by: Barbara DeMarco-Barrett
Born and raised in N.Y.C., he moved to California with his family and attended UCI, graduating with bachelor's and master's degrees in music. Besides being a professional musician (Pacific Symphony, South Coast Symphony, et al.), Michael is also a music instructor (privately and high schools) and was a journalist for more than years (specializing in the arts). His work was published in the Los Angeles Times, Orange County Register, Irvine World News, Daily Pilot, as well as OC Metro, Orange Coast, OC Weekly, Westways and other magazines. Hosting a radio show has been his one main hobby.
As an undergraduate, he was intrigued to do a radio show, but never stuck with KUCI beyond "Orientation" Week intros until his fourth year. When he first went on, his was not the only classical show: there were quite a few others. I've been on Sat. mornings for more than 25 years, since debuting on a Friday morning, Jan. 14, 1977. Just recently he celebrated his 36th anniversary on the air, all at KUCI.
When you started DJing at KUCI, you said there were other classical shows. Was there just a lot more interest in classical music back then?
It sure seems that way, doesn't it? I honestly don't know why there aren't more students interested in classical. Maybe I'm scaring away potential customers.
To what do you attribute your longevity at the station?
Stubborn genes? Seriously, I loved doing live radio 36 years ago, when I first started (Jan. 14, 1977), and I still love doing it. I get to play some of my 1,001 favorite works and still have time to try new music. I love giving the backstory to the works and their composers--I've been doing that no matter the theme of my show, whether it be American classical music (Americana), Gershwin music (Gershwinfest), works previously heard at the Claire Trevor School of the Arts (Village Concert; Encore!) or coming up (Concert Preview/Anniversaries). As long as I enjoy doing live radio (and change titles every few years), I'll continue doing radio here. Not a couple of surgeries, not several trips halfway around the world, nor even the Mayans have been able to keep me away.
You've been here through so many changes. What sticks out?
The change from 89.9 to 88.9 FM. Moving out from Gateway Commons into a trailer. Moving the main broadcasting studio. Learning to use the CD machines (I haven't quite entered the 21st century yet). Seeing so many new DJs using PCs and playing from their MP3s, while I stubbornly stick to LPs. (This is beginning to look like an ad for alphabet soup....)
Do you have a favorite composer?
Gershwin (all around) for starters. Chopin (piano) and Tchaikovsky (symphonic music). Beethoven, Prokofiev, Shostakovich and Stravinsky also figure in there somewhere as well. Like I said, I have 1,001 favorite works....
Do you favor piano or drums?
Piano was my first instrument and I still enjoy listening to it (and pretending to know how to play it flawlessly). If by "drums" you mean percussion, my ears definitely gravitate to that section of the orchestra; if you mean a drum set, I enjoy the very best--Gene Krupa, Buddy Rich, Louie Bellson, Sandy Nelson, Jeff Hamilton. (And you thought I only knew about classical music!)
What drew you to classical music as a kid? Were there musicians in your
There were no musicians or any kind of artist in my family--parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles. And then out of the blue came my sister (author), me and my brother (actor). Where we got our creative genes from is still life's second greatest mystery (the greatest is a mystery even to me). Growing up to rock, I started to fall away from it when the Beatles took it in new directions I didn't care for; at the same time, little bits and pieces came into play, like enjoying the theme song of the Huntley- Brinkley Report (before realizing it came from Beethoven's Ninth Symphony), getting the "Warsaw Concerto" LP for a birthday present (my first classical record --which I still have to this day!), starting piano lessons with Bach right away (and liking him!), hearing classical music on all those Silly Symphonies (I'm also a Walt Disney fanatic) and Merrie Melodies/Looney Tunes cartoons.
You've said you're related to Beethoven pianistically and percussion-wise, to King Kong. Embellish?
Glad you asked! One of my piano teachers, who taught at UCI for many years, learned piano from Stefan Ashkenase, who was taught by Emil Sauer. Sauer was one of the last students of Franz Liszt, the most famous student of Carl Czerny. And Czerny was Beethoven's prize pupil. Considering that Beethoven studied for a time with Haydn--more in composition than piano--I am thus "related" to Haydn as well as Beethoven and Liszt. (Got all that? There will be a quiz on this....) As for Mr. Kong: one of my percussion teachers was taught by Murray Spivack, the Oscar-winning sound engineer (for "Hello, Dolly!") who was responsible for the audio special effects on the original (1933) version of "King Kong." (I travel in good company.) Another of my percussion teachers played on the soundtrack of "The Ten Commandments," so I'm also "related" to Moses (Charleton Heston, whom I actually got to meet at one of my concerts--sadly, shortly before he died.)
Are there other shows you listen to here at KUCI? If so, which?
There are other shows at KUCI? (Just kidding, please put away the torches.) I like listening to Mike Payne on Darkling Eclectica--never know what he's going to do or say next and I enjoy his Month of Sundays Players segments. (His show also used to precede mine for about 20 years and they'd say we were an unbreakable tandem--but they were wrong, weren't they?) And, if I can get up early enough, I like listening to Candice Lai on Waving Cornstalks because she's a fellow percussionist....and no other reason.
And your radio dial—other than KUCI of course, what's it tuned to?
It's (also) tuned to KUSC, the only classical station in Southern California, against which I'm in fierce competition for those precious ratings every Saturday morning.
What sort of gigs do you do?
I've performed with Pacific Symphony, South Coast Symphony, Orange County Symphony, Symphony Irvine, Culver City Symphony, Peninsula Symphony, Torrance Symphony, Dana Point Symphony, Mozart Classical and a whole bunch of dead orchestras.
What do you teach, exactly, and how might a prospective student find you?
I teach music, exactly. I've taught beginning and intermediate piano, percussion, drumline, percussion ensemble, wind ensemble, music theory, music history, and French horn (don't ask how I got roped into that one, as I don't know how to play that instrument--but I "taught" it anyway!). Anyone interested in taking percussion lessons can reach me by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
Lastly, what's the best way of helping to grow someone's interest or appreciation of classical music?
Listen to my show, naturally! Every Saturday morning from 9 a.m. to 12 noon. I try to make it entertaining as well as educational. And funny, too: Classical music has some of the strangest, quirkiest bunch of people you'd ever hope (not) to meet! But boy, have they produced some of the best music ever!
Barbara DeMarco-Barrett is host of “Writers and Writing” Wednesdays at 9 a.m. PT. She is founder of the Pen on Fire Writers Salon and author of Pen on Fire. Her story, “Crazy for You,” is anthologized in Orange County Noir (Akashic, 2010). More at penonfire.com. If you’re a KUCI DJ or Public Affairs host, and wish to be featured in this spot, email email Barbara .