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Ovation Notation

Published June 14, 2023 at 10:22 AM CDT

Ovation brings you your daily dose of favorite classics… and the best lesser-known music you haven’t heard yet. Host Ken Zahnle has been hand-crafting themed classical music programs for Tri States Public Radio since 1987. Whether he’s featuring a composer for the morning, exploring the musical history of the day’s date, rhapsodizing about rhapsodies, taking requests on Fridays, or just reaching into his Classical Music Grab-Bag, he’s ready to take you on an art music adventure every weekday morning from 8:59 to noon.

Seasonal Radio!

Posted December 4, 2023 at 12:44 PM CST

Let us humbly gift you our version of door-to-door caroling--- our schedule of holiday music specials for 2023.

Christmas Radio
Verena Matthew/V. J. Matthew -

Monday, December 11

11:00 a.m. – Candles Burning Brightly: A delightful hour for everyone to celebrate the Jewish Festival of Lights! Lots of music from Jewish communities around the world, plus a hilarious lesson on how to prepare a classic Chanukah dish, and a timeless and touching holiday story that brings light into every home.

Monday, December 18

9:00 a.m. – A Latin American Christmas: One-hour special of warm and sunny holiday music from many latin-american locales

10:00 a.m. – In Winter's Glow: A winter solstice program, with modern classical sounds for the longest night of the year, chosen especially to compliment the chilly, starry nights of the season.

11:00 a.m. – The Film Score: Music for the Winter Holidays: The Film Score: Music for the Winter Holidays is an hour-long special devoted to holiday and wintertime movie music. In addition to beloved standards (“White Christmas” from “Holiday Inn” and “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” from “Meet Me in St. Louis”), Michael shares an eclectic mix of wintry film scores, ranging from “It Happened in Sun Valley” (from “Sun Valley Serenade”) to Alexandre Desplat’s folk-inspired score for “The Grand Budapest Hotel” to Bernard Herrmann’s bracing sleigh ride accompaniment composed for the Orson Welles drama “The Magnificent Ambersons.” Bundle up and enjoy The Film Score: Music for the Winter Holidays!

Tuesday, December 19th

9:00 a.m. – Christmas with the Morehouse & Spelman Glee Clubs: One of the great holiday traditions in America, the choirs of Morehouse and Spelman Colleges -- two of the most prestigious historically black institutions in the nation -- get together to present a spine-tingling concert program. This year's program features the best works of the last several years. It's a joyous celebration of the schools' tradition of singing excellence, with their trademark.

10:00 a.m. – Carols At Home with the Imani Winds: Join us for a new Christmas special featuring the Imani Winds.

11:00 a.m. – The Ballad of the Brown King & Other Music for Christmas: Dr. Louise Toppin, a preeminent performer and scholar specializing in the concert repertoire of African American composers, presents the world premiere recording of Margaret Bonds’s The Ballad of the Brown King (Avie Records, 2018). With a libretto by Langston Hughes, this Christmas cantata focuses on Balthazar, the dark-skinned king who journeyed to Bethlehem to witness the birth of Jesus Christ. This gorgeous work is beautifully interpreted by New York City-based The Dessoff Choirs and Orchestra, soloists soprano Laquita Mitchell, mezzo-soprano Lucia Bradford, and tenor Noah Stewart with Malcolm J. Merriweather at the podium.

In this special, we are especially honored to share two exclusive world premiere recordings of Margaret Bonds’s arrangements of the spirituals Rise Up, Shepherd, and Follow, and Go Tell It on the Mountain. Generously provided by Dr. Toppin, these exceptional performances were recorded earlier this year at the University of Michigan and are presented by soprano Amber Merritt and tenor Tyrese Byrd, with Dr. Toppin at the piano

Wednesday, December 20

9:00 a.m. – Harmonia Early Music: A Medieval Christmas: Tired of jingle bells yet? This time of year, we are surrounded by Christmas music. On this special holiday edition of Harmonia, join us for something a little different, as we explore Christmas music of another age – the medieval! We’ll hear music from the Tallis Scholars, the Boston Camerata, and more

10:00 a.m. – A Handel & Haydn Society Christmas: Celebrate the season with this hour-long special featuring Christmas choral music from America’s oldest continuously performing ensemble, Boston’s Handel & Haydn Society.

