Sara Hessel celebrates 10 years of “Ancient Voices”

This year marks the 10th anniversary that Sara Hessel has been hosting/producing KMFA’s program, Ancient Voices. In honor of this landmark event,  we’ll be celebrating the 10th anniversary of KMFA’s informative and entertaining radio program with a LIVE performance of the show,  with musical performances by La Follia Austin Baroque, and of course with Sara Hessel hosting. The concert will feature exotic instruments of the Baroque, including the cornetto, sackbut, and fagotto. Sara will not only introduce the music, but interview the players. This will be recorded for future airing on Ancient Voices. The venue is the First Presbytarian Church in Northwest Austin, at 8pm. For more info, visit the La Follia website:

I got a sneak preview at her introductory speech for the event, and I thought it would be fun to share this glance down memory lane:

The date is Friday, May 3rd, 2002:  A nervous, newly minted radio producer sat next to the speaker as Ancient Voices came on KMFA, 89.5 FM, and my fledgling hit the airwaves. The first show was called A British Banquet, and had Sarum chant on it, as well as pieces from the Eton Choirbook (and probably some Purcell!). I considered making the first show about my favorite composer, but decided that would be gauche. Besides, the anniversary of his death would be coming up the next week, so I waited somewhat patiently until then.

I had only been a part-time host at KMFA for a short time when the Program Director contacted me to ask if I would be interested in taking over the early music show. I didn’t hesitate long before saying yes! Hearing the Hilliard Ensemble sing Pérotin in Music History class was all it took for me to declare my love for early music. Oddly enough, those 12th century sounds came across to me as something entirely new and utterly fresh, and today medieval masses, motets, and courtly love songs remain some of my favorite repertoire.

When I told my Mom about becoming the new host of Ancient Voices, a weekly program, her question was “Won’t you run out of ideas?” and I enthusiastically declared that would never happen. For once, that did not turn out to be the bravado of the uninitiated! For one thing, I have about seven bountiful centuries of music from which to choose! Holidays, composer anniversaries, and new releases have saved me more than once when I was (temporarily!) at a loss for a program idea. But most of the time, one show builds from another. While researching one composer, I come across another, and tuck that idea away.

Another fun perk of producing an early music program is the opportunity to interview performers. Early music singers and instrumentalists are a pretty friendly bunch, and even top-tier performers have always granted my requests to interview them very graciously. From a purely personal standpoint, one of my favorites is the interview I conducted with Gustav Leonhardt in 2007. I was never so nervous to interview anyone in my life, mostly because of his status as an early music legend, not to mention one of my favorite organists. It turned out to be the shortest interview of my career, since Mr. Leonhardt was not altogether chatty, but he was an utter gentleman, and answered my questions with grace and a sense of humor.

I’m thankful every day for our thriving early music community here in Austin, especially for the singers and players who take notes and words on a page, add creative effort, knowledge, and passion, and create magic. Getting to work with our local groups and being a small part of the process that allows the voices of the past to be heard again inspires me every day. And I thank YOU, dear listeners, for allowing me to bring early music into your modern lives each week.

~ written by Sara Hessel, KMFA Music Director and Host/Producer of Ancient Voices

More about Sara Hessel:


Michigan native Sara Hessel earned her master’s degree in historical musicology from the University of Amsterdam, the Netherlands in 1999.  She has been employed as Music Director of KMFA, Classical 89.5 in Austin, Texas since 2005. As producer and host of KMFA’s Ancient Voices, she has interviewed numerous early music superstars, including Dame Emma Kirkby, Ton Koopman, Gustav Leonhardt, Jordi Savall and Anonymous 4. Ancient Voices was named a Critics Pick in the Austin Chronicle’s ‘Best of Austin’ issue in 2010. In 2011, she received a Gracie Award® from the Alliance for Women in Media for her program Michael Nyman: Motion and Emotion.

A little Thanksgiving preview


Thanksgiving Day is one of my favorite days to tune in to our local classical music station…  KMFA provides a wonderful backdrop for this festive holiday, whether it’s cooking in the kitchen or gathering friends and relatives ’round the dinner table.

In addition to programming lots of old favorites, like Shall We Gather at the River and We Gather Together,  Dvorak’s American String Quartet, and Morton Gould’s Spirituals for Strings, you can expect little musical surprises sprinkled here and there throughout the day.

They’ll also be airing a traditional favorite, Giving Thanks with host John Birge, at 7pm on Wednesday and noon on Thursday (click the Play button to hear the short promo):

And if you’re an early riser, we’ll be offering a holiday program at 6am on Thursday, called Thanksgiving with Cantus:

Let KMFA provide the musical backdrop to whatever your Thanksgiving Day holds in store.

Looking for a fugue good men: sneak preview of “A Late Quartet”

Yesterday evening, a few of us attended a sneak preview of the movie A Late Quartet at the Arbor Cinema.

Here’s the trailer:

The wonderful cast (and the easy assumption of a stellar film score) make it a first choice for any film fan who eschews non-stop CGI effects for more realistic drama and comedy. The plot centers around a world-class string quartet that has been together for 25 years, and reveals their personal strengths and tribulations, both individually and as a familial team. Christopher Walken, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Catherine Keener, Mark Ivanir and Imogen Poots are the primary actors.

Classical musicians will feel right at home with this plot vehicle as it honors the depth and skill of mastering this fine art, and non-musicians will respect classical music professionals more by having watched this film. But any movie-goer will enjoy the layers of character, the implications of choice, and the perpetual human struggles that are portrayed with such insight. Classical music is wonderfully symbolic of this balance of passion and control.

The fictional Fugue Quartet takes the stage

There was one surreal cinematic effect that occurred at the beginning and at the end of the film: the scene of the quartet performing onstage was filmed from the center of the audience row of the concert hall, and remained static in such a way that it looked like it really was a concert we were attending, with a life-sized cast walking onstage to take their seats (see photo above).

I hope you get a chance to see this fascinating movie during its limited run in Austin. You can see A Late Quartet at the Regal Arbor Cinema at Great Hills, beginning Friday, Nov. 16th.

McCallum Fine Arts Orchestra’s annual “movie in the park” event

~Guest blogger: Phil Pollack, KMFA Technical Operations Manager

Last Saturday evening I was treated to nearly home-delivered entertainment! The McCallum Fine Arts Academy Orchestra took over a section of my neighborhood’s lake park and provided over an hour of movie music complete with video montages on a giant inflatable outdoor movie screen.  A recent McCallum student arranged the musical selections and a current student from the Media Technologies Department created the movie montages, making the whole affair student-powered, if you don’t count the orchestra director/conductor!

This was my second time to attend a Movie Music in the Park event, and this one was especially enjoyable due to its Halloween theme. There were a number of film score classics played by the orchestra, but I particularly loved the selections from Psycho and Ghostbusters, given the proximity to Halloween.  Here is one example of a piece from Titanic (you can’t really see the musicians, but note the lights on the music stands, and the glow-in-the-dark armbands and necklaces!):

After the orchestra wrapped its performance, the Alamo Drafthouse treated the audience to a screening of Ghostbusters on the aforementioned giant outdoor movie screen. With great weather and an enthusiastic audience it was an all-around success. I sincerely hope this tradition continues in years to come!