Classically Trained: Caroline Shaw

Pictured: Caroline Shaw. Photo by Kris Connor/Contour by Getty Images

By Marisa Mecke

Discover something new today! This series explores the lives and contributions of classical artists with connections to the Carolinas. Intended as quick “brain breaks” for learners of all ages, these educational features can be divided into sections for daily reading or used as lesson plans for students at home.


NAME: Caroline Shaw

PROFESSION: Composer, violinist, vocalist, and producer

WEBSITE: carolineshaw.com

Fun Fact:
One section of Caroline Shaw’s Pulitzer Prize winning piece, Partita for 8 Voices, is inspired by Caroline’s memory of a view of the Albemarle Sound on the northeastern coast of North Carolina, where her grandmother lives.

Musician from Birth

Composer Caroline Shaw was born in Greenville, North Carolina. With her mother as her first teacher, Caroline began studying violin when she was only two years old. Her mother, a Suzuki instructor, instilled a passion for playing in Shaw at a young age, and her father, an avid pianist, also helped cultivate her love of music.

By age ten, Caroline was beginning to gain an interest in chamber music and the nature of playing music in a group. Around this time, she began to write music of her own, most of which was written in the style of chamber music from composers like Mozart and Brahms. Caroline later received her Bachelor of Music in violin performance from Rice University in 2004, followed by a master’s degree in violin from Yale University in 2007. Today, she is an adjunct faculty member at New York University and is a creative associate at The Julliard School.

Video: Attacca Quartet with Caroline Shaw: Lincoln Center Offstage

Fame and the Pulitzer Prize

After graduating and moving to New York in 2008, Shaw joined the progressive a cappella ensemble Roomful of Teeth and began composing for them, including a piece entitled Partita for 8 Voices. The composition is experimental, featuring singing and speaking as well as throat singing, yodeling, and perhaps most uniquely, recitations of passages from artist Sol LeWitt’s Wall Drawings combined with square dancing calls. The eclectic combination of styles and inspirations took two years of work to finish. While enrolled in a PhD program in composition at Princeton University, she submitted Partita for 8 Voices on a whim for the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for Music – and to her surprise, she won.

Video: Partita for 8 Voices by Roomful of Teeth

At age 30, Caroline was the youngest musician to ever claim the Pulitzer Prize in her section. Her composition and vocal skills gained attention worldwide as she collaborated with Richard Reed Parry of Arcade Fire and The National after her Pulitzer win.

After performing Partita for 8 Voices with Roomful of Teeth in Los Angeles, Kanye West approached her with an offer. Producers working with Kanye were looking for someone with a classical composition background to introduce a specific, orchestral sound into Kanye’s work, while Caroline’s projects had typically incorporated elements outside of traditional “classical” sounds. In interviews with outlets like NPR and the Guardian, Caroline recalls feeling conflicted about accepting West’s proposition; however, after diving deep into Kanye’s music, particularly the song “Say You Will,” she decided to join the remixing projects.

Video/Audio: Song of Wood by Richard Reed Parry

Music in Popular Media and Beyond

With Kanye, Caroline co-produced the remix to “Say You Will” from the 2008 album 808’s & Heartbreak. She also sang and played violin in the song, injecting her own orchestral twist into the piece. The collaboration continued as she joined Kanye for his seventh album, The Life of Pablo – her voice is featured in the songs “Father Stretch My Hands Pt 2” and “Wolves” (which also features Frank Ocean). In popular culture, Caroline has appeared on TV shows including Amazon original Mozart in the Jungle (as herself conducting her compositions) and wrote the score for the 2018 film Madeline’s Madeline.

Video: Kanye West – Say You Will ft. Caroline Shaw

Caroline has had the opportunity to use her voice, instrumental talent, and composition skill across a variety of mediums and in collaboration with many other artists; her biography notes that she once “got to sing in three part harmony with Sara Bareilles and Ben Folds at the Kennedy Center, and that was pretty much the bees’ knees and elbows.” With regular university residencies and commissions scheduled for a numerous ensembles, Caroline always has something new on the horizon, combining her classical music background with a style all her own.



