George Shangrow Tributes
As you undoubtedly now know, George Shangrow died in a car crash on Saturday, July 31, 2010. He was 59 years old. We will all miss him terribly.
In 1969, when he was still a teenager, George founded the Seattle Chamber Singers. Ten years later, he formed the group that would become Orchestra Seattle. Over the past four decades, George touched the lives of thousands of musicians who worked with him in these and other ensembles, audience members across the region and around the world who experienced his unique brand of music-making, and countless others who knew him as the host of radio’s “Live By George.”
In 1969, when he was still a teenager, George founded the Seattle Chamber Singers. Ten years later, he formed the group that would become Orchestra Seattle. Over the past four decades, George touched the lives of thousands of musicians who worked with him in these and other ensembles, audience members across the region and around the world who experienced his unique brand of music-making, and countless others who knew him as the host of radio’s “Live By George.”
George possessed a rare combination of musical gifts—conductor, harpsichordist, pianist, teacher, speaker—that he employed in the most intimate chamber music as well as the grandest works for chorus and orchestra. He leaves an astounding musical legacy, having conducted dozens of world premieres by Northwest composers and introduced so many seldom-performed masterpieces of the oratorio repertoire to Seattle audiences.
Those of us who performed with George are shocked and deeply saddened by his death. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family members, several of whom are also our musical colleagues.
If you wish to share your thoughts and memories about George, please do so by e-mailing them to us; we will share them with George’s friends and family, and post your tributes below.
Remembrances from Orcas Island
Though our time together was all too brief, my memories of George are everlasting, and will continue to shine brightly. Finding the words to write have not come easily to me. But, while on Orcas Island for the opening concert of the 2010 Orcas Island Chamber Music Festival, Aloysia Friedmann, Artistic Director for the festival, gave a wonderful tribute to George, which in so many ways captures George’s passion to share and experience music with others. George was scheduled to give his “Music Lover’s Seminar” for the duration of the festival. It was one of his favorite lectures. He reconnected with many friends, as well as made new ones. With Aloysia’s permission, I am posting her tribute below:
Let us raise our glasses to toast our friend George Shangrow. Most importantly, I’d like everyone to do it with a smile on our faces (or at least in our hearts.) He would have wanted that.
It’s incredible how one’s life can be intertwined with another. Several decades ago, in 1977, I remember what an honor it was to have George Shangrow volunteer to coach the Roosevelt High School Orchestra, of which I was concertmaster. We didn’t have a conductor, and George, who was a Roosevelt High School graduate himself, offered to work with us. Not only did he do that, but he offered to play harpsichord in our final senior-year concert at the University Unitarian Church. He was helping all of us become better musicians. We felt very honored by his generosity, and were all very excited.
A few years later George gave me my first concertmaster job, playing the Bach B minor Mass, which contained a beautiful violin solo. We worked on it at the church, and I remember his coaching so well. How truly wonderful it was that he had faith in me at an early age!
George’s first association with OICMF was that I was interviewed several times on his radio show, “Live By George,” in the early years of the festival.
Shortly after that, George came up wearing his many hats. He played harpsichord, led pre-concert talks, performed piano, was our emergency page turner, and so much more, culminating in recent years with his idea, now completely realized in the form of the “Music Lover’s Seminar.” George was the first person who would want these seminars to go forward and grow.
It would be just about this time during the past years at the festival that I would run into George in the office. I’d look up and gave him a big hug. Being quite different in size, I would look up into his smiling face, looking down at me.
I just want to say, “Hello, George, and thank you for looking after all of our musical lives.
I would like to add that even though the first lecture was cancelled, many musicians from the festival stepped forward for the remainder of the “Music Lover’s Seminar.” What has become an annual tradition will continue in George Shangrow’s honor. George touched our lives in so many ways; the “many hats that he wore” will live on in all our hearts, inspiring us to be passionate and share what we love with others.
In Baseball, as in Music, Genius Is Forever
For those unfamiliar, the death of Shangrow was to the Seattle classical music community what the deaths of Elvis, John Lennon and Kurt Cobain were to earlier generations of rockers.
