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This is Norman Isaacs. We live here. All of us live here this is our city. And if we don't give a damn about this city who will. Take. The. Michigan State University radio presents the music makers. Then. Today Robert Whitney and Norman Isaacs are again our guests in the series of conversations with prominent Americans whose art and business is music. Mr. Whitney is conductor of the Louisville orchestra. Mr. Isaacs is president of the Louisville Philharmonic Society. They are mutually responsible for creating a musical reputation that is still unique among comparable cities. Today we'll hear more of the Louisville story. Almost all of our culturally conceived. That's true in every city. Go around with their heads in the hay and once or twice a year. But it's an art
gallery or art center or children's theater or whatever it is and the idea was to try to put them all together under one roof and they were put under one umbrella with one campaign and the first campaign had a total of 400 drivers. The newspapers were the chief contributor and have remained the chief contributor over the years but there are a number of others. It is however this campaign which the 965 campaign will come up with about 8000 contributors from 400 to 8000 in the space of about 15 years from something like oh $75000 we will hit close to about a hundred and seventy five thousand. Now this is just support money. The orchestra of course chief
beneficiary will receive something like seventy seven thousand dollars. The Kentucky opera sociate which was founded after all of this got started and operates under the aegis of the School of Music. It will get about 20000 plus the children's theatre there is the junior art gallery. There is the art center So CA Sion there is a dance Council which is ballet. There is a Choral Union and the youth orchestra which is a more recent addition and which are doing a fine job. So all of these get support money in one way or another with one single campaign. Our growth rate. He was a foreigner have shot a year which was just almost right on the mark.
It's now increased drug as yet it's more nearly 5 percent now. And it it just goes along this way with the community understanding and accepting the fact that none of these organizations can really earn all that they need to go and so this support money is their base. The orchestra is the key is the foundation stone in the first place. You cannot have an opera performance without musicians in the pit. You can't very well and ballet and ballet most of these things require an orchestra. And then too when you do use a funny phrase about it any campaign needs sex appeal. And the orchestra provides the sex appeal for this campaign. Without her you wouldn't have anything much to sell. You could try to sell your art gallery or an art center is going to be pretty difficult. But once you've got the orchestra there
are people who understand it can see it they can feel it you know understand it they hear it and everywhere it goes this is the little orchestra so the little orchestra is the foundation stone but out of this is all these other things proliferated around this core. We're very happy with it. We wouldn't give it up for the world community. This has this is the only campaign in Lulu which for four successive years has made its goal every other goal has had to be you know extended or they go into some gimmick say well we're 90 for four but we're sure that later pledges are going to make it. No doubt about a lot of fun going like a hundred percent of us go because the community has bought the idea very thing that you know let's call it a Midwestern city with a great Southern Exposure. In this in this kind of an area. Three quarters of a million people that this sort of city should
have but the idea of culture and but it has a number of factors that we've had imaginative people in government like Mayor Farci we've had the dedication of a fellow like Rob Whitney you know it's hard to praise a man who is facing it's embarrassing to him it's embarrassing. I mean he's my friend but we could never have done this without this kind of dedication. There are conductors and musicians who are looking for glamour. They don't want the hard work really they they want all of us the recording contracts and they want the tours and whatnot. Certainly this would have been fine with Rob but he never demanded this what he was trying to do. Once he made his home here it was to build the best kind of orchestra he could and serve the cause of music. After all he is a composer and so has
composed I think for the first time one of his pieces is going to be on the recording as it has it has been. It's the first time he's been very modest about the whole thing and yet everything here has centered on Rob's modest his own innate modesty but his dedication to this idea that this sort of city can build a fine orchestra and can serve the cause of music. And good lord it's been proved. If anything is a financial success in the culture the little experience has been a wonderful financial success and I think after all as as a layman I'm all orchestra presidents and board members are a bunch of ignoramuses really. We're there to provide the money and the support. But it's been it's been so emotionally satisfying to all of us and we have to live as board meetings in town and not only the lives
but it's what most people want to come to a board meeting a little orchestra because we ought to charge admission because there are furious fights. But I do think that it's worked out beautifully in that. But to see the growth of the Women's Association the orchestra's carriage that they have they raise money for scholarships and you have a number of scholarships at school. Yes I think they handed me a check last June for as I recall Sixty five hundred dollars. This is an annual contribution of women supporters of the orchestra have an association and raise money by various devices one of which is an option that they do here and this money was turned over. Part of it to be used for what we had. We have Apprentice memberships in the orchestra advanced university students when they reach a certain point of proficiency where they can be ready for it are given an opportunity to play in the orchestra. And this is handled not