  1. Plan & Elevation: IV. The Orangery – Attaca Quartet
  2. Is a Rose: No. 1, The Edge (Live) – Attaca Quartet
  3. Wolves – Kanye West, The Life of Pablo [EXPLICIT]
  4. Plan & Elevation: III. The Herbaceous Border – Attaca Quartet
  5. Enr’acte – Attaca Quartet
  6. The Listeners: No. 8, Sail Through This to That (Live) – Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra
  7. Pt. 2 – Kanye West, The Life of Pablo [EXPLICIT]
  8. The Listeners: No. 6, That’s Us (Live) – Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra
  9. Partita for 8 Singers: No. 1 Allemande – Roomful of Teeth
  10. Partita for 8 Singers: No. 2 Sarabande – Roomful of Teeth
  11. Partita for 8 Singers: No. 3 Courante – Roomful of Teeth
  12. Partita for 8 Singers: No. 4 Passacaglia – Roomful of Teeth
Additional Resources

Video: Kanye West: Father Stretch My Hands Pt. 2

Artist Profile: Caroline Shaw by the North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources

Caroline Shaw Sings Her Own Song (NPR)

Is Caroline Shaw really the future of music? (The Guardian)

Caroline Shaw’s website

The Pulitzer Prizes: Caroline Shaw

Caroline Shaw is Firing on All Creative Cylinders (San Francisco Classical Voice)

Small Batch Artist Q&A with Classically Black

Double bassist Dalanie Harris and violist Katie Brown, cohosts of the acclaimed podcast Classically Black, are the latest guests in WDAV’s virtual Small Batch series. Join us via Facebook Live Friday, May 22nd at 5 p.m. as Katie and Dalanie present favorite past performance recordings and share insights about their podcast and life’s work.

Describe Classically Black and why it’s so important to the here and now.

Classically Black is a podcast that seeks to show Black musicians that even in an industry that so clearly lacks diversity, they are visible and their voices matter. However, Black musicians do not make up the entirety of our audience. Because we cover all things classical music, our podcast attracts all people in the field.

This is especially relevant today because in the past, the world of classical music has not been inclusive of people of color in many ways. Now that many organizations are actively seeking to include more diverse groups, we are able to help aide this change by utilizing our unique perspectives.

We also include humor and references to popular culture in our content as a way of making the classical music aspect of our podcast more approachable to listeners who are not classically trained. This way, not only are we educating those within the field, but we are also engaging those who have never had a way to relate to classical music in the past.

For the uninitiated, is there a specific episode of Classically Black that you would suggest?

An episode we would certainly recommend to any listener is “Let’s Talk About It: Black Achievement in Classical Music” (Episode 60). In this episode, we talk about the achievement gap in classical music at the collegiate level and beyond, and what factors go into this disparity.

This is a topic we are both extremely passionate about, and this episode demonstrates the balance between humor and serious discussion we try to have in every episode.

For the reader who is interested in broadening perspectives, what podcast other than your own would you recommend?

Another classical music podcast we love is Trilloquy, hosted and produced by Garrett McQueen and Scott Blankenship. Like us, the hosts of Trilloquy prioritize giving a voice to those who have been voiceless in classical music for such a long time. We’ve collaborated with them three times so far, and foresee many more! You can listen and learn more about them at www.trilloquy.org.

How has the pandemic impacted your approach to producing the podcast?

Because of our busy schedules before the pandemic, we had to learn how to record remotely. Now that we are quarantined in different cities, we utilize this skill to get our weekly episodes done. Since we had already learned how to do this, moving the show to a completely virtual format fortunately was not a huge adjustment.

To watch Delanie and Katie’s Small Batch concert, navigate to WDAV’s Facebook page or watch on our website.

Ludwig and Wolfgang

By Lawrence Toppman

For nearly half his life, Beethoven had to hear comparisons between himself and Wolfgang Mozart. Some came from well-wishers, but one warped his personality forever.

Supporters in his birthplace of Bonn urged him to go to Vienna to study with Mozart, but the older man died the year before Beethoven arrived in 1792. As he departed, Count Waldstein (dedicatee of Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 21) told him, “You will receive the spirit of Mozart from the hands of Haydn.”

Beethoven made Mozart’s Concerto No. 25 his calling card as a piano soloist. He copied Mozart’s style in early violin sonatas, used it as a jumping-off point in the first two symphonies and rebelled against it in string quartets. Sometimes Mozart simply daunted him: The idea of following the 18th century’s greatest composer of comic operas kept Beethoven from finishing one.

The saddest link between them lay in manipulative, sometimes tyrannical fathers. Leopold Mozart trotted his prodigy around Europe, gathering fame and money at royal courts, and ever after tried to keep his son dependent on him emotionally and supporting him (at least in part) financially.

