Monday, January 31, 2011

VPR Examines the Future of Big Wind

There has been a lot of talk about whether industrial-scale wind energy projects should be built on Vermont's ridgelines. But so far, that's been about it: A lot of talk and very little construction.

So what is the future of wind energy in this state that prides itself on its dedication to renewable energy and preservation of the environment?

We may begin to find out in the next year. The Public Service Board will begin considering in early February the largest project yet proposed, on Lowell Mountain. And the U.S. Forest Service likely will rule on a project in Searsburg and Readsboro that would be the first commercial wind project in a national forest.

VPR News goes behind those headlines to explore the issue in a series, Big Wind's Future. What divides communities where projects are proposed? Are they capable of producing as much electricity and reducing greenhouse gases as much as supporters contend? How are they financed? And where do the profits from them flow?

Tune in to Morning Edition and All Things Considered on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday to learn the answers.

Civility Tour Stops in Vermont

The chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities will bring his American Civility Tour to Vermont Wednesday. He will be Jane Lindholm’s guest on Vermont Edition and speak at the Vermont State House that evening.

Jim Leach embarked on a fifty-state tour in November of 2009, in order to call attention to the need for civility in public discourse. “Words matter,” Leach says, “Polarizing attitudes can jeopardize social cohesion.” He says civility goes beyond good etiquette and requires respectful engagement with other viewpoints and experiences.

In addition to the discussion on Vermont Edition, you’ll be able to listen to Leach’s address, “Civility in a Fractured Society” at via our live stream from the State House. His talk begins at 7:30.

“Civility in a Fractured Society is part of Farmers’ Night at the Vermont State House and the Vermont Humanities Council’s First Wednesdays series.

Farmers’ Night is every Wednesday in the House Chamber. This year’s schedule includes The Vermont Jazz Enseble, the UVM Top Cats, The Saint Johnsbury Band with Counterpoint and more.

The Vermont Humanities Council’s First Wednesday series is presented in nine communities around the state. The program is free. Click here for this year’s schedule.

Listen Wednesday night at 7:30 on VPR's live stream from the State House.

(Photo from NEH by Greg Powers and Audrey Crewe)

Friday, January 21, 2011

What Does Moonlight In Vermont Mean to You?

The woman who made the song “Moonlight In Vermont” a hit died this month.
Margaret Whiting was a cabaret singer who had a string of hits in the 1940’s. She was still performing in nightclubs well into her 80’s.

VPR's Neal Charnoff interviewed her to find out how she came to be the voice behind this iconic song. You can listen here.

Does "Moonlight In Vermont" bring back memories for you? And by the way, do you know where to find sycamore trees in Vermont?

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Music & Spirtuality with Charles Lloyd

Join jazz host George Thomas tonight for a conversation with Saxophonist Charles Lloyd. In his first visit to Vermont, Charles Lloyd and his new quartet are at The Hop this week: Wednesday afternoon Lloyd is joined by friend and former US Poet Laureate, Charles Simic, for a conversation on the spirit of jazz and poetry. Thursday afternoon, Lloyd and members of the New Quartet coach a student jazz combo. And tickets are still available to see Charles Lloyd and the New Quartet perform at the Hopkins Center Thursday night.

Tickets are also available to see the band Sunday at the Flynn.

Lloyd's latest CD, called Mirror, includes rich original compositions and gospel standards.

Listen tonight at 9 as he talks with George Thomas about the connection between music and spirituality.

From Lloyd's web page: "Music is a healing force. It has the ability to transcend boundaries, it can touch the heart directly, it can speak to a depth of the spirit where no words are needed. It is a most powerful form of communication and expression of beauty."

Monday, January 17, 2011

Reverend Al Sharpton in Burlington

The Rev. Al Sharpton was the keynote at Burlington’s MLK Day Celebration Sunday. The Greater Burlington Multicultural Resource Center hosted the event at the Unitarian Universalist Church. Attendees were also treated to uplifting musical selections by the Abundant Life Gospel Choir. Senator Bernie Sanders and Evelyn and Modisane Kwanza of Alpha Baptist Church received Martin Luther King awards for their work.

Sharpton told the audience that King's dream had not yet been realized, because it is not just a dream of racial equality but of economic equity. Click here to listen to Sharpton’s speech.

Listen tonight at 8 for a special program called Say It Loud: Great Speeches on Civil Rights and African American Identity. The program traces the last 50 years of black history through stirring, historically important speeches by African Americans from across the political spectrum.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Unstrung ---> Restrung

(before, and------------------------------------------after.)

