Debra Lew Harder

Classical Host, Producer

A concert pianist and music educator, Debra fell in love with public radio when she started as a fill-in host at WRTI in 2016. She began producing arts features, interviews for the Philadelphia Orchestra broadcasts, and hosting live broadcasts from the WRTI Performance Studio.

In 2017, Debra created something new for WRTI: Saturday Morning Classical Coffeehouse, a show that combines well-known classical works with a fresh blend of music from different genres and from around the world. It’s become a listener favorite.

“I’ve loved sharing the joy of music since I was a little girl, growing up in Northeastern Ohio,” says Debra. “I can’t wait to spend more time with our WRTI family, bringing happiness into people’s daily lives.”

Debra began playing the piano at five, and studied classical music, but also loved playing pop, jazz, and Broadway tunes. Before the end of high school, she won a scholarship to study at the Peabody Conservatory, but her parents convinced her to pursue a broader education. So she earned a medical degree and became an ER doctor in her twenties.

“I would have found a career in medicine very fulfilling, but the call of music wouldn't leave me,” says Debra, “so I went on to earn a doctorate in music performance at the Ohio State University with one of the pianists I admired most in the world, Earl Wild. I feel blessed that I’ve been able to continue a life devoted to music ever since.”

In addition to her work at WRTI, Debra performs in the Philadelphia area as a solo and collaborative pianist. In November 2018, she was thrilled to appear with the talented students of the Philadelphia Youth Orchestra at Verizon Hall playing Schumann’s Piano Concerto. She also performs frequently with her piano trio, Trio MiReSol.

In Debra's popular solo “concert and conversation” programs, she performs beautiful solo piano works at the keyboard and talks about how each piece of music fits into the larger human experience from a scientific vantage point.

You can catch her new program, “The Human Need for Melody,” at Haverford College on Sunday, March 31, 2019 and at Music at Bunker Hill on Sunday, April 14, 2019.

A devoted music educator, Debra taught piano and coached chamber music for many years at Haverford and Bryn Mawr Colleges. She’s currently working with students at Sidney Kimmel Medical College at Jefferson University, developing a new “Medicine Plus Music” co-curricular program for them.

In her spare time, Debra enjoys yoga, hip-hop dance, reading, hiking, and cooking for family and friends. She lives in the Philly suburbs with her husband Tom. They have two grown daughters and an incorrigible terrier.

Hear Debra on Tuesdays through Fridays for Classical Weekdays, 10 AM to 2 PM, and on Saturday mornings for Classical Coffeehouse, 6 AM to 12 noon. Vote for your weekly Saturday Espresso Here!

Ways to Connect

On January 22, 2018, we presented a special LIVE broadcast. Grammy-winning Jason Vieaux, “among the elite of today’s classical guitarists” (Gramophone), played with award-winning violinist Kristin Lee in the WRTI 90.1 Performance Studio.

Vanessa Briceno Photography

If you haven’t yet heard the resonant, rich sound of the solo double bass in concert, now’s your chance. On Friday, January 26th at noon, the superb, young double bass soloist and composer Xavier Foley will play LIVE from WRTI 90.1’s performance studio. 

The legendary Broadway musical writing team of Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II produced their final show together, The Sound of Music, nine months before Hammerstein passed away of cancer. Yet throughout all the songs of the show, there’s a great sense of hope and optimism.

Ryan Brandenberg

Listen to Project Fusion, a dynamic young saxophone quartet, when they chatted with Classical Coffeehouse Host Debra Lew Harder and performed LIVE on WRTI. A winner of Astral's 2015 National Auditions, Project Fusion has captured top prizes in prestigious chamber music competitions; the ensemble's concerts have been described as “joyful celebrations.”

A leading percussionist loves the marimba, and WRTI’s Debra Lew Harder asks her why.

Todd Rosenberg for the Kennedy Center

What does it take to write an opera about a man who changed the world? It takes a composer like Mason Bates, known as a master of computer-generated music who integrates the sounds of technology with the beauty of acoustic instruments.

The Philadelphia Museum of Art; Bequest of Charles C. Willis, 1956

This week’s solar eclipse has a lot of people thinking about outer space. In his new composition, written for the Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia, Dirk Brossé uses the “spacey” sounds of an unusual instrument to depict an important encounter that took place on Earth -- not far from WRTI. 

In an era when women had little voice, 12th-century abbess Hildegard of Bingen founded her own women's monastery, authored volumes of sacred text, served as a physician to her community, wrote the oldest surviving musical morality play, and produced plainchants of great expression and beauty. She was canonized in 2012.

Jessica Griffin

On Tuesday, June 20th, Allison Vulgamore announced she will be stepping down as President and CEO of the Philadelphia Orchestra when her contract expires in December, 2017. WRTI’s Debra Lew Harder spoke with her the next day about her biggest achievements as well as the biggest challenges she faced during her tenure with the Orchestra, which began in 2010.

When the Philadelphia Orchestra commissioned Jonathan Leshnoff to write a concerto for principal clarinetist Ricardo Morales, the composer realized a connection between the clarinet and...the Hebrew alphabet. WRTI's Debra Lew Harder explains.