Johann van Beethoven, a musician and teacher in Bonn, took Leopold as a role model while raising his first surviving son. (Another Ludwig lived for four days in 1769, the year before the composer’s birth.) But where Leopold used psychology to try to control Wolfgang, Johann used the rod.

He put his son on display as a prodigy, lying about the boy’s age to exaggerate his prowess. He forced Ludwig to practice, beating him when he would not and once locking him in a cellar for abandoning the piano bench. Meanwhile, Johann drank profusely, especially after Ludwig’s mother died when the boy was 16.

After that, the family depended more and more on the gifted young pianist and organist to support them. Finally, 18-year-old Ludwig obtained a court order requiring that half of Johann’s pay be turned over to him to maintain himself and two younger brothers. Johann died months after Ludwig moved to Vienna at 21.

Classically Trained: Dan Forrest

By Mary Lathem

Discover something new today! This series explores the lives and contributions of classical artists with connections to the Carolinas. Intended as quick “brain breaks” for learners of all ages, these educational features can be divided into sections for daily reading or used as lesson plans for students at home.

Quick Facts

NAME: Dan Forrest 


WEBSITE: danforrest.com

Fun Fact
Many of Dan’s best loved works have premiered right here in the Carolinas! Notable examples include his most popular work, Requiem for the Living, which was commissioned for The Hickory Choral Society’s 35th anniversary, and LUX: The Dawn From On High, which was commissioned and premiered by the Greenville Chorale and Symphony. 

Musical Beginnings

Composer Dan Forrest is known for his expertly-crafted melodies and “superb writing…full of spine-tingling moments,” primarily using sacred texts and themes (Salt Lake Tribune). With dozens of critically-acclaimed pieces for ensembles of all sizes and skill levels under his belt, Dan’s works are beloved by choral musicians and audiences alike – but composition wasn’t his first path as a musician.  

Dan’s formal training as a pianist began at the age of 8, but his interest in music blossomed even earlier. In an interview with music publishing company J.W. Pepper, he remarked: “When I was really little, my mom would play little songs at the piano and teach me to hear the difference between major and minor chords… I became our church pianist when I was in sixth grade, and that gave me a lot of valuable experience while I was still young.”

Dan went on to major in piano at Bob Jones University in Greenville, SC, where his flair for composition truly took off. After studying advanced theory and composition throughout his time at Bob Jones, he remained in South Carolina as a piano teacher and later earned his D.M.A. in composition from the University of Kansas. 

Interest in Choral Music

Though Dan’s earliest forays into composition were solo works for the piano, he discovered a deeper interest in the human voice while pursuing his Master’s degree: “I was completely infatuated with recordings of choral music, and I heard what choirs could do, musically… it was when I got excited about choirs that I really started composing.” His first published choral piece with Beckenhorst Press, “Sun of My Soul,” came out in 2001 and sparked a lasting relationship: Dan now serves as assistant editor for the publishing company. 

Notable Projects and Awards

Dan’s best-known work, Requiem for the Living (2013), began as an open-ended commission from The Hickory Choral Society in Hickory, NC, which he described as a “composer’s dream come true.” Tasked with creating a large-scale piece for chorus and orchestra, Dan chose to invert the traditional formula for a Requiem, focusing on “light, peace, and rest” for both the deceased and the living. Subsequent large-scale works include Jubilate Deo (2016) and LUX: The Dawn From On High (2017). One of his shortest choral settings, “Good Night, Dear Heart” (2008), is particularly well known in choral circles and has been published in several iterations since its original SATB arrangement, including a version for mens’ choir and a transcription for wind band. 

Among numerous other awards and accolades, Dan is a two-time John Ness Beck Foundation first-place winner (2004 and 2009), a 2005 winner of the ACDA Raymond Brock Composition award, and a 2006 recipient of the prestigious ASCAP Morton Gould Young Composers Award for selected movements from Words From Paradise. In addition to his composition career, Dan is a regular adjudicator, accompanist, and educator and frequently collaborates with choral ensembles through commissions, presentations, and residencies. 

