Jill White; Creating classical programs
Birmingham, England — British TV disappoints most visitors. They expect every program to reach ''Masterpiece Theater'' standard, not realizing that only the cream goes to the United States and that everyday viewing here includes an awful lot of dregs. Radio, on the other hand, is something else. It's so good that next time I visit I intend to bring a small transistor with me so I won't miss the talks, witty game shows, and some truly excellent music, especially on the classical music network, Radio Three.
About 30 people are making music programs for Radio Three. Of these 30, only three are women producers. One of the three is Jill White.
When she says ''making'' she means ''making.'' The network doesn't just broadcast commercial discs but actually records programs especially for the network. Her job is to think up programs that will be of particular interest, perhaps highlighting a centenary. ''This year there's a Haydn 250th anniversary, '' she says. ''And I've just recorded all of the Haydn piano sonatas, which means 15 programs. The complete set of Haydn's 52 piano sonatas will be played through this 15-week series.
''I did a series of three programs about the British cathedrals. I did three about three choirs, Gloucester, Worcester, and Hertfordshire, this year, which were sold abroad.''
Sometimes Jill White will travel around her area of the country (the middle chunk across the girth of England) searching for musicians. Events like the Three Choirs Festival, the Aldeburgh Festival, the King's Lynn Festival, and Bromsgrove Festival are all within her area. But there is a special recital studio in Birmingham, ''and I can engage artists to do just my own program ideas.''
How does a woman succeed in a once male-dominated medium?
''I studied for four years at the Royal Academy of Music,'' she says. ''Until I was 30, I was a professional singer. My experience included a television series, and singing various oratorios all over the country. Then I won an Austrian government scholarship, of which there are only four a year. It's a completely open scholarship - composers, any kind of instrumentalists. I went to Vienna to study at the Academy of Music and Drama.''
When her scholarship was finished, she didn't want to leave Vienna, so she asked the Education Ministry if she could perhaps give English conversation lessons in the schools. ''They discovered that I had a degree in music. And it so happened that in 1967 the city of Vienna didn't have enough music teachers.
''So I taught music to the Viennese. It was wonderful, because I became totally responsible for the education for the first four years in that school. And I taught the school choir. I volunteered to give up every Sunday during the course of that year. I let the pupils know that if they met me at the cathedral at 10 o'clock on a Sunday we'd get a Schubert mass or a Haydn mass or a Mozart mass.
''And then I had an itinerary, a walk, around the old city and showed them where Mozart wrote 'The Marriage of Figaro'; where Haydn's 'Seasons' was first performed; where Dvorak lived; where Beethoven wrote 'Fidelio.' I taught music to a very high idealistic standard.
''Anyway, I was bound to go the four years. So I reached the great age of 30, having auditioned for various opera houses and they were saying, fine voice, but no post at the moment.
''So I decided to come back to England and completely change careers. I come from quite a poor working-class family, and my parents, who knew nothing about serious music, had supported me all the way, and I didn't want to continue to be a burden to them - not that they made me feel that, because they didn't. But I wanted to return something to them.''
Jill White found employment at the BBC cataloging music in the commercial record library. Within six months she was selecting which serious music programs already broadcast should be preserved for the future. After three years she came to Birmingham as music producer.
''When my mom and dad married, they literally had only 10 shillings in their pocket,'' she recalls. ''As a small child I remember my father talking to me into the wee small hours of the morning saying, 'Whatever you do, try to do it to the best of your ability.'
''I think that is about the best advice that anybody could ever be given. As a painter and decorator he said he wanted people to know his work by its quality. 'That in the end will win,' he said. And he's lived to actually experience the sanity of his remark.
When Jill White got her job with the BBC it was because she was not only a practicing musician but had teaching experience.
''In making a program for Radio Three you need not only an academic knowledge but an understanding of how artists work, and their sensitivities.
''I make about 110 programs a year for Radio Three, which is a colossal lot. It's wonderful because. . .not only do I have to cover a vast geographical area, I also have to be prepared to record a wide variety of music programs.
''It's a mistake when people think, 'Oh, I can't possibly begin to give my time to classical music because I don't know anything about Beethoven, Haydn, Mozart, Tchaikovsky - none of these things mean anything to me.'
''But music, all that these people wrote, they didn't intend you to know about them. They wanted what they created to speak to your heart. And music, if you can just submit yourself to the experience, will transcend all barriers. It will reach the soul.''