“My dear children, each character in this tale is represented by a corresponding instrument in the orchestra…” So begins one of many narrations in English for Prokofiev’s Peter and The Wolf, one I often heard as one of those enraptured children. Little did little Gordon realize that, one day, he’d be telling the same tale with members of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra.
I heard those words multiple times, when various actors performed with the Philadelphia Orchestra. My father, Gordon Kahn, was a violist in the Orchestra, and regular visits to the Orchestra Children’s Concerts were part of an immersion into the music integral to my life.
Even then I dreamed of being a performer, not yet certain what kind or where. Always interested in acting, there was a brief career in New York for seven or so years with roles off-Broadway, in summer stock, marionette shows, TV and movies. More marginal than significant. Even a brief appearance in radio drama in its waning days. Really, radio was my prime and continuing source of income, even becoming a minor celebrity from hosting classical music broadcasts on stations in Philadelphia (of course), New York, Albuquerque. Milwaukee, Pittsburgh, Omaha. Right. Change is a constant in the broadcasting business. For me: nine quits to move on, six times fired or let go. Breaks.
My career intersected with many famed musicians: Billie Holiday, Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, Lionel Hampton, Dizzy Gillespie, Duke Ellington, Cannonball Adderley, Eric Dolphy, Ruby Braff, Gerry Mulligan, Stan Getz, Tony Scott, Joe Venuti, Mercer Ellington, Woody Herman, Jay McShann and more, jazz-wise. Other musicians such as Moondog, Roy Harris, Morton Gould, Ned Rorem, Ravi Shankar, Alan Hovhaness, Leopold Stokowski, Philip Glass, Lou Harrison, Terry Riley, John Corigliano
Here I am again narrating.
I was born Gordon Spencer Kahn. I didn’t drop the family name to deny being Jewish. I’m not Jewish. My mother was a Christian and, as for my father’s side of the family, you’d call them ethnic Jewish; they practiced no faith.
Dad and Mother had wanted to christen me Leopold, after my father’s father, but decided that the choice might look sycophantic; Leopold Stokowski was the Philadelphia Orchestra’s music director. (FYI: I met and interviewed him in 1970. See below.) They didn’t want to name me Junior, so as a little kid, I was usually called “Sonny.”
By the way, my brother, was named Eugene in 1936 shortly after Eugene Ormandy became the Orchestra’s music director. I don’t remember hearing any explanation about that.
Through my early college years, I was also known as Gordon Kahn. But, once I started to host classical music programs on Philadelphia’s WFLN, (alongside Michael Igorevitch Peschkowsky and Morris Goldberg, aka Mike Nichols and Gilbert Morris…see below) some confusion arose. The Kahn name was the same for two people publically involved with classical music. Dad suggested that I use my middle name to become Gordon Spencer.