[Read the complete article: seattlepi.com]
P-I sports columnist
I was a member of George’s choirs at University Unitarian and First Christian Church for over 20 years. This involved my getting up on Sunday mornings, which in itself showed his ability to inspire. One year early on, I decided to attend the “music camp” George held every year in Port Townsend.
Breaking us up into small groups, he mentioned we needed one person per part for each group. I took him aside. “Umm I can’t sing one-to-a-part,” I said. “You know, I’m a follower in choir.”
“Oh,” he said, but before I knew it I was in a four-member group learning a four-part song.
The group worked hard, but our song wasn’t coming together at all. During the dress rehearsal, I thought I saw a rare look of worry cross George’s face.
The four of us kept practicing. At the camp recital the next day, we got up to perform. I know I looked terrified.
Our number came off without a hitch, and we stood a bit stunned as the audience applauded enthusiastically. George jumped up and cheered the loudest of all.
It was a small testimony to his inclusiveness and tendency to believe that anything is possible. I will never forget it, and am thankful for all the memories.
I have heard several times chamber music concerts played by Mr. George Shangrow with flutist Jeffery Cohan in Seattle. Wonderful music. He was a great musician and harpsichordist. I enjoyed his music very much. I will miss him!
Please give my sympathies and regards to George’s family.
professor of flute, China Consecratory of Music, Beijing
With my strange Swiss-English, I try to write some words.
More than 30 years ago, a young duo with George Shangrow and Jeff Cohan came to Bern, Switzerland.
I saw them in a Jazz-and-Folkclub, where usually no classical music was played.
George was looking for somebody to turn the pages, so I did it, because I was taking harpsichord lessons.
And the Jazzclub was full and everybody was impressed—maybe there were some who discovered classical music with the help of those two musicians.
I was a young kindergarten teacher not yet finished with my studies. We had some funny times with other “turning-pages” concerts. They also played “Down by the Sally Gardens,” an Irish tune, which was one of my favorites.
Then 30 years passed. Everyone of us went his way.
Last year, in September 2009, my husband and I planned to travel to Seattle, Vancouver and other places. I thought maybe, I can try to find an address of George. I had no idea where he was living. With the Internet, those things are possible.
I found a link for Orcas Island Festival music lovers seminar with George Shangrow and sent a mail to the administration director who sent it to George.
He answered and invited us to his house. He made a wonderful evening with some friends and Daisy. He prepared a wonderful table and made the barbecue himself. It was just great. Such a warm welcome and heartful evening after
more than 30 years without any contact between.
We saw what a person George was, and we are so sad that he has passed away.
We send much love to Daisy and George’s family and friends and musicians of the choir and orchestra, especially to Laurie Medill.
We share your mourning and send love to the soul of George and we keep him in our hearts.
Katrin Zigerli and Andreas Wyss
Oh George we’ll miss you so much.
Although my life commitments didn’t allow me to even think that I might sing one day with Seattle Chamber Singers, I had the privilege of singing under George’s direction for about five “Messiah Sing-Alongs” back in the early days at University Unitarian Church. What a joy! And what admiration for his bright light was instilled in me.
My husband and I never missed a performance of Messiah over the years since, and were ardent supporters of all George’s efforts and those of Orchestra Seattle and Seattle Chamber Singers.
I’ve been blown away by the profound effect his life and death have had on me. Thank you for having been in my life, dear George. I hope you somehow know .
I, a mere admirer from a distance, a season subscriber and donor, but not part of the “inner circle,” have been aching, feeling a part of me ripped out, since reading the news story of the tragic accident. I have wept reading the many memories on this page, and wept more at the memorial service. Why? I think because George was “family,” and because even though he only knew me by my face in the front row, I was never in doubt that, had I knocked, he would have graciously and warmly opened his heart still wider to accommodate another musically sensitive soul.
The most overwhelming feeling at the service was that of thousands of people sharing their love for George. People, many no doubt like myself, who have only been on the periphery of his “bigger than life” presence, but who know in their hearts how special, how rare, how genuine, George was in the world, and who know they are unlikely to ever have even a distant relationship with such a person again.
