The music makers; Robert Whitney
This is Robert Whitney. I have found that high school students are much more receptive to new music than adults. Like me I've gone so far as to buy a whole program of contemporary music for high school students and I get to use the phrase ate it up. No problems at all. I would have to think very carefully before I did that. I run my regular adult audiences. At the. Michigan State University radio presents the music makers. Today Robert Whitman and Norman Isaacs are guests in this series of conversations with prominent Americans whose art and business is music. Mr. Whitney is conductor of the Louisville orchestra and Mr. Isaacs is president of the Louisville Philharmonic Society. Both were born in England but have long been citizens of the United States. Mr. Whitney studied with Koussevitzky in his early days and conducted the Chicago Civic
orchestra before his appointment to the Louisville orchestra in 1937 as a composer his works include the symphony in a minor concerto Grosso Sinfonietta and most recently a concertina composed in 1968 in 1951. Robert Whitney won the Ditson award for service to American music. Norman Isaacs executive editor of The Courier-Journal Louisville times since 1962 is very active in public affairs. He served the State Department on two occasions with special missions to India in 1958 and to Yugoslavia in 1959. He was president of the Louisville fund in 1958 59 and has been president of the Louisville Philharmonic Society since 1956. Here is Mr. ISAACS. The lower case is an outgrowth of what has happened to many communities in America. The smaller community it was originally
pretty much of an amateur effort and continued an amateur effort for a few years and Rob Whitney was brought here deliberately for the purpose of building this orchestra into a professional group. And we observed our anniversary as a very professional group. I think a couple of years ago with the big event which was noted nationally. It was significant that to us a couple of years ago when the Russian composer said they had a team of seven Russian composers Shostakovich Dunc of Itchen catalepsy a number of others came to the United States they pick seven cities to go to Boston New York San Francisco places like that and the one
place of our size they picked was loyal. They came here and there. One of them even conducted the orchestra piece so it was it was a great evening for us and a fine tribute. This is the one orchestra they've heard about through the commissioning project. But that's getting ahead a little bit too much. The idea of and I think Rob would agree with this most of the smaller city orchestras in the United States smaller middle sized city orchestras in the first place they play music very well but. It's silly to say that they can play a Beethoven piece or a Tchaikovsky piece or anything that requires a really large number of players as well as the major orchestras of the three or four major orchestra parts of the United States and some individuals prefer this big music on record.
What is the role of the smaller orchestra. How can it serve its community how can it serve the country best. Well to the imagination of a former mayor here was no Congressman Charles finally and Robert and our orchestra in Lowell was appealed to classical size it is not larger but it was then classical size which is in the in the area of about 52 to 55 pieces and the idea was then originated to commission new music and the orchestra proceeded to invite distinguished composers who were the first ones you Virgil Thompson Hall in the midst of hero at Della Joyal which I own. Leo and. Right right Horace.
Those are a few Those are a few of the early ones yes not a lot of those early ones. We were paying those a modest sum for the commissioning it was what we could afford. We had cut down on our didn't amount of the number of the star performers we were bringing to as soloists you know order to get this money to pay the composer we had to pay the composer a fee for each piece we had to pay a copying fee also our total outlay at the time was about I think close to $2000. All things considered and the Rockefeller found Foundation became interested in this thing and Rockefeller then proceeded to give a grant an original grant of $400000. Which enabled a lot of larger to go into the recording business.
Lovell had to pledge in return that it would maintain its support of the original commissioning program when the original of the orchestra as it was operating. This was not a grant for operations of love orchestra. The operations of lower tour were to continue as they had including the commissioning project in that limited sense. The Rockefeller money was to go towards an expansion of the whole project and to set up the recording thing. A lot of things that went wrong originally just at the time we were in the recording business. The major record companies cut their prices slashed them. We were caught with a high priced product and in a low price high pressure advertising campaign by all of the big record manufacturers the estimates made by the giants of the industry about our
sales were way off. But even with all this we've survived and a recording project is over now we've got to know how many records more than a hundred in a row. Yes I've I've forgotten myself some. Well over $100 hundred thirty or forty. We just finished I think in December of last year. I think we released our sixtieth recording. The fact is that. Contemporary music in this country or anywhere who is not being supported. What was to happen to the composer in America or any place else in the world. In the old days and Rob can make quite a speech on the princes of the Dukes they all supported the music. Most of the great music in a true it was written under subsidy.
