Long before orchestras began to invest in outreach programs, musician Karl Haas began reaching out over the radio airwaves to introduce everything that’s wonderful about classical music to millions of new listeners.
Dr. Haas began hosting Adventures in Good Music in 1959, less than a year after Leonard Bernstein began his Young People's Concerts. During those 45 years, Karl reached millions of listeners over hundreds of radio stations worldwide.
Adventures in Good Music was a radio program with a simple format; Karl talked about the music and played examples to illustrate his points. The popularity of the program was due to the quality of the subject material and Karl’s infectious personality.
His German accent and refined manner of speech may have initially come across s as a stuffy classical music stereotype to some listeners at first, but it only took a few moments for that listener to realize that Karl was something much more than a stuffed shirt stereotype.
Karl’s program helped inspire generations of new classical music fans, the medium of radio allowed people who wouldn’t normally have an opportunity to learn about classical music to enroll in a sort of on-air study experience.
However, the term “study” doesn’t really give Karl’s program the justice it deserves. Instead, you could think of Karl more like the college professor who taught the class everyone wanted to take. He was fun, entertaining, and (whether you realized it or not) you learned something with each new program.
Regardless of the program’s subject material, Karl’s voice always had a certain tone; you could actually hear his smile coming through his words. From Karl’s delightful trademark greeting of “Hello everyone” to his closing remarks, there was always a flash of happiness and contentment in the tone. It was that grandfatherly like charm which contributed to the longevity of his career.
It’s easy getting people to like classical music
There didn’t seem to be any limit to which demographic Karl’s approach appealed to. Elizabeth in Denver, now a professional musician, remembered seeing Karl live at a local event where he spoke directly to an audience of music enthusiasts.
“I remember when I was a teenager in the Denver Youth Orchestra and I had an opportunity to serve as an usher for an event which featured Karl Haas. By that time I listened to him on the radio regularly and was really looking forward to seeing him in person.
The event was sold to capacity and everyone chuckled after Karl came out on stage and said ‘Hello everyone’, it was nice to see that he smiled in person as much as I always imagined he did. After the event I was able to meet him personally and he was a warm and kind in a one on one setting as he was on stage.”
David W. Burhenn from Los Angeles, CA, remembered Karl’s personal approach in an encounter with him from his youth,
“My most vivid memory of Karl Haas, other than listening to his program on WJR radio when I was in college, stems from something that occurred when I was a 15-year-old 'cellist at the National Music Camp at Interlochen. Haas had been appointed President of the Camp and the Interlochen Arts Academy and, for some reason, had his picture taken with a group of campers of which I was supposed to be a part, [but] I missed that photograph due to some complication.
Well, Haas made a point of having his picture taken with me alone so that I would have that memento. That moldering black and white print is probably lost now, but it symbolized a gentle man's insistence on doing the right thing. It was with great sadness that I read of his death, but much gratitude for his life.”
Some listeners enjoyed all of Karl’s programs on an equal level, but most have a favorite or two. One long time listener, Margaret Koscielny from Jacksonville, FL has a particular program that reserves a special place in her memory.
“When we still had Classical music on Stereo-90, here, in Jacksonville, I listened to [Karl] every day, reinforcing my knowledge in some cases, and in others, teaching me a lot about things I didn't know. But my favorite program, for very sentimental reasons, was heard, while driving in my car with my niece, who is a singer. The program was on the Belgian School of Violinists, and the offerings of that program, the commentary, had both of us in tears.
The reason: my mother, and her grandmother had been a devotee and a student of those special techniques of playing, and many of the pieces played were those she had played throughout her life. It seemed so meaningful that we were listening to this together. It brought my mother "back to life" for us, for that brief time.
Both Stereo-90's music programming is greatly missed, and Karl Haas, especially. I believe the loss of both to listeners in Jacksonville, contributed to the decline in attendance at symphony concerts. In the past, the radio station would play the pieces to be heard on that week's Jacksonville Symphony program, with commentary to support. Sometimes, there would be the coincidence of Haas' program covering some of the compositions to be heard, making it a total experience, leading to greater appreciation of music and the Symphony…opening up dialogue about the music helps the audience to appreciate what they hear.”
And that was the magic of Karl’s program, he simply talked to people about not just the music, but everything connected to it which people don’t normally have an opportunity to learn about. It didn’t matter if you were a novice or a seasoned professional; there was always something you could get from one of Karl’s programs.
In a day and age where the very relevance of classical music in American society is being questioned, there is a lesson to be learned from Karl’s approach; you build an audience one member at a time and keep at it.
Fortunately, Karl’s programs will continue to be broadcast worldwide. According to Bridgett Emerson, the syndication representative for WCLV/Seaway Productions, Karl’s programs will continue to be aired in syndication and they have no plans to cancel the broadcasts.
Furthermore, in honor of Karl’s memory Bridgette said,
“A number of stations have expressed that they are preparing special tributes, which range from airing hours of Karl’s programs to reading listener comments on the air to special spreads in program guides to putting up special website tributes and web forums.
The great variety may express that listeners relate to Karl Haas on many different levels and stations are trying to find ways to best meet their listener’s needs.
The list of stations is rather broad when this is all considered. Some tributes have already occurred and some are yet to come.”
Although Karl’s passing will be a great loss for the world of music, at least it’s better off for having him walk through it.