At the first concert of the 2009–10 season I sat in the front, reading Lorelette’s fabulous notes, and waiting for the Maestro to open the door. When he appeared, took a bow, picked up his baton, and waited for the audience to be ready, I suddenly stopped breathing. The suspense of that first note, the depth of feeling and understanding that I knew I was about to experience, were just overwhelming. I’m sure the members of OSSCS have had this experience many, many times.
We live in a shallow, noisy world, filled with screams and lies and deceptions. George and OSSCS knew how to keep the demons at bay, and allow our souls to briefly experience beauty and truth. I miss you George—we all miss you. We have our personal memories, some CDs and DVDs, but tragically we no longer have you. In our minds we hear the soulful strains of Brahms’ “Selig sind die toten die in dem Herren sterben ” and we weep, in spite of the words.
Jim van Zee
I had the pleasure of playing with George for a short time decades ago—piano trios and works for chorus and chamber orchestra. He was a remarkable man with amazing energy.
Walter Cassel, a professor I had at Indiana University, started telling me about various conductors he had performed under. He described a memorable but grueling experience. Walter commented, “There are two ways to make music. One is with love and mutual respect, and the other is with fear and intimidation. Unfortunately, they both work.”
I have carried that comment with me for over 30 years and I have to say that it is true. I have been in some wonderful concerts where the participants walked of the building after the last note had died out, all saying, “Thank God that’s over with.” In contrast, how many times have I left after a concert conducted by George, and happily zipped into the 75th Street Safeway to pick up some beer and tortilla chips, then headed over to George’s house in time for the beginning of the playing of the recording of that evening’s performance. The recording would arrive sort of like a hot pizza, having just been finalized in the CD burner. The four hours of the performance just wasn’t enough time spent together for that Merry Band. The opening chorus of the Christmas Oratorio would turn into a disco dance with George at the center doing the bump. As the replay would drone on into the wee hours, George would seek out particular people as their moment in the spotlight came up and he would regale them with praise, quite often inventing a new adjective in the process. Sometimes, if a musical phrase was accomplished with great style, George would describe it with delight as “shamelessly trashy.” The highest compliment was reserved for J.S Bach, who was dubbed “The Trash Master.”
In the last moment before George and the four vocal soloists would walk out to perform a section of Messiah, George would turn to us and ask what time it was. He would then pause and reflect for a moment and then he would tell us what time we would be walking out for the intermission. In the 22 years I performed Messiah with him, he was always accurate within three minutes. Some musicians think that Mendelssohn’s Elijah is trite or outmoded, and they only perform out of a sense of duty—not George. He loved it. And the very things that other conductors might have shied away from bringing out, he found a way to accent. And some of the emotionally charged phrases—rather than presenting those things blandly to tone them down, George would serve them up with unabashed romanticism.
George’s relationship with Handel’s Messiah is well known. But did you also know that he adored Handel’s Theodora, Saul, Israel in Egypt? He loved all those. And he knew them inside out. I want to say
something about how George exceeded academia; I don’t want to say he despised it—I think he circumvented it. In a conversation, some were recalling the dreaded quiz that every music history student takes, where they are required to describe the differences between the two Flemish composers, Obrecht and Ockeghem. George was the only person in the conversation who had actually performed the music of Obrecht and Ockeghem. Another similar story: a candidate for a doctorate in choral conducting was writing her thesis on the differences between Bach’s St. John Passion and St. Matthew Passion. She had planned to include an interview with George in her thesis. When that person told George that her doctoral committee was not interested in having his opinions included in the paper, George replied quite calmly, “That’s fine. I’m sure that no one on that committee has conducted those works 14 or 15 times.”
George loved to tell the story of how he would have lunch with other choral conductors who would roll their eyes and say, “My board of directors is making me put on Messiah again this season.” To which George would gleefully reply, “I can’t wait to put it on again this season!”
George had no falseness about him. He had no veneer to guide him through moments where diplomacy might have been useful. George was more inclined to overturn the tables set up in front of the temple. George didn’t want to go to New York, San Francisco or Europe to develop his career in the hopes of a triumphant re-entry into the city. He loved Seattle, the city of his birth, and he thought we deserved to hear Monteverdi, Purcell, Bach and Handel. I wonder how many people have performed the majority of their musical triumphs within a five-mile radius of the high school they attended.