The words we'd been waiting for were uttered right around 2pm today in the performance studio: "I think that's it!" The very last new wire had been strung, coiled, and tightened - and Piano Technician Allan Day was stepping back to take a long look at his work. "This went really well."

It's going to need around 5 tunings before its ready for performance. The new wires will stretch through this process, and will require careful attention to get them into top shape. We're looking at booking our first live performance (possibly) in early March. We'll let you know when that happens so you can listen in.

As the project wrapped up today I was very curious what the piano would sound like at this stage of its overhaul: keeping in mind the keyboard isn't secured, its dampers haven't been returned and - the big one - the piano hasn't even been tuned yet. But what does it sound like?

VPR Classical's Joe Goetz obliged and gave the instrument a trial run. Beethoven's "Moonlight" Sonata never sounded so...well...listen for yourself:

Unstrung, Day Four

We're making a dramatic glissando into the home stretch here on the week-long project to rewire VPR's 1970 Yamaha C7. For the last few days the performance studio has been awash in rolls of wire, all kinds of unusual hand tools, and an impressive assortment of various adhesives and cleaners.

When I checked in this morning Piano Technician Allan Day was already getting to work. With the help of pianist and VPR Classical afternoon host Joe Goetz, Allan is installing the piano's bass strings. After that he'll finish off the strings at the top end and replace the hammers, dampers, and the keyboard. We'll catch up with that part of the project later this afternoon. I'm really looking forward to hearing the piano played once all of the strings are in and the keyboard's been reinstalled, but before it's tuned. (Maybe we can talk Joe into playing something to give us an idea what that sounds like!)

For now, here's the work that Allan and Joe were doing this morning including installing the "A" string - the very lowest bass string on the piano:

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Unstrung, Day Three

The third day of VPR's piano restringing project dawned with a rather questionable odor emanating from the performance studio. I didn't hesitate to open the door, however - I'd been in there yesterday afternoon when Piano Technician Allan Day was firing up his vintage glue pot so I knew what I was in for.

The glue Allan uses to adhere the felting to the pin board is made of reconstituted flakes from boiled-down cow and horse hides. It's old school, and it works. In fact, it works so well that some piano makers like Steinway use ONLY that kind of glue when constructing their instruments. While Yamaha pianos (such as VPR's) are primarily constructed with a different, non-water soluble kind of glue, the hide glue is still used in some of the detail work like felting.

Allan's making great progress on this project, the first of the new pins and wires were already set in place yesterday!

Here's a little insight to today's work, including a fascinating story about how the different kinds of glue affected what happened to the pianos in Houston's Jones Hall when the city flooded.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Public Media Facing Most Significant Threat Ever 

Vermont Public Radio is participating in a significant national project to reinforce the importance of federal funding for public media. The 170 Million Americans for Public Broadcasting campaign brings together public radio and public television stations in a national, grassroots effort to rally support from the 170 million Americans who listen to, watch, or use public media every month.

Without federal funding, public broadcasting stations, particularly those in rural areas, would be unable to continue to provide local communities with the unparalleled news and information, and educational programming that we provide today.

I’m proud that Vermont Public Radio has signed on as a partner in this important effort. I hope you will join this growing network of members, listeners, viewers, and others who value a strong public media as a source of non-partisan news, local cultural and music programming, and non-commercial educational programs.

The heart of the project is a website – – that gives supporters of public media a way to register their support and provides ideas for how to turn that support into meaningful action. I encourage you to check out the site and lend your name to this effort and call on others to do the same. You can also show your support by “liking” the project’s Facebook page, which currently has close to 9,000 fans.

We’ve joined this campaign because we take the current threat to public media very seriously. Federal funding amounts to nearly 10% of our annual revenue, more than $600,000. Losing this source of general operating support would be a major blow to VPR and would significantly impact our service to listeners. 

I’ll continue to update you on the progress of this project and our participation in the coming months. In the meantime, please don’t hesitate to contact me with questions or suggestions.

Unstrung, Day Two

Shortly after 10 this morning I made my way into the Performance Studio, where Piano Technician Allan Day was already getting started with his second day of work rewiring VPR's Yamaha C7 piano.

One of the things we couldn't have known before all the wires inside the piano were removed yesterday was that the tuning pins were bent, and needed to be replaced.

<---(note the bend in the head of the tuning pin. It's subtle, but it's there. And it's enough to wreak havoc with a piano's tuning if it's not fixed.)

This can happen for a number of reasons, the biggest one being the fact that our piano is forty years old - that's four decades of hard work, on each of the piano's 88 keys. There are up to 250 lbs. of tension on each piano wire, and it's the pin's job to hold the wire solidly in place as the instrument is being played. That's a lot of years without a day off.

