As WQXR's midday host, from 10:00 am to 3:00 pm, Midge Woolsey is a steady presence throughout many listeners' workdays. In the latest of a series of profiles on our hosts, we ask Midge about her work as a singer, interviewing Pavarotti, and the difference between radio and TV.
Born and raised: Watertown, Connecticut and Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
Current home: Manhattan
Years in Radio: Sixteen
Years at WQXR: Sixteen
Years in television: Thirty-one (I was a child actress……)
So how did you become a radio announcer?
I came to radio through my work in television. Back in the early 90’s, I was working for Channel 13 here in New York. One of my colleagues came into my office and said that WQXR was looking for female announcers. Even though I had no experience in radio, she encouraged me to try. I auditioned and about two weeks later I had a regular position on weekend evenings. Truth be told, I was panic stricken for months and months. Sixteen years later, though, I’m happy to report that I’m feeling very much at home.
You’ve worked in musical theater and have sung on the 92nd Street Y Lyrics and Lyricists series and at the BAM café, among other places. How do you think radio complements your singing career?
Whether I’m on the radio, television or concert stage, it’s all performance. And, each medium naturally complements the other. But, let’s turn the question inside out for a minute and talk about how singing complements my radio work. When I have the opportunity to sing in public, I find that I am humbled and filled with tremendous admiration for the talented musicians who have committed themselves to fulltime careers in music.
Do you do anything special to keep your voice in shape for radio?
I’ve been taking weekly voice lessons for years. As a result, I have learned that the more I understand about my instrument, the better I am at taking care of it. One of the best things you can do for your voice--besides using good technique, of course--is to get a good night’s rest. If you’ve rested well, a lot of the other things will just fall into place naturally.
In addition to radio, you’ve had a parallel career in television, working for PBS and Thirteen/WNET. As a host, what are the biggest differences between the two media?
The visual element of television can be extremely time consuming--wardrobe, hair, makeup--for a woman, it can be a nightmare! But, when it’s done well, the visual element can really help deliver the message you’re trying to send. In radio, sound is your only tool. It’s tricky, for sure!
Among your credits, you hosted The Three Tenors Live in Concert in Paris in 1998. What do you most remember about that?
The thing I remember most vividly about that night is the audience reaction. A stage had been built in front of the Eiffel Tower on the Champ de Mars and thousands of people were seated on the grass. From where I sat, the audience seemed to be politely enjoying the concert--but nothing more. In fact, I found myself thinking that they might even be a little bit bored. But when the concert was over, the people erupted with cheers and applause, and suddenly, they rushed the stage! I’ve never seen anything like it. They just wanted to get as close as possible to the singers because the three men had given so much of themselves that night. It was absolutely incredible!
What was Pavarotti like as an interview, or behind the scenes?
Let’s face it. Pavarotti was an icon. When he walked in the room, all eyes--and ears--were on him. But, he always seemed to be able to tune out the attention of the masses and focus in on our conversation. In my experience, he was always ready and willing to answer questions (about everything except food!) and he would always help with fundraising for public television. In fact, more than once he pointed out to me that thanks to public broadcasting, his name became known all over the world. But, I will say that he could be colorful. And, he always had a good joke to tell.
Have you done any particularly memorable interviews with classical people over the years? Anyone you’d still like to interview?
I’ll tell you who I think is really interesting--Itzhak Perlman. He, too, can tell a good joke. He can also talk about everything from tennis to the art of singing. But, a conversation that jumps immediately to mind is one I had a few years ago with baritone Leo Nucci. At that point, he had been singing for well over thirty years. He told me that he had never missed a single performance in his entire career. ‘And, you know why?,' he said, ‘it’s because I get great joy from singing and I wouldn’t give that up for anything!’ That pretty much said it all for me. As far as interviews I have yet to have? I’m a people person, so I’d love to talk with just about anyone who has an interesting story or two to share.
Do you have a favorite composer or piece overall?
No, I don’t have a single favorite in either category. Good music is good music and it comes from all sorts of different places. That’s what makes it so interesting, don’t you think? And you also have to consider the performances, too, right? For instance, I never really appreciated Tchaikovsky until I sat in a concert hall in Moscow and listened to an all-Russian orchestra play his Fifth Symphony. Every note was played with technical perfection and a soulful commitment that only seemed possible under those circumstances. I wept throughout the performance. Later that week, I saw the Queen of Spades at the Bolshoi and my reaction was very similar. I’ll never forget the incredibly powerful singing in that production.
What music or artist have you heard recently that knocked your socks off?
I was in London recently and heard the men and boys of St. Paul’s Cathedral sing a new mass by a Scottish composer named James MacMillan. Now that knocked my socks off! But, I should also add that the men and boys of St. Thomas Church here in New York knock my socks off on a regular basis. And, the organist/choir director there--John Scott--is amazing! As far as operas and musicals go, I haven’t seen as many as I would have liked in recent years. But, that’s sure to change now that I’m working during the day on WQXR!
Previously: Meet Jeff Spurgeon.