Jen McGivney

QUIZ: Can You Notice The Difference in High-Definition Music Streaming?

This week, an announcement at Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference heated up the battle between music streaming services. Now music lovers have more choices at the same price point: for about $10 a month, we can stream Spotify, Tidal, or the new Apple Music. To complicate matters, we can also select Tidal’s high-definition streaming of uncompressed audio files for $19.99 per month.

But is high-definition streaming worth the extra money — and the hit to your mobile data plan?

Possibly not.

NPR created a quiz to put the question to the test: How well can you hear audio quality?

I sent NPR’s quiz to a random sample of colleagues and friends. The results? We’re better off keeping the extra ten dollars in our pocket each month.

Of the ten of us who took the quiz, none of us answered more than 2 out of 6 correctly. (And some – yours truly included – used some lucky guessing.) Yet most of us are audio amateurs, lacking the gear or the ear to truly discern subtle differences in audio quality. What about the pros, listening on the good stuff? Could they hear a difference?

I sent the quiz to Jim McGivney, a professional video editor (and coincidentally, my husband) who took NPR’s quiz while listening on professional audio speakers running through an amplifier. His results? Two out of six correct, guessing only the Jay-Z and Neil Young songs correctly.

What about Bruce Scott, serious audiophile and WDAV’s production manager? He, too, guessed two of the six correctly. But he cautioned against the quiz as a true indicator of audio quality:

“I’m basically distrustful of evaluating audio quality on the basis of internet streaming, as the technology of the streaming process itself may well have more to do with what we hear than the quality of the files being delivered,” Bruce says. “I would not pay extra money for a hi-def streaming service, as there are simply too many variables involved in that process to be sure you’re actually getting increased quality.”

Bruce made another good point: we don’t always prefer the best quality file. Some compressed files may be made more pleasing to certain tastes through EQ or other processes. But as a true audiophile, Bruce prefers to eliminate all variables created from streaming. Instead of Spotify and such, Bruce opts to download uncompressed files from HDTracks.

What about WDAV’s sound engineer extraordinare, Joshua Sacco? He guessed just two correctly on the NPR quiz as well, offering some interesting observations about the quiz:

“The ones I got right were the ones I spent the most time listening to. My quick first impressions were wrong each time,” Josh said. “In my experience I tend to find that lower resolution sound files tend to fatigue my ears much faster than uncompressed files. However sometimes the low-res files are more gratifying initially. Is there a life lesson here?”

And a note for classical lovers: Of everyone in the group, none of us could discern a difference between file compressions of the Mozart piece. So perhaps classical fans may want to choose something else to do with that extra $10 each month; for that, we at WDAV humbly offer an alternative option.

Take the quiz and let us know how well you scored. How many did you guess correctly? Which ones were easier to notice a difference in quality?

Update 6/12: I received an insightful email from Jammrock, who shared his experience with the quiz. Interesting stuff here:

So, there’s HD audio and then there’s “HD” audio. Services like HDtracks and Pono music release HD music. High bit rates, high sample rates, uncompressed, beautifully recorded music. Often taken directly off the master recording.
“HD” audio is anything better than what you’re used to. WDAV is HD radio capable, which is about CD quality music, and it is far cleaner and clearer than analog radio. So relative to its analog counterpart, HD radio is … “HD” (not complaining here, I love listening to WDAV on my HD radio).
If you read closely, the HD service from Tidal is not high resolution HD, it’s uncompressed CD quality music. That makes discerning the difference between MP3 and uncompressed WAV rather difficult. The amount of original information is relatively the same. As such you need to use some really good audio equipment and really focus on the music, without distractions, to hear the difference.
My results point this out pretty well. I got 0/6 on my $10 headphones I use at work. Couldn’t tell the difference at all. Not even a little.
I scored 3/6 on my stereo at home.
Then I used my gaming headset, a $150 set of decent quality headphones with a nice inline DAC/AMP. I scored 5/6, but I had to listen really close to the music. Even then I had to focus on audio cues that give away MP3’s more than the song as a whole.
The one I missed was the Coldplay song. I blame that on poor audio engineering. And the fact that I dislike Coldplay… and they make my ears cringe.
I have a friend with a very expensive set of IEMs (In Ear Monitors). He took the test from his iPhone in a busy airport and scored 4/6. I’m pretty sure he would have gotten them all under the right circumstances.
HD audio is awesome. Just don’t be fooled by marketing fluff. And know what you’re getting into so you can get the full experience from it.

