|“Modern Notebook,” broadcast on Classical WSMR 89.1 and 103.9 has seen tremendous success in the Tampa market, expands into nationwide distribution.|
|‘Modern Notebook’ Host, Tyler Kline. Photo Credit: Susanna Hancock Tampa, FL (June 30, 2023) —On July 2nd, WUSF Public Media will celebrate the 200th episode of the successful weekly radio program “Modern Notebook.” Created and produced by Tyler Kline, host on Classical WSMR, this program explores the exciting and evolving genre of contemporary classical music. In addition to this milestone, the program is opening a new chapter by expanding into nationwide distribution to other public radio stations. Below, check out an expanded Question and Answer discussion with Tyler Kline on “Modern Notebook.” Tyler talks about his background, inspiration for the show, and thoughts on the program. “Modern Notebook” is a unique program that highlights classical works primarily by living composers. Kline explores this engaging genre, bringing a broad array of music and insight to his audience. Through thoughtful research, curation, and occasional discussion with guests, listeners hear the stories behind each piece to add context and clarity to the music. Kline creates a new show every week for listeners and shines a spotlight on the artistic contributions of living composers, including those in often under-represented communities in classical music. ”My intention through “Modern Notebook” is to expose the WSMR audience to newer classical music in a way that is informative and accessible, so they may be able to appreciate it in the same ways they appreciate music by composers like Beethoven and Mozart,” said Kline. “This 200th episode is my favorite so far, bringing an exciting lineup of compositions that have stuck with me throughout my time producing this show. It’s full of composers I respect and pieces I believe the audience will find thrilling. It is truly an episode that highlights everything there is to love about the landscape of today’s music.” The first 199 episodes of Modern Notebook have explored works that run the spectrum, everything from celebrated 20th Century composers such as György Ligeti and Toru Takemitsu to exciting new artists like Jlin, Golfam Khayam, and Reena Esmail. Kline brings additional focus to composers that engage with current events. The 200th episode will feature unique compositions that engage with the issue of climate change and respond to topics such as domestic violence in South Africa. With a new show every week, Kline shows the depth and impact of new work and composers in this genre. Kline earned his Master of Music Composition from the University of South Florida and is an active composer in addition to his work at WSMR. His music has been performed throughout the United States, and internationally in Asia, Europe, and South America. With his own background, Kline is able to direct the listener to the unique techniques and choices made by the artists in bringing these new works to life. JoAnn Urofsky, General Manager at WUSF Public Media, praised “Modern Notebook’s” success, “WUSF is incredibly pleased with Modern Notebook’s monumental achievement of 200 original episodes. The nation-wide availability of this program will invite more listeners to appreciate and engage with modern classical compositions and arrangements.” Looking forward, Urofsky sees this as a big opportunity, “Tyler’s unique skills and insight bring greater attention to the exceptional programming on Classical WSMR.” Each program is two hours, and currently airs Sunday evenings from 8-10 PM on Classical WSMR. Through distribution on The PRX Exchange, public radio stations across the country will have the opportunity to carry “Modern Notebook” and invite their listeners to discover today’s classical composers. “By making the program available on The PRX Exchange, we’ll be able to continue to serve the artists, and introduce an even broader scope of listeners to contemporary classical music,” added Kline. WUSF is proud to feature programs like “Modern Notebook” on Classical WSMR, encouraging further attention and wider appreciation for orchestral compositions and performance in the Tampa Bay area. Below, an expanded Question and Answer discussion with Tyler Kline on “Modern Notebook.” His background, inspiration for the show, and thoughts on the program are discussed here.|
|Tell me a little about yourself.|
TK: I was a band kid growing up, and this led me to study music in college at Morehead State University in Kentucky. During my undergrad, I stopped into the campus public radio station and asked what I had to do to work there. Basically, the deal was if I volunteered for one semester, they’d put me on payroll as a student work study – and so that’s what I did until I graduated. I learned how to run the board as a board operator, occasionally I hosted classical music, and even did some newsroom work and interviews. At the time, my studies in music and work at the radio station seemed to be on parallel tracks. When I moved to Tampa to start my masters in music composition at the University of South Florida, I got plugged into WUSF Public Media almost at once and got to work for WSMR while I was still a student.
In 2019, these two parallel tracks – music composition and radio – finally intersected when we launched “Modern Notebook.” Creating the program really felt like a culmination of these two separate areas of my creative life, the first time I got to go all in on these two things I’m very passionate about. The program could have also maybe been seen as a risk at first, since historically – especially in the latter half of the 20th century – general classical music audiences and classical music programming shied away from contemporary music. My plan was to use my background in composition and bring the music of living composers to WSMR’s audience in a way that was approachable and informative.
Which brings us to the show – Talk about how you find music for “Modern Notebook,” and how these works get included in the program.
TK: “Contemporary classical music” can be defined in quite a few ways, and it is a huge umbrella that has lots of stylistic niches. I do my best with “Modern Notebook” to highlight everything in this broad spectrum. These are modern works by living composers, which follow a lineage of traditional western classical music – but often incorporate other types of music as well. When I’m putting the shows together, I try to think about what a typical classical music audience would expect in terms of the instrumental palette, especially since this is a program that airs on a classical music radio station. For the average radio listener, “Modern Notebook” sits right next to music that’s hundreds of years old, for instance. So, this gives me a starting point – you will often hear works with instruments like the piano, strings, or what would be heard in an orchestra – and then I try to expand the boundaries a little bit from there.
