The husband of the late radio personality and music critic June LeBell will take her place as the host of the 2018 SILL Music Monday lecture series.
Like many great ideas, Sarasota Institute of Lifetime Learning’s Music Mondays started with a group of people who found something missing in their community.
And all they needed to fill that gap was a New Yorker with a commanding voice and impressive resume.
Sarasota Institute of Lifetime Learning began in 1972 as a group that wanted to get together to talk about current events. The Global Issues lecture series was formed, and quickly grew in popularity. Organizers soon realized, however, that the interests of the community reached beyond politics and other global issues. Like many Sarasotans, SILL audiences cared about the arts.
In response, SILL formed a new lecture series around the topic of music appreciation in 1999 — but it wasn’t until June LeBell moved to Sarasota several years later that the program began its transformation into the series it is today.
Because of her extensive music background, LeBell was asked to do a lecture for SILL in 2003. And then another. And then another, until she was eventually asked to take over as host and producer of the series in 2006.
LeBell didn’t feel like continuing the traditional lecture format, so she went back to what she knew best: interviewing. As the first female announcer on a major commercial classical music radio station, LeBell interviewed some of the biggest names in the arts on air at New York City’s WQXR. Using many tools from her journalistic toolkit along with her extensive music industry contacts, Music Mondays was born.
She eased into it, introducing interviews in between lectures, but soon the whole experience became a musical conversation instead of someone standing at a podium. Now, each event is an in-depth and insightful discussion that often includes a performance by the guest speaker.
In 2009, shortly after beginning their relationship, her husband, Edward Alley, came on as co-producer of the series. It was around this time that Music Mondays was becoming so popular that it outgrew its original location of Holley Hall.
“There was no room for walk-ups,” Alley says. “It started at 10:30 a.m. and people would already be there at 8:30 a.m. waiting in line to get in because we had to turn away people.”
Alley and LeBell happened to be members of Church of the Palms and found it to be the perfect spot. It seats almost 1,000 people, he says, so soon they were able to double their audience.
Last year, the crowd featured more than 600 people for nearly every Music Monday session — sometimes more than 800 people — and Alley gives LeBell full credit.
“She had a way of immediately connecting with people,” Alley says. “It was like two people sitting at home talking. June took it wherever the conversation went, and there was this wonderful feeling of warmth.”
Even when she was ill, LeBell never left her audience in the dark, Alley says. She told them all about her experience with ovarian cancer, and they knew why she wasn’t able to attend the final two events of the season.
LeBell died April 30, so this will be the first Music Monday series in 15 years without her.
Alley, who was co-producer for eight years, says he’s honored to continue the tradition as the new Sarasota host.
“I’ve done everything except sit in the seat,” he says.
Choral Artists of Sarasota Artists Director Joseph Holt will co-host the Venice version of the series, which features the same guests but at a different time and location, with Robert Sherman, best known for his broadcast career at WQXR.
This year’s Music Mondays series is titled the “June LeBell Memorial Season,” and guests are a combination of her friends and colleagues, newcomers and established artists and some artists who are new to Sarasota.
Alley says he’s most excited to host the late composer Leonard Bernstein’s three children, who are rarely all in the same place, to celebrate what would have been Bernstein’s 100th birthday.
Even though his focus used to be behind the scenes dealing with the logistics of the lecture series, Alley says he’s not nervous to sit in the interviewer’s chair.
His plan is to continue the same discussion-based format, and he says the best way to prepare is to think of questions the audience would be curious about. But he’ll be careful not to overprepare, because he doesn’t want it to feel like he’s reading a script.
The idea for Alley to take over came about before LeBell’s death, and Alley was hesitant to get on board. But LeBell told him he could do it.
“If she thinks I can, I believe it,” he says. “I’m never a replacement, just next in line.”
To learn more about SILL’s other lecture series, Global Issues, visit sillsarasota.org.
Music Mondays 2018 Lineup
Bruce Adolphe is best known for his appearances on NPR’s “Performance Today” as the Piano Puzzler. But he’s also a renowned music lecturer.
Learn how Warren Jones transforms the meaning of “accompanying” to true collaboration with his performing artists.
Bella Hristova is a young musician with a growing international career. She has performed at Lincoln Center, Carnegie Hall and with numerous orchestras throughout the world, but this is her SILL debut.
Sarasota Opera favorite Rafael Davila now performs with Lyric Opera of Chicago, Washington National Opera and The Metropolitan Opera. Attend his first Music Mondays appearance to hear about the life of an opera star.
Other than being the star of a national Android TV commercial, Ji has been featured with most major symphony orchestras — but this is his first appearance on Music Mondays.
Justino Diaz starred with Leontyne Price in the opening performance of the new MET in Lincoln Center, and has since sung opera all over the world.
John Miller is principal bass player of the Sarasota Orchestra, but he’s also a witty interviewee who will play live for guests.
Daniel Jordan has been concertmaster of the Sarasota Orchestra since 1998, and he is also the principal second violin of the Santa Fe Opera Orchestra. His lecture will focus on important factors in selecting violins and bows.
Narek Arutyunian, 25, was already an international prize winning clarinetist at the age of 16. Since then, his performances have been praised all over the world. His appearance on Music Mondays is definitely a must-see.
Sarasotans know Jenny Kim-Godfrey for her memorable guest performances with Choral Artists of Sarasota. She’ll bring her lovely voice and charismatic personality to Music Mondays for her first solo appearance.
The daughter of Leonard Bernstein is a music commentator, writer and radio personality, and she’s returning to SILL to commemorate her father’s centennial year.
Ashu, a SILL returner, is the first and only full-time concert saxophone soloist, and he has won major international awards and competitions traditionally won by pianists and violinists.