The beautiful Dawn Chorus intro to WGBH’s “Morning Pro Musica” classical music radio show

I grew up in New England in the 80’s, and my first exposure to classical music was listening to WGBH on the radio.  My favorite classical music show was Robert J. Lurtsema’s Morning Pro Musica.

Listening to Morning Pro Musica as a kid was what first kindled my deep love of classical music, and my clock radio was always set to go off at the exact start of the show.  It began with the sounds of birds for about 5 minutes, then a slow crossfade into a specific piece of classical music.  I remember there was different music for each day of the week, but the piece I loved the most was Handel’s “Arrival of the Queen of Sheba.”

For years, I happily woke to the sounds of birds and Handel.  And last night as I was fiddling with my alarm app on my tablet, I suddenly remembered those sounds and longed to wake up to them again.

I searched online but couldn’t find any digital copy of the show’s intro.  Happily, I found a recording of the exact bird sounds that Robert J. used for his show (from the LP “Dawn Chorus: The Birds of Morning Pro Musica”).  From there it was easy enough to take one of those tracks and crossfade it into Handel.


Download: morning pro musica intro birds and music (mp3)

Robert J. Lurtsema passed away years ago, but I will never forget how he inspired me each morning and opened my eyes to a new world of music.  Thank you, Robert J.

-John “Pathfinder” Lester

70 thoughts on “The beautiful Dawn Chorus intro to WGBH’s “Morning Pro Musica” classical music radio show

  1. During part of the time that Robt J was in reign at GBH, I was assistant to the general manager at WFCR in Amherst. We would (mostly fondly, I hope!) refer to him as Mr Toad (from Wind in the Willows). He had a face and stature made for radio — a very short man, with a scrunched up face.

    One might suspect that many people attracted to the “virtual” world of radio (certainly ham radio and CB proved this out!) would have been in virtual worlds today — the introverts, the shy, the gimped, the odd — with beautiful souls that need a place to shine.

  2. John – thank you so much for the MPM mix! Robert J is sadly missed, especially around the holidays – I wish his programs were available for streaming…

  3. Thank you for this! I DO recall his morning program with only the fondest of memories – listening to the radio in the car, while driving through the glorious New England countryside in early morning, for instance. The program was the perfect companion.

  4. Thanks for the memory. Dedicated to my late friend from Martha’s Vinyard Fred A. Bennett who listened to this with me in the mornings.

  5. Another thank you from another person who listened to Robert J on my transistor radio every morning waking up as a teenager. Since my public radio station has become all-news-all-the-time, I’ve so missed this transistion from sleep to the workaday world. You’ve really made a difference in my life!

  6. I doubt that you could find any NPR station willing to devote the time to full length shows…wasn’t it 5 hours of music and news “edited” by your morning pro musica host…..but maybe a tribute show here or there, perhaps on his birthday. Last year, Suzanne Nance on Maine Public Radio used the dawn chorus and “Entrance” as a theme on his birthday, but that was it. She does a 3 hour show each weekday morning in a much different style of Robert J but it does give us a slice of time away from the NPR all talk format. On the weekends one announcer used the birds at 6AM as an intro to his classical show on MPBN, but now that show has disappeared into the talk format. I’ve searched the WGBH archives but can’t find any reference to tapes of old shows. Are there any? I’d love to hear some of his old shows, especially some of the summer shows from Tanglewood. Thanks for the MP3, John!

  7. Wonderful… my story is the same as yours. And thanks for the mp3!

    And every once in a while I try to figure out what all 7 of his opening pieces were… I actually don’t remember this one very well… I think the most memorable for me is the one with the slow piano march gradually fading in. I can hear it in my head, of course. Have you ever come across a list of the pieces? There are a few mentions on the Wikipedia page for Robert J., but nothing comprehensive, sadly. But what a powerful memory.

  8. Hearing this makes me realize how much I miss MPM and Robert J. I do hope they (WGBH/NPR) make his old shows available somehow. Thanks so much for the MP3!