Especially since finishing my graduate studies, I’ve stayed plugged into this contemporary classical space, and there is an unfathomable number of new and interesting composers to feature on the program. I’m always curious about what is out there, constantly looking for new stuff that is maybe a little under the radar. Interestingly, social media has been a powerful tool in terms of helping me find new composers and new artists and stay connected to this community. The show’s success has led a lot of people in the industry to reach out directly and send music my way.
Now that the show is distributed through The PRX Exchange, I expect that visibility will continue to increase, too. Many labels, artist’s representatives, and composers promoting their upcoming works, who I had not been familiar with, they have all found me somehow! Plus, I think as a composer myself, I understand how much of a boost it can be to have your music shared with a wider audience, so any added support I can provide them through the show is important.
On the other side, what doesn’t make it into the program?
TK: This is an interesting question, because I think at this point it has become so intuitive what does and doesn’t work, I rarely think about it. Over the run of the show, I’ve learned how to broach more adventurous or challenging music with the audience in a way that can still be approachable. On the flipside, there is a lot of contemporary music that is more experimental that I absolutely love – music that is primarily created with electronics, or noise-based music, or extremely complex music – and yet I find it difficult to incorporate music like that into the established sound of “Modern Notebook,” and in the overall context of classical music radio.
When I do want to dip our collective toes in the water of music more on the fringes, sometimes I’ll think about the right way to introduce these new concepts to the audience. Maybe there’s a shorter piece that’s a little more challenging that I’ll include in the lineup, as opposed to a longer form work that uses the same types of sounds. I put myself in the audience’s shoes: what would they think if they turned on the radio in the middle of this piece? When is it ok to push a little more into uncomfortable areas? The last thing I want is to “dumb-down” the program; it’s worth giving the entire spectrum of contemporary music a chance, after all. So, the curation really becomes context dependent.
You’ve got an interesting side of the program that includes interviews with performers. What are some memorable interviews you’ve had?
TK: Two recent, fascinating – and important – conversations come to mind here: Ann DuHamel and Taylor Irelan.
Ann is a pianist who has programmed pieces by composers for her project “Prayers for a Feverish Planet,” which acts as this huge musical response to our ongoing climate crisis. What is really remarkable – and what I love – about her project is not just that she’s assembled 60 pieces by living composers to present, but that she has brought together scientists, climate activists, and other environmental experts into the fold as collaborators to present alongside the music.
Taylor is a flutist who recently recorded “The Journey,” an album solely made up of works by LGBTQIA+ composers. As we were talking, I mentioned to Taylor that I wasn’t aware of another album of this kind, and he agreed – that’s why he recorded the album, after all. Through our conversation, we discussed the challenges these composers face, the rewards of performing this music, and, of course, the importance of representation in classical music.
These are just a couple of reasons why Modern Notebook has been such an exciting project for me to work on, and an important platform for artists. The composers and performers are living now and responding to current events. Their works reflect the times we are living in, and that enables the audience to connect with the music even more.
What’s in store for the 200th episode?
TK: This episode is shaping up to be my favorite so far! On one hand it’s a bit of a retrospective – I’m revisiting works that I’ve played over the years that have stuck with me, in one case going all the way back to the very first episode. But it is also a collection of pieces that I think really captures the landscape of what contemporary classical means. These are composers who not only come from all points along that contemporary music spectrum, but also composers and performers I admire and respect, and in some cases, who have had an important impact on my own creative life.
I also wanted to make sure that I highlight music that responds to the world around us – a thing composers are uniquely qualified to do. For example, there’s one piece in the lineup, Christopher Stark’s “Maple,” that uses and manipulates field recordings of forest fires in combination with an acoustic ensemble as a way of reflecting his own anxiety about climate change.
Another work, Andile Khumalo’s “Beyond Her Mask,” is a response to domestic violence issues in his native South Africa. It’s a challenging piece, but one that left me stunned the first time I heard it, and I knew I had to share it on “Modern Notebook.” It is evocative, thought-provoking, and at times difficult music that captures how modern-day composers respond to ongoing, current issues in our world.
Looking ahead, where do you see Modern Notebook going?
The possibilities are endless, and it feels like things are just getting started! I’m very excited about distribution of the show through the PRX Exchange, which makes the program available to other stations across the country. I’ve also been thinking about things like creating a companion podcast that is more oriented towards interviews with artists, or even developing a 24/7 web stream with the archive of episodes I’ve built up. Basically, when creating goals for the show, I ask myself, “what can I do to broaden the platform and grow the audience for this music?” That’s what I’m after.
Any closing thoughts?
TK: I think sometimes contemporary classical music has a bit of a stigma, especially for folks who may have never truly dived into that world. With “Modern Notebook,” I’ve been on a bit of a personal mission to prove to listeners that there is good music, being created by living people, that they would like – in fact, probably love!
I’ve gotten a lot of audience feedback over the past few years, but the most important note I received was from a listener who thanked me for the way I present new music on “Modern Notebook;” that for years, they preferred older styles and actually had a “phobia of anything new” (their words). But “Modern Notebook” helped “open their heart and mind to newer music.”
That’s the whole point of “Modern Notebook:” bridging the gap between the artists and the listeners, so that both are a little bit better off on the other side, and that this music won’t be so niche in the future. My goal is to bring contemporary music to as wide an audience as I can. And the exciting part is these last 200 episodes have shown me that there’s still much more that remains to be discovered. About WUSF Public Media WUSF Public Media is a comprehensive media organization that provides media services to the community and businesses through public broadcasting and multi-media production services. Licensed to the University of South Florida, WUSF Public Media has been serving the public interest through programming, educational outreach and community partnerships for 50 years. For more information, visit www.wusf.org.