But “a prophet is not honored in his own hometown.” There are organizations and people who have honored George since his death who did not honor him in his lifetime. Frankly, I think he would be surprised by some. Those who honor George to reconcile the pain they caused in his lifetime through their inability to work with him, to get along with him, are entitled to do so. Those who cherish him unconditionally will lay down their desire to filter them out of a memorial of George’s life. As Secretary of War Edwin Stanton said in 1865, as he stood at the foot of Lincoln’s deathbed, “He belongs to the ages now.” I think what Stanton meant was
from that moment forward it would become increasingly difficult to separate the man as he was as an everyday human being from the legend of his greater works. So we have to hand George’s spirit over to the imperfect community of humanity of which we are all members, and let him be remembered well by all who choose to do so. In death we do well to let discord blur and lift up the things that were unique and amazing about a person and continue to shine a light upon those things. But to those who might have been more helpful, more tolerant, more forgiving, I have to say: Now what? If you think the guy was so great and his music deserves to be put on, then lift him up when he is alive. Can we learn, can we grow; can we take tragic adversity and evolve? It is a worthy gesture to donate concert space for a memorial concert, but what about the living? Where will they go? This summer, 40 years after George put on his first concert, one of many hopeful new groups, Puget Sound Opera, put on performances of two operas. This was worthy of attention, with talented young singers trying to scratch out a break. These operas were too obscure and esoteric for a big-budget opera theater to risk doing. But hearing these lesser-known works gives us the rare opportunity to commune with the composers we revere. Of course we know Rigoletto, but have you heard Luisa Miller? This fledgling new group could not afford to rent any hall in the Seattle city limits. So they gave their performances in Bremerton and Everett, too far removed from the city where sufficient interest would exist, and they were poorly attended. I’m sure they would have been given the opportunity to publicize their performances on “Live By George” if such a thing existed anymore. Orchestra Seattle has the gracious generosity of First Free Methodist Church to thank for being able to exist within the city limits. Will other people who can provide support reach out to these groups and lift them up? Or are we a second city, where only the largest organizations, playing safe mainstream repertoire are a guaranteed draw? Can those who hold the power recognize talent that is young and struggling and bolster them up?
When my mentor George Peckham died at 93 after a long, productive and beloved life, I waited for an epiphany of meaning. I was suddenly charged with the responsibility of trying to be a teacher of higher wisdom. I had involuntarily taken one step closer to my own death and in his absence I had to assume the role of the next in line to disperse the musical perspective, which was uniquely his. Eventually I concluded that life was just going to be poorer thereafter. With George Shangrow’s death, I am reminded of when I load pictures from my digital camera onto my computer. There is software that lets you crop the picture or adjust the light or contrast or the color saturation. George’s death feels like the slide bar on color saturation has been rudely seized and slid to the left toward a colorless sepia. Put away your eight jumbo Crayola crayons.
For all the hats George wore, in the end you have to see him as music teacher. He just wanted to share music with people and frankly it wasn’t all that important how that was accomplished. Whether he was conducting a concert or on the radio or simply entertaining guests in his home, playing recordings, describing them as they went, it was about sharing something he was excited about. And he had the same boyish excitement about everything he listened to, as my childhood friend Randy did when he pulled up to my house on his three-speed Schwinn bicycle with a brand new copy of the LP Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.
I guess 59 is about as old as you can be and still die young. The first new song I was introduced to since George’s death is a piece called “Youth and Love,” from Vaughan Williams’ Songs of Travel. The words are by Robert Louis Stevenson:
To the heart of youth the world is a highway.
Passing forever he travels.
Call him with lighted lamp in the eventide.
Thick as stars at night when the moon is down, pleasures assail him.
He to his nobler fate fares; and waves a hand as he passes on,
Cries a wayside word to her at the garden gate,
Sings a boyish stave and his face is gone.
Goodbye, my friend. Thank you for showing me the beauty of a life filled with music.
