Rising Stars in...Radio & Recording
Features Producer, Performance Today
“I interview composers,” 31-year-old Suzanne Schaffer once told a guy in her running group. He stopped running. “Aren’t they all dead?” he asked. As features producer for American Public Media’s Performance Today, Schaffer is part of a team responsible for the show’s broadcast to over a million listeners nationwide, Monday through Friday.
Schaffer began her career on American Public Media’s (APM) Saint Paul Sunday, went to the Goldring Arts Journalism Program at Syracuse University, and returned to APM to work with Fred Child and Performance Today, where she has been for the past five years.
“It’s a lonely road to travel in classical music,” Schaffer says, though in her ten years on the job, she has noticed more of her kind. “Our phone lines light up with people who don’t necessarily listen to classical music every time we play Azul by Osvaldo Golijov. I think a lot of people are turned off by the name ‘classical music,’ and also selfconscious that they don’t know anything about it. When they tune in and it’s not violins sawing away, folks are intrigued.”
In her time as features producer, Schaffer has been part of a change in how Performance Today interacts with its listeners. Schaffer broadcasts more phone calls from listeners. “When people hear their voice on the air, they call in more!,” she says. She also reports that Child is on Facebook and Twitter “all the time,” as is the rest of the Performance Today team.
When listeners call into the show and say, “I heard a fantastic performance of that concerto—I have to have it!,” Schaffer says she would “love to say, ‘yes, you can buy it for 99 cents.’ But that’s not where we are. So much of how we experience music now is instant gratification, but we try to steer listeners to commercial recordings. “We see our role as promoting great music and great musicians. We want to tell as many people as we can to buy artists’ albums and, more importantly, go to their concerts.”
When asked what Performance Today has done better since she’s been working there, Schaffer mentions its increased relevance to international, non-music industry news. One show dedicated to the 40th anniversary of the lunar landing addressed such issues as what music was being performed at the time, how we express our fascination with the moon in music, and how space has influenced culture in these four decades. More recently, an interview with members of the United States Synchronized Swimmers (USSS) team explored the music they choose. Drawing parallels with these contemporary news items brings classical music “out of the bubble” for listeners, Schaffer says. She adds, “We should get away from talking about what classical music has been and start talking about what it could be.”