Well I would say there were certain certainly factors that we don't have in this country or didn't have the church and as you say the princes and royalty and then gradually in Europe at least this resulted in a development of a state subsidy so even when the monarchs and princes were dethroned the way the governments carried on even and Bolshevik Russia for example they kept up the music. Subsidy just of the czars had in the Grand Dukes. So we didn't have of course that resource here even today in Europe if you go over there you find at the national radio stations are disseminators of new music. Germany in particular is very outstanding in that respect but in all European countries the nationally sponsored radio feel a part of their responsibility to present the new music of their own composers they're not much interested in composers of other lands I gather but their own composers get a hearing that way and are set up in this country had no provision for anything comparable to that at the time we began this which was
1948. It was very much of a novelty and answer by the Rockefellers chose us. I don't think they chose us in any strict sense of the word what happened. We began commissioning a new work for every concert that we gave in the season of forty eight and nine and we have continued We are We did continue that for a number of years so that by the time this Grant came which as I recall was in 53 and far we had already commissioned and performed an even recorded either by Mercury recordings or Columbia masterworks several of these works. The whole conception was so novel and we were in effect in business doing this. So that we were the logical ones to do it it was a going concern. The thing that was changed however we had been performing and maybe six works of the year because we had a short season and we had been able to
record only several works because from a commercial point of view contemporary music is not too attractive for moneymaking purposes. So consequently it was only possible to produce a few works and even fewer recordings until this proposal was made to the foundation which put the thing on a much more elaborate scale to say the least we began the first year producing as I recall about forty two new works and recording them. You see in a special series of concerts were given in order to prepare the works for recording. Robert there's one thing that ought to be interjected here it seems to me in any discussion of. But music it seems to me that of all the arts the composition of music is probably the least appreciated. The difficulties involved are the least appreciated by the general public. Because you see if you write a poem or a book it's visible. You have a manuscript and others can see it
it can be submitted to a publisher. But if a man writes a piece of music it can be looked at by other musicians. But until it is played it is nothing. It is if it does not exist really in the field and therefore the opportunity to have a symphony orchestra play a piece. It was a the word is overused but I do think it's proper in this case it was a unique experience in the United States and so many of these fine composers were happy to collaborate because of this opportunity. Now the real Rockefeller saw in this the recording aspect of it the opportunity not only for a limited audience to hear this work but to for so many more the ripples outward as a result of recording. And then working on the theory that the good would survive and that that
which was trivial would would die. But at least this was the service. And so the local orchestra I think and had become known as as the pioneer in the field and certainly Rob Whitney as one eye a well-deserved reputation as the finest interpreter of modern music. It's been difficult and many times in many cases he has been able however to build a an unusually good small orchestra. We're now at about 65 pieces and we may go up a little beyond that. But what robbers that have been occasionally some critic in New York or elsewhere will make some disparaging remarks. But we have survived this long and we will survive that disparaging remark in others. Just the other day the nation came out with a piece which referred to the brave.
But it's strictly a semiprofessional orchestra. The record the American record guide had a very interesting one if I may I'd like to quote just a little bit of it it says. This month the local orchestra is entering its second decade as the unique performer producer of recordings devoted exclusively to contemporary music. To date the orchestra has issued a rather startling total of 60 church desks comprising a hundred fifty works by a hundred seventeen composers. The first forty two of these releases were given over to Rockefeller commissions most intersperse there and say this is not entirely correct because the as Rob has already explained we were in that before October. At any rate the first forty two of these releases were given over to Rockefeller commissions but since 1961 conductor Robert Whitney has been turning up plenty of worthy material elsewhere. We have not always applauded his choice of repertoire.
