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Jul. 11 2012

My First Time …

By Reed Hessler | Posted in Host Blogs | 5 Comments


Picture of Charlton Heston  as Judah Ben-Hur  from Ben-Hur   High Quality Photo  C88594


For my reminiscenses on how I “got the bug” for classical music, check out my earlier blog “Discovering Classical Music” and my bio. But as an overview and focus on my “first time”: my parents were both musicians and music teachers, so I was exposed to music since before I can remember.

My earliest experiences were singing hymns in church, and eventually anthems in the children’s choir, conducted by my mother (we even did three part harmony!). One Sunday after church service I told my parents, “I loved the music today.” They thought I was talking about my step father’s organ solos or the adult choir’s singing, but I was actually referring to a congressionally sung hymn entitled, “Are Ye Able Said the Master” ( We were Methodists, and if you ever saw the movie “Friendly Persuasion”, you know that Methodists are notorious for loud congressional singing). Here’s a contemporary choir’s somewhat sedate rendition in case you’re curious:


Hearing it now, I wonder what enthralled me so. Certainly it is a solid Protestant hymn, but there are dozens that are rightfully better known; “Rock of Ages”, “All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name”, “Abide With Me”, “Blessed Assurance” to name a few. Perhaps it was the very obscurity of the hymn that made it such a revelation to my seven-year old ears.


But by far the most memorable listening experience even approaching classical music in my formative years was my parents giving me the soundtrack  from the 1959 film “Ben-Hur”. We even made a special trip to Wilmington, Delaware from our home in Chestertown, Maryland to see the film on the big screen during one of its first roadshow presentations, and I was transfixed. Soon I had a toy “Ben-Hur” chariot race game, the Classics Illustrated “Ben-Hur” comic book, and I was making “Ben-Hur” drawings for my third grade art lessons. (A girl in my class even commented, “Another dumb “Ben-Hur” picture!”) But nothing could compare to my exaltation at hearing the glorious music on my phonograph over and over again. I immediately declared Miklos Rozsa to be my favorite composer, and would go on to own Rozsa’s soundtracks to “King of Kings” and “El Cid”.

Truth be told, by the time “Ben-Hur” made its way to the tiny Church Hill Theater near Chestertown over a year later, I was sick of it. (Before 1977, when studios struck more prints, it would take a couple of years before a new film was screened in every town.) Of course, the dinky Church Hill screen was not nearly as large as the one at the palatial theater in Wilmington, Delaware, plus seeing the film at night after a long day, instead of at the earlier matinee showing in Wilmington, probably made me painfully aware of its great length. And, of course, I was a year older and less impressionable.

Nonetheless, Rozsa’s music still stirs me. A couple of my Friday night request show regulars prevent me from ever forgetting it. And I’ve even made my peace with the movie, dated special effects and poky Victorian plot development notwithstanding. I just watched “Ben-Hur” this past Christmas on Turner Classic Movies and teared up right on schedule. Even the tiny Church Hill Theater has been long rehabbed into a community arts center, and I am now of an age where I can appreciate its charming Art Deco design.

These days, however, my favorite Miklos Rozsa score is for the eye popping 1940 technicolor fantasy “The Thief of Bagdad”, one of my favorite movies of all time. If you listen closely, you can hear just about every idea Rozsa had for “Ben-Hur”  fully realized nineteen years earlier.


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Reed Hessler


Reed is WBJC's evening host. His full bio can be read here.

5 Responses to My First Time …

  • Diana Ross
    Diana Ross says:

    Your link is fixed 🙂

  • Edward Scheiderer says:

    Mine, at seven, was the battleship music in the 50’s Saturday TV 30’s serial of Buster Crabbe’s Flash Gordon – Franz Liszt’s Les Preludes.
    Then came The William Tell Overture of the 50’s Clayton Moore Lone Ranger TV series, followed by Reznicek’s Donna Diana Overture in Sgt. Preston of the Yukon, and then followed by the David Rose orchestra’s Holiday for Strings on the Red Skelton Show.
    I heard Howard Mitchell and the National Symphony Orchestra do The William Tell Overture at an elementary school – and it was one of two of my most ecstatic experiences of my life (I’m now 67).
    All through my life, certain classical pieces have represented my “metaphysical music” – those works, or even phrases, that captured the essence of being alive. And WBJC has been there since the ’70’s – especially the Friday night Request program with Reed Hessler – through which I find that there are many more listeners who match my musical loves.
    I plan on supporting WBJC for the rest of my life and perhaps even beyond…

    • Reed Hessler
      Reed Hessler says:

      Your comments are quite touching and well stated. I too find that my favorite music, and indeed my favorite works in any art form, “capture the essence of being alive”. As far as “works, or even phrases”, how often has a melody or a passage of music crossed my mind during the course of a day! And referring to my love of film, it is not uncommon for me to replay a favorite scene in my mind, sometimes over and over again, while I am combing my hair or washing the dishes. Art and life reflect each other. Art may imitate life, but sometimes life imitates art.

      Your appreciation of my request show is quite gratifying. I began broadcasting classical music in 1978 with the desire to share the music I love with others who love it too, and nothing pleases me more than to know I have brought music into people’s lives. And the experience is mutual. I have been introduced to many wonderful pieces by listeners calling on request night.

  • Robert Blackshaw says:

    I cannot think of any specifc age where it started. Dad sang in the local Operatic Society, Mom played organ and before my voice broke I sang in the church choir. Our village was too small for separate protestant churches and so we had a Union Churh, but mainly followed the United Church liturgy. United was a merger of Methodists and some Presbyterians. As you noted, sing and sing loud.

    A high school teacher introduced me to Tchiakowsky and later in life becoming a computer programmer made me appreciate J.S. Bach, our current record and CD collection pretty much runs from Baroque to the Romantics. We enjoy WBJC both for the music and because of being introduced to new artists and composers.

    • Reed Hessler
      Reed Hessler says:

      Throughout my life I have found myself fascinated with one musical work after another, so that after all these years I feel truly enriched by countless treasures.

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