Karl Haas: An Interview

By Jim Bond

During the past thirty years, Karl Haas has become one of the most respected broadcasters in the world. His daily radio program, Adventures In Good Music, is heard by millions of music lovers all over the world, including those who only aspire to "understand" the genre. The sense of legend was apparent when Haas walked to center stage, facing an audience of over a thousand and uttered his signature "Hello, everyone," evoking a warm and comfortable chuckle that perhaps could only be duplicated by hearing Walter Cronkite deliver his famous "And that's the way it is."

Haas' appearance at the Kentucky Center for the Arts held the appeal and charm of a Haas broadcast, with his easy style and flow of information. An added feature was his performance as piano soloist and conductor of the Louisville Youth Orchestra, for whom, in conjunction with radio station WUOL, Haas was appearing. I say "feature," as opposed to benefit, since as a pianist and conductor, Dr. Karl Haas is not among the Thousand Points of Light.

This is why it was a complete surprise to me on my Perspectives program (WUOL, Saturday, November 17, 1990) when he commented that he considers himself a concert pianist and conductor. This represents a change in position from the first time we had spoken in 1981. We talked then about his experiences as a student of the famed Artur Schnabel, and how he had made the decision to not actively pursue a concert career, opting instead to broaden his horizons into other areas. Certainly Haas' career as a broadcaster represents the wisdom of that choice. The legendary performer Jack Benny was a violinist of some capacity, but he never tried to bill himself as a concert violinist.

Probably no one has contributed as richly to the accessibility of good music as Karl Haas. Evidence of this abounds in stones about comments from listeners. After one of his appearances several years ago, a gentleman approached him backstage and introduced himself, explaining that he was a farmer, and every day he listened to Adventures In Good Music. The farmer went on to say, "l have no idea what the hell you're talking about, but l love the way you say it." Haas, of course, wants listeners to absorb tnore than his delightful accent. There is also the poignant story of the soldier who scribbled a note to Haas from his post in Vietnam. "It is a hell of a mystery to me why I am in this filthy foxhole in Southeast Asia, but there was no mystery to the identity of your mystery composer" (referring to one of Haas' mystery composer sequences).

During the Perspectives interview, Haas' tone darkened when discussing the money involved in sports and "so-called rock concerts." He laments the demise of emphasis on music in public education, as well as faulting parents who spend large sums of money on private musical instruction without getting involved in their children's general music education.

More pointed, however, was his disappointment in the lack of recognition afforded to outstanding artists of all venues, citing the failure of our elected leaders to officially recognize the death of one of America's most important composers, Leonard Bernstein.

It was disheartening to experience the prevailing cynicism of our conversation. Absent was the generous and rich spirit of the Karl Haas we hear daily on Adventures In Good Music. Perhaps all of us would be better served if Dr. Haas concentrated on that which he does best – illuminating us on the glory of music and how it enriches our lives.

Perspectives can be heard Saturday mornings on WUOL.

Adventures in Good Music can be heard Monday through Friday on WUOL.