My Day With WQXR

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Irwin Edman in 1942

From the March, 1942 WQXR Program Guide:


Irwin Edman, Professor of Philosophy at Columbia University and author of Philosopher's Holiday, Fountainheads of Freedom, and other books, has on various occasions spoken over WQXR and is, as the following indicates, one of its devotees.

I only realized last summer how much the schedule of WQXR had become what philosophers might call the frame of reference of my day. For I was in one of those "pockets" of the New England mountains where even the increased power of my beloved station did not enable its programs to reach me. Only a giant neighboring chain station came in and that ---! But I am writing about WQXR and of my discovery, during my excommunication from it, of how much it had got tangled into my being.

I would wake up on a sunny August morning at seven and tune in, forgetting where I was. At 7:30 I would turn from force of habit to the program booklet I had brought with me, just in case. Perhaps after dark, I should be able to get the station. It was maddening to think that right at this moment, in the summer morning light, I could have been, had I been in a decent radio neighborhood, listening to the Piano Concerto, Koechel 466. The divinely concentrated beauty of the second movement began to hum in my mind. There isn't, I had found by experience, any time of the day I can't listen to Mozart. Before breakfast (and most of the Breakfast Symphony is before my breakfast) is a little early for the Good Friday music from "Parsifal", but not for Mozart. And Mozart was not there. WQXR was not there. They weren't there at lunch time-- lunch-time of a summer day in the country--just the moment to listen to the Request Program, with a leisurely tolerance for what other people had asked to hear. I could have done even with Liszt's "Les Préludes."

In the long summer afternoon the half-hour Opera House would have been pleasant or perfect in the shadows on the lawn, a Symphonic Matinee over the long drinks. But alas, nothing! I knew by this time there would be nothing, not until after the very late sunset, when it would be nearly ten, when one would yawn a little and turn in. It was a big mistake to come so far from auditory civilization, from the fountainhead of harmony, from the music which, now that I was cut off from it, I found had for years been giving the melodious contour to my days.

WQXR has twined itself to the context of my life in an almost obsessive way. There are, of course (though my friends disbelieve me) times when I actually don't listen to the station. When I am lecturing on philosophy at Columbia, for instance-- though sometimes in the midst of expounding Plato some morning I realize that on the Composer Corner there is being played something by Manuel de Falla that I have long wanted to hear. Often in a committee meeting at four in the afternoon it occurs to me that it would be far more instructive to be listening to Miss Harriett Johnson-Norville expound the Beethoven Third Piano Concerto. I have been tempted once or twice to bring along a portable radio and suggest to my colleagues that a little music might clarify our minds and stimulate discussion, or, better, take its place. Just as over the coffee at a dinner party, when the Grand Strategy is being discussed, it has been all I can do not to interrupt my host and tell him that it's just nine o'clock now and Quincy Howe makes everything clear. Sometimes I have not refrained.

Frankly, mornings and afternoons I don't get much chance to listen to WQXR though I am by no means unfamiliar (from the program book) with the schedule. And there was that germ-sent opportunity during a week of the grippe last autumn when, save for the times I dozed off, I could listen through two delightful days, from the Preludes at 7 to the signing-off at midnight. One hopes occasionally for a day purified and free from dross; as a music lover occasionally for a long day of uninterrupted musical pleasure. Well, where on earth in any part of the world could you have in one day seven or eight hours of pure music and several hours more of intelligent discourse? Orchestra, chamber music, opera, madrigals, and massed choirs, Latin-American songs, and, late at night the unidentified easy fluencies of Just Music.

One does not have the grippe every day, and I cannot say I should like to have it, even to be able to listen to our Station uninterrupted. But it is something to remember in the midst of busyness that WQXR is always there. To tune in after dinner to Bach or Beethoven, and to know that, when one is bored or perplexed or tired or preoccupied or simply suddenly avid for great sound, there it is, if one wants it -- the available heaven of music, high fidelity, crisp, accurate announcements and all. I don't mind sleeping through the night. Until 7:00 a.m. at 1560 on the dial, I know I shall not be missing much.

Here endeth my bread-and-butter letter.