Sounds American to Me

Friday, October 16, 2009 - 03:46 PM

Whenever I travel outside of the U.S., I'm always struck by the presence of American music, particularly our popular music.  You hear it in hotels, clubs, on cruise ships, etc. People around the world respond viscerally to our music even if they're not English speakers. So on this week's Q2, we'll delve into the roots of American music and take a closer look at the movers and shakers that created its innovative sounds.

We'll begin with Scott Joplin, and listen to American and European composers who used our fascinating rhythms and melodies in the concert hall. We'll also hear from composers born outside of this country, who are continuing the tradition of discovery and finding new sound, right here in New York.

What do you think is the global appeal of American music? 

More in:

Comments [26]

Nina from New York

Here happily listening to Mendelssohn's "Scotch" as I have for the last 60-some years to almost all classical music, including the most contemporary. BUT I cannot manage to bear P. Glass and J. Adams and really hope you keep them to a minimum, while offering us the works of other younger composers.
Thanks for taking "note."

Nov. 19 2009 08:37 PM
perry w from Brooklyn, NY

To James and his puzzlement over the whole "WQXR thing": Read James Agee in his introduction to "Let Us Now Praise Famous Men" wherein he is most eloquent in describing the revolutionary impact of great music. Might as well be fazed by the "whole Shakespeare thing".

I reject the Fabergé Egg analogy. Classical music lovers are passionate lovers. Music of great depth and complexity has profound expressive and contemplative power, not to be reduced by comparison to exquisite collector curios.

Actually, I do like Terrance McKnight. He's got good taste and a great announcer's voice and style.

Oh, yes: Bring back David Dubal and his wonderful collector's curios!

Oct. 25 2009 12:05 PM
Sanyi to Victoria Schultz from Brooklyn

Just don't ask what happened to Reich in Hungary... better say, "I know nothing, I see nothing"...

Oct. 23 2009 03:16 PM
Maya Dupuy from New York City

It would be a pleasure to check out your web blog.
Thank you!
I have a limited time off from work today, but I will delve into it on the weekend.

To clarify: I used to listen to both stations, but more heavily WQXR back in "those days" when we had the two distinctive flavors. I needed both, and I got something out of both. When I went on the road, NPR was always a good friend too.
Thanks for your insights.

Oct. 23 2009 11:49 AM
Richard Mitnick from Highland Park, NJ

Hey Maya-

First, yes the date of the article is accurate. What Greg said was a bit mixed up, Arbitron and WNYC's sort of informal poling. WNYC stirred this pot and came up with 12% of its members as listeners primarily for music.

If the hubbub in the blogosphere was any barometer, WQXR listeners far outnumber WNYC music listeners. I mean, you know, I have been asking, where were the WNYC folk? I was alone on the barricades (a little hyperbole).

But, I think it goes too far to say that most people only listened to WQXR or WNYC, not that you said that explicitly, but I think you implied it.

Thanks for the comment. Check out Greg's other stuff at He is a very deep thinker on the future of Classical music support.

And, check out my weblog, "Whither Public Radio and serious music" at


Oct. 23 2009 11:30 AM
Maya Dupuy from Manhattan

The Greg Sandow article might have reported that 12% of WNYC listeners tuned in for the music, BUT at that time, over 7 years ago in May of 2002, there was another station on FM radio (WQXR) devoted to classical music solely.
- to be more accurate: they said: "WNYC told me that it had surveyed 600 people, 400 of them listeners, 200 demographically similar to listeners."

I venture a guess that WNYC counted a small percentage of their listeners who liked to listen to classical music in 2002, because the vast majority of classical music people would have been counted as listeners to WQXR.

Is the date on that article correct? Does any of my assumption make sense?
Just curious.
Thanks for reading.

Oct. 23 2009 10:28 AM
Richard Mitnick from Highland Park, NJ


You are right about this Giovannoni (sp?) person. I read about him in Current.

But, take a look at

This is Greg Sandow, a major music critic and writer, on the WNYC "event" of 2001.


Oct. 22 2009 11:25 PM
Victoria Schultz from new york

Evening Music is still there, but somehow I feel you are not playing as much exciting, adventurous contemporary music as before. What is going on with the programming? Overnight Music has been radically cleansed of Reich, Glass, and musicians that kept me listening until the wee hours as I discovered the sounds that made New York exiting, adventurous etc. And what has happened to Helga Davis? Has she also been cleansed? I'm sorry but the new programming is very very disappointing with Offenbach instead of Michael Gordon whom I discovered thanks to Overnight Music, and not a hint of Stockhausen. Are they now ruled out of a tamed WNYC channelled into WQXR? I know there's still the WNYC stream, but I have a feeling the richness of contemporary composers have been weeded out.