Video: Dan Forrest Interview – Requiem for the Living
Video: And Can It Be (Dan Forrest) – 2019 BBC Proms
New Irish Chamber Choir and Ulster Orchestra
Video: Tulane Choir dedicating “Good Night, Dear Heart”
to those who have lost their fight to Covid-19
  1. Good Night, Dear Heart – Seraphic Fire, 2014
  2. Gaelic Morning, arr. Dan Forrest – Illuminations, 2015
  3. Requiem for the Living: V. Lux Aeterna – 2013
  4. Lux: The Dawn from On High: IV. Gloria in Excelsis (Live) – 2017
  5. Jubilate Deo: IV. Ngokujabula! – 2016
  6. The Breath of Life: 2. First Breath Last Breath – 2019
  7. The Sun never says (Voces8) – Enchanted Isle, 2019
Reading and Additional Resources

Choral Conversations: Dan Forrest (J.W. Pepper)

The Music of Dan Forrest – Composer. Pianist. Educator.

Dan Forrest (Wikipedia)

Small Batch Artist Q & A with Pamela Coats

Clarinetist Pamela Coats is the featured artist of WDAV’s upcoming virtual Small Batch concert on Friday, May 15th at 5 p.m. She has been a prize-winner in competitions in Germany, Italy, and the USA and is a founding member of the International Chamber Artists. A graduate of UNC-Greensboro, Pamela currently calls Cologne, Germany home. Orchesterverein Zürich described her as “an impressive personality and a brilliant clarinetist,” and we couldn’t agree more. 

Let’s start with the story behind how you chose the clarinet.

“I started playing the clarinet in the 5th grade – my Dad was stationed in Norfolk, and I went to a school that had just started a music program with the aim of putting on a musical at the end of the year. I had either the choice of playing an instrument or singing in the chorus (I think that I made the better choice). While my dad was stationed at Ft. Bragg, I went to school in Cumberland County (Westover Senior High) at the time where the wind ensemble competitiveness was really high. I wanted to be in the mix and auditioned to be in All-County Band and Orchestra.”

Can you pinpoint the moment you knew you wanted to be a professional musician?

“I knew that I wanted to be a professional musician when I started studying at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG). I didn’t know what direction I wanted to go, but I was able to take many different courses from composition to woodwind instrument repair. I also completed an arts administration internship with the Greensboro Philharmonic. I really wanted to understand how an orchestra (and performing) worked from the inside out. After obtaining these different perspectives, I was able to confidently make the decision to become a professional musician.”

Your career started in North Carolina and then Chicago. Now you’re based in Germany. What prompted your move?

“During my UNCG time, I researched a lot about the history of the clarinet and found out that it was invented in Germany. At the same time, I knew that I wanted to return to Germany (we were also stationed in Germany before returning to Ft. Bragg), at least to study. I wanted to be surrounded by the history of the music that I was studying. I had the extreme luck to be able to attend the conservatory in Cologne and obtain a performance degree there.”

What are some of the differences between performing in the U.S. versus Europe?

“In Europe, it seems like there is a concert hall in almost every city or church that has its own concert series – In Germany, the cities either partially or completely fund these institutions. In the US, it’s necessary to have community involvement (people and businesses in the area) if you start your own ensemble or concert series. The U.S. musicians are willing to dream and dream big – to start a concert series or an ensemble and give it time to develop as well as be more involved. Also, in Europe, chamber groups such as woodwind quintets or string quartets are founded when the students are in high school (15-16 years of age). Then they attend the conservatory together and may already be performing professionally while studying.”

Would you say the challenges are the same or different for professional musicians in Europe?

“I think that the basic challenge of developing an interesting program and being able to live from your art is the same. The difference (that I see) is that European musicians expect to live from their music, and we study music to be a well-rounded person, not necessarily to make a living as a performer.”

Is there classical music on the radio where you live? How does it compare to classical radio in the U.S.?

“Yes, there are definitely classical music radio stations here in Germany. Some classical music stations specialize in early music or modern music. Every main radio station has an orchestra that is connected to it. NDR (North German Radio) has the NDR Philharmonic in Hamburg and Hannover/WDR (West German Radio) has the WDR Radio Symphony, etc.”

Tell us about your most memorable concert experience.

“My soprano, clarinet, and piano trio was selected to participate in the Yehudi Menuhin program ‘Live Music Now’ in the state of North Rhine Westphalia, and we performed in hospitals, senior centers, and homes for the disabled as well as prisons. All the performances were moving, but when we performed in hospitals – knowing that some of the patients would not be able to go home – we seemed to always perform our best for them.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has closed down concert halls and brought live, in-person performance to a standstill. Is it the same where you are?

