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Radio Show Host Shares Love
of Classical Music With Listeners
December 6, 1999

Some things need to be preserved, like classical music and stone walls. Ita Kanter not only believes this, she has acted upon it.

The host of a weekly radio show on WHUS, Morning Classics, Kanter is one of two continually scheduled volunteer disc jockeys of classical music at the radio station, supporting and promoting a genre of music that is now often overshadowed and ignored.

Back in 1983, when she responded to a call for disc jockeys at the campus radio station, she did not imagine she would be on the air every week for the next 16 years.

But during these years, Kanter has never used the same order of music pieces twice. Instead she keeps her show fresh and original, by selecting composers and pieces that aren't regularly heard on National Public Radio or other stations.

As soon as one show is over, she is already planning next week's program, many of her ideas coming as she files back compact discs and records in the WHUS music library.

"When you pull out a record, it might remind you of something else to play that hasn't been heard in a while," she says.

Kanter likes to follow a theme for each two-hour show. "The theme for Morning Classics could be all piano music or pieces using an unusual instrument, such as a harmonica, and then arranging the pieces into sequence," she says. Other themes she has presented include water, seasons, birds, and heroes.

She claims to like almost all classical composers, but she cites Rossini, Verdi, Wagner, Mozart and Schubert as some of her personal favorites. When describing the pieces of music she enjoys most, her voice bubbles with enthusiasm. "Some are so wonderful you hope you can always have them to play over and over," she says.

Kanter has fostered ties with other organizations on campus that are interested in classical music. Since 1985, the UConn Co-op has underwritten the show, and her program has a reciprocal relationship with Jorgensen Auditorium and the von der Mehden Recital Hall: it is a regular feature of her show to announce coming events; in return, Morning Classics is mentioned in the programs of classical performances that take place on campus.

Growing Love of Music
The oldest of seven children raised in Detroit, Kanter was raised with music as an important value and began attending concerts when she was young.

She moved to Storrs in 1966 with her husband, the late Robert L. Kanter, a professor of industrial sociology and education at the University.

Her early love of concert-going flourished. "My husband and I were always going to concerts," she says. "If the choice was whether to get new clothes or see a concert, we got concert tickets. When the Metropolitan Opera came to Detroit or to Boston, after we moved to Storrs, my husband would buy tickets for every show, even if there was a matinee and evening performance in one day."

Kanter's interests are not confined to music. During her early years in Storrs, she took painting classes, where she learned how to work in watercolors and oils. Her artwork has been exhibited at the Atrium Gallery and other local galleries. She also is a lover of birds, plants and gardening.

When Kanter started as a disc jockey, her children thought it was too modern for her. But, she says, she has always been unconvention al. She wore blue jeans, for example, long before it was common for women to wear them.

Besides classical music, Kanter's weekly program on WHUS has brought its listeners features such as announcements from The Society for the Preservation of Stone Walls and the Hum of the Week.

Kanter says The Society for the Preservation of Stone Walls was started in 1986 as a joke but some members of her audience adopted it as a cause. She began making public service announcements, asking listeners to replace missing stones and try to prevent municipalities from taking the stone walls down in order to widen roads or construct buildings. Previously, she says, few people had thought about preserving these walls as part of the historical landscape.

Hum of the Week was launched as a way of building the audience's knowledge of music. Kanter would play a memorable refrain from a piece of music in order for listeners to be able to hum and recognize it themselves.

Legacy for the Future
Kanter says although she receives many letters from listeners describing what they enjoyed in the show and asking where they can find recordings, little is known about the majority of her audience. She says she hopes people listen to the program with their children, so they have an investment in the future.

Preserving the legacy of classical music is important not only to Kanter but to the station.

"Programming on WHUS tends to go in cycles which reflect community interest. The current generation will lose classical music if they don't get exposed to it," says John Murphy, general manager of the station. "Classical music is an historical snapshot that can easily be lost."

Kanter says popular music is no substitute. Popular musicians and their audience "are a fickle group," she says. "Where are most of those popular tunes in five or 10 years? Classical music has lasted through the years. It is endearing and enduring and has not changed in all this time."

Morning Classics can be heard on Tuesday mornings, from 8-10 a.m., on WHUS 91.7 FM.

Marisha Chinsky