out out of our regular budget they are in a sense. Extra players they have to join the union before they can even appear in this capacity which they do and I are paid there for a salary for their performances. This in effect is something like a scholarship to them in terms of their current completing their work at the university either as seniors or graduate students. And so in this way we've been able to recruit news and develop our own players because we're not in the position of a major orchestra to go out into the open market and hire top flight players at an annual yearly salary to move in to take a place you see. This has been one of our biggest tasks this is to keep personnel and to replace replacements are necessary. Well that was one of our big problems when the when the grants from the foundation expired which it did in about four years from the time it was granted. Then for instance an orchestra of 50 players I lost 12
in between one season and the next because they were recruited for the big orchestras you see. And so this was very difficult. We had a very hard year until we could actually rebuild. But this is one of the disadvantages of. You take a half a million dollars out of a project and leave nothing to replace it. But ingenuity it it takes a little doing. Why don't you mention this difficulty that everyone is having strength players. Well of course this is a national problem. The development of such excellent wind players in great profusion and the great dearth of qualified string players it's made difficult by the fact that to master a string instrument takes so many more years takes an earlier start and the public schools have done such an outstanding job in interesting people in the other instruments the wind and caution and so on so that some of our finest players today actually had their start in the public school organizations but for a violinist or cellist any string
player for that matter to acquire a comparable excellence and performance takes many more years. And we're trying now. We're in our school we're working on a plan now of developing a starting violinist at the age of 3 and 4 using the methods of Suzuki the great Japanese teacher who does such marvelous work with the little children we've got little feller so big now playing a Bach double concerto and in ensemble the same as Suzuki does in Japan. So we're hoping that in another generation we'll be able to supply a larger number of string players for the orchestra. Actually we just manage a little chap this morning five years old with his fiddle in his hands and they learn to play by rote before they can even read music. But now this I think gives us a chance to develop strong players but developing string players takes a dedication of a longer period of time and we Americans in general like to do things in a hurry you know and consequently the flute is more popular than the fiddle with the high school boys and
girls. But we are doing something in a small way at least to combat this problem. One of the one of the things that just crossed my mind. You mention a newspaper and you wonder why the newspapers involved in this. Well it can be answered very simply. We live here. All of us live here this is our city. And if we don't give a damn about the city who will. And so it's a perfectly natural interest of the oven of the newspaper which ought to be the conscience of the community the custodian of things very useful to show its devotion
to its own community and the good Lord knows he tried as best we can and it will continue to try its selfish interest I don't think there's anything wrong with it. It's a call in light and self-interest. This is a very. Well-mannered city. I'm sure you know of our remarkable record in integration the local story is extremely well known. Now this let me put it in more realistic terms. You cannot start improving a city today and tomorrow. The level it is today is big and about a quarter of a century ago or a little more. Mark Etheridge played a great role in me and I became very Bingham played a tremendous
role. But this stuff for years now we have never had and to my knowledge an outright politician as the mayor of this community. I can't think of one they've all been businessmen and respectable people who were drafted for the jobs. My present mayor is a mortgage banker by his trade to the immediate one. Pryor was a fine real estate man. One of our leading laundry operators that was a. brought us one. Wilson why a distinguished lawyer was Mayor finds Charlie finally a fine lawyer and was mayor so all of our mayors have been not politicians but men of substance. And these men and I have even though we may
disagree and disagree often on things that ought to be done we are all all these people are interested in the growth of the community. And this business about integration started many years ago where for instance when the Supreme Court the day the United States Supreme Court issued a ruling that a public golf course was open could not you could not get it that afternoon negroes played on the golf courses and it was a matter of legality the public playgrounds. Oh one of the most interesting things about do you know the swimming pool the public swimming pools were integrated before public schools. This is stunning. It's an astonishing fact but this it happened under the mayors in that one at night Randi brought us the public parks and come time to use the segregated was done very nicely in Barcelona versity design University desegregated years ago the public library