“It is definitely the same, which makes every musician super sad. The Berlin Philharmonic gave a chamber concert of Mahler’s 4th Symphony on April 30th, and the Düsseldorf Symphonic Orchestra also gave a chamber concert on May 1st to an empty concert hall. Both concerts gave me and my colleagues hope that we will be back to performing, in some form or fashion, in the fall.”

In what ways, if any, do you think the pandemic will have a long-lasting effect on your profession?

“I think that the coronavirus pandemic will have a lasting effect on classical music. Opera and orchestras might have to postpone or perform in smaller formations until there is a vaccine. Small ensembles and smaller programs will have a chance to shine. My hope is that chamber music compositions that are not normally performed (from female composers and/or minority composers) get a chance to be heard in this time and become a part of the standard repertoire.”


Time to play favorites. Tell us your favorites from each category. Ready. Set. Go.

Favorite era of music: Late Romantic to Early Modern (1830-1930), which corresponds to the artistic period of art nouveau through the art deco period.

Favorite composer: Sergei Prokofiev (Violin Concerto No. 2) and Johannes Brahms (almost everything – and he’s my neighbor! I live down the street from his birthplace).

Favorite piece to listen to: So many! Hailstork’s An American Port of Call, Brahms’ Symphony No. 2 or 4, the von Herzogenberg Piano Quintet, Ethel Symthe symphonies, Schulhoff’s Divertissement, Martinu’s Nonet…

Favorite piece to perform: Samuel Coleridge Taylor’s Clarinet Quintet, Poulenc’s Mouvements Perpértuels for Nonet

Favorite place to perform: The place that I’m performing at the time 🙂


To view Pamela’s Small Batch concert, navigate to WDAV’s Facebook page or watch on our website.

Classically Trained: Bejun Mehta

Pictured: Bejun Mehta by Marco Borggreve, CC BY 3.0.

by Mary Lathem

Discover something new today! This series explores the lives and contributions of classical artists with connections to the Carolinas. Intended as quick “brain breaks” for learners of all ages, these educational features can be divided into sections for daily reading or used as lesson plans for students at home.

Quick Facts

NAME: Bejun Mehta

PROFESSION: Opera Singer

VOICE TYPE: Countertenor

WEBSITE: bejunmehta.com

What is a countertenor?
“Countertenor” classifies the highest voice type for a male classical singer, achieved by using falsetto. A countertenor’s range is usually similar to a female contralto or mezzo-soprano, but can even be as high as a soprano’s range!

The Boy Soprano Years

It’s not unusual to go through a career change or two over the course of your life – but can you imagine retiring from your first career at 15? Though he is one of the most celebrated countertenors alive today, Bejun Mehta’s journey from accomplished boy soprano to the opera stage was less of a straight line than you might think. 

Born in Laurinburg, North Carolina in 1968, Bejun quickly attracted attention for his unusually strong, clear soprano voice. By the age of 8, he had established himself as a prodigy, regularly performing as a soloist with major orchestras around the globe – but even as his skill developed, he knew this stage of life wouldn’t last forever. With a voice change quickly approaching, he recorded the 1983 album Bejun at 14, and his boy soprano career halted shortly after. 

Video/Audio: Bejun Mehta sings “So shall the lute and harp awake” from Handel’s Judas Maccabeus, Age 14.
A Time of Transition

In a 1998 interview with the New York Times, Bejun described the end of his boy soprano years as a “double whammy:” ”Not only did you stop being visible and famous, but you lost what it was that you could do. And that was tremendously painful.” Over the next several years, he continued his musical pursuits as a cellist, conductor, and producer, but he could never shake the need to sing. After attempting to train as a baritone (an effort that “just wasn’t working”) and nearly giving up on singing altogether, Bejun experimented with his range one afternoon after reading an article about a countertenor – and something truly magical happened. 

A Singing Career, Reinvented

Though becoming a countertenor might seem like a logical next step, the mechanics of the boy soprano and countertenor voice are not always compatible – and Bejun wasn’t interested in the “hooty, broken-voiced sound” of many countertenors he knew as a child. In fact, he disliked the idea of being a countertenor so much that he never considered becoming one until the day of his “experiment.” 

Listening with the ears of a music producer, Bejun was surprised to discover that he liked the quality of his higher register – and after a fateful audition just one month later, opera legend Marilyn Horne connected him with a manager. Less than a year after discovering his countertenor voice, Bejun made his New York City Opera debut as Armindo in Handel’s “Partinope.” 

