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On Making Bad Puns On The Radio

April 27, 2009

Why are classical music radio shows often so turgidly presented? They generally fall into two camps.

The first is very serious, with the host showing-off how much knowledge of obscure record labels and arcane musicological esoterica he or she knows, as in "A. Schmendrick's Salutation to Wodin in D-Flat minor composed in 1965 employs Fermat's Last Theorem in bars 368 to 392, which brings to the fore the composer's deep-seated childhood mistrust of paleontologists."

The second is very vapid, with the host putting on a creamy, shampoo-ad-style voice and using lots of alliteration, as in "Comfortable, Casual, Classical: Music Just The Way You Like It."

Last night, when I got to guest-host, for the second time, Sarah Cahill's Sunday evening classical music show on NPR, Then & Now, I decided to take a third path. I made bad puns ("Let's get a handle on Handel"), said "cheers!" and asked my guest about dressing up for a gig in Georgian military costume.

In the middle of the show, while a track by Debussy was playing, I asked my board operator what he thought of my approach. "I like it," he said. "But maybe you're laying it on a bit thick."

Of course, he's probably right. I'm not saying my way is necessarily better than ways one and two. But hopefully, once they stopped rolling their eyes and groaning, I kept my listeners entertained.

Post Script: On the subject of bad classical music puns for an unashamed radio host, reader Chris Baker contributed the following priceless avalanche of word play (thanks Chris!):

That's just the tip of the Schoenberg. Haydn seek. I went out for a drink last night, and all I heard was gossip and some Bartok. I don't like ice cream, but I love Schubert. Mahler?!--I barely know her.

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