I am so sad about the loss of George Shangrow. His love of music and commitment to building a life around music have been inspirational. His unique combination of playful humor and serious dedication to his art brought unforgettable experiences to us all: so much Bach, Handel of course, as well as the broader repertoire. During my many years of choral singing, I auditioned several times for SCS, hoping to sing the Baroque repertoire that George championed so brilliantly. Though my voice was apparently not quite what he was looking for, we had a nodding acquaintance as our paths crossed at various performances. Things in particular that I remember that to me epitomize George’s joyful and committed music-making: SCS singing madrigals at one of the first U District street fairs; his wonderful harpsichord performances; performing all six parts of the Christmas Oratorio; conducting the read-through of the Brahms Requiem in honor of Peter Kechley; and at one of the early Messiah sing-alongs, when the trumpet player had to leave early, having three women sing the trumpet obligato so that Peter could sing “The Trumpet Shall Sound.”
It’s hard to imagine musical Seattle without George. But if heaven is what it’s supposed to be, he’s up there now, playing Bach to an appreciative audience of both aficionados and newbies who never realized what they were missing.
Music from the Heart
Orchestra Seattle has been an essential element of my existence for the past 26 years—nearly half my life. And I know I can’t imagine what my life would have been like without George to share his absolute joy of music, his quirky sense of humor, and his inspiration to stretch way beyond my comfort zone. Or without Orchestra Seattle’s miraculous music to feed my soul or the lifelong friendships forged there to fill my heart.
The news of his tragic death completely knocked the wind out of me. And it is with profound sadness that I slowly come to grips with the reality that we have truly lost George. It is indeed the end of a golden era
My heart goes out to George’s family, to his friends, and to our fellow musical friends in OSSCS as well as throughout the community. His influence was widespread and without boundaries.
It was George who, many years ago, coined the moniker for our ever-expanding horn ensemble. Our horn section completely caught him off guard in a pops concert by boldly donning black spy sunglasses just as he looked up to give us the downbeat for the dramatically jazzy theme to Perry Mason. When he gave us our bow at the end, he just laughed about our prank and pronounced, “Ladies and Gentlemen—The Broadway Horn Club!” And we’ve been horns with attitude ever since.
My musicianship blossomed under George’s leadership. He set the bar extremely high, expecting nothing less than musical perfection—often beyond reach of merely a personal best. And I always strived harder in order not to disappoint this exceedingly gifted conductor or my amazingly talented colleagues.
George spoke his mind about performance quality, so if the horns earned a compliment it was something to savor. When he flashed his irrepressible smile of transcendent joy we knew we’d hit the mark. But my favorite of his expressions came just last spring after several achingly poignant, but panic-inducing, horn solos had gone well in the Strauss Four Last Songs. I was on Cloud Nine when he gave, what seemed to me, his ultimate compliment. With a frown of mock seriousness followed by an exuberant grin, he proclaimed, “You really trashed up that piece! Totally!” Now, that might not sound like a good thing but this George-ism meant he thought I had thrown my soul into the music—heart on my sleeve—milking the phrases for every last drop of emotion and sentimentality.
I’m glad I had the chance to tell him, “You know I learned how to do that from the best.”
And I did
George was conductor, musical colleague, mentor, comic, and friend. And he will always live on in my heart, in my memories, and above all, in my music
A parting sentiment: George loved J.S. Bach—so a quote from a different Bach seems appropriate upon George’s passage too soon from this earth:
What the caterpillar calls the end of the world
The master calls a butterfly.
principal horn, Orchestra Seattle
So Many Wonderful Memories
I am surely literally one of the oldest musicians (81) whose life George touched. I played with him first in the complete Messiah performances he presented at Meany Hall in 1969–70. I’m not sure how we got connected (through the Kechleys). I was concertmaster of the Seattle Philharmonic at that time. Then, when he was forming his first orchestra, the Broadway Chamber Symphony, I was honored to be the first concertmaster—he auditioned me by reading with me a Brahms sonata—exhausting!
