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WRTI Spotlight

WRTI Welcomes New Weekday Morning Classical Host John T.K. Scherch

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John T.K. Scherch is WRTI's new weekday morning host.

For bass John T.K. Scherch, radio announcing became the perfect complement to his budding career as a classical singer. Now fulfilling both dreams, he’s the new voice you’ll hear each weekday morning from 6 to 10 AM on WRTI 90.1. We’re excited to welcome him to our radio family starting the week of June 28th, 2021. On Tuesday, June 29th, tune in a little after 8 AM when John will be introduced on the air.

John comes to WRTI from his position as a classical host in Baltimore at WBJC, which is Maryland’s classical music station. He started there in 2017, hosting weekday evenings, Sunday afternoons, and a listener request show on Friday evenings. He’s written essays exploring perspectives on new music and the intersection of classical and pop, and hosted the podcast, Pause and Listen, in which musicians, composers and 'art appreciators' consider new music available on the internet.

Additionally, John is an operatic bass with a master's degree from the Peabody Institute of The Johns Hopkins University, and a bachelor's degree in vocal performance from West Virginia University. He’s sung on opera stages, with orchestras in concert, and, when things slowed down during the pandemic, with himself, showing his dramatic flair, sense of humor, and technical savvy.

"John arrives at a pivotal point for WRTI's future," says WRTI's General Manager Bill Johnson. "That future will be built upon pursuing meaningful connections with listeners, and the broader community, that demonstrate the undeniable power and role classical music plays in our everyday lives.  John's creativity, love and knowledge of music, commitment to diverse voices, desire to connect with listeners, and passion for WRTI's mission are exactly what's necessary to realize that future."

Here, he plays three parts from the famous statue scene in Mozart’s Don Giovanni:

A musical childhood

I love the acting element of singing opera. I love the music as well. I have a particular affinity for Verdi. I love new music as well, both the music and the idea of people creating new music. —John T.K. Scherch

Classical music has been in John’s life since he was a small child growing up in Pittsburgh. “My parents listened to it. My grandfather on my dad’s side had a huge classical CD collection, and my dad sang in the American Boychoir when he was a kid. He and my mother passed down their love of classical music to me.”

His first classical concerts? “Emanuel Ax was the first solo artist I saw at Heinz Hall, and I also remember, when I was a kid at the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, seeing Sarah Chang.”

In addition to singing, he studied piano, trumpet briefly, and drums, which he describes as his “non-piano instrument of choice.”

How did he decide to become a classical singer?

“Honestly, I kind of fell into it,” he says. He sang in musicals in middle school, and joined the chorus in high school. “I found that I enjoyed singing classical music the best. We went to the Pittsburgh Opera where I saw my first opera, The Magic Flute. At that point, I already knew the Sarastro arias. I fell into it that way and I grew to love it as I immersed myself more.”

He loves the drama of opera. “I love the acting element of singing opera. I love the music as well. I have a particular affinity for Verdi. I love new music as well, both the music and the idea of people creating new music.”

And where did radio come in?

In his second semester at West Virginia University, he began working at the college radio station, where he would eventually direct both heavy metal and classical programs. “As I continued with singing and college radio, I thought, I would love to do radio, so I don’t have to worry about supporting myself on singing. If I could do that in radio, it would be perfect."

After graduation, he began conservatory training at Peabody in Baltimore. “And the first thing I did, I emailed the program director at WBJC, and asked, 'Do you need a sub at any point? Here are some recordings from when I was at my college station,' and he liked them.”

In 2017, John started covering for the evening announcer at WBJC; when that host retired, John took over the show.

Classical music today

With his affinity for a range of music, from works centuries old to music written today, he takes a long view of classical music, describing it as “much more of a method of composition than a style of music. If you look back to the 16th and 17th centuries, classical music was taking styles of existing music, existing dances and rhythms, and making them into something more."

“And that's something that people still do,” he says, pointing to examples of contemporary works such as Caroline Shaw’s Partita for 8 Voices or Paul Lansky’s Partita for Guitar and Percussion.

“And the classical music world is now starting to pay attention to music that was either left out of the canon for non-musical reasons, or is just new music that people are discovering in more publications, music that’s showing up in venues that are not traditional for classical music.”

He’s upbeat about the the way classical music is reaching out to younger and more diverse audiences, with music “composed and performed by many different people. This is music that’s for everyone.”

The most exciting thing about working in radio?

“It’s sharing the music with the people, being able to express how I feel, and then especially being able to hear back, because it's a community and it's a communicative medium. People hear what I say about the music and then maybe they'll send me an email, and we'll continue that conversation; it's a communal listening experience.”

Activities off the stage and away from the broadcasting booth

With the hot weather and rain keeping many of us indoors, John has started lifting weights. When the weather is good, he enjoys riding his bike and doing what he calls “various adventurous, arguably dangerous outdoor activities,” including skiing, rock climbing (often untethered), and white water rafting, and is looking forward to trying out the ropes course in Philadelphia’s Fairmount Park.

He says he also loves “board games and table sports like foosball, air hockey and pool,” and has already identified a bar with table games in Philadelphia he found on the way to hear The Philadelphia Orchestra during a visit to the city.

John moves to Philadelphia with his wife, Michele Mengel Scherch, a communications specialist at the Peabody Institute of The John Hopkins University, and their dog Moxie,  a ‘potcake’ - which is a mixed breed originally from Antigua. He’s also bringing his sourdough starter, and is eager to bake his sourdough pretzels. (He’s coming to the right city, for many reasons!)

Here’s another of John’s creations from the pandemic: drama (and fun) from Verdi’s Rigoletto: