New Comfort Zones
By Bruce Seely, Morning Classics host
Sweeping generalizations are hazardous, but it’s probably safe to surmise that everyone has a Comfort Zone. We each have an environment or a set of environments and behaviors where we can relax and feel comfortable—where we experience no sense of risk. We build these comfortable places by establishing certain mental boundaries within which we operate. While these boundaries can create an unfounded sense of security, they exist for all and everyone operates within their own. Highly successful individuals may step outside their Comfort Zones to accomplish some specific goal by experimenting with new and different behaviors in new environments. The new behaviors and environments often settle in to become the new Comfort Zone.
Classical music has become part of my Comfort Zone. It wasn’t always so. I stepped outside my Zone 45 years ago when I was hired by a radio station in my hometown. I had not seen the inside of a radio station before that. The AM station had been granted a license to broadcast three hours a day in the emerging technology—FM stereo. I was hired as an operator to play classical music during those three hours. I would put a long-playing album (LP) on a commercial size turntable and “cue it up” or prepare it to play. From reel-to-reel, I would play an introduction taped by one of the announcers, turn the turntable on and wait for the piece to finish, then play the “back announcement” and change albums. I already had some appreciation for classical music, but this grew through my daily exposure at work. And all of this happened when I was still in junior high school.
Just being an operator was new to me, but I left my Comfort Zone even more when I was asked to begin recording the announcements myself. I had to learn the names of composers, conductors, performers and pieces so I could do a credible job. Eventually I needed to get comfortable with the new tasks of selecting music and doing the announcing live. A long and satisfying broadcasting career was beginning for me. My shift was 6 to 9 pm on weekdays, and I was paid the princely sum of 85 cents per hour.
Expanding experiences during those years kept changing my Comfort Zone as I learned more about the broadcast business: how to select and write news stories and do news casts on the air; how to write commercials and public service announcements; how to go into public places wearing a bright red station jacket and do on-the-spot live “cut ins.” I learned how to become a “disk jockey” on the AM side of the radio station…all while developing and expanding my appreciation for classical music on the FM side.
By the time I had decided study broadcast journalism at Brigham Young University, I had been working part-time for four years in commercial radio, with one year as a TV news anchor/producer (at age 17). I wasn’t a typical broadcasting freshman because I brought some of my Comfort Zone with me to BYU and to KBYU radio. We didn’t call it “Classical 89” in those days, but we did play great music and offer sound ideas to our listeners. Even as I moved out of one Comfort Zone into the new experience of university life, there was the continual comfort of classical music along with my broadcasting experience. During my time at BYU I had the privilege of singing with Dr. Ralph Woodward’s A Cappella Choir. His carefully selected repertoire lifted all of us in his choirs.
After graduation I began working as a commercial-radio news anchor until my return to Classical 89 in 2001. During those intervening three decades, I didn’t work at a classical music station, but continued to find comfort and pleasure in listening to live and recorded classical music. I was a member of a professional opera chorus for nearly ten years. Classical music mattered to me.
Then I was invited to return to Classical 89. My acceptance caused by far the biggest disturbance to my Comfort Zone because I was not the only person affected by the decision. My acceptance required uprooting a large family to move almost one thousand miles away into a whole new experience. I went ahead of the family to make arrangements. Before they could join me here in Utah the attacks of September 11th, 2001, happened and I wondered where my comfort was then.
If you are a long-time listener to Classical 89, you may recall how our music changed that September 11th to match the mood of the moment. Our goal is to be a musical refuge or safe haven at all times, so we keenly felt the need to be even more so that morning. Everyone had been shaken from their comfort zone that day. Through the marvelous medium of great music we tried to restore a portion of that comfort as quickly as possible. Many listeners told us we succeeded. They told us they were grateful they could count on us as a place of solace.
London writer Norman Lebrecht has observed that “when times are tough, classical music booms. In the 1930s and the war that followed, audiences swelled and new musical ensembles were born. In 1937, reading the public mood at the depth of depression, the NBC radio network created a national orchestra for Arturo Toscanini to conduct. Twenty million Americans tuned in to its inaugural concert…In London, demand for concerts was so strong in the Depression that the city went from one full orchestra in 1930 to three in 1939 and five by 1945.”
Lebrecht concludes, “The signs are that recession is once again accelerating the need for the spiritual consolation that only a symphony can deliver.” (Bloomberg News: 7 June 2009).
Classical music is an important aid for many of us to keep our ever changing zones comfortable. Forty-five years ago I was playing great classical music for an FM audience. At Classical 89 I am once again playing classical music for an FM audience as well as listeners on the web. Changing times and technologies test and try us. There are always new performers and composers to discover and enjoy, but there remains a reliability in classical music’s offer of peace and contentment. And that keeps me comfortable in my zone. I hope it does the same for you.