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KUSC host turns Disney Hall into a classroom

Alan Chapman used the piano during his lecture at Walt Disney Concert Hall. (Photo/John Boone/LA Philharmonic)

For two recent nights, Classical KUSC host and all-round music hyphenate Alan Chapman had the Walt Disney Concert Hall stage to himself, charming audiences eager to learn more about classical music.

“Inside the Music” was the first set of music appreciation classes sponsored by the Los Angeles Philharmonic, and the response was so enthusiastic that it will not be the last.

Admission was a mere $3, and about half of the crowd attended both sessions even though the evenings were intended for separate audiences. The first night’s class was designed for those who knew very little about classical music, and the second was intended for people with an intermediate level of musical knowledge.

It was clear, from the photos snapped of the interior prior to the lecture and the number of children attending, that the audience on the first night included many who had never been inside Disney Hall.

Standing before a huge screen and showing occasional slides, Chapman started both evenings with his “11-minute, more or less” tour of music history from Gregorian chant to the modern period. Other than that, the content of the 90-minute lectures rarely overlapped. Chapman said that once he realized that many people were coming twice, he made sure to present different material.

In addition to showing slides and playing taped snippets of music, from time to time Chapman sat down at a grand piano to illustrate a point. At one juncture on the second night, demonstrating musical vibrations, he let out a few shrieks, then quipped that the shrieks would allow him to brag that he sang at Disney Hall.

For the uninitiated, he explained mysteries such as opus numbers (the order in which pieces were published), staves (the plural of staff) and the form of a concerto (a piece of music with three movements: fast, slow, fast).

Attendees the second night were given a few aural roadmaps for recognizing types of music. For example, Chapman explained that a rondo repeats musical themes this way: a first theme (A), a second theme (B), the first theme again (A), a third theme (C) and back to the original theme (A). Chapman cemented the lesson by playing a rondo and calling out the themes as they occurred.

Chapman was the ideal person to give the talks. In addition to his extensive on-air presence at Classical KUSC, Chapman, who holds a PhD in music theory from Yale University, is on the music theory faculty of The Colburn School, has been a regular speaker on the LA Phil’s “Upbeat Live” series since 1984 and has presented lectures for virtually every major performing organization in Southern California.

But it also helped that he has an extensive career as a composer and lyricist, which includes writing an opera commissioned by the LA Opera. And there’s also his ease on stage, honed from a parallel career as a recording artist and performer, in which he regularly appears in cabaret evenings with his wife, soprano Karen Benjamin.

On Classical KUSC, Chapman is on the air 25 hours each week on five separate shows. He hosts Classical Music With Alan Chapman from 9 a.m. until noon each weekday, which he follows with a one-hour listener request program. On weekends, he is the host and producer of Modern Times, showcasing recent classical music, which airs from 10 p.m. until midnight Saturdays. At 9 a.m. Sundays, he hosts and produces A Musical Offering, two hours of baroque music, and at 9 p.m. Sundays, he hosts and produces Thornton Center Stage, highlighting historic performances by USC Thornton School of Music choral and instrumental groups.

At Disney Hall, the audiences who attended both nights gave Chapman enthusiastic applause and responded with a flurry of questions during the Q-and-A time after the conclusion of his presentations.

An LA Phil official confirmed that more “Inside the Music” sessions would be planned.

“We’re thrilled with the success of our first music classes and are looking into offering similar programs in the future,” said Shana Mathur, LA Phil’s vice president of marketing and communications.

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