Notable Projects

Since his first operatic role in 1998, Bejun has gained a reputation as one of the finest countertenors of a generation. Described by Opera News as “perhaps the most sophisticated and musically satisfying of today’s countertenors,” Bejun regularly performs repertoire ranging from Baroque to contemporary music in addition to his thriving opera career. 

Among dozens of other notable projects, Bejun’s 2011 solo CD Ombra Cara, a collection of Handel arias, won the ECHO Klassik for Best Operatic Recording of the Year. Bejun has recorded extensively after his 1983 debut record; his most recent album, CANTATA – yet can I hear…, was released in 2018 and received the Diapason d’Or distinction. In 2012 and 2013, Bejun appeared in both premiere casts of George Benjamin’s opera Written on Skin; the role of the Boy was created specifically for him. A new recording of Handel’s Orlando with Bejun in the title role was released in 2014, and in the same year, ArtHaus released a complete, staged film recording of Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice with Bejun as star and artistic advisor. 

Gluck – Orfeo ed Euridice (Vienna version, 1762) featuring Bejun Mehta.
Resources & More
Fun Facts
Leonard Bernstein By Jack Mitchell, CC BY-SA 4.0.

As a longtime supporter of Bejun’s boy soprano career, Leonard Bernstein once remarked, “It is hard to believe the richness and maturity of musical understanding in this adolescent boy.”

2020 Grammy logo. Credit: Courtesy of the Recording Academy™/Getty Images © 2019

Bejun won a GRAMMY award for his production work on Janos Starker’s 1997 recording of Bach’s Cello Suites. 

“Fammi combattere” – Handel’s Orlando, 2010.
“Up the dreadful step ascending” – Handel’s Jephtha, 2016.
  1. Semele, “Where’er you walk,” Bejun (1987)
  2. Bach Cello Suite No. 1 in G Major, I. Prelude – Janos Starker (1997)
  3. Giulio Cesare in Egitto, “L’empio, Sleale, Indegno” (2003)
  4. Handel: Ombra cara “Aria Voi, che udito il mio lamento” (2010)
  5. Ralph Vaughan Williams, “Bright is the Ring of Words,” Down By the Salley Gardens (2011) 
  6. George Benjamin, Written on Skin, “Part One, Scene IV: Agnes and the Boy I” (2012)
  7. Jose de Nebra, “Vendado amor es, no ciego” El Maestro Farinelli (2014)
  8. Handel Orlando: Act I, 15. Aria “Fammi combattere” (2014)
  9. Handel, “I Will Magnify Thee,” Cantata (2018)
Sources and Further Reading

Bejun Mehta’s website

Career Reborn, on a High Note (New York Times, 1998)

A New Voice, Fully Formed (Los Angeles Times, 1999)

CANTATA – Yet Can I Hear… (Opera News)

Bejun Mehta (Wikipedia)


Mother’s Day Music Dedications from WDAV Staff Members

By Mary Lathem

This Mother’s Day, we’re showing our appreciation for the remarkable women who were there for us from the very start. Our staff members selected pieces of music to dedicate to their own mothers in celebration of this special day. 


“Appalachian Spring,” Aaron Copland

Myelita Melton, Afternoon Host

“I’d like to dedicate the ‘Simple Gifts’ melody that Aaron Copland uses in ‘Appalachian Spring’ In Memoriam to my mother, Kathryn C. Melton. Since it was written during WWII in response to GIs coming home and the millions of deaths, it seems most appropriate now. You can’t beat the words of the old Shaker hymn:

‘Tis the gift to be simple, ’tis the gift to be free

’Tis the gift to come down where you ought to be

And when we find ourselves in the place just right,

‘Twill be in the valley of love and delight.

The video is a recent virtual performance of the piece by the Toronto Symphony; they call it a virtual musical hug. I send this to everyone who has lost their mother and who knows the true value of our treasured ‘simple gifts.’”

Video: Appalachian Spring by the Musicians of the Toronto Symphony

“You’ll Never Walk Alone” from Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Carousel

Frank Dominguez, General Manager and Content Director

“My mother loved movie musicals, and this song in particular always moved her. It seems to be enjoying renewed popularity during these days of isolation. While it’s an example of popular Broadway theater music, Rodgers’ gift for vocal melody resonates with many classical music singers and listeners, so I think of it as an appropriate selection for this Mother’s Day.”