We had many wonderful experiences playing the great oratorios: The Creation and The Seasons by Haydn; the B Minor Mass and more than one St. Matthew Passion where I was the soloist in “Ebarme Dich,” also Vaughan Williams’ Serenade to Music and the wonderful violin solo obligato—I am so grateful for the opportunities that came the way of a young Renton housewife with five little kids, because of George.
In 1981 my husband and I signed on to the first European orchestra tour; Tom Dziekonski was my stand partner. What a thrill playing in all those historic locations—I’ll never forget it. Baird was one of the two tour physicians, caring for a lot of ditzy sopranos as I recall. We had so much fun—I have a whole scrapbook of photos and programs. As the schedules of the two orchestras expanded, I chose to drop out of Orchestra Seattle and continue with Seattle Phil. FYI I’m still an active player—now assistant Concertmaster of the Saratoga Chamber Orchestra on Whidbey.
I will treasure forever the orchestra/choral programs George was so devoted to—this in my opinion is “heavenly music”—I’m sure that as we speak, George is organizing concerts. I look forward to being in his orchestra when I get there.
With deepest condolences to his family,
A Conversation Without Words
“Music and the study of it is a mirror of oneself.” The way you do anything is the way you do everything. That’s the way George played music, and that’s the way George lived his life. And so many of us were forever changed and blessed by sharing in George—his music, his life, himself.
There is not enough room on this page nor enough words in the dictionary to truly express what George meant to me in my music career, and in my life and soul. I’ve now lived the last 2 1/2 weeks without George’s spark in Seattle and I still can’t really believe that he is gone.
George took me from a place of only being sure that I loved cello and music to a place of believing in myself enough to make a career of it. And the really cool thing is he didn’t care if I made it a career or not. Perhaps above all that is what he offered all of us the most—the ability to believe in ourselves and what we offered the world and ourselves through our music.
With George it never seemed to matter whether you were a “professional” or an “amateur”—both terms I’ve learned over the years are not mutually exclusive. George made us all feel special and helped us all create amazing moments and joy together. We moved each other, we moved the audience, and we moved ourselves, and the music enveloped us.
When I first started playing continuo with George as principal cellist, he wrote me a letter after our first concert. A letter I have always cherished. He felt, as I also did, that we communicated through our music together in a very special way. I was honored and will always be humbled by having played continuo with him for so many years. Any slight motion of his hands, a body movement, a look in his eyes, and I knew exactly when to move my bow so that we would move together with the music. We conversed so well without words and I will so miss that.
One of the highlights of my career was working for months and performing the big gamba solo in the St. Matthew Passion (or is it St. John I can never remember) with George and the choir and orchestra. A difficult undertaking for me, as it’s written for gamba not cello. George and I were both pleased at the outcome. Then at the obligatory and fun post-concert party afterwards I told him that I wondered if people knew that it took me three months and tons of practice to learn the part. He said, “But that’s the thing. You never want them to know that. It’s supposed to just seem like it was easy for you to them.”
George always made it look easy and he always made it fun.
George, I’m going to keep trying to make it look easy but it won’t be nearly as much fun without you. And my heart mourns you because I don’t want you to be gone. There were many more measures still to be played. I wanted more of our conversations without words.
My love and gratitude goes out to you, George, to your immediate family, and to your huge musical family. Indeed yours was a life well lived!
I first met George in 2008 when he conducted Britten’s War Requiem. I already had several friends who played in the orchestra and went backstage afterwards to congratulate them. I was subsequently invited to the after party, held at his house, of all things! I had never heard of any conductor doing that before. I was shocked at what I saw: close to 50 people drinking wine, eating Pagliacci pizza (his daughter Daisy always coordinated pizza runs at his parties), socializing loudly, and listening to the recording of the concert with George in the living room. I worked up the nerve to talk with him (I had wanted to for close to 10 years preceding this, so I was actually a bit nervous!) and found him to be just about the warmest, most approachable person I’d ever met. He deeply cared about music and his players and singers. He also never put himself above anyone in his group—most conductors want to maintain a little distance from their players, often even socially—not George!
I remember one after party where, after discussing Percy Grainger, he put on a CD of Grainger’s Scotch Strathspey and Reel (the strathspey is based on “What Shall We do With a Drunken sailor?” and incorporates about six other countermelodies). I had played an arrangement of that piece years ago and still knew all the parts. We then proceeded to sing said parts, all of them alternately, whilst swinging our (nearly full) wine glasses—Oktoberfest-style—and dancing to it!