Among other benefits, replacing the pins will help to ensure that future piano tunings last a little longer before needing another tweak. For the second day of work on the piano Allan is removing the bushings (they're made of maple wood) that hold the pins in place, replacing them, continuing his deep cleaning of the instrument, and beginning to replace the pins themselves. The old pins were stock parts made of Japanese steel. They came with the piano when it was made in 1970. The new pins Allan has selected are made of German steel and are a little thicker, so they should hold up very well for another four decades of fabulous performances in the studio.

Here's the conversation Allan and I had this morning about yesterday's discovery - and yes, there are more power tools at play today!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011


Day one, piano re-stringing: I checked back in with Allan Day in VPR's performance studio to see how things are coming along. He's making good progress in the work, with all of the old strings being removed and the piano being cleaned.

Here's Allan, wearing thick workman's gloves, pulling out sharp piano wires by the handful (I think he's really having fun with this):

Day two tomorrow includes more cleaning and preparation for new wires to be strung. It's more exciting than it sounds. You'll see.


You know that feeling you get in your stomach when you're standing at the top of a VERY tall building, and you look over the edge? I had that feeling today for just a moment when - 'ping!' - the first wires were cut on the inside of VPR's performance studio piano.

Last summer while tuning VPR's piano for an upcoming performance, Piano Technician Allan Day realized that there were bigger problems to be addressed: the Yamaha's wires were finally wearing out after supporting forty years of great performances.

We scheduled the work to be done in early January after the busy holiday music season and before things really begin to pick up again in the spring. The work began today, with the old wires being cut and removed.

This is a big procedure! It's not something you get to see every day. I'll be taking a few videos and talking to Allan as the week progresses. Here are the first two in the series. Enjoy - and, big thanks to our contributing listeners for making this important work possible.

Friday, January 7, 2011

See America Saturdays on VPR

For the next five weeks, VPR’s Saturday Special “explores how a particular American city or town creates community, the ways people transcend challenging circumstances and the vital cultural narratives that give an area its uniqueness.” This is the mission of State of the Re:Union.

Interviews and narrative are combined with the sounds of America to transport you to the cities we’ll visit. You’ll hear the rattling undercarriage of a classic car, the hum of fluorescent lights bouncing off institutional white walls, the din of grade school kids in an assembly. Listen closely. What at first seems to be a vacant lot in a barrio, is, upon closer examination, an urban multi-generational permaculture project. Tiny green shoots pop up out of raised beds in a community garden. These are signs of hope in neighborhoods where abandoned houses are being reclaimed and renovated by non-profit community groups.

This series is about individuals connecting and communities finding their idiomatic strengths. It’s the creativity and resilience you see in a mural between two boarded up windows on a condemned building.

“We hope to take our creative and conscious cues from the iconic shows that have inspired us. From the scenic road, simple-pleasure sensibilities of Charles Kuralt’s On the Road and the investigatory spirit of 60 Minutes to the aesthetic and music-fueled backdrop of MTV and do-it-yourself spirit of Current TV, these things have inspired us to create a show where neither artistry or content are ever compromised for one another.”

Listen Saturdays at 4 on VPR and experience the spirit of community up close and personal - with host Al Letson, and the energetic crew of State of the Re:Union. See photos from their work across the country on Flickr.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Montpelier's Change In Power

There’s always a sense of excitement and anticipation in Montpelier early in January when the Legislature is preparing to go back into session.

It’s heightened in odd-numbered years like this, following an election, when an entirely new House and Senate are seated.

But for people who follow politics, it doesn’t get much more exciting than this. There’s a new governor for the first time in eight years. Power is shifting from one party to another.

Plus, when the oaths of office are administered on Thursday, there will be a new secretary of state and lieutenant governor.

Even as preparations are finalized for all of this, there’s a bittersweet nostalgia as Gov. Jim Douglas packs up the memories of a 38-year career in state politics.

VPR is your home for coverage of this change in power. This Wednesday, January 5th at noon, Vermont Edition will broadcast live from the Statehouse just hours after the opening gavels fall. Later that afternoon, at 2, tune in for Gov. Douglas’ farewell address.

On Thursday, we’ll have special coverage again beginning at 1:30 p.m. when Peter Shumlin takes the oath to become governor, and then sets out his vision in his first inaugural address.

And finally, Gov. Shumlin will take your questions when he appears on Vermont Edition on Friday at noon, with a rebroadcast at 7 p.m. Email us at to ask a question in advance.

You can follow the legislature throughout the session with VPR's live audio stream from the Vermont House and Senate. You can listen to the Legislature in action, follow the progress of important legislation and listen in on the proceedings while they are happening.