Do Cats Like Classical Music?

Cats are notoriously picky. Admittedly, I have a strong dog bias, but I’m far from alone in feeling that cats — while adorable — have an air of judgment about them. And it doesn’t seem that they’re exactly wowed by the world around them.

What kind of music, then, do animals with such high standards prefer? Do cats even like music at all? Silly questions, perhaps, but they’re questions that researchers have taken on in an attempt to investigate a very non-silly issue: species-specific music.


Siena, the cat of WDAV Marketing Coordinator Kali Blevins. While not a music fan yet, will Rusty’s Ballad or Spook’s Ditty change that?

Researcher and musician David Teie set out to learn what kind of music cats enjoy. Teie’s resume is astonishingly full: Teie has played with the National Symphony and the San Francisco Symphony. He’s been commissioned by Leonard Slatkin as well as Echobrain, the rock group founded by a former bassist of Metallica. In addition, he’s a former Fulbright scholar and has studied the cognitive processes of music appreciation. It’s the kind of professional background that leads one to suspect that he’s lived five lives. And now, he’s researching the species known to live nine.

Teie’s findings? Cats do like music. Yet it’s not the kind of music that you or I would probably like. Much like with other things, cats go their own way. Cats like music that’s high pitched and grooves to a purring tempo. It seems a bit psychedelic, perhaps pairing well with an afternoon of cat nip. Teie’s even composed pieces that meet these standards.

What will your cat think of this music? If you’ve got feline friends at home, play them Teie’s compositions and let us know if your cats groove to his tunes. Try either Rusty’s Ballad or Spook’s Ditty.

If your cats dig the music, you can purchase Teie’s compositions for your cats on his website:

Program Notes? There’s An App For That.

Leaving your cell phone on during a performance? One orchestra not only allows this, but they have given attendees a tool that encourages them to do so.

The Philadelphia Orchestra has released LiveNote, a mobile app that gives users real-time performance information. At various points during a piece, LiveNote provides attendees with relevant program notes.  Do you want information about the orchestra? Historical context about the work? What about notes on the musical structure of a piece or a glossary of musical terms? Yes, there’s now an app for that. The orchestra’s aim is to “explore how technology can intersect with audiences at the different points where they experience music.”

To some, this will give concert attendees knowledge that will deepen their appreciation for the orchestra and for the music. To others, this is an example of technology becoming a distraction from the essence of a live performance: paying full attention to the music. “There’s a reason sex does not come annotated,” said music critic Peter Dobrin, establishing himself in the latter camp.

Apps in the orchestra. What next, applauding between movements? As orchestras evolve to keep up with the changing tastes of attendees, who knows what changes we’ll see next?

But one favor, we beg? If you’re going to use the app, just remember to turn your ringer off. No one likes this guy.

Read entire story on ClassicFM: New app explains music as you listen – but you need to leave your mobile ON during concerts


Classical Driveway Moments: Our Fall Membership Campaign Highlight

campaign-celebrationWe did it! As of 7:41 last night, we met our goal: by raising $216, 635 and welcoming 209 new members to WDAV, we had another successful membership campaign. It was a group effort — our supporters, our volunteers, our staff — and one that makes all of us at WDAV incredibly thankful to be a part of this wonderful family of Classical Public Radio.

One of our favorite parts of this campaign was hearing Classical Driveway Moments from our listeners. During the campaign, they shared stories of classical music pieces that stirred them so much that they’d prefer to sit in a parked car rather than turn off the music prematurely. The stories reminded us of the power of classical public radio — of how classical public radio allows the music of a symphony, perhaps in Berlin or Prague or New York, to stop us in our tracks as we go about our errands in Charlotte, Boone, or Winston-Salem.

We’d like to share some of these stories with you, stories when classical music stopped us in our tracks. Some are literally driveway moments; some are treadmill, desk, or kitchen moments. You’ll read stories of three-year-old twins who conduct Tchaikovsky from the back seat; of a driveway moment that inspired a walking-down-the aisle moment; and — perhaps my favorite — of a man who blows his leaves to the tune of Wagner, transforming the mundane into magnificence.