It was this unrestrained enthusiasm which really separated him—he never got bogged down in pedantic details at the expense of expression; he was totally concerned with making the piece come alive, both on stage and off. When going over scores, he never told me how I “should” interpret something. He never insisted that I should use a baton (which I don’t like using). He never insisted that I do anything any particular way simply because it was “correct”; all he cared about was bringing the music to life. He more or less became it when he was conducting. He was the music.
One of the greatest thrills of my life was performing Michael Torke’s Saxophone Concerto with him and Orchestra Seattle this past March. I had wanted to play with him for over a decade, and here I was, getting to do it! He was absolutely amazing to work with. To this day, I almost can’t believe I got to play with him. Thinking of him now, it almost doesn’t seem real that he’s gone. I’m reminded of him every time I listen to any Baroque music, particularly Handel, and I can’t help but wonder how he would have done it. He was a huge inspiration for me on so many levels, and while I only knew him for a little over two years, I feel incredibly privileged to have been able to call George my mentor and my friend.
It would be an understatement to say that George Shangrow was a special member of Seattle’s musical community. He was a force that changed the landscape of classical music in our city, bringing opportunity to many deserving musicians and perpetuating a culture of kindness and openness that touched countless people. To benefit as a young conductor from his help and advice was a great privilege; to experience his terrible sense of humor was a delight; to discuss with him the music he loved so much was a joy; to hear him speak of his daughter was a treat; to see him conduct was truly an occasion; and to be his friend was an honor.
The ties I have with George date back to my years growing up in Seattle, though I came to know him well only in the past couple years. He might have been surprised to know the impact he had on my future as a musician before we even met. While attending Roosevelt High School, of which George was an alumnus, I regularly tuned in to his radio show, where I was dazzled by performances of great repertoire both old and new. I recorded many of these on tapes to listen to later. I can still hear him panting “ the complete Mahler 6th Symphony” after the hour and fifteen minute-long work aired unbroken by commercial breaks, one of so many special treats shared with listeners. I attended OSSCS concerts and was engrossed by the great local artists and seldom-performed works they showcased.
Though we had many common friends (even my middle school band director played in Orchestra Seattle!) and I grew up only a block away from his house, we never met until I returned to Seattle for conducting studies after finishing my degree in the Midwest. After we were introduced, I engaged myself in experiencing his rehearsals and learning from his perspective. These rehearsals often flew at a breakneck pace, fueled by boundless energy and wit. He was right at home with his singers and players, and the family atmosphere made the rehearsal and performance process truly memorable for all. He fearlessly programmed concerts of repertoire lengthy and challenging enough to make any professional orchestra shake, but somehow he always pulled it off to cheering, packed concert halls. George was, like many great musicians he idolized, an emotional firebrand and held very strong opinions. However, he was invariably kind, personable, and thoughtful. Just as I valued his advice, he wanted to hear my input on his ensembles’ music-making and listened with open ears.
A vital part of any arts community in a major city is the amateur orchestras that bring spirited performances and innovative programming to the public in intimate settings and at excellent prices. George was not an amateur, and neither are his musicians. However, as a self-made, consummate artist with a voracious appetite for music-making and ensemble-building, George lit the fuse that sparked an explosion of excellent community orchestras and choirs in the greater Seattle area. Indeed, it is partly because of him that we are blessed with such a vibrant and appreciative classical music scene in Seattle. Venues such as Town Hall, Daniels Recital Hall and the Chapel Performance Space have opened to support a flourishing community. It was in the same spirit of George’s movement that I partnered with friends to create the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber Orchestra, and have benefited from invaluable assistance from him and those in his organization. George leaves an immeasurable legacy of music and kindness.
