Every Wednesday, listeners tune in to classical music radio program "Performance Today" to test their ears on the program's popular "Piano Puzzlers."
Host Fred Child calls a listener and together they try to guess which popular song composer Bruce Adolphe has disguised in the style of a well-known classical composer.
The tune could be a folk song, a children's song, a Broadway show tune or even a familiar melody from the world of classical music. It could be a Frank Sinatra number with Beethoven's flair, a Wizard of Oz favorite in the style of Bach, or a Haydn-esque rendition of "Hey Jude."
"When we started doing the Piano Puzzlers 12 years ago, I thought we would get half a dozen people to call at first and that would be that. Six hundred of these later ... it's more and more demand," Child said.
As part of the Savannah Music Festival, Child and Adolphe will bring their Piano Puzzlers to live, local audiences March 24. Audience members can attempt to suss out the tunes hidden within Adolphe's intricate compositions as a group and individually.
Adolphe does give hints, and Child is on hand to offer help and insight, but he doesn't know the answers beforehand either.
"I've been sitting next to Bruce for every one of these, but there are times when I am stumped and the listener gets it. I am endlessly astonished at the acuity of our radio listeners," Child said.
Festival shows are especially fun, Child added, because it gets him out of the radio booth, where it is often just him and a microphone. In addition to his "Performance Today" duties, Child is the host for a number of live concert broadcasts, including the "Live from Lincoln Center," the only live performing arts series on television. Before that he worked for NPR, WNYC in New York and Oregon Public Broadcasting.
He's been doing radio for so long that people can recognize him just by his voice. At a restaurant, or on the subway, people will turn and say, "Wait a minute, are you Fred Child?"
"Compared to say, Meryl Streep, it's exceedingly rare, but it does happen from time to time," Child said.
As a classical music authority, Child is surrounded by concertos, symphonies and sonatas all day long. He feels lucky to be so in touch with what's happening with classical music, he said. But off the clock, Child chooses to listen to other genres, whether it's Americana, Irish or the latest singers and songwriters.
"In fact, some of the people at Savannah (Music) Festival are some of my favorites," Child said. "I'm a head-over-heels fan of the Punch Brothers. And Jason Isbell, too."
And sometimes Child gets away from music altogether, preferring to hike, cycle or climb frozen waterfalls near his home in Minnesota. Music and outdoor activity scratch the same itch, he said.
"There's that satisfaction that comes from a great hike or a great climb that feels really similar to the satisfaction that comes from hearing an amazing piece of music," he said. "That sense of wonder, that sense of discovery. I love it in both of those things."
As for the "Piano Puzzlers," the sense of discovery and learning are part of what make them so popular, Child said. And the fact that it's a fun game.
"We always take (classical music) so darn seriously. To have fun like this with classical music every single week is great," Child said. "But on a more serious side, I think it has changed the way a lot of people listen to music."
Besides guessing songs and composers, the Puzzlers help listeners differentiate signature music styles. The way Adolphe and Child discuss classical music is light and approachable. Adolphe might explain what a chromatic harmony is, or hint that the tune starts with the treble. Child might remind listeners about certain musical periods, or encourage them to think about a piece differently.
It's great in that it's subversively educational, Child said.
"You start to listen differently to music. As you listen to a piece of music go by, you might listen more critically and have more tools for listening carefully."
Follow reporter Erin Shaw at twitter.com/IPBG_ErinShaw.