“My moment was in the car but wasn’t limited to the driveway. I was driving a 5-speed sports car on a winding mountain road in a driving rain and listening to Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries. The music added to the exhilaration of the drive in a way I’ve never forgotten. Whenever I hear the Ride of the Valkyries on WDAV, I think of that memorable drive.”
Frank Dominguez, General Manager and Content Director of WDAV

“Last year, my three-year-old twins made me stop in the driveway and wait while they finished listening to and conducting the 1812 Overture finale. They loved it and were giggling the whole time. WDAV is the only station we listen to in the car — they love ‘music without words’ and if I forget to turn on your station, they remind me!”
Nancy P.

“I was close to the driveway so I hope this counts. I had just mowed the lawn.  I was then blowing leaves.  To my delight, the Ride of the Valkyries came on. It is absolutely the perfect music to blow leaves by!!! The leaves swirled in the air in unison with this great piece of music.  That just isn’t going to happen anywhere but on WDAV!!!!!  Thanks and let’s keep this music coming!!”
Tony C.

“I’ve been working as a maid since I was fifteen, and the winter I was eighteen, I was driving to work listening to the Gadfly Suite on WDAV. I got there just as the Romance came on, and at the expense of being late, I finished it. A few months later, I walked down the church aisle to that piece, and married the love of my life.”
Leah V.

“My most recent ‘moment’ was the playing of ‘Crown Imperial’ – a wonderful reminder of a child’s seminary graduation in Princeton Chapel. I could practically feel the floorboard rumble again!  How great to relive that powerful experience sitting in my car!”
Becca C.

“It was in the parking lot of Starbucks listening to Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis-Ralph Vaughan Williams. Tears were rolling down my cheeks with the volume on high. I opened my eyes at the end to see a barista watching me. I rolled down the window to find out she was coming to work and heard the song coming out of my car and had to stop and listen along. It was her driveway moment as well!”
Allison P.

“My mother was recently in the hospital, and one afternoon as I arrived at the hospital The Sorcerer’s Apprentice was playing. I sat in the car, reclined my seat, and listened until the end. I went on to visit my mother in a happier mood.”
Amy M.

“I listen on my tablet almost every morning as I do my exercises. Warm music from North Carolina helps me face the cold weather in Saskatchewan! Thank you.”
Blake A.

“My classical driveway moment actually happened at the movie theater. The year was 1984, and the movie was Amadeus. I was so moved by Mozart’s Symphony 25 in G minor 1st Movement. Its power forever changed my appreciation and enjoyment of listening to classical music.”
Werner G.

“Anytime you play Rusalka’s Song to the Moon or Camille Saint-Saens The Swan, thank you!  Since I hear you via on my work computer here in Charleston, my ‘drive-way moment’ is spent lingering at my desk . . . down-the-hall chores can wait! Thank you WDAV, for filling my office and my workday with a classical soundtrack.  You brighten every work day!”
Sue B.

“I have had many driveway moments for numerous pieces but my favorites are when my now six-year-old granddaughter asks to stay in the car to finish listening to a piece as she has numerous times.  She is playing the violin and likes bluegrass and classics.”
Elizabeth H.

“I am a member of the Vivaci Club and have the radio in my shop tuned to WDAV all the time. One morning the Allegretto Palladio had just come on, and I went to sit in front of the radio to listen to it when a customer pulled into my parking lot. I thought ‘Darn, I won’t get to hear all of it.’ Well he just sat out in his car and didn’t come in, and I was beginning to think something was wrong. When the music ended on my radio, he finally came in, listened to my radio and said, ‘If I had known you were listening to WDAV I would have come in, but wanted to hear the end of the Palladio!’ So I guess you could say we both had a driveway moment!”
Tricia H.

“Every Thursday my neighbor drives me to Harris Teeter.  Her car radio is always tuned to WDAV, and we try to identify the music playing at that time. The same thing happens on the way home. We’re seldom in the car at the time somebody announces either the upcoming selection or the one that has just been played. So after she has brought me home and gone on to unload her own groceries, we each turn to, and check the playlist.  This is usually followed by an e-mail message (from her to me, or vice versa) that goes something like, ‘Aha!  I was right!’ or ‘You were right (again).’ Thanks for keeping us on our toes.
Mary T.

“About a year ago, I was driving home one evening when the andante doloroso from Kreisler’s Violin Concerto in the Style of Vivaldi came on. It was the saddest music I had ever heard. Had I not been near home, I would have had to pull over and stop, as the music was that arresting. I let the piece end and came inside with tears in my eyes, in a hurry to go online to learn what it was. Now the entire concerto is one of my favorite pieces. An added joy was to find that the violinist was Gil Shaham, whom I had enjoyed seeing play at the Aspen Music Festival just a few months before. Thanks again for a wonderful experience, WDAV!”
George B.