Oct. 22 2009 11:08 PM
jay from car

If you're looking to blame someone for this 'QXR/'NYC debacle, that person is David Giovannoni. See the article below to see how radio, and public radio in particular ended up this way.

Oct. 22 2009 06:25 PM
Sanyi from Brooklyn

Oh my god, do I sound Romanian to you ?

Oct. 22 2009 01:46 PM
Richard Mitnick from Highland Park, NJ

Time for me to again ask, as a fanatic WNYC music listener, where were you guys, who loved "The Old Terrance", when all of the blogosphere was filled with comments by WQXR listeners supporting their musical tastes and their on air hosts. I was there, and I was basically alone. You can bet your boots the people who decided what is best for us were there also, reading everything, every post and comment.

Maybe the WQXR onslaught, and, believe me, it was an onslaught, just confirmed in their minds what they had already decided. But, no one knows that. It might have helped us keep more of what he had if WNYC's music lovers had made their presence known.


Oct. 22 2009 11:49 AM
judy from manhattan

I miss Evening Music more than I can say. If the old format won't fly on QXR then put it back on NYC.

Oct. 22 2009 12:24 AM
Jeff T. from Brooklyn, NY

First, I'll answer the question: why the appeal of American music? This is a complex question that has everything to do with America's "soft" power as a cultural hegemon as much as the quality of the music coming from here. To address the latter, one could argue that America's diversity simply allows a much thicker musical stew to percolate than in other more ethnically homogeneous countries, therefore appealing to more cultures. Take this one step further, and see how the world's best musicians come here, and it's not hard to see how one feeds the other.

But I think it's impossible to ignore the fact that almost all American musics: blues, jazz, hip-hop, etc, have very powerful associations with American youth culture and are therefore seen as more hep to cultures abroad (see: hip-hop and rap in France, jazz in Japan, etc). The combination of these two factors seems to me a strong proponent of the successful export of American music abroad.

Now, while I'm on my soapbox, let me "third" James's earlier comment. As a working composer, Evening Music was not only a great way for me to discover new composers unknown to me, but also a great way to relax at the end of the day. I loved (still love) Terrance's softshoe monologue, so filled with pregnant pauses, humor, and personality. My girlfriend bought me a Tivoli radio for my birthday just so I could listen to the program while cooking dinner.

The point is that I miss the variety. When Terrance first took over Evening Music, he talked about "extemporizing the city's cultural scene" and dedicating time to living composers. Like James, I'm also one of the elusive, young demographic that Carnegie Hall and the NY Phil are trying to snare. I know I'm coming from a musician's perspective, but I don't need all the old warhorses to keep me interested! It seems like Terrence is working with his hands tied a bit here, which must be frustrating for him.

Keep the faith, Terrance! You're a boon to the music scene in New York, so don't be afraid to be yourself. I'll be listening.

Oct. 21 2009 11:26 PM
henry from nyc

now that you have changed frequencies,let hope that the new programming is more inclusive and include African-American artists and not just L.Berstein and others of his ilk

Oct. 21 2009 01:52 PM

A classical music host who doesn't know wein from Wien is like an obstetrician who doesn't know where the baby's coming from!

Oct. 20 2009 10:30 PM
len from brooklyn ny

I was listening to symphony hall,as I have all my life,since I was very young. I never heard Mr.McKnight before but I didn't like the sound of his voice, for an evening show. It is harsh sounding to me.
And he referred to Beethoven as "Luigi" Beethoven as he introduced the Emperor Piano Concerto.He continually referred to the Beethoven Piano Concerto no. 5 and never once mentioned it was known as the Emperor Concerto.
I realize this station is no longer the station of the NY Times, but how are we supposed to relate to Luigi Beethoven?

Oct. 20 2009 09:39 PM

I, too, loved the WNYC Terrence. The new WQXR seems to carry over the old WQXR too much and to have gained too little from the Terrence WNYC . The old WQXR, for most of the day, played snippets of music 5-15 minutes in length to accommodate commercials. To do this it leaned heavily on Bach and Vivaldi. The new WQXR has loosened its programing somewhat , but not really very much. They play very little from the 20th and 21st century, and when they do the pieces are usually the most familiar and are mostly short. There is so much magnificent music out there-please play a little more of it

Oct. 20 2009 08:53 PM
Joseph from Washington Heights

IMMENSELY enjoy your program, the selection of pieces, familiar and less familiar, the juxtapositions enlightening, and your comments adding important perspective. (I say, DO have audience ambient sound in and around "Symphony Hall," by the way. Adds to the excitement!) The new QXR is absolutely wonderful--hosts seem to be really taking the time to SHARE the magnificent music with us. (Plus no more of those horrendous, blaring ads for Broadway dreck destroying the atmosphere!) Incidentally, up here I receive 105.9 much better than 96.3.

