Debra Lew Harder wanted to bring a unique twist to her “Classical Weekdays” program on the Temple University-owned radio station WRTI.
Harder, who hosts two WRTI shows, used to play only pre-recorded classical music from CDs or records while sitting behind a large switchboard. She’s now energizing the show with live performances from both well-known and up-and-coming musicians.
“Listeners really get to hear their personality and their personal stories about the music, which I think makes it very interesting, and just the beauty of the music,” Harder said. “It always boils down to the greatness and the beauty of the music that they’re playing.”
Harder said she and her WRTI co-hosts have had more than 100 live musicians on the station since Fall 2017, like the contemporary music group Ahn Trio and guitarist Jason Vieaux. Harder has even accompanied one of the guests, pianist Eleonor Bindman, on the piano.
During the live broadcasts for “Classical Weekdays,” Harder sits in a large recording studio alongside the featured artist, surrounded by microphones and cameras. A behind-the-scenes crew operates the switchboards.
The “Classical Weekdays” program runs Tuesdays through Fridays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Harder invited Grammy-nominated lutenist Ronn McFarlane to her program last Wednesday. McFarlane played songs from his newest album, “The Celtic Lute,” which was released in July 2018.
The lute is a stringed instrument with a pear-shaped body similar to a guitar. It was the most-respected instrument in the Western world during the Renaissance period, according to Iowa State University’s Department of Music and Theatre.
McFarlane, who has played the lute for more than 40 years, enjoys playing on the radio because it gives him the opportunity to share the instrument with many people at once, he said.
“Back in the old days, one writer said the lute should only be heard by two or three people at most,” McFarlane said. “And [radio] is a way to play very intimately for a wide audience because the microphone is right there, very intimate with your instrument.”
McFarlane played eight songs from his album, including “Carolan’s Welcome” and “Banish Misfortune.” Harder was thrilled to have McFarlane on the air because the lute is an instrument most people don’t hear often, she said
“He makes it come alive, so it’s very relevant to our modern ears,” Harder added. “I just found it so restful and peaceful, and I was really happy to bring that to our audience.”
For the production crew, live performances create a new set of challenges because there isn’t room for error.
Producing a live broadcast leads to quicker decision-making and sometimes more creativity and spontaneity because it’s impossible to make edits, said Tyler McClure, the assistant production manager at WRTI.
“Being on the clock helps you make decisions and be more creative, whereas if you have all this time in the world, that can almost be counterproductive,” McClure added. “I enjoy the challenge of each session and understanding what the goal is for each session.”
Harder also hosts and produces “Classical Coffeehouse with Debra Lew Harder” from 6 a.m. to noon every Saturday.
Through her live broadcasts, Harder enjoys meeting new artists and hearing what they are excited about with their music. To prepare, she researches the musician to determine interesting questions to ask for her listeners.
“Artists are always coming out with new material, so we’re now into presenting all the classical and jazz of the week, so…we like to highlight that,” Harder added. “We blend presenting exciting new recordings, which I guess is very cutting edge, along with great recordings from the past that people love and treasure.”
Up to four artists perform live throughout the week, though audiences can’t come to the studio to watch because of the station’s size. Harder’s next guest will be flutist Jasmine Choi, who has performed across Europe and Asia.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated who hosts the live performances. Different hosts on “Classical Weekdays” and other WRTI shows have hosted more than 100 performers.