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Henderson, Skitch

By Dominick A. Miserandino,

DM) I know you conduct the New York Pops, but what exactly is "pops"?

SH) I suppose it's that middle-brow platform between true symphonic programming and really contemporary music that would include today's rock and roll and rap all the forms of small group music. It's the bridge between. It's the continuation of the music that was our platform for many, many years...the so-called standards of Rodgers and Gershwin and other similar composers.

DM) So it's not classical.

SH) It's not classical, it's not ... (laughs) well, we used to call it "middle-brow", which is probably the best term for it. We do a lot of light classical programming with that, too...obviously...a lot of Tchaikovsky music, Grieg, things like that which have become less classical with classical concerts. It's kind of a hybrid of the middle-brow.

DM) What kind of music did you grow up with?

SH) I started off as a studio pianist in Hollywood. I grew up on film scores and scores from films. I had had a classical education prior to that. That was probably the stamp that went into my mind, because I worked in television for many years, doing that kind of music, so that really was my strong forte.

DM) When you were doing that, I thought you played with a number of big name stars?

SH) Well, I worked with lots of different artists, of course. I worked with practically everybody in the business in all of the years in NBC, but I worked personally many years with people like Crosby and Sinatra, so of course that was a great ground school for me. I also worked with many opera people, such as Robert Merrill, Roberta Peters, Dorothy Kiersten, Lucina Mao. I had the best of both possible worlds.

DM) It must have been pretty amazing to know you're in the history books as having recorded with the likes of Sinatra, Crosby and all of the others?

SH) Well, in our business, it's a very tough profession. You're lucky if you keep working. I began in the late `30s, and I've gone through a lot of transitions. I've watched the demise of the Hollywood orchestra, the house orchestras of the big studios. Then I went to radio with Sinatra and I watched that disappear. And then I went into television; and then television moved from the East Coast to Hollywood. I've watched many transitions.

DM) You also do guest conducting on the side?

SH) I do a great deal of guest conduction, working with orchestras all over the world. I've worked with the Oslo Philharmonic, the Swedish Opera, and the Stockholm Opera. I also work with the regular orchestras in Munich, Germany and other similar orchestras.

DM) You've run the gamut of musical history. What have been your favorite styles and music experiences?

SH) I think my favorite experience is whatever I'm doing now. That's why I enjoy the New York Pops. It has my very own musical stamp and the stamp of experience I've had over the years.

DM) Was it difficult starting the Pops?

SH) Yes, it was difficult, because you're doing something that hasn't been done (for some strange reason) in the city of New York. Also, if you want to look at it as a businessman, it's probably not the happiest way you want to spend your life, getting an expensive organization going.

DM) Do you find that you spend more time doing the business side of it than the musical side?

SH) In the beginning I did, but not now that we're up and running and we have a staff. In the first three or four years, it was really a "mom and pop" operation. We operated the books from our home. We watched the books from concert to concert to make sure we were in place financially.

DM) It almost sounds as though you had to start over again.

SH) In a way, yes, because I was starting something fresh, and it was something totally independent. Although we are being presented in Carnegie Hall, we have to furnish a budget for our guest stars, and for the music writing - which is a huge budget in any orchestra that plays popular music. Plus, you have to bring in fresh music all the time.

DM) Do you ever miss doing the one-on-one recordings like you did with Sinatra and Crosby?

SH) No, no, no. I recorded with Sinatra, but the recording business is a very strange strata right now. Symphonic orchestras have almost become a glut in the market. While there used to be one or two Pops orchestras, now there are all kinds of European orchestras that suddenly look upon this as a golden wand that can enable them to make money recording this music. So it's very difficult to record right now.

DM) You said that the Pops was almost an extension from the Gershwin styles. Do you listen to any of today's music and, if so, what is your feeling about it?

SH) I listen to everything. I don't listen to rap simply because I don't think that relates. That's a rhythmic content, and I can understand that the young people enjoy it. But I listen to everything, I listen to all artists that come along. And now, of course, I listen in-depth to film scores again. Film scores have now become much more a part of the business, using the theme from Titanic as the best example.

DM) What projects are you working on now?

SH) Right now, I'm working on, believe it or not, the 2000/2001 Pops season at Carnegie Hall. The orchestras that I'm guest conducting, that season, I'm programming right now.

DM) So you're always a year or two ahead of the game.

SH) Two years ahead. Always two years ahead, because the budgets are so huge.

DM) But how do you handle anything that comes up at the last minute?

SH) We have train wrecks, as we say, all the time. I've had a project in Switzerland where the artist just changed at the last minute.

DM) It sounds like the music business has become more of a business than music.

SH) It is a business. There's no doubt about that. We try to say it's creative and in a manner it is creative, but it is a business, because today, with the cost factor in crossing the boundaries that you do. If you don't operate it as a business, you aren't going to be around very long. That's what worries me about young people who are invented by some attorney, who then takes the money and leaves.

DM) So a career should be focused on ...

SH) Do, What you're going to do in longevity. Not just what happens tomorrow.

 

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