  9. Wow, great to stumble on this! I’d wondered about Robert J. and recordings several yrs back, but wasn’t able to find what you found. Thanks so much! People reading this might be very interested in the works of Elliott Lang and Wil Hershberger and their web site, Miracle of Nature (formerly Music of Nature — many recordings available): Even though this doesn’t include classical music, the birds and other recordings they have would most likely have pleased RJL very much!

  10. Wow, how great to stumble on this post! I also tried to find recordings of Robert J. yrs. ago, but was unable to locate what you discovered. Thank you! People reading this post probably will be interested in the works of Lang Elliott and Wil Hershberger (and others) and their web site Miracle of Nature (formerly Music of Nature), Though it doesn’t incorporate classical music, their gorgeous and splendid recordings of birds and other creatures would probably have pleased RJL greatly.

  11. Recently Robert J has been on my mind. How happy I am to have found this page! Thank you, John. What a legacy Robert J left in the hearts of so many! I found him while a persistent and painful back problem confined me to a hospital bed for 5 weeks. From that moment 7am became the bright spot in my day, something to look forward to upon waking.

  12. So happy to find this – I woke up to Robert J all through college and for years afterward and for some reason have been missing that lovely intro recently. Thank you for posting it!

  13. Pingback: Cornell digitizes bird song inventory | From My Neck of the Woods

  14. This is awesome! I remember this ‘GBH classic. To endure this memories, please support ‘GBH all the time you want. I have the NOVA ringtone and I use this ringtone as alarm to wake up every morning @5 a.m. (CLT). Support ‘GBH and you will receive one thank-you gift. I.E.: One 89.7 WGBH orange mug with a orange “Fresh and Local” tote bag, making a donation of $120. It’s very important to support your local NPR, PRI & PBS station in Boston.

  15. Hi Was it the same birds clip each day or did they rotate as well? Used your clip as my alarm this morning and it was wonderful.. Thanks.

    • If I recall correctly, they used slightly different bird clips and different music depending on the day of the week. Handel’s Arrival of the Queen of Sheba was the only piece I remembered from the show, and it was always my favorite to wake up to (arrival of the queen = arrival of the new morning!) which is why I made this clip. 🙂 I use this as an alarm, too.

  16. Your blog with its RJ tribute was a joy. I could never figure out why no one at WGBH even mentions him or his program…which converted me to a classical music lover. My favorite memories were the interviews… And the silences… If he didn’t have anything to say…he didn’t. There must be a reason why the old shows aren’t available. You can still hear the Jazz decades . Can it be that the current guard doesn’t know of him? Many thanks, again.

      • Hi John – Susan asks a great question: “There must be a reason why the old shows aren’t available. You can still hear the Jazz decades . Can it be that the current guard doesn’t know of him?” How can we as fans ask WGBH if this could be possible? -steve

  17. Thank you so much for this! I kept my big black JVC radio up on my bureau and each morning a timer would turn it on just on time to hear Robert J and of course, the morning wake up. And the day would start as I bustled my children off to school. Each Christmas though I get to hear Robert J as he produced a tape of Christmas stories. The best of all though, was ordering that tape as Robert J himself answered the phone and took the order. I could not believe that I had the opportunity to tell him how much I loved his program as each day, when his voice came on the radio, my shoulders would drop in total relaxation!! After several moves, my big black radio lost it’s place on the bureau and had been shoved aside. Just recently, I dragged it out of my crawlspace and placed it back but of course, no more birdsong!

  18. Hello John, I, too, cherish the memory of the hundreds or thousands of mornings that I greeted the morning to the sound of the birds, the Queen of Sheba, and Robert J.’s beautifully warm, quiet voice. The secret of the magical opening lay in Robert’s timing–the welcome sounds of birds letting us know the music was arriving, the sound of the queen’s entrance, and then the inimitable voice of Robert J to finish the morning ritual.
    I once wrote a little poem for Robert and sent it to him; in return, he sent me a photo–I was shocked!! I’m absolutely sure he had jeans and a plaid shirt on in the photo, because I immediately thought of Roy Clark ( Some time after Robert’s death, I listened to the program once or twice, but the birds sang too long (they sang every hour, I think!!) The magic was gone.
    There have been only two other announcers over the years who have endeared themselves to me. They are Karl Haas, dec’d, (Adventures in Good Music, check youtube) and Ken Hoover, ret’d (Great Sacred Music, WCPE Sunday mornings). Thank you for posting your reminder of the pleasure Robert J. gave me every day, for so many years.

