Arts and culture

Sessions from Studio A - Joel Baer Trio

Apr 15, 2021

Joel Baer is a drummer and bandleader of the Blueshift Big Band based in Chicago, where they play music in the tradition of Duke Ellington and Count Basie. Join us as the Joel Baer Trio brings the sound and energy of a full big band into Studio A with this performance. We'll also talk with members Matt Ulery, Carl Kennedy, and Joel Baer about their backgrounds and some of their many side-projects.

Find more from Joel Baer on Bandcamp and his website.

The artist community experienced a major beating from the pandemic, according to an Americans for the Arts report. Some creatives are getting relief with the help of a national organization.

Todd Hansen, the executive director of Artist Rescue Trust (A.R.T.), said a bunch of his friends came up with a plan to create a nonprofit that would help artists and musicians.  

April is National Poetry Month. Join us for an afternoon with Michelle Azie, Kanaan Blunt, Catherine Herrera and Jocelyn Kuntz -- some of Illinois’ youngest and brightest poets.

Last October, in the midst of the pandemic, Laurie Anderson appeared at the Smithsonian's Hirshhorn Museum to recreate one of her earliest works. Wearing ice skates attached to frozen blocks of ice, she played her violin along with a tape recording stashed cleverly inside her instrument. When the ice melted, her performance ended. Bow over bridge, blades over ice: "Duets on Ice" is a meditation on balance and time.

It's been a year since teachers were handed an unprecedented request: educate students in entirely new ways amid the backdrop of a pandemic. In this comic series, we'll illustrate one teacher's story each week from now until the end of the school year.

Episode 4

Sarah Mamula, a high school orchestra teacher in Clark County Public Schools in Las Vegas, on shifting the paradigm.

Fermina Ponce.

Welcome to this week's Poetically Yours. Poetically Yours showcases poems by northern Illinois poets. This week features one of Aurora's deputy poet laureates, Fermina Ponce. 

Sessions from Studio A - Mathew Ray Fichter

Apr 8, 2021

Mathew Ray Fichter brings his beautifully honest songwriting to Studio A this week. Join us for a live performance recorded in Studio A, with music from Fichter's solo record "Hell Camino" which is out now on Mostly Annoyed Records and also Bandcamp. We'll also talk with the singer-songwriter about his background and his songwriting, plus Dan Edmunds will tell us more about his label, Mostly Annoyed. 

Sophia Varcados.

For some, music can be a great companion through good and bad times. On Sunday, a northern Illinois music therapist gives insight on how these tunes can also be used for healing.  

Jen Conley is a board-certified music therapist and a licensed professional counselor. She said music is gratifying but some people don’t recognize its deeper power. 

Poetry Out Loud

A Chicago student won the Illinois state championship for a national poetry competition.  

Catherine Herrera is a senior at William Howard Taft High School. The 17-year-old first took part in the Poetry Out Loud contest a few years ago. She said she originally entered the contest because she loves performance theater. 

Provided by Jan Bristol.

Welcome to WNIJ's Poetically Yours. Poetically Yours showcases poems by northern Illinois poets. Today's segment features poems by Jan Bristol. 

Bristol is a native of Carroll County, Illinois who says she has Mississippi River in her blood. She spent many years in Colorado, but came back home, to what she describes as "along the river and palisades."  Bristol retired from the aerospace industry and is also a member of the writers' group E-town Scribes.

Here are two of Bristol's untitled short poems.

Untitled 1

I remember when

Sessions from Studio A - Olivia Ports

Apr 1, 2021

Join us for a live performance from singer-songwriter Olivia Ports on this week's show! This young performer from Aurora has a big story to tell. Her new EP Hospital Prom is out now everywhere and was inspired by Olivia's own experiences fighting a primary immunodeficiancy. Listen for a live set from Olivia Ports and guitarist Chris Leonard, recorded in Studio A. We'll also talk with Olivia about her music and the stories behind some of her songs.


Initially inspired by the first wave of post-punk, The Funeral March of the Marionettes has continued to evolve their sound and release new music thoughout the band's existence. Their latest EP Solace was released in the spring of 2020 and is available on their Bandcamp page

We'll hear tracks from that EP in this episode, along with a live performance from the band recorded in Studio A. We'll also talk about their background, inspirations, and Mattel drum machines on this new edition of Sessions from Studio A!   

A young, mild-mannered soprano from Norway with a huge voice has been turning heads in the opera world.

Lise Davidsen is an emerging star whose voice has been called one-in-a-million. It can soar like a rocket over enormous orchestras. And yet on her new album, in the Verdi aria, "Pace, pace mio Dio!" it can dial down to a single gleaming strand of polished silver.

Could there be a more unloved, abject literary form than the press release? Inherently clammy and needy, press releases crowd the inboxes of busy reporters, who find it all too easy to ignore their entreaties. ("My client is soooo great!")

But every so often, a press release shows up like this one from Early Music New York. It arrived with the swagger of a carnival barker. It was flashy. It was fun.

A Rockford art initiative that started in 2019 reemerged this year and is expanding to other cities.

Martesha Brown, the director of advancement at the Rockford Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, said the public mural program, CRE8IV:transformational Art, was a success two years ago. 

Photo provided by Rhonda Parsons.