11:00 a.m. – All is Bright: All Is Bright, with host Lynne Warfel, offers an hour of gorgeous, contemplative choral music that tells the traditional Christmas story with songs about angels, the star and the manger scene.

Thursday, December 21

9:00 am – Winter Holiday Around the work with Bill McLaughlin: Winter holidays are celebrated around the world, and their music is wonderful to hear, regardless of which tradition you observe. Bill’s spirited selection starts in the 12th century with Nova Stella, medieval Italian Christmas music from Saint Francis of Assisi’s staging of the nativity; jazz pianist Dave Brubeck’s classical composition La Fiesta de la Posadaevoking a Mexican Christmas celebration; and Vaughan Williams’ Fantasia on Christmas Carols. We will enjoy this time of year in Paris with music from Debussy, then travel to Polynesia for a traditional hymn, Anau Oia Ea. And then ends with an excerpt from Gian Carlo Menotti’s Amahl and the Night Visitors from the original television production. Turn on your speakers, pour a cup of tea, cozy up to a warm fire, and enjoy the music!

10:00 a.m. – St. Olaf Christmas Festival: The St. Olaf Christmas Festival has become one of the nation's most cherished holiday celebrations. Started in 1912 by F. Melius Christiansen, founder of the St. Olaf College Music Department, the festival includes hymns, carols, choral works and orchestral selections celebrating the Nativity. It features the St. Olaf Choir, the St. Olaf Orchestra, the St. Olaf Cantorei, the St. Olaf Chapel Choir, the Manitou Singers and the Viking Chorus, performing as individual groups and as a massed ensemble. (2 hours)

Friday, December 22

9:00 a.m. – Ovation: Celebrate Christmas with Ken Zahnle.

Monday, December 25

9:00 a.m. – Welcome Christmas: There’s no better way to welcome Christmas than Welcome Christmas!, the VocalEssence holiday concert. It’s an hour of joyful, classic holiday music from VocalEssence, one of the world’s premiere choral groups, singing traditional carols and new discoveries.

10:00 a.m. – Your Classical Christmas Favorites: Join us this holiday season as we count down the top Christmas songs as voted by you in a two-hour special.

Monday, January 1

9:00 a.m. – The Sounds of Kwanzaa: In this program, Garrett McQueen offers a background on the history of Kwanzaa and its guiding principles, alongside musical selections that highlight the spirit of the celebration. The show features the compositions of Florence Price, Duke Ellington, Sean O’Loughlin, and special performances by Imani Wind.

10:00 a.m. – Minnesota Orchestra’s New Year’s Celebration: Ring in the new year with the Minnesota Orchestra! The program opens with Bernstein’s animated Overture to Candide. Awadagin Pratt performs the Minnesota premiere of Jessie Montgomery’s Rounds for Piano and Orchestra, a work written for him. A New Year’s celebration wouldn’t be complete without adventure and passion, and the Orchestra brings that in multitudes in Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s beloved Scheherazade.

2023 edition

Public Radio Music Day!

Posted November 1, 2023 at 11:23 AM CDT
turn it up!
Macrovector -
turn it up!

From NPR News:

“Wednesday, October 25, 2023; Washington, D.C .- The U.S. Senate unanimously passed S. Res. 425, a bipartisan resolution honoring the incomparable service of public radio music stations to American audiences across all 50 states and U.S. territories. The resolution marks October 25, 2023, as Public Radio Music Day, thus recognizing the impact of public radio music stations to local artists, listeners, and communities nationwide. Last month, the U.S. House of Representatives also recognized this day through a bipartisan resolution.”

The fourth annual Public Radio Music Day celebrated contributions public radio music stations make to the arts and culture of local communities, including artist discovery and music education.

Here at TSPR, a participating station, we celebrated during our live-hosted morning classical music show Ovation, with a genre-crossing program featuring guest co-host Kedrick Armstrong. Maestro Armstrong is Principal Conductor and Creative Partner of the Knox-Galesburg Symphony Orchestra, and we had a great conversation about classical music’s modern role, under-appreciated American composers, and how the contemporary classical music scene is influenced by all the genres of music you hear on TSPR… including Jazz and Folk/Americana.

If you missed it, check out the October 25th episode of Ovation on Ovation on Demand. But hurry… we can only keep it around for you for another week!

You know, it's not JUST for kids!