  19. We wrote Robert J a letter when his show was the start to our day. We got a wonderful handwritten reply which must be somewhere in our house. The letter referred to the dreaded but all too frequent dulling of tastes to “a common denominator” and Robert’s wishes to keep his program apart. Even now so many years later it is a bit infuriating to listen to beautiful music corralled by sixty minute boundaries of news talk. We miss his show very much.

  20. Many thanks, John.

    Robert. J will always hold a special place in my memory, just as other teachers who affected my life in significant ways have done. I use the term “other” advisedly here. For Robert J was, for me, first and foremost a teacher. Owing to his enlightened commentary about the artistic, historical, and technical aspects of the music he played, I have benefited hugely from a lifelong appreciation of, and interest in, classical music and opera. Indeed, I owe Robert J a huge debt of gratitude. Sadly, I’ll die regretting that I failed to communicate that sense of obligation to him.

  21. Dear John, I am delighted to hear such continued reverence to Robert J’s Morning Pro Musica, still. I grew up in Waterford, Connecticut & my father started each day before he went to work as a teacher in the Groton Public School system listening to the birds & then the classical music program by Robert J. Lurtsema. Many years ago my father got to meet Robert J at a Belly Dance Extravaganza at the Chateau de Ville, I believe, where the talented George Abdo & his orchestra were playing. What a night to remember! I wasn’t there, but only my mother remembers that evening; she is 82 now & my father died in 1993 after a long illness of Alzheimer’s disease. I still have some of the cassettes that my father recorded some of the shows, but the clear version of the birds that you shared brings tears of JoY! When Mom & I find the photo, I will certainly share it!

  22. John (or anyone else) – Any chance you can remember the songs from each day of the week so I can make a playlist? I’ve picked through a few blogs and video discussions, but can’t seem to find it. Thanks!

  23. John,
    Thanks for the MP3. It’s downloaded and bringing back so many memories. Now to find a clock into which the clip can be loaded as my wake-up call. Thanks again……….

  24. Glad to find so many fans of MPM. I got introduced to America as a grad student in the late 1960s and in the first summer when I worked ?I got myself a Grundig radio and loved waking up to WGBH’s signature tune at 7 a.m.. Very fond music and memories even as I now live in India.

  25. How lovely to find this, and how lovely of you to share it with us. I left the WGBH listening area in the ’80s and have never found a better way to be woken up in the early morning than by Morning Pro Musica. Thank you!

  26. I too learned a lot about classical music by listening to Robert J whenever I was within range of WGBH, which usually meant vacation time. For a few years it was carried by Connecticut public radio until they switch to all news format. I appreciated the way in which he programmed each show chronologically, beginning with the oldest music in the early hour and progressing to more recent compositions. One particular program I remember was a Saturday morning around 1980 when I was working in my basement. That day he devoted the entire program to versions of the very old Spanish melody “La Folie.” To this day, whenever I hear La Folie think of him and that Saturday morning!

  27. I just tripped over this – and have also mixed for myself dawn chorus birdsong (some from my own house) and segued into the day-of the-week music I remember from MPM. Found the actual records too. I use foobar2000’s scheduler to fire up the correct day’s music every day – for several years now. Birdsong is the BEST way to wake up. I also dearly miss Bill Caveness. Besides his “Reading Aloud” – I seem to remember that he actually began MPM originally(?) but that the program really became Robert J’s. I made several visits to ‘GBH in its heydays but only met RJL once – when he stayed at my mother’s house. I can’t bear GBH in the talk format – and WCRB has too narrow a playlist. Now I stream the classical music programming from Norway (NRK Klassisk). Oh – that reminds me of former (’70s) “WCRB – Saturday Night” and its eclectica. “There are Fairies at the Bottom of Our Garden”, Master Singer’s “The Highway Code”…
    I’d be happy to share with you my 5+2 days of MPM if you wish, just ask.

