I grew up in the bucolic wilds of Middletown, New Jersey—a short walk from the still quaintly picturesque town of Red Bank in which I was born in 1945, and which also saw the births and nurturings of such luminaries as Count Basie and Edmond Wilson. My parents, Byelo Russian immigrants, were neither musical nor unmusical. Their tastes gravitated toward Lawrence Welk and other bands proffering higher energy polka music. My father dreamed of making me the polka king of New Jersey and underwrote years of instruction on the accordion. At a crucial moment, however, I realized that I could never fulfill his fantasy. I had by then experienced music far beyond that sphere and began, much to his dismay, a serious study of the violin—a career that was years later cut short both by hand damage from a car accident and the realization that I had best leave the performance of music to others more qualified than myself.
The early 1950s saw the beginning of the LP era. I had heard classical music on WQXR AM out of New York, and was intrigued. I was similarly taken by the emergence of rock and roll then being broadcast from numerous local AM stations from which I had heard, and quickly embraced, Elvis (much to my parents’ consternation which became even more virulent when I had, a couple of years later, discovered Stravinsky’s Le sacre du printemps). To back up a bit, my coming into the fold also resulted from another epiphany experienced at the apartment of a beloved maternal uncle, Joseph Apanaciewicz, an accomplished graphic artist. During a boyhood Easter visit to his apartment in Astoria, Queens, I heard my first Haydn symphony and was both moved and enchanted. Shortly thereafter, I finagled a new portable record player from my parents that could play all of the then available speeds, including the short-lived 16 2/3 rpm. I was off and running with a record collecting obsession that has continued unabated to this moment.
At Rutgers University, my only proper musical training came from my attendance in a 101-level music theory course taught by the now eminent composer Richard Wilson, then only a few years older than his students. He was a brilliant pianist and a rigorously mind-expanding influence, and though he was a far better teacher than I was a student, his tutelage put me in solidly good stead. Beyond that, I am an autodidact.
Needing a day job, I went into the world of television, joining the staff of the Rutgers University Instructional Television department as a technician (my two qualifications were that I was an amateur photographer and that I had successfully built a Heathkit 14-watt audio amplifier). A writer at heart, I ultimately rose to the level of their senior producer/director, which enabled me to acquire an obscene number of LPs ranging from standard rep to arcane Polish and Soviet offerings. My foremost criterion was, and still is, “Do I know this composer at all? If not, let’s give it a go!”
In 1986 I became an annotator for the Musical Heritage Society, writing sell copy for their tri-weekly membership publication, along with occasional liner notes. That, like my slightly later and still ongoing Fanfare experience, has broadened my sensibilities, for which I am grateful. My two daughters, both classically trained musicians, reflect the influence of their mother, the late Adaya Henis—an accomplished and internationally eclectic folk singer and an editor of this same publication. They have both embraced what she offered, and have fed it back to me from their own sensibilities. My elder daughter is an anthropologist who has gotten me into the realm of Central Asian throat singing; my younger daughter has re-revealed the artistry of Billie Holiday.
Currently I also serve as a music host on WWFM, the classical network broadcasting from West Windsor, NJ, where I strive to sensitize my more conservative listeners to the joys of contemporary music.
The more I learn, the more I realize what I don’t know. That’s not a bad thing. It makes each new day a new experience.