Howard's Day Off

11 hours ago

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Saturdays 5-7 AM on HPR-1


Howard Dicus can't play a musical instrument, and can't read music with any facility. But he spent much of his childhood playing his dad's 78 rpm jazz records, and singing with his brother and sisters, who could hear any song once or twice and sing it back in multi-part harmony. Though the family home was filled with music, exposure to classical music was limited to the usual (for babyboomers) soundtracks of movies and cartoons, and the very few classics his father acquired on record, including "The Nutcracker," "Gaite Parisienne," and "Peter and the Wolf."

As a teenager, checking out jazz records from the library, Howard discovered the Swingle Singers and the Jacques Loussier Trio swinging Bach, and it was a short step from there to the real thing. Around 1979, the development of the CD led to LPs on sale for $1.99, and a headlong self-guided tour of classical music ensued, completely out of order compared to what would be taught in a conservatory. Imagine someone who was familiar with Schoenberg's Chamber Symphony but not Haydn's "Miracle" Symphony! To fill in the gaps, Howard began reading scores of books on classical music. While still living in Washington D.C. he was a season subscriber to the National Symphony, and a violinist friend got him into rehearsals for the Richmond Symphony. Roped into serving on the board of the Washington Savoyard, he got a crash course on Gilbert & Sullivan, which continued into years as president of the little opera company. In the 1990s Howard also wrote articles about classical CDs for United Press International, and began filling in the gaps in his musical education.

At the end of 2000 Howard relocated permanently to Hawaiʻi and worked for Pacific Business News, where his assignments included writing and performing business reports that were given to Hawaiʻi Public Radio. A week of filling in for Gene Schiller on the latter's vacation whetted Howard's appetite for doing a classical music show on the radio, and when two hours came open on Saturday morning in 2006, Howard's offered to do a program. Howard's Day Off was born.

From the start the program was a sampler, featuring individual movements from longer works, exposing people with an interest in exploring classical music to as much of it as possible. Howard stretched the boundaries of such programming by sometimes dropping in non-classical music when it fit a show's theme. There was an entire show consisting of different versions of John Coltrane's "Giant Steps" (that one drew a complaint) and a whole show on action sequences in movie music, and a whole show on "backtime instrumentals," records that radio stations used to use to fill time and join a network radio newscast.

Howard's Day Off has aired weekly since October 2006, with Howard coming in to do the show live unless he's going to be off-island, and recording a show when that happens. In 2007 Howard left Pacific Business News to work for "Sunrise," the morning news show on HawaiiNewsNow, and he writes a blog for the TV operation. Every Friday, the blog is an essay based on the content of that week's Day Off show. The 500th Howard's Day Off will air in 2016. You are invited to join the Howard's Day Off Listener Appreciation Society on Facebook.