I finally discovered Pandora. I expect I'm one of the final hold-outs who haven't tried this free online radio program. I'll tell you about it anyway because if you haven't tried it, you should. It's really neat. I've only been using it for a day or so and am already hooked.
The goal of Pandora is "to play only music you'll love." It is part of the music genome project where music theorists are constantly analyzing pieces and songs for hundreds of different elements. How the station works is that you enter a song or piece or composer that you like and the site creates a radio station just for you. It plays pieces by different composers / artists that have similar characteristics to the one you originally chose. If you dislike a piece it plays you can tell it and it eliminates the piece from your station.
You can also create a station with multiple artists. Just to see what would happen, I created a station by typing in John Philip Sousa and Brahms. It did exactly what it said it would, playing rousing marches by various composers with some Brahms and Tchaikovsky thrown it. It was a jarring mix of styles (as expected!) but this feature is quite handy for situations where more than one person is listening. My brother-in-law is a chemistry professor who uses Pandora in his lab. He has each student type one artist into the station for a mix that everyone can agree on.
The best thing about Pandora is that it exposes you to music you have never heard before that you will most likely enjoy. It doesn't lump entire genres together, assuming, say, that if you like Vivaldi's Spring that you will also love Bach's St. Matthew Passion. The music genome project looks at so many elements that they are able to categorize pieces more narrowly than simply Baroque, Classical, Romantic and 20th Century. I created a station using Stravinsky's Petroushka, which is one of my all-time favorite pieces. I listened for about an hour while Pandora played piece after piece that I had never heard before. I probably wouldn't have picked Michael Tippett's Second Symphony to listen to on my own, but I enjoyed the part I heard on Pandora so much that now I plan to seek out the CD.
For some festive music this weekend, I highly recommend attending the KSO's performance in World's Fair Park. If you can't make it there, or to any live performance this 4th of July, typing John Philip Sousa into Pandora will give you a great mix of music perfect for Independence Day.