and then the schools and everybody open or nationally a set of local integrated schools and everybody looked a little astonished by it and said no no trouble. Why should there been a trouble here. The town is ready for the town and already been educated to it and was expecting it and the orchestra to go back to the orchestra. My understanding is that the orchestra audience has never been you know not of I don't know never been segregated and never no person has ever been denied admission to the orchestra performance. Hello. Now this goes back for years. So all of this comes perfectly naturally Now this is it has become an industrial community to some extent. We have General Electric is here with Appliance Park General Electric is not only a warm supporter of the lower fund it is a warm supporter of the orchestra. Indeed General Electric sponsors the broadcast of the little orchestra concerts. We have strong support from. International Harvester
Ford Motor Company from Brown Williamson tobacco company we have all of our banks are good strong supporters contributors. Every department store that all of these are part of the whole thing now last fall when was the downtown Saluti arch September downtown salutes the arch the retail merchants the community put aside a week to say downtown salutes the art and the artists of the community the painters and all these sculptures. The sculptors and crafts that I have you know art crafts the windows were decorated with their works and people who like them could come in and buy them. I think at the stipulated price and all of downtown forestry became
an art gallery I mean you just walk around look in the windows every store and paintings through art crafts everything they had at their windows were ahead of the larger department stores. I thought of something rather imaginative. They would select paintings using specific colors and then would show beautiful gowns and related color so that the whole thing went together easily. But they were quite prepared to give the whole window to the art it was the artist had to had to say that isn't wanted. In other words if the artist didn't want any merchandise in the window there was to be no it was very tense it was just all left to the to the artistic community. The merchants were delighted with it because they felt that it that lifted their image of public service. Well I must confess that when I went to the first meeting and this merchant got up and said that. The arts have done so much for Louisville's good name and reputation that that the business community the downtown business community want to show their appreciation appreciation by giving this salute to the arts which I thought was in a
rather historic occasion because I remembered in my earlier days here when I first came to twenty eight years ago that such a thing would have seemed fantastically impossible. Let me slide backwards to something we talked about earlier about one of our mayors and I'm sure he won't mind my telling the story when and he brought us over the trip and he brought us want to travel abroad. And Andy and he's a wonderful forthright character. And he went to Holland for the tulip festival of the what various other places. And he was a little astounded because every place he went he was introduced as the mayor of Louisville. They did not talk about the Kentucky Derby they didn't talk about any number of other. They said oh yes the little orchestra. When Eddie came back Eddie wanted to make several speeches about the value of the orchestra to Louis international standing.
So it all fits in bits and pieces now it's been a it's been a. A wonderful experience and really a very happy one because when you figure that out of the total community there must be more than 7000 individual families who write out a check to a lot of fun. You can't overlook that. And in addition to that the number of children who go to the met through the various concerts and whose parents know they come they're very well aware of it. Now whether they appreciate it no matter what you're after all you're not asking for appreciation. It's grown so nice a lot is appreciation and a very jolly message church that's quite right and we're not speaking about the reception on each piece of music that's all but you don't ask if you if you're going to start out doing something and
you measure it and some advertising agency format of saying it. This is the expectation in this sort of thing I think we serve you know more than that then you would play a piece of music figuring on the amount of applause you're going to get for it. You can't do it. You do it because you need this sort of thing in a community. There are people around town. Do not think highly of contemporary music. This is a masterpiece I suppose of understatement. I would think so but. And they are vigorously vocal about it and one or two of these people have
one or two occasions attempted to. Gain control of Rob's musical menu through board action and let Rob tell the results of that himself. I think he got a rather warm endorsement from the board. Yes well of course this is a problem. Actually in our series of concerts here in Louisville we play one contemporary work on each program which is not really excessive. It's never more than a third of the total amount of music played and usually less than that. And the hard thing is for many people to realize that a symphonic conductor is not just putting on an entertainment but has a responsibility due responsibility to the art of music
and to the community. And so I think any self-respecting conductor tries to make a series of concerts that cover as wide a range of high grade music as possible. And I think one fine art least I find that a program that contains work from the 17th or 18th century. Perhaps a work from the nineteenth century and a work from the 20th century makes a very nicely balanced program as variety. I look back at my youth when it was so popular to hear concerts that were all Wagner all Tchaikovsky or all Brahms or all Beethoven. And they're all very well and they're good but as a steady diet it seems to me it's much more interesting to have variety and the hard thing is get across to so many people who attend concerts is the fact that if they hear one piece that they don't enjoy or that challenges them or even annoys them. But this is just part of the fun of a concert that you don't every time you go to movie you don't always enjoy it or feel it's