“I lived in Fort Worth then. I was driving home from Dallas late one night. I heard a violin playing a melody that seemed unable to be contained. It rose and coalesced and wouldn’t end. Well, it did finally, and I learned I was hearing Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time. That was the first time I experienced Messian’s glimpse of the ecstatic.”
Jai J.

“What stops me from getting out of the car is The Lark Ascending.  I have to wait until the lark has flown away!  It is perhaps one of the most beautiful tone poems.  I remember attending a Charlotte Symphony concert with Hilary Hahn playing it. Her interpretation and bow skill relative to the lark appearing and then its final ascent made me hold my breath.”
John K.

“We lived in Denver and had taken a road trip to Wyoming.  A CD changer was on “random” in the trunk, so we were listening to whatever came on.  As we rounded the curve into the valley facing the Grand Tetons, Beethoven’s Ninth started to play.  Every time we hear any part of the Ninth, we remember that spectacular coincidence of accompaniment to the scenery.”
Kris M.

“The radio in my kitchen is tuned into WDAV 24/7… it is never turned off… ever. I can honestly say that it is part of and as important as the air that I breathe. If I don’t get enough oxygen, I feel blah, and if I don’t get enough of WDAV, I feel blah! Keep up the great work and know that you are very appreciated and loved by many!”
Holly F.

“This week, I’ve had two [driveway moments] already… one was Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings; the other was Grieg’s Piano Concerto.”
Joan T.

Joshua Bell & the Subway, Part II: An Experiment of Beauty and Context

Seven years ago, The Washington Post attempted a social experiment. In a banal and busy setting, would people take time to appreciate an unexpected moment of extraordinary beauty? Their accomplice was Joshua Bell. Amid the DC morning rush, Joshua Bell (incognito under a baseball cap) would play classical masterpieces on his $3 million violin in the entrance of a Metro station. No promotion. No fuss. He would look like any other street performer. It was, as the Post put it, “art without a frame.”

The experiment’s question: how many people would stop to listen?

The unfortunate answer: Very few.

Bell fills symphony halls, of course. His name is paired with descriptors like “master,” “genius,” and even “superstar.” Interview magazine said Joshua Bell’s playing “does nothing less than tell human beings why they bother to live.” But on the day he performed anonymously in a DC subway station, 7 people stopped to listen. The number of people who scurried past him? 1,070.

This article has haunted me ever since. As a DC-area native who logged many years commuting via Metro, I knew that I likely would’ve been one of the harried commuters scurrying past Bell and his music. It would’ve taken no less than Bach himself dropping a harpsichord on my head to slow my morning rush. So I’ve spent the subsequent years atoning for my busy ways. I remind myself to seek unexpected beauty, to search for the extraordinary amongst the ordinary. Perhaps it’ll be  a song, a sunset, a great laugh… or, God willing… Joshua Bell unexpectedly playing violin from a nearby doorway.

While I have appreciated many random moments of beauty, I have not – alas –  happened upon Joshua Bell and his violin. Yet.

If you live in DC, however, you can have another shot at your Joshua Bell moment. Bell has given DC an opportunity to redeem itself – he will play in Union Station during the lunch rush on September 30, 2014. Not only does this grant DC a wonderful do-over, it promotes a cause: music education. Nine students from the National YoungArts Foundation will be with him. DC folks, for the love of all things beautiful, go. Stop. Listen.

For those of us not in DC, we can learn from the original Joshua Bell experiment in the video below. It can be torturous to watch and even more torturous to ask yourself the hard question: given the same scenario, would you have stopped to listen? Or would you be among the 1,070 people scurrying past?

And then go out and notice something beautiful. Art without a frame. It’ll be there. It’s just up to us to slow down to notice.


Read the excellent Washington Post piece about the original experiment: Pearls Before Breakfast: Can one of the nation’s great musicians cut through the fog of a D.C. rush hour? Let’s find out.

Update, October 1, 2014: Joshua Bell was far less lonely performing in a DC train station this time around. Watch his incredible performance in Union Station, filmed by PBS NewsHour:

Ladies, Rejoice: The End of the Blumenthal Intermission Dash

The intermission dash. Women who attend shows at Blumenthal’s Belk Theater in Charlotte know it all too well.

