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

Wikipedia Commons

In his early twenties, Argentinian composer Alberto Ginastera (1916-1983) won the title "Argentina's Great Musical Hope" with works such as the ballet score Estancia, and popular piano pieces like Danzas argentinas, which strongly evoke the rhythm and flair of the folk music of Argentina.

The Philadelphia Museum of Art; The George W. Elkins Collection, 1924

If you love both visual art and music, tune in this Sunday, June 18th at 5 pm to hear the Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia perform the world premiere of Music Director Dirk Brossé’s Pictures at an Exhibition.

Each of the seven movements was inspired by a different American painting from the collection of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. WRTI’s Debra Lew Harder talked with Dirk Brossé, who also conducts the performance, about his piece. Here’s an edited excerpt from the interview.

“Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin’, ” “My Funny Valentine,” “The Lady is a Tramp,” “The Sound of Music." With over 900 songs to his name, composer Richard Rodgers (1902-1979) left an indelible mark on American musical theater. His songs became an important part of the Great American Songbook, in part because jazz artists and singers loved to re-invent them. If Rodgers had had his way, though, he wouldn’t have let anyone else change a note. Why not?

Henri Manuel/ Wikimedia Commons

His set of three Gymnopedies are some of the most requested works (in different versions) here at WRTI, yet his output goes well beyond those. Erik Satie, the eccentric French composer at the intersection of modernism and minimalism in early 20th-century music and art, composed works that are sometimes dreamy, sometimes spare, sometimes quirky or fun or rambunctious, and sometimes all of the above. 

Thomas Lloyd has directed the choirs at Haverford and Bryn Mawr Colleges in the suburbs of Philadelphia for over two decades. While teaching his students a wide range of repertoire, his focus has been to show—firsthand—what music means in other parts of the world.

All eyes are on Rio de Janeiro as it hosts the 2016 Olympics. And while Brazil is famous for its rainforests, its beaches, and its diverse riches, it is music that helps make it a cultural powerhouse. WRTI’s Debra Lew Harder delves into one unique sound of Brazil: choro.

Judging by Modest Mussorgsky’s (1839-1881) ever-popular Pictures at an Exhibition and the relative scarcity of his other work, we might be excused for thinking he’d written little else. There is a reason: Mussorgsky’s difficult life.