossible to answer with a single piece. I need to have a variety of music around me, and often the contrasts between works heighten the feelings of each. The brutality of "The Rite of Spring" makes the tenderness of the "Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun" all the more touching. A solo lute playing John Dowland, then a Beethoven symphony.
But OK, if I have to pick one: Maurice Ravel's String Quartet. It has all the contrasts built in.
Which CD is currently in your player at home?
In the five-CD changer: 1) Bach Violin Concerti, Andrew Manze and the Academy of Ancient Music. 2) Schumann chamber music played by pianist Martha Argerich and friends. 3) A collection of Parisian accordion waltzes. 4) "Alina," a collection of music by Arvo Part. 5) A samba/bossa nova sampler.
What was your childhood dream job?
Conductor. That could be train conductor, or orchestral conductor. As long as there was a powerful engine of some sort at my disposal.
What is your most memorable interview or moment on the show?
Watching Yo Yo Ma and the members of his Silk Road Ensemble rehearse for five hours the night before we taped a special program with them. Two musicians from Iran, two from China, and six players with a wide variety of backgrounds from around the US, the only language they really had in common was music. To see their precision, their furious abandon, their undisguised delight in listening to and learning from each other. May I bring a fraction of that spirit of joy in human communion to my work.
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