Blumenthal Bathroom

The upgraded, roomier ladies’ restroom at Blumenthal’s Belk Theater in Charlotte

It’s a sight to behold. Rarely does one see a line form as quickly as the one at the orchestra-level ladies’ room at intermission. This line is both the cause and the effect of the intermission dash: women sprint from the theatre as quickly as high heels will carry them and propriety will allow. The dashers are the regulars who know the drill: If we’d like to make a stop at the ladies’ room and have time for conversation and concessions before the lights dim, we need the speed of Road Runner and the strategy of MacGyver to get ahead of that line.

Ladies, rejoice: the intermission dash is no more.


Photos courtesy of Blumenthal Performing Arts

This past year, the Blumenthal began renovating the ladies’ restroom, and the upgrade is now complete. They’ve doubled the size of the restroom on the orchestra level — last year, it had 24 stalls; this year, it has 48. In addition to increasing the size of the restroom, they’ve installed new fixtures that meet ADA standards as well. And although it may sound silly to say this about a bathroom, I have to admit: it’s quite pretty, too.

“This particular restroom was inadequate for the size of our audiences, and the line was the top complaint in our customer surveys,” said Elise Esasky, the Communications Manager for the Blumenthal Performing Arts. “People love the Belk Theater, but many women were spending the entire intermission standing in line to use the restroom.”

Linda Franzese, a season subscriber since the Blumenthal’s first season in 1992, agreed: “Although the old space was quite large, it just didn’t accommodate the number of women who needed to use the facilities during a 15-minute intermission. Now that the area has been expanded and renovated, we can enjoy not only an aesthetically beautiful stop, but a very efficient one.”

Fellas, take heart. The theater upgrades aren’t just for the women. All patrons will enjoy other upgrades, including a facelift to the lobby and new theater seats.

So ladies, if you’ll be at the symphony this weekend, I’ll see you there. But instead of bonding in line while we wait to powder our noses, let’s propose a better idea for intermission: wine and conversation, no dashing necessary.

Bacall. Bernstein. Classic.

It’s not just anybody who gets serenaded by Lauren Bacall on their birthday.

Then again, Leonard Bernstein is far from anybody.

To celebrate the life of Lauren Bacall, who passed away last week at the age of 89, enjoy this wonderful video of her tribute to her friend and neighbor Leonard Bernstein at his 70th birthday party. And if the moment didn’t have star power enough, the tune was a parody penned by a fellow named Stephen Sondheim.

World War I & Classical Music

One hundred years ago today – July 28, 1914 – Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia, one month after the assassinations of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie. The following day, a British naval officer wrote to his wife, “My darling one and beautiful, everything tends towards catastrophe and collapse.” The naval officer who wrote that letter – Winston Churchill – would be proven correct.

Austria-Hungary’s war declaration came at a time of simmering international tensions and triggered war on a global scale. It wasn’t just war, it was The Great War. And by its end, over 37 million military and civilian casualties resulted.

The Great War affected all facets of life, of course, including music. The tensions, the fears, and the hopes of the era resonated in its compositions, some of them composed by those who experienced war firsthand. On the centenary of World War I, learn about the war through a unique lens: through its classical music.

Four First World War Composers Who Defined the Conflict (The Telegraph)
“Despite being out of harmony with their usual surroundings, First World War composers George Butterworth, Maurice Ravel, Arnold Schoenberg and Gustav Holst continued to push musical boundaries.” Read entire article

The Great War At 100: Music Of Conflict And Remembrance (NPR)
“Among the dead and the survivors were musicians. We’ve been listening to some of their creations. The extraordinary level of destruction inspired them in myriad ways.” Listen to entire story.

World War One and Classical Music (The British Library)
“As there were war poets, were there also war composers? Dr Kate Kennedy reflects on the role of classical music – by turns morale-raising and commemorative – and its composition among civilians and combatants.” Read entire article.

Why Do We Remember the Poets and Not the Composers of WW1? (BBC)
“The poets of World War One – Sassoon, Owen, Blunden – have acquired an almost celebrity status. Books about the war such as All Quiet on the Western Front and A Farewell to Arms have become bestsellers. But the work of composers who fought in the trenches has largely been forgotten.” Read entire article.

How the First World War Inspired Britain’s Favourite Piece of Classical Music (The Guardian)
“Despite its bucolic associations, Vaughan Williams’s the Lark Ascending was composed to a backdrop of military manoeuvres.” Read entire article