As All Classical Portland’s mid-morning host, Christa Wessel has brightened up the workdays of many listeners with her distinctively bubbly voice. When she’s not on air, she can usually be found interviewing local artists for Northwest Previews, or busy with production for On Deck with Young Musicians.
Christa talks about how she got into radio, her favorite pieces, and what she’s discovered about today’s young musicians:
Hometown: Indianapolis, IN
First Job: A fast-food chicken joint in Indy. (The first job I was proud of was as Box Office Manager for a small Chicago-based ensemble, Music of the Baroque.)
Years in Radio: I started volunteering at a free-format community station in Durham, NC around 1994. I took my first job as a professional classical radio host in 1998 at WCPE in Raleigh, NC.
Years at All Classical: I came aboard at All Classical Portland in the summer of 2007.
How did you become a radio announcer?
It as a total fluke! I studied classical music in college with the hope of becoming a professional French horn player, but when that dream fell apart I was left with a music degree and nothing to apply it to. I started working in Arts Administration (principally in IT and Box Office) and to pass the time in those office jobs I started listening to free-form “college” radio. I began volunteering as a DJ at a community station in Durham, NC, and LOVED it. After a few very happy years there, exploring all kinds of genres, I noticed a job posting on the bulletin board: the classical station one town over looking for an announcer. Something clicked in my brain: “I love radio and I love classical music. I wonder if they’ll hire me?” They did. Answering that job notice was one of the best decisions of my life.
Do you remember your first time on air? What was it like?
The first time I was on the air as a volunteer at the community station, it was absolutely no big deal. That station had a broadcast radius of about 10 square blocks and my first air-shift was from 2a-5a. I figured no one was listening! But the first time on the air as a professional, classical radio host? That was TERRIFYING. I remember putting my headphones on as I watched the timer on the CD player count down to zero, and my heart began to race. The only thing I remember is that the composer I was announcing was Richard Wagner. Everything else is a blur.
Do you do anything special to keep your voice in shape for radio?
Not really, though I have learned that keeping a humidifier running in the house really helps. And when I start to feel that tickle in the back of my throat indicating an oncoming cold, I immediately pop one of my favorite cough drops, made by a company in Beaverton: Golden Lotus Lung & Throat Drops. They’re amazing!
You’ve done interviews with many people in the classical community over the years. Anyone you’d still like to interview?
I would love to interview Jordi Savall, the Spanish viol player. He’s a major figure in the world of early music, and I’m utterly captivated by his drive to continually unearth Medieval and Renaissance music. Also, from his photos, it appears he has very kind eyes.
For many years there’s been concern about the aging of classical music audiences. Do you think that classical music can connect with younger people?
Absolutely! It’s just a shame that it’s becoming more difficult for young people to discover classical music in their schools. The thing that really helped propel me into a life of music was participating in school music programs – making music with my peers. It’s an incredibly rich, bonding experience that I wish for all humans, young and old.
What have you discovered about young musicians since you started On Deck?
I’ve learned that kids love being a part of something bigger than themselves. That they deeply enjoy creating something with their peers. And I’ve learned that they’re not interested in thinking of music in firmly delineated genres – that for them, the term “classical music” has morphed into something that also includes fiddling, beat-box and electronics. I can’t wait to see where this generation takes us!
You also host Divaville on KMHD, which features jazz vocalists from the 1920s-1960s. Are there any similarities between classical and jazz formats?
Generally speaking, I think that classical and jazz work on similar parts of the brain. They are both complex musical forms, with dense chords and fast-moving progressions. Divaville, though, really highlights great old tunes, with simple lyrics and delightful turns of phrase. Those classic songs performed by those legendary voices – Ella, Frank, Louis – well, I never get tired of hearing the artistry of those musicians.
What is the last concert you attended that really blew you away?
Oh goodness, there is so much going on in this town that I feel like I have a new favorite every week! One of the most memorable, though, was Third Angle New Music Ensemble’s program “In the Dark.” They performed –in utter darkness at the OMSI planetarium—Georg Hass’ String Quartet No.3. That experience was, for me, as much about the experience of attending a concert blind as it was about the music itself.
What are some of your favorite composers or pieces?
Until recently I would have answered that my favorite composers are the Romantics (the ones who tended to write great French horn parts!) – Rachmaninov, Tchaikovsky, Mahler. (OK, well Mahler is still on that list.) But these days I can’t get enough Baroque music. The math and buoyancy of Bach and Vivaldi kick-start my brain in a really delightful way.
What is some of your favorite Non-Classical music?
I adore old jazz vocalists, of course. But I also am a HUGE Talking Heads fan. Don’t get me started.
What do you do when you aren’t at the station?
I see as many cultural events as possible, and I try to get out to explore the Pacific Northwest whenever I can. I love hiking and camping and just taking long, winding road trips to the far reaches of the state.
What excites you most about All Classical’s impending move to the Hampton Opera Building?
At our current location we have been lacking a performance space, and I can’t wait to invite music-makers into our new facilities to share their art with the world!