first rate or play every time you read a book Crush You can usually quit. So the book away but I admit that there is considerable resistance. But on the other hand as I think all musicians know you can't have a symphony orchestra unless the musical director or conductor has the final say as to what's to be played because. There has to be catholicity of taste there has to be a willingness on the part of the conductor and the audience to listen. Now this we've had we've had troubles from time to time and as Norman Isaacs points out it was suggested that since obviously I had such poor judgment in the matter it would be wiser to have a committee of laymen to tell me what to play. And of course this is the point at which any self-respecting musician has to stand because if you don't you betrayed your whole profession. And the board as
I see it has the right to fire me and particularly so since I've never had a contract. But they very kindly have never bothered to exercise their franchise they can't take a contract up because I don't have one. But they can do that at any time because if they cut off not pay of course I've got to do something else but I don't think they have the right to tell me what to play. If they think my judgement is bad then A should fire me and for twenty eight years I've been able to fool them and God willing I'll do it longer so that it's as simple as that and it isn't a personal matter it's a matter of integrity. And this goes for the music too people say What do you like all those things you play. Well this question of whether do you like this or don't you like this is a rather difficult one. I can't honestly say that every one of these hundred some merks that you tell me we've done I liked in the literal sense of the word. There are many that I admired and liked tremendously. There are
others that I like moderately but I think I can probably honestly say that there wasn't one that I felt was. Phony it was something that was done just to make a headline somewhere. It seemed to me and I think they were all done by men who are skilled craftsman which is the first factor in a work of art. The plus of greatness the plus of genius plus of great gifts of courses is rare. We knew when we started this that if over a period of 15 years or so that we've been doing this we produce this many works they couldn't they couldn't possibly be all first rate. And we were happy we thought if we got one or two that would eventually be considered great. And whether we have or not I'm not in a position to say a conductor's approach to a score is a recreated one. And when the scar comes to me I have to make it my own. For better or worse and this is a great
challenge and it's a fascinating one. And what little I know about conducting I've just learned by having to do it you see. So you know to me it's been a great personal challenge and a great personal experience. And I don't hold a popularity contest with myself as to whether I like John Smith's piece better than John Jones. That is in part. And furthermore I must remind you that I don't myself I'm not myself in a position to fully judge the work until not only we have rehearsed it but we have performed it. And I must confess that when I finally listened to the recording of the work really for the first time I'm hearing it as you in the audience hearing you say up the ladder it's been something that I'm projecting out of my own experience try my best to recreate in that and in that point I would I'd point out too that almost invariably with very few exceptions the works as we record them have had a very close personal approval of the composer I mean I work very closely with the composer and where my concept and his do differ we usually make some sort of a compromise sometimes I prefer mind of their own
and sometimes I prefer their eyes to mine. But whatever he is. But when the record goes out it's as best we can the composer's own idea of how it should be done. This I feel is my responsibility. Again you heard Robert Whitney and Norman Isaacs today's guests the music makers. A series of conversations with prominent Americans whose art and business is music. This is going to be chill or inviting you to be with us again next week for a conversation with Irving cologne. These programs are produced by Pat Ford at Michigan State University Radio under a grant from the national educational radio. This is the national educational radio network.
The music makers
Norman Isaacs
Producing Organization
Michigan State University
WKAR (Radio/television station : East Lansing, Mich.)
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University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
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Episode Description
This program focuses on Norman Isaacs, President of Louisville Philharmonic Society.
Series Description
Distinguished Americans discuss their profession of music, from composition to criticism; the business of music and its current place in our national culture.
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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.)
AAPB Contributor Holdings
University of Maryland
Identifier: 66-6-4 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
Duration: 00:29:04
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Chicago: “The music makers; Norman Isaacs,” 1965-12-31, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed April 25, 2024,
MLA: “The music makers; Norman Isaacs.” 1965-12-31. University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. April 25, 2024. <>.
APA: The music makers; Norman Isaacs. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from