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WHRB Opened Ears on July 4th


As was the case with many of its distinctive offerings, WHRB’s first nine-hour July 4th American classical music program came at the initiative of David Elliott, the voice of WHRB for 58 years. The station was broadcasting 24/7 by the year 2000, and he felt that it should recognize the Fourth with selections going beyond the usual warhorses (e.g., Appalachian Spring, Rhapsody in Blue). David attended scrupulously to every detail as he would do in his famed post-Met vocal broadcasts. He took time selecting each piece, comparing performances, and ensuring that each work flowed well into the next in order to give listeners a relaxing, enjoyable, and ear-opening nine-hour musical journey through American history.

I had developed an interest in American classical music early on when I first became aware of Aaron Copland while watching him conduct the New York Philharmonic in his own music on a Young People’s Concert telecast over CBS in December, 1969. WHRB was a wonderful place for me to explore this interest in greater depth and one of the highlights of my Harvard years was when David arranged for us to interview Copland during a visit he made to campus in November, 1977.

My friendship with David Elliott and my interest in American classical music both strengthened over the years, and I became an early fan of the July 4th extravaganza. Already by 2002, I had begun making suggestions to David of things he could play, including items from my own collection.

This developed into our joint annual joint project. David continued making most of the selections and doing all of the announcing, but I would send him a list of major composer anniversaries (births, deaths), work anniversaries (e.g., the xth anniversary of the composition of y piece by Copland or another composer), and pieces tied to US historical events (as recently as 2017 he played a few Ives songs connected to the US entry into World War I, along with George M. Cohan’s “Over There” sung by Enrico Caruso). I gave him many more options than he could use, but he usually did use some of them, and I would usually mail off some of my CDs to him for inclusion.

Last year, we worked together again to assemble the show and he invited me to host. We decided to focus on Bernstein-recordings of American music for the Bernstein centennial and we fit in various examples among them, including some related to particular anniversaries. He “bequeathed” the program to me after we finished last year’s.

This year’s nine hours will finish out the celebration of Bernstein’s centennial with the maestro’s recordings of works by American composers including Harold Shapero, Lukas Foss, Charles Ives, Samuel Barber, David Diamond, and William Schuman. A few Bernstein rarities such as a 1947 recording of a Hora he arranged, as well as a song with lyrics by John Latouche using Bernstein’s music originally intended for “On the Waterfront.”

Beginning at 1:00 and continuing to 10:00, listeners will hear birthday recognitions of conductors Andre Previn’ 90th and Michael Tilson Thomas’s 75th, and Harvard dropout Pete Seeger’s 100th, as well as works by familiars such as Copland and Gershwin. And I’ll be commemorating through music several important historical events being observed this year that span the political spectrum: the 100th anniversary of Prohibition, the 80th anniversary of Marian Anderson’s Lincoln Memorial recital and the New York World’s Fair, the 75th anniversary of D-Day, and the 50th anniversaries of President Eisenhower’s death and the Apollo 11 moon landing. Some of these commemorations will include selections by Cab Calloway, Duke Ellington, and Groucho Marx. At a time when many question America’s future, I hope to bring us together through remembrances of past events, some difficult, that we have collectively lived through

Mather Pfeiffenberger (Harvard 1979), very active during his undergraduate years as a classical music radio announcer/programmer with WHRB, was one of the many beneficiaries of David Elliott’s mentoring.

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  1. Mather,

    Thank you for this fine article and for your work on the ever-excellent Independence Day broadcast.

    WHRB was, and to some degree still is, a place where music lovers mentored others of their kind. In that sense David Elliott was just one of many, but he lasted longer and developed wider tastes than almost anyone else. (He could in a pinch even host Hillbilly at Harvard, a show that began on the station in 1948!) The milieu there also included John Francis, Dale Harris, John Rockwell and Alex Ross, some of whom even mentored David!

    And myself as well, I should mention.

    Comment by Clark johnsen — July 4, 2019 at 12:27 pm

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