Nor is the ensemble on a par with its metropolitan counterparts. But at the same time it would be graceless and extreme not to acknowledge the overall excellence of the global series on its own terms which include a quite fantastic catholicity of aesthetics from the most hand-me-down neo romantic to the farthest out of Vanguard. And also it behooves us to remind ourselves lest we make the mistake of taking such riches for granted that this Godfrey of modern whatever that really is music would be skimpier by far without Lovell's dependably fattening the part month by month. Then he goes on I take this opportunity to congratulate Whitney for the achievement that he wishes the orchestra even more success in the next 10 years. Fortunately for them and for us the music of our time is still much in need of recorded documentation and it is consoling to know that Kentucky will
continue to challenge our extensively more sophisticated per years in presenting today's music today. The only way we can record the music is to prepare it for performance. And this is one of the most difficult parts of the of the task. By that I mean we're presently producing six recordings a year which means 12 Sides a minimum of 12 works. If you do one on a side in ARD and now in our subscription series of concerts here and we have eight pairs of concerts which gives us presumably eight sides that are still far more to go. Those pieces have to be played in other series of concerts we get We give us we give 18 concerts in the state of Kentucky in a special series where we go out of town. Some of the pieces can be presented and others in other Kentucky cities or they may be in some cases presented in a program that we give here for high school students because I have found that high school students are much more receptive to new music than adults.
We have gone so far as to play a whole program of contemporary music for high school students and I just to use the phrase ate it up. No problems I would have to think very carefully before I did that for a run of our regular adult audiences but their minds are open and I have no built in prejudices. 12 tone music editing live there take it if you present it to them explain what it is and give them some samples on the other hand. Our audience has become the acceptance of our audience to the new music is has grown tremendously. For example just yesterday and day before we played a new 12 tone piece. And whereas I wouldn't say that the audience's audience went into ecstasies about it. There was a very courteous reception and some public puzzlement on the part of many and some acceptance on the part of many others now I do give a series of lectures about the music in advance to those who are able to attend but since they're done in the daytime we can reach only a very small part of the audience but those who have had a demonstration of the
music in advance are much more receptive and get much more out of it and I was very pleased for instance this week to find some of those who had been in bed and apprised in advance of what they were going to hear. Rob there in the rehearsals for that piece. What was the reaction of the members of the orchestra. Well at the beginning there was some puzzlement and some I would say just consent. Some contemporary music is very very difficult to do technically. And I remember in the early days a players would come and say well you just can't play this but they finally found they could you see and then it wasn't long before people in some of the sections would come to me and say oh it's so much more fun playing this contemporary music. For instance if you play the second violin or the viola in the orchestra you have odds here short of a challenging part whereas if you're playing symphonies by Haydn or waltzes by Johann Strauss You just have very little to do so there's that aspect there's a
professional challenge in every piece now and a further Marcus is young and we have very few. Middle aged or elderly people I'm I'm the old man of the organization and young people are much more receptive of course to new ideas. People ask me some time well don't the players hate having to do all this modern music. No they don't. I think they rather enjoy it I will admit that I think they're confused in the first place very often. For instance the piece I referred to a moment ago that we did this past week I was talking to one of the performers this morning and he said my that piece just grew on me so rapidly at first I wasn't sure whether I was going to like it. But you see this is the problem is learning the new idiom. And this is the problem from the audience's point of view and it's so difficult they're taking for example the music and using serial music that's being written so much today. How in the world can an audience understand it when they have no idea even of the concept behind it and the natural reaction is of course to say Well this chap is either
pulling our leg our just doesn't know any better. And I find that if you can get a part of the audience even a small part and show them that the thing is seriously intended that it is intelligently contrived that it isn't a prank. And I think in that case there we have this. A weighing of contemporary music of the album Gar which does does give credence to the idea that sometimes they're having a leg bulge you say and how do we know when the my man means business and onesie fooling us and this is a problem of course Rob from that from the point of view of the of the orchestra personnel which you are referring to is it would your emphasis on contemporary music enabled you to get such volunteers as Sidney Hart who is going along way and Paul playing our present concert master and other very talented people who who wanted to share in this experience riper our first trumpet came all the way up from Louisiana to find out if he
