James Stewart

VPR Classical Host

James Stewart is VPR Classical's afternoon classical host. As a composer, he is interested in many different genres of music; writing for rock bands, symphony orchestras and everything in between.

James received a Bachelor of Science in Music with an emphasis in Composition from Toccoa Falls College in Northeast Georgia in 2001. In 2007, James earned his Master's of Music in Composition from the University of North Carolina School of the Arts in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. There he also made connections with the Open Dream Ensemble, an outreach arm of UNCSA and the Kenan Institute for the Arts.

James wrote original music for five children's shows and spent three years as music director, tour manager, and company member. In 2014, James received his Doctorate of Musical Arts from The Hartt School of Music at the University of Hartford in Connecticut.

All Images Public Domain - Collage by James Stewart

Our ability to hear patterns, recognize words and focus our auditory perception is thanks, in large part, to a very specific region of the brain, the superior temporal gyrus. It’s located just behind and above each ear. It’s the site of our auditory association cortex, in other words it’s the place that helps us understand language, speech and music.

Timeline: Synesthesia

Apr 15, 2019
U.S. Public Domain

1915 saw the New York premiere of Alexander Scriabin’s Prometheus: Poem of Fire. The performance featured a new instrument of Scriabin’s invention, the clavier à lumières, a keyboard with lights. Rather than playing music or sound, this instrument emitted a different color of light based on the note pressed on the keyboard. Some say that Scriabin created this instrument to express his own synesthesia.

U.S. Public Domain

December 6, 1997, Japanese television aired the 38th episode of the uber-popular animated program Pokemon, entitled “Denno Senshi Porigon.” In the middle of the episode there was a short, five second shot of flashing red and blue lights accompanied by a high-pitch sound. This visual and audio stimulus caused some watching to experience photosensitive epileptic seizures. Over 700 children ended up in the hospital with countless others reporting side effects such as; headaches, dizziness and nausea. It’s estimated that 10 percent of those who viewed the broadcast were affected in some way. As a result, the Japanese government made new rules around their animated programs and the company Nintendo took an immediate hit on the stock market. The incident has become infamous for what is now called “Pokemon Shock.”

Julija Dmitrijeva / ISTOCK

Peas are one of our most ancient vegetables. Archeologists have found them in tombs and caves dating back 5000 years. The earliest peas were used as a dried vegetable in soups. Their popularity as a fresh vegetable caught on in the 1600's in Europe and we've been eating them that way ever since.

Stefan Rotter / ISTOCK

We’ve all been there, driving down the street listening to music while moving our fingers to the rhythm, sitting in a concert hall tapping our toes to the music, working out in the gym making our reps or steps match the background beat around us. I’ve caught myself falling into step with random music coming out of a shop or coffee house just by simply walking past. We call this rhythmic entrainment, the tendency to sync up with the beat around us.

Paul Orgel - used by permission

Chopin’s birthday is celebrated on the 1st of March and J.S. Bach’s on either the 21st or the 31st, depending on which calendar you use. That’s a long story for another episode. We’ve spent this entire month exploring the music and lives of these two composers. All of this has come together around a concert that VPR Classical hosted last month called “The Alchemy of Genius.” This concert featured…

All Images Public Domain - Collage by James Stewart

We are continuing to celebrate the life and music of J.S. Bach and Chopin, listening to excerpts from a recent concert I hosted with pianist Paul Orgel in VPR’s Stetson Studio One while also featuring highlights from an interview I had with pianist and Chopin scholar Marjan Kiepura. You can listen to all of Paul Orgel’s performances from “The Alchemy of Genius” pairing Nocturnes by Chopin with excerpts from Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier Book II here.

Marjan Kiepura - used with permission

We’re spending the next few episodes celebrating the life and music of J.S. Bach and Chopin. In this episode we’ll look at Chopin specifically and we’ll also have some help…

All Images Public Domain - Collage by James Stewart / Vermont Public Radio

We celebrate Chopin’s birthday on the first day of March and J.S. Bach’s on the last. So, on Timeline we’ll be spending this month exploring the life and music of these two influential composers.

All images U.S. Public Domain - Collage by James Stewart / Vermont Public Radio

The idea for this project was brought to VPR by Paul Orgel, a well-known Vermont pianist, and a regular guest on our Live Performance Series starting back on Walter Parker’s show in the 1980s, when the studio was in Windsor. Performing the complete Chopin Nocturnes and Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier Book II are both projects of Paul’s, and we were delighted to have him play and record some of them on our wonderful, still new, Steinway D that he and pianist Simone Dinnerstein helped choose for the station at the Steinway factory in New York.

Paul Orgel, pianist

Mar 1, 2019
Paul Orgel - used with permission

Pianist Paul Orgel joined forces with Vermont Public Radio to create a project called "Alchemy of Genius," pairing selected Nocturnes by Frederic Chopin with Preludes and Fugues by J.S. Bach from The Well-Tempered Clavier Book II. All of the recordings plus some insights into these two composers and their works are available here.

Brian E Kushner / ISTOCK

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart loved birds. His letters to family and friends mention several pet canaries he had during the course of his life, but the most famous bird Mozart ever owned was his beloved starling.

Timeline: Qualia

Feb 18, 2019
James Stewart

Listening to music is an emotional experience, unique to each individual. I think we’ve all had a moment when a song, a piece, a singer, a band, an orchestra has touched our hearts, moved us in some way. We also realize that it’s not the same for everyone; different music speaks to different people. We can try to describe the way music makes us feel but I wonder if it’s even possible to really know how music effects someone else.

Timeline: Pareidolia

Feb 11, 2019
U.S. Public Domain

In the past couple of episodes we’ve looked at quite a few audio experiments or illusions, exploring the limitations and wonderful abilities of our ears and mind. I’ve been joined by some friends from VPR, Brendan Kinney, Leslie Blount and Joe Tymecki. They volunteered to take part in these experiments and share their experiences with us.

tomazl / ISTOCK

Our ears and minds are amazing. Not only can they hear and experience the world around us, they are also filling in the gaps in our perception. We don’t even realize all the ways that our hearing is constructing the world around us, helping to keep us safe and understand our surroundings.

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We are wired to respond to sound in a thousandth of a second. With that kind of visceral, automatic response we sometimes get it wrong. I’ve been looking at the research of perceptual and cognitive psychologist Diana Deutsch. She has spent her career exploring and assembling audio illusions and curiosities. We’ll look at a few of them together and ask “can you trust your ears?”

Timeline: Earworms

Jan 7, 2019
Bobboz / ISTOCK

Have you ever had a song that you just couldn’t get out of your head? You’re not alone. 98% of people have reportedly experienced this phenomenon. Scientists call it "Involuntary Musical Imagery" but the more catchy title is "earworm."

U.S. Public Domain

Music has always been used as a tool in political campaigns.

U.S. Public Domain - collage by James Stewart

Music surrounds us all the time. It’s everywhere. Whether you’re at a restaurant, the grocery store, doctor’s office, hotel lobby or even some manufacturing facilities there always seems to be background music playing. Why? Why is it there? Where did this practice come from?

U.S. Public Domain

Thanks to the 1940 film Fantasia the music of The Sorcerer's Apprentice will always be tied to the image of Mickey Mouse in that droopy wizard’s cap. However, that story doesn’t come from Disney. Paul Dukas’ music, written over 40 years before, tells the tale beat for beat of a young apprentice using magic to get out his chores. But it wasn’t even Dukas’ story to begin with; the music is based on a poem by Goethe written in 1797.

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