Kid's Music Day

Posted October 4, 2023 at 4:31 PM CDT
Keep Music Alive

The 8th annual Kid’s Music Day is October 6th. Scheduled on the first Friday of every October, it’s a big partnership with music schools, stores, and other music organizations to help focus attention on the importance of including music as part of children's education.

Over 1,200 locations in all 50 states plus a dozen other countries are holding some sort of tie-in festivity… from free group guitar lessons, to instrument donation drives, to band and orchestra instrument “petting zoos.”

There aren’t any officially registered events happening within an hour and a half of our radio signal’s epicenter this year, but we’re trying to do our part. We’ll be marking this year’s Public Radio Music Day on October 25th with a theme of “Building Community Though Music” (especially music education), and this past Wednesday’s Ovation was a Kid’s Music Day preview, as we played classical masters playing around with music for kids.

Check it out by putting one of our new features to work, “Ovation On Demand!” Just follow the link (or go to and look at the “Music” pull-down menu), and look for “Ovation October 4” (there is a 48-hour delay before each program is available online).

Keep an eye out for a couple of follow-up posts on classical music for children… and classical music by children.

The Numbers Racket

Singing Songs of Six (pence optional)

Posted September 6, 2023 at 11:17 AM CDT

...A few six packs. That's what we've got going today.

fragment of classical guitar, closeup
Oleg Troino/photosaint -
Six Strings.

Since I've brought out the six-string guitar, let's start with a set of six dances that the the first family of the classical guitar, the Romeros, recorded in the late '50's on the sonically ground-breaking Mercury label. The stars must have been aligned... the 16th century dances they chose were by Vincenzo Galilei, none other than the father of ground-breaking astronomer Galileo Galilei.

Epigraphs... those little pithy quotations sometimes used as a subtitle for a chapter in a bookor article. Claude Debussy published a half dozen piano miniatures inspired by the concept, Six épigraphes antiques. Ernst Ansermet made a popular orchestration of them, but you may want to chase down a (nifty) rarer small orchestra version scored by Rudolph Escher.

Another uncommon artistic term... bozzetti. That's plural for a small proof-of-concept sculpture... essentially, an artist's 3-D sketch. Italian romantic composer Antonio Scontrino wrote six tuneful impressions of such figurines in his Sei Bozzetti for clarinet and piano.

Sir Edward Elgar wasn't always Mr. Pomp and Circumstance... he began his professional career as a young twenty-something in his family's music shop in Worcester. Whilst he was peddling violin strings and sheet music, he composed a series of woodwind quintets for just his own little circle of friends (teaching himself the bassoon so he could cover the part). But wait... quintet? Isn't that Five? yes, but one of those pieces was actually a set six quick promenades, with a few quirky titles: Madame Taussaud's (referencing the famed wax museum); Somniferous; and Hell and Tommy !

Welcome to Classical Music Month!

Posted September 1, 2023 at 12:55 PM CDT
September is classical music month. Text over a piano keyboard.
bulgn -
September is Classical Music Month.

SInce 1994, September has contained the pair of fortnights designated to celebrate the ars antiqua and nova, the renaissance, the baroque, the classical, the romantic, the impressionist, the expressionist, the minimalist, and more. Don’t just take MY word for it…. I’ll let our friend Bill explain:

“This month we exalt the many talented composers, conductors, and musicians who bring classical music to our ears. These artists carry on a great tradition of musical achievement, and we are proud of their outstanding accomplishments. Whether in new American works or in the masterpieces of the great composers of old, music is a unifying force in our world, bringing people together across vast cultural and geographical divisions. Classical music speaks both to the mind and to the heart, giving us something to think about as well as to experience.

Now, Therefore, I, William J. Clinton, President of the United States of America, do hereby proclaim September… as Classical Music Month. I urge all Americans to observe this month with appropriate ceremonies and activities.”

So let’s celebrate with psaltery and harp, timbrel and dance, stringed instruments and organs, loud and high-sounding cymbals… and FM Radio (with apologies to King James & Co.).

We can help with that last part: Every weekday at 9:00 a.m. to noon on Ovation, every weeknight at 7:00 p.m. on Performance Today; weeknights at 10:00 p.m. with the Chicago Symphony, New York Philharmonic, Pittsburgh Symphony, SymphonyCast, and Concierto; Sunday at 11:00 a.m. on Music from the Tri States; and at noon on Sunday Baroque.

Go ahead… make some joyful noise!