couldn't play with us because he got to be funded by an orchestra and of course what I know what we'd have done without him originally years ago. Every person who played the orchestra had to moonlight and had various jobs some worked in industrial factories and some were in various businesses and this is the most difficult thing a manager. He loves music and it should become an avocation rather than a vocation. Not the evolution in Louisville has been that almost the total number of players in the orchestra are teachers of music we have been able to work out over the years. What to me is a very handsome system of collaboration with our school systems. Now we all wear various hats for instance as. Robert Whitney is conductor of the local orchestra as dean of the School of Music at the university a little. He is in a different
role. Our concert master is Rob's faculty at the university. Whenever a school has any of the school systems city public the County public schools or the parochial school systems need a music teacher. The first place they ask is rock. That's just the first place. Not going to door what is available. What can we do. We have this kind of open so therefore all of our people are in music. This is the way they're doing and happily our orchestra has become a state orchestra. Support. We have made no secret about a budget of around $300000 a year which is not a great sum. It's adequate. Not all of this is earned income. You
see we have a contract and we perform more than 100. We give more and have more than hundred services a year which is not too bad. We have a series of subscription concerts here in Lowell which the public subscribes to it pays and it is sold out. Robert the orchestra gets $50000 a year. From the state of Kentucky for services the services go all over the state and some of your experiences have been wonderful. Yes you play in gymnasiums you play and the various schools colleges. Yes of course there are number of colleges in the state which give us very satisfactory places to perform. But there there are cases when we do play on a basketball floor and caustically not ideal but from a social point of view it has its value since it's the only music that they have. One of the touching things about this and which delights us is the fact that the orchestra
part of the orchestra sometimes go into areas that have never before seen this kind of live music and the letters which come to the governor's office are really something to move you where you take a symphony orchestra into a part of the mountain country of eastern Kentucky and play a symphony orchestra and it was one school where the orchestra the bus couldn't get up to the top and you sent the quartet the bus couldn't get up the mountainside and so Rob got a car and I had the quartet go up there and a quartet sat in this small school and played after lunch for about an hour. And this was a rare thrill for all of those young people and for the faculty of the school. Now this is how the state is supporting the city and county. Both pay for what we call the making music series which is of course peoples in the elementary grades. They are
seventh grade to seven at which at these places Rob talks to the young people tell them what they're about to hear and then the orchestra plays and you should see we play this down in a downtown convention center and you should see the buses school buses all the yellow school buses converging on downtown. Over 11000 children you see really ties up the city ties up to the downtown area for a brief period now and then on top of that there's a high school series. So you can see this orchestra is active in so many ways. And I don't know that if I may interrupt Norman you remember to we send a quartet of strings a quartet of what wins in a quartet of brasses into each of the branch libraries of the Louisville free public library. In a program for preschool children where they can come and touch the instruments and be shown how they play at the same time. These quartets give demonstrations so that we have a what we laughingly call a cradle to the grave system here for beginning before the first
grade. And we have the third to the seventh in making music then we have the high school which is really junior and senior high school. So actually some of the pieces that we have released on record recording were first performed for an audience of children. And of course this is one reason that occasionally our choices are are criticised. You see I have to remind you that every piece we record has to be performed for a live audience in Kentucky and that means there must be at least 12 such pieces each year. It's actually more than that because sometimes they're not long enough to make a full side and they have to be done for audiences that we have and I still have to use enough discretion that we don't you know overdo things. But for instance I found that if I have a 12 tone piece it's probably better to play it for the high school audience than for our adult audience at least it'll have a greater degree of appreciation. So it takes a little doing and. Every once in a while someone writes in and said Well if you're supposed to be doing modern music
- The music makers
- Robert Whitney
- Producing Organization
- Michigan State University
- WKAR (Radio/television station : East Lansing, Mich.)
- Contributing Organization
- University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
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- This program focuses on conductor Robert Whitney
- Distinguished Americans discuss their profession of music, from composition to criticism; the business of music and its current place in our national culture.
- Media type
Interviewee: Isaacs, Norman
Interviewee: Whitney, Robert, 1904-1986
Interviewer: Smyth, Henry De Wolf, 1898-1986
Producer: Ford, Pat
Producing Organization: Michigan State University
Producing Organization: WKAR (Radio/television station : East Lansing, Mich.)
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University of Maryland
Identifier: 66-6-3 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
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- Chicago: “The music makers; Robert Whitney,” 1965-12-27, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed April 12, 2021, http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-kw57jd7s.
- MLA: “The music makers; Robert Whitney.” 1965-12-27. University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. April 12, 2021. <http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-kw57jd7s>.
- APA: The music makers; Robert Whitney. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-kw57jd7s