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Indispensable Three

Feb 18, 2021
A Minute with Miles
SC Public Radio/Mary Noble Ours

It’s always fun to propose lists of the “ten best” of something – or the ten worst of something, for that matter. But when it comes to thinking about composers of classical music, there’s a word I like better than “best,” and that word is indispensable. And the number I have in mind isn’t ten, but rather three. 

A Minute with Miles
SC Public Radio/Mary Noble Ours

Today is January 27, and it’s Mozart’s birthday. I know I don’t have to tell you how wonderful Mozart’s music is to listen to… but if you’re not a musician yourself you may find it interesting to know that Mozart’s music is also wonderful to play. And it’s not that it’s easy—in fact it’s usually pretty hard, and sometimes very hard. 

Orchestra Metals

Jan 8, 2021
A Minute with Miles
SC Public Radio/Mary Noble Ours

Today, I thought we’d take a metallurgical tour of the orchestra. The bars, for example, of glockenspiels and celestas are made of steel. So are some of the strings of stringed instruments, and almost all strings are wound with very fine wire made of steel, silver, or aluminum. The bodies of timpani are made of copper, and brass instruments are made of… well, brass, which is an alloy of copper and zinc. 

A Minute with Miles
SC Public Radio/Mary Noble Ours

Did I ever tell you that I once won ten dollars from Leonard Bernstein? When I was a student at Juilliard I learned the Viola Concerto by William Walton, and one evening I played through it for my violinist friend Alexis Galpérine. Alexis noticed that the Walton reminded him very much of the Violin Concerto in D Major by Sergei Prokofiev, and on closer examination we saw that there was no question that Walton had indeed patterned his concerto directly after the Prokofiev.  


A Minute with Miles
SC Public Radio/Mary Noble Ours

Under the heading “Real Musical Understanding,” here’s something that Sergei Rachmaninoff wrote in 1910:

“…Some teachers lay a great deal of stress upon the necessity for the pupil learning the source of the composer’s inspiration. This is interesting, of course, and may help to stimulate a dull imagination..."

A Minute with Miles
SC Public Radio/Mary Noble Ours

The French playwright Molière once said, “Anyone can be an honorable man, and yet write verse badly.” Well, no one would dispute that there are many honorable men and women who write music. But if there are such things as “good pieces” or “great pieces,” then there must also be such things as bad pieces. There must be pieces that don’t work very well or don’t work at all, pieces that don’t offer much even to the most open-minded and honorable of music lovers.

Soothing Music

Oct 29, 2020
A Minute with Miles
SC Public Radio/Mary Noble Ours

When “classical” public radio stations surveyed their audiences some years back, the most common answer to the question, “Why do you listen to classical music,” was, “Because it’s soothing.” Now think of Beethoven for a moment, the man whose very name defines “classical music” for many people.  He wrote music that sends the soul soaring, that plumbs the depths of human despair, that shatters silence with violent assaults.  

A Minute with Miles
SC Public Radio/Mary Noble Ours

Claude Debussy in 1903 wrote about the importance of giving his imagination free rein. Five years later Debussy expanded on the theme in a published interview. “You know,” he said, “People leave their homes to get away from themselves and from their surroundings. I confess that I live only in my surroundings and in myself. I can conceive of no greater pleasure than sitting in my chair at this desk and looking at the walls around me day by day and night after night..."

A Minute with Miles
SC Public Radio/Mary Noble Ours

Like many 19th-century composers, Robert Schumann often gave his works picturesque titles. Schumann’s Scenes from Childhood, for example, a set of pieces for solo piano, includes pieces with titles such as “Pleading Child,” and “Frightening.”  How literally should we take these titles – and perhaps the picturesque titles of other composers’ works? 

Vibrato Part 1

Sep 14, 2020
A Minute with Miles
SC Public Radio/Mary Noble Ours

When violinists play, their left hands always seem to shake. But it’s not because they’re nervous. Violinists, violists, cellists, and double bass players all use a technique called vibrato.

A Minute with Miles
SC Public Radio/Mary Noble Ours

A word of advice today for non-musicians reading program notes in concert programs: If the program notes are heavy on technical analysis and are loaded with terms like modulation, inversion, augmentation, diatonic intervals, chromatic progression, modified sonata form, what have you… ignore them.


A Minute with Miles
SC Public Radio/Mary Noble Ours

It’s an old question: if you were going to be dropped off on a desert island and you could only take a few recorded pieces of music with you, what would they be? For me, the first piece on the list is easy: Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro.


Neuroscience

Sep 9, 2020
A Minute with Miles
SC Public Radio/Mary Noble Ours

I’m grateful for advances in neuroscience, and for many reasons glad that every day we know more about how the brain works. But for all the studies of left brains, right brains, and neuron networks, some things will remain mysteries, and there’s no way around it.


Spiccato

Sep 8, 2020
A Minute with Miles
SC Public Radio/Mary Noble Ours

The literal meaning of the Italian word spiccato is similar to that of staccato—“detached,” or “distinct.” In string playing, to play notes spiccato means to play them with a bouncing bow. With its stiff but flexible stick and tightened horsehair, the bow is like a long spring, so it wants to bounce. But spiccato involves a controlled bouncing. The bow comes off the string after each note, but the player has to find the balance between making the bow bounce and letting it bounce.


Strings

Sep 7, 2020
A Minute with Miles
SC Public Radio/Mary Noble Ours

The strings of stringed instruments—violins, violas, cellos, basses, guitars, and harps—may be made of steel, nylon or other synthetics, or of gut. Often the steel, nylon, or gut serves as the core of the string, and around the core is a tight winding of very fine wire—wire of steel, aluminum, or silver.


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