Video: “You’ll Never Walk Alone” Virtual Choir/Orchestra 15 Countries: 300 People

“The Lark Ascending,” Ralph Vaughan Williams

Rachel Stewart, Associate Content Director and Host

“My mother loves nature and the outdoors, and she is especially fond of birds. This relatively short work by Vaughan Williams captures the flight and voice of the lark and other birds so beautifully. It is also contemplative and soothing, just like my mother.”

Video: Vaughn Williams: The Lark Ascending

Piano Sonata No. 12 in F Major, W.A. Mozart

Mary Lathem, Marketing & Digital Communications Specialist 

“This sonata and my mother, Leslie Jacob Lathem, have one very important thing in common: no matter what, they can always make me smile. It may sound simple, but there’s a zest for life about this piece that reminds me so much of her: the BEST vacation buddy, a big fan of simple pleasures, and the smartest, most warmhearted woman I know. Enjoy your day, Mom!”

Video: Mozart: Piano Sonata No. 12 in F Major, K. 332 – 1. Allegro

“Va, pensiero” from Nabucco, Giuseppe Verdi

Ted Weiner, Music Director

“My mother Pegg was a big fan of Italian opera. Her favorite song was Verdi’s ‘Va, pensiero’ from Nabucco. When she died suddenly in November of 1995, just a few weeks after being with us in Charlotte for the birth of my first daughter, Beatrice, I was not able to fly back to San Francisco immediately because of the new baby. Sadly, I missed the memorial my brother had arranged for her at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco. In her honor, the Grace choir sang ‘Va, pensiero.’ A few months later I was able to join my family when we scattered my mother’s ashes in San Francisco Bay – and in my mind was Verdi’s, ‘Va, pensiero.’ ‘Go, thought, on the golden wings…’”

Video: Virtual Choir “Va pensiero” (“Nabucco” by G. Verdi) – International Opera Choir

“Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis,” Ralph Vaughan Williams

Will Keible, Director of Marketing and Corporate Support

“I doubt my mom has ever heard this piece, but it’s one of those masterpieces that immediately grabs hold of you. It transports the listener to a different time and place, one of beauty, mystery, and drama, and I think she’d love it. Happy Mother’s Day, Mom! I love you.”

Video: Vaughn Williams: Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis

The strange saga of Beethoven’s skull

By Lawrence Toppman

Metaphorically speaking, contemporaries seldom knew where Beethoven’s head was at when he composed. Physically speaking, that was true after he decomposed. Most of his skull remains in Vienna’s Central Cemetery, along with the rest of him — but not all.

After his funeral in 1827, the body went to a cemetery in Währing northwest of Vienna. On a bizarre note, a grave-digger was allegedly offered money to remove the head, so Beethoven’s friends kept watch over the grave.

In 1863, scientists dug up Beethoven and Schubert (who lay nearby) to study the bodies and re-inter them. Phrenology became popular in the first half of the 19th century, so they may have wanted to “read” skeletal bumps. Romeo Seligmann, professor of the history of medicine at the University of Vienna, reportedly acquired fragments of Beethoven’s skull. (More of him in a minute.) Some of Beethoven’s ear bones also went missing, probably in an attempt to see what caused his deafness.

The Viennese dug him up again in 1888 to move him to Central Cemetery. Historians say elderly composer Anton Bruckner, himself eight years away from the grave, attended the ceremony; by one account, he cradled Beethoven’s skull in his hands and may have dropped a lens from his pince-nez into the coffin, so a piece of him would lodge with Beethoven forever. (He also did his skull-seizing act on Schubert and had to be removed from both proceedings.)

Meanwhile, the skull fragments from Seligmann’s collection made their way through generations of family members and landed at the Ira F. Brilliant Center for Beethoven Studies at San Jose State University. Alas, the Californians discovered in 2015 that these pieces could not have come from Beethoven’s skull, after all.

Why does all this matter? Why did Bruckner, a devout Roman Catholic, treat the skull like a holy relic? Aside from medical questions – would ear fragments really tell us anything? – what difference does it make where the bones lie?

Maybe we’re so awestruck by his genius that we keep searching for a physical explanation. How did this overweight, hard-drinking, frequently ill man produce such an array of masterpieces? Was it simply cerebral hardwiring? A creative spark from God? Or can we find a clue among the remnants of his broken body? The question can never be answered, but we ask it anyway.