Welcome to WNIJ's Poetically Yours. Poetically Yours showcases poems by northern Illinois poets. This week features Rhonda Parsons. 


Sessions from Studio A - Los Compadres del Tango

Mar 18, 2021

We have a special, unique edition of Sessions from Studio A this week, with Rockford's Los Compadres del Tango. The duo is made up of pianist Erik Olson and Jacques Saint-Cyr playing flute. This is a new genre for us in Studio A, and it was a joy to learn more about the culture and history of tango. We hope you'll learn something new as well!

Check out some behind-the-scenes video below from Los Compadres del Tango's live performance in WNIJ's Studio A. 

Poetically Yours Ep. 32 - Time To Spring Forward

Mar 12, 2021
Provided by Richard Holinger.

Welcome to WNIJ's Poetically Yours. Poetically Yours showcases poems by northern Illinois poets. Today's segment features poet Richard Holinger. 

Sessions from Studio A - Joe Nanzer

Mar 11, 2021

Our guest this week is singer-songwriter Joe Nanzer. He's released a string of singles over the past two years that you can find on Spotify, Apple Music, and all your usual streaming platforms. Hear him perform those songs live in Studio A this hour. We'll also talk with Joe Nanzer about his background, his influences, and about the stories behind some of his songs. That's all on this week's edition of Sessions from Studio A.

If you are a local artist interested in being featured on our show, send us a submission at

A Rockford arts organization is accepting nominations for its annual arts awards.

Mary McNamara Bernsten is the executive director of the Rockford Area Arts Council. She said, although the pandemic brought changes, there was still a lot going on. 

“And so, it's really important to talk to your peers and talk to your family," she said. "You know, ‘What do you remember about that? And what were the videos that stuck out in your head? And what were the pieces of art that impacted you during that time?’” 

Kate Kilgore

A Rockford musician released a series of children’s books.

“Thembu the South African Penguin – Tales of Possibilities” highlights a young bird living with autism spectrum disorder.  

Dorothy Paige-Turner created the three books in the series. She said the South African penguin fascinates her. 

You might know her as the host of NPR Music's web series, Amplify with Lara Downes, or by her work as a concert pianist – through each, Downes' goal has been to elevate the work of Black artists. Her new project, Rising Sun Music, is something of a combination: Downes will release a mini-album every month, for as long as she can keep it up, to highlight overlooked and forgotten compositions by Black artists in the classical music tradition.

As pianist Mahani Teave was poised to launch her international career, she remembered the moment when the first piano arrived on her remote island. It was 1992, she was nine years old and the instrument landed on Rapa Nui, or Easter Island as it was named by Europeans. Best known for its mysterious, sentinel-like stone statues, the island lies some 2000 miles off the coast of Chile.

Provided by Darius Jackson.

Welcome to WNIJ's Poetically Yours. This segment showcases poems by northern Illinois poets. Today's episode features Darius Jackson from FourPoets, OneMic. 

After months of lockdown, on a glorious sunny day, I got to watch the Los Angeles Philharmonic rehearse at the famous, near-empty Hollywood Bowl. A year into the pandemic, live concerts are still a rarity in this country, but the LA Phil has been recording concerts here for its online Sound/Stage series.

There were only about seven others scattered in the audience of the vast amphitheater; in sneakers and jeans, conductor Gustavo Dudamel led the orchestra in a piece by composer John Adams, Grand Pianola Music.

Sessions from Studio A - Emily Hurd

Mar 4, 2021

Emily Hurd does it all. She's a musician, a mother, chef, and restaurant owner of The Norwegian in Rockford. Despite the chaos of owning a restaurant in 2020, Emily still found time last year to record and release her latest record "Nightshades". We'll hear songs from that album performed live in Studio A on this week's show, and we'll talk with Emily about her music, The Norwegian, and more.

Pec Playhouse Theatre.

The roof of a northern Illinois theater collapsed Wednesday afternoon.

Snow and ice caused the roof to sink in at the PEC Playhouse Theatre in Pecatonica. No one was in the building at the time.

Suzanne Wiegert is the president of the board of directors at the theater. She said there wasn’t an issue with the roof before the recent snowstorms but the day before the fall, a volunteer noticed that something was brewing. He alerted everyone and the building manager went to check.

Black History Month is coming to a close and WNIJ wants to recognize a Rockford jazz singer and educator who some say is creating a solid legacy in the city.  


Dorothy Paige-Turner can be described as sort of --well-- a renaissance woman.  

In addition to singing and being a retired teacher, she writes books, poetry and plays, leads a number of youth art initiatives, speaks French and has received many awards for her work throughout the years. She was also inducted into the Rockford Fine Arts Coalition 2020 Hall of Fame.

Aurora’s poet laureate is making sure that poetry is in clear view in the city’s downtown.  

Karen-Fullett Christensen was at the starting line ready to take off after her appointment. But before she could get into a stride the pandemic swooped in like a whirlwind.  

“So, all the great plans that I had of things I wanted to do related to the poet laureate position really had to be put on hold with the exception of the Aurora Poet Laureate Facebook page,” she said, “and then everything that we're doing with A-Town Poetics.”  

Jennifer Rea.

Welcome to WNIJ's Poetically Yours. This segment showcases poems by northern Illinois poets. Today's poem is by Jennifer Rea.