"Keep Classical Weird" podcast shows classical music in new light
Although well-versed in everything classical music, Casey Bozell admits that some people out there just might not get it.
Musician friends and non-musician friends alike have talked with her about the same subject: Some people just don't want to sound dumb when weighing into the world of Mozart, Beethoven and Brahms.
"There's this weird gate-keeping thing," said Bozell, a violinist and member of Portland Opera and Oregon Ballet Theatre orchestras, and Newport Symphony Orchestra concertmaster. "Some people say, 'If I tried to participate in a conversation, it might be wrong or dumb and it wouldn't be a good addition to the conversation.'"
Enter Bozell and her new podcast, "Keep Classical Weird," a turn on the phrase that that has come to resonate in our city. She started the podcast to tell "bizarre, eccentric and quirky parts of characters and the music they made."
She drops a new podcast every Friday morning on Apple, Spotify and Google platforms, the most recent being two parts of "Instrumental Personalities" (the second dropping Friday, July 17).
(Down below we'll address some topics, but suffice to say they range from Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's fascination with poop to what beer goes best with Ludwig van Beethoven's "Fifth Symphony.")
Bozell has done 11 podcasts since launching May 1, with more already planned.
"It's something that I've wanted to do for a long time," said Bozell, a Colorado native who moved to Portland 13 years ago. "I'm a podcast listener myself, and I've always enjoyed the platform."
She and friends have always talked about the accessibility and understanding problems of classical music; hence, the podcast and "I'm having a ball with it. It's been really cool."
She usually features a guest on the 15- to 20-minute podcasts, and a frequent contributor has been Sophia Tegart, a Washington State University flute professor and music history teacher.
One of her podcast subjects was "Why is classical not cool?" and it's the essence of why she started the podcast.
"The podcast episode did not answer the question conclusively," she said. "But it boosted my theories."
Again, some people might not know how to converse in classical music, and Bozell points to a diminishing curriculum for classical music in schools throughout the years.
"As structure of education has changed, I'm not sure we've kept up with the industry with changing our traditions to adapt to that," she said.
But, oh, is there much to talk about — a reason that Bozell sees her podcast continuing indefinitely.
Her first podcast was on Hildegard von Bingen, a turn-of-the-millennium composer — uh, turn of the first millennium, born in 1098, dying in 1179 — who was also a nun, mystic, prophet, writer and botanist.
"She has the first written description of the female orgasm," Bozell said. "She existed in a time and space where they were not persecuting (her type) for things they said and done. She existed at the perfect time.
"She's a lot like Dionne Warwick, who had ads for the Psychic Friends Network."
Bozell's "Castrati" podcast explores how promising young male singers centuries ago underwent castration as means for them to hold on to their pubescent voices — a practice that continued, her research found, until about 1870. One recording she heard featured a singer with a well-cultivated mezzo soprano voice. Often singers developed bigger ribs because of castration.
"Humans did odd things for the sake of art," Bozell said.
Folks with Bierly Brewing of McMinnville joined her to talk about what beers goes with Beethoven's "Fifth Symphony" and why. Bierly came up with a tasting flight for "Fifth Symphony."
"We were trying to come up with adjectives that applied to him that could also apply to beer," Bozell said, "and there were many — dark and stormy, but also some bitter, some parts caramelly, some hazy. That was fun to do."
For "Dirty Mozart," Bozell read a bunch of Mozart's letters to family in which he told many dirty stories — some of them of literal context. Bozell had a friend read the letters on the podcast in a dramatic way, with interpretation.
"He talked about poop a lot," Bozell said of Mozart.
In one story, Mozart referenced a smell in an apartment and it ended up being a fart. "Wikipedia has a whole entry about Mozart's scatological humor," she added.
"You think about the (classical) music being fancy and high-class and snobby. And, that was not a high-class thing."
One time Bozell featured as a guest David Saffert, a locally famous performer of Liberace.
"Instrumental Personalities" touches on subjects relating to musicians, including what musicians think of other musicians. Bozell conducted 14 interviews.
"My view of other string instruments is different than wind players' views of string players," she said. "And, a tuba player, everybody thinks beer, and they do like beer. When they thought of a harpist, they said they had a unique sense of fashion." Multiple replies backed up the assertions.
An upcoming podcast delves into "Schumann Love Triangle," a subject that Bozell addressed at a music appreciation class that she taught at Concordia University. Robert Schumann married Clara Wieck and she became Clara Schumann. They later befriended Johannes Brahms — well, befriended to the point of a love triangle, as Brahms fell in love with her.
"It's like a Hollywood moment," Bozell said.
Bozell, like most musicians, has been sidelined because of the COVID-19 pandemic and show cancellations. She has plenty of time to devote to her podcast.
"I wish I was still performing, of course, but I'm so happy that this is the thing that's happening when I can't be performing," Bozell said.
She added, jokingly, "it's part of my anti-snobbery campaign."
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