Music with Minnesotans: Sam Wai

by Alison Young, Minnesota Public Radio
June 1, 2011

St. Paul, Minn. — American Crystal Sugar Company Treasurer Sam Wai was one of a gang of kids who would hop on the bus and head downtown to hear symphony concerts given by the Hong Kong Philharmonic. Though these kids might be considered nerdy today, Sam says that any distinction like that for interested and curious kids was unheard of in the Hong Kong of his youth.

He was just 11 when he began listening to classical radio and thought to himself that this music was something he wanted to know more about - ghe knew it was important and valuable, but certainly an acquired taste.

So that's when he began to use his pocket change to buy records, starting with Swan Lake and Beethoven's 'Eroica' and working his way into opera and Mozart piano concertos, Mahler and even cabaret.

Sam's love of music extends to his children too who he and his wife have raised to appreciate the arts, even if their lives won't be defined as professional musicians, they'll always be able to make music.

This was not exactly the case for Sam. When he tried "cello for dummies" as he describes it in college, his teacher was so kind he gave Sam a pass and told him to just play as much as he could manage.

But making music is not always the sign of a passionate music fan. Sam attends concerts every week in the Fargo/Moorhead area and has a fantastically large CD collection, plus he tunes into Classical MPR as much as possible to find new music and hear some of the familiar ones played in new ways.

Sadly, this program only allows for a small bite-sized meal of music, and Sam would have gladly brought in 75-minute symphonies by Mahler - the composer that has got him caught up just now. So much so that Sam took his family all over Austria to chase down the most famous Mahler sites. It all adds depth to the listening he assures me!


Sam Wai's playlist:

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, The Marriage of Figaro: Dove sono I bei momenti - Lisa della Casa/Vienna Philharmonic

Frederic Chopin, Nocturne No. 1, Op. 9 - Fou Ts'ong

Gustav Mahler, Kindentotenlieder - Janet Baker/Israel Philharmonic

Giacomo Puccini, Tosca; Vissi d'arte - Maria Callas/la Scala Orchestra

Vienna as it once was - Liane Augustin (Vanguard Classics OVC 6011)


Check out more from Music with Minnesotans:

Linda Z. Andrews, Ann Bancroft, Charles Baxter, Philip Brunelle, Mayor Chris Coleman, Michael Pearce Donley, Joe Dowling, Dr. Victoria Elmer, Gwen Freed, Nancy Gibson, William Gurstelle, Karen Hansen, Steve Heitzeg, Stuart Loughridge, Allan Naplan, Stephen Paulus, Chris Polydoroff, Consie Powell, Lois Quam, Mayor RT Rybak, Nick Schneider, Steve Schon, James Sewell, Mary Shideler 'The Kayak Lady', Ann Swenson, The Reverend Spenser Simrell, Will Steger, Ann Swenson, Paul Thissen, Dale Warland, Matt Wehling and Larry Zea.


Next week, Crookston native Liz Thompson is my guest. She spends a good deal of time helping raise money for the local school music programs so young people can be exposed to classical music and the fine arts.

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