Oct. 20 2009 10:06 AM
Harry from Brooklyn

Let's give Terrance and the other folks at the new WQXR (full disclosure: many of them are my friends) some time to work things out.

To start with some historical perspective, two commercial radio stations programmed classical music 24/7 into the early '70s (WQXR and WNCN). Two non-commercial stations (WNYC and, yes, WBAI) offered large blocks of classical music. Then the choices started shrinking. The billionaire who funded WNCN died. The news/talk format brought a growing audience (and shrinking music hours) to public radio. Activist groups were formed to fight the trend, to little effect. (Well, Kirsten Booth Glenn, the lawyer who fought valiantly for WNCN, has won distinction as a Federal judge.)

Since eliminating half of WNYC's music programs in 2002, the station's management has been under considerable pressure to create a 24/7 music station. Rudy Giuliani implicitly promised the Board of Ed's station, but could not deliver. (Thank God! I can see its tower from my apartment but can barely hear the signal.)

When this new deal appeared, WNYC jumped at the chance. So far, the transition has gone well, but there's only so much you can do in 90 days. Moving two audiences to a new frequency is always difficult; finding a way to accommodate differing tastes takes longer.

As a regular listener of both predecessor stations, I think the programming is moving in a positive direction: a judicious mix of the novel and the familiar.

A 24-hour alternative music stream, Q2, is available from the home page and iTunes. Terrance has two hours every Saturday (10-12 PM) to share Q2 highlights with broadcast audiences, in hopes of eventually bringing the two worlds together.

The future lies ahead.

Oct. 19 2009 10:51 PM
Deborah Silver from Harrison NY (Westchester)

I miss the WNYC Terrance! I loved your program there, Terrance, and I miss the eclectic, informed variety of music that you had for us each evening. I concur with James's comment earlier this evening.

Oct. 19 2009 08:48 PM

Your canned ambient audience track is about the tackiest thing you could have come up with. And then to have Terrance speak with long pauses as though he were actually in a concert hall is downright disgusting. Bah, humbug!

Oct. 19 2009 08:35 PM
James from Brooklyn

Oh, this is sad. My first night tuning into the "WNYC WQXR" Terrence McKnight show. I had to turn it off.

Terrence was really a revelation when he took over Evening Music. I guess I count as the younger demographic that concert music programmers puzzle over and try to attract. Terrence pretty much had the formula for me. I can't tell you how many composers he got me into. I didn't mind listening even if I didn't like something. I'd hang on for the next piece, and sometimes I'd even listen a little more to what I didn't like. I even liked the more typical classical stuff I might not have liked otherwise - context was the key. In a broadened context, I could listen to it as music, rather than as some artifact or museum piece.

It's sad - I can't relate to the WQXR thing. It just seems like looking at a fabrage egg collection, or trying to follow someone who's really into their collection of engraved spoons. That said, I know there are a bunch of WQXR people out there who were happy doing their all-classical thing while I was enjoying the more eclectic Terrence McKnight. I don't want to take them over or colonize their airwaves.

What a bummer. If Terrence is Terrence, he'll alienate all the WQXR folk. If he's not, he's being totally wasted. He's not just another guy to be reading opus numbers. Well, I don't feel optimistic about this enterprise. I'll try listening some more, but I'm skeptical, and need to be convinced. And even my happy listening will mean the pushing down of my more sedate WQXR bretheren, which isn't a nice thought either.

Oct. 19 2009 08:18 PM
Jean from New York City

I love your gifts of music. They are inclusive and allow we who listen to appreciate the full spectrum of those who contribute and contributed to American classical music.
Thank you.

Oct. 18 2009 12:42 AM
Diane Schwarz from Teaneck, NJ

I LOVED your NYC program. I hope you will have the freedom to play (and talk about) the variety of music and musicians you played there! So far, it seems more limited. Glad to hear you on any venue!

Oct. 17 2009 04:32 PM
Scott Rose from Manhattan

Perhaps claiming that American music has "global" appeal is exaggerated; there might be teenagers in Paris who can not abide mid-period Elliot Carter, and adults in Hong Kong who don't much care for Britney Spears.

Yet to the extent that American music does have enthusiastic international audiences, it could be that because different American musical idioms were in their formation impacted by our cultural melting pot, American musical idioms tend to have built into them aspects that inherently resonate with foreigners.

Oct. 16 2009 11:00 PM
Connie from Westchester

I did not hear the program tonight, alas. But I am glad to have found you on the new station ....whatever it is. Hang in there!

Your fans will follow you.

Oct. 16 2009 10:47 PM

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