    • Paul – if your kind offer extends to other commenters, I am very interested, and you can reach me at michaelbraden [at] yahoo [dot com] … I worked at ‘GBH from 1995-9 but didn’t manage to get up the courage to seek him out… I think he was only on weekends by then anyway. But like with so many others here, my childhood was full of the birds, his voice and the music.

  28. Not only did I enjoy (if that’s the word) waking to the bird calls, I also enjoyed the program where a book would be read aloud. How the ironing flew off the ironing board!

  29. When I turned on my NPR station this morning to yet again another day of fundraising I longed for the days of waking to morning pro musica. (Mind you, I am a sustaining member.) I decided to google it to see what I could find and I found your post. Not only did it bring back memories but I was surprised to see so many like-minded visitors who left comments. Many thanks for providing the mp3 recording as well as links to other mpm playlists.

  30. THANK YOU for resurrecting Robert J’s MPM bird and Handel intro. What a wonderful memory you and all the commenters have brought forth from the great days WGBH focused a great deal on classical music. For many years as a 20 something I awoke every morning with my stereo system set up on a timer for 7 am. He was so quiet, slow, and gentle, perfect for slowly coming into consciousness each morning from sleep. Robert J had a vast knowledge of music and an extraordinary sense of engaging music programming and intelligent background commentary. He put together many series of various composers or kinds of classical music genres or groups of instruments – series that spanned weeks or months, which wew extremely informative and interesting. While the current WCRB announcers are also well versed musically, some being musicians, the station’s daytime format and “target audience” does not intelligently and interestingly select and explain music as well as did Robert J. No endless warhorses played 3 times a week or more, no trivia of the day, baseball fun facts, etc. And, those MPM days were gloriously less cluttered with advertising. Yes, WCRB bring back Robert J’s programs, but I think they won’t — His programs would totally outclass the current daytime fare.

  31. So,folks, why don’t we get WGBH / WCRB to let some of us put his RJL archive on their media – or allow us to do it. It doesn’t take much money or even IT skill these days to make them available, if only the station will be convinced to do it, “Car Talk” style…

  32. Thank you, so very much. MPM was such an important start to my day and I often think of Robert J when I hear the start of a new day.

  33. I listened to the show for years – and also had the privilege of playing a gig with Robert J! A volunteer orchestra I played (2nd trombone) with performed the Britten “Young Person’s Guide.” Two performances — we got Robert J. to narrate one of them, and Ron Della Chiesa for the other!

  34. Oh My Lord God THANK YOU FOR THIS! I have been looking for this for years. I am going to cry. Thank you, Thank you, Thank you. Where did you find this? I can’t believe that you posted this ten years ago and I just saw it now.

    • You’re very welcome. 🙂 I found the bird songs he used in a record called “Dawn Chorus: The Birds of Morning Pro Musica” and then I added the music by Handel myself to recreate the whole original experience. It makes me very happy that a post I made 10 years ago can still bring so much joy into someone’s heart today. Take care, my friend. 🙂

      • Dear Pathfinder, how happy it makes me whenever I see a “Be Cunning and Full of Tricks” email drop in my inbox! I don’t remember how many years ago it was that I found the “Morning Pro Musica” posting from you, but it was so very appreciated! I probably told you the story then about the time I decided to call the number to order Robert Lurtsema’s Christmas stories cassette tape. And who answered the phone but Robert himself! I was so tickled and told him that the sound of his voice each morning allowed my shoulders to drop down…I still have the tape and listen to it each Christmas! I had my radio set on a timer, so it was the beautiful Dawn Chorus that I woke up to each morning. With much gratitude, I wish you much Peace.

  35. Hello,
    Like all of the commenters, thank you for writing this article along with your audio recreation, getting it published and for the time you’ve taken to reply to reader’s comments. Like many, I also was introduced to classical music with the station and specifically the early birds.
    Kind Regards,

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