I am still in shock from the news of George’s death. I express my heartfelt condolences to his family, whose grief I cannot begin to imagine. I am so grateful that for a time, his music touched me and I was privileged to know him. I will remember him forever.
music director, Seattle Metropolitan Chamber Orchestra
A Truly Great Musician and Friend
Dana and I were devastated to hear of George’s untimely and tragic death. It still seems impossible. We’re further upset that we don’t return to the US until Wednesday, so will miss the memorial service. We could pay tribute to George for pages and hours, but for now just a few notes that others may not have said in the hundreds of tributes.
Here is a tough note: “Important” forces of power and money in Seattle basically refused to recognize George for the truly great conductor that he was. George worked with dedicated musicians, but we all remained unpaid “professional amateurs.” Yet George kept finding great music in us. His technical skills (perfect tempi, amazing cues, musical judgment) were only a part of his greatest ability: finding the life and dance and passion in music of all types and conveying it to us and to audiences in a way that often reached the transcendent. Yet as OSSCS board president for several years, I (and others before and after) found it nearly impossible to raise “big” money or get major recognition for OSSCS and George. Seattle’s big power and money never seemed to understand how really good George was, and he largely remained “a prophet without honor in his own land.” BUT! Those who came to his concerts became an amazingly loyal, enduring and extremely generous support group. Numerous donors, from a young girl who gave a dollar to many friends who gave hundreds and to those who were able to give thousands, were the great people who generously allowed OSSCS to go on for decades. They understood.
I like to think that one day some archivist will come across the hundreds of concert recordings conducted by George and come to the conclusion that Seattle was a great unknown center of musical creation and expression in the late 20th and early 21st century. Maybe we can make this happen sooner
Perhaps the “important” forces in Heaven needed a great conductor—but I’m still angry with God that George was taken from us now. Dear God, one more Messiah, one more St. Matthew Passion, one more world premiere, a few more Bach cantatas—surely Heaven could wait??
Finally, George was a real human being, a great friend, a sensitive soul, a seeker of truth and humor and wonder. You blessed our lives in deep ways.
Eternal Memory, George Shangrow!
Doug and Dana Durasoff
An incredible, indescribably sad evening message from the U.S.: flutist Jeffrey Cohan communicates by phone that our mutual friend, the conductor and keyboard artist George Shangrow from Seattle has lost his life entirely without fault in a traffic accident. The memorial service will be held this Sunday, August 22, 2010, at 2:00 PM at University Christian Church in Seattle.
Through my work for the North American Cohan-Shangrow Duo in the early 1970s, I acquired my first professional experience as an organizer of concerts and tours, as well as dynamic insights into the “dasein” of the musician, which from then on shaped my work as a music journalist. From this intensive work together very soon were generated deep friendships that have lasted over oceans and epochs, and which have continued to lead to mutual visits on one side or the other of the big pond.
We shared the unbridled joy of life as well as a sustained thoughtfulness, a boundless curiosity about the worlds of sound and the expressivity of people of all countries and cultures.
To the flutist Jeff and harpsichordist/pianist George, these so completely dissimilar people and this so absolutely perfect Duo, I owe an unforgettable experience with Baroque music, and with works such as those of Erik Satie and numerous contemporary composers from the United States.
Moreover George has revealed and decrypted for me many of the secrets of choral and orchestral music. And as a special privilege, I have felt, as I still do, that thanks to George I have acquired a small idea of the Force Fields that are generated around the podium of the conductor.
George found in every single piece of music the hidden deep emotion and wisdom, the shimmering atmospheric and the soothingly tangible, the unexpected and the incommunicable, but also—and this made him so well-loved by such a wide audience—the communicable. George was a born mediator of classical music, and found it hardly possible not to be able to transmit and further convey his joy, his delight, his elementary feelings.
George was an exceptionally funny, but at the same time always (self-)critical table guest and companion, who at least in the background remained a knowledgeable and inquisitive thinker, and never suppressed the seriousness of life. And at any time, day and night, the fundamental nature of George was clear: how important steadfastness was to him, what friendship meant to him and what an endlessly loyal friend he was.
[Read the complete post in the original German: www.buero-dlb.ch]
George—Another Point of View
I was a CPA in the mid-1970s when a mutual friend introduced me to George. It seems tax returns were not high on George’s priority list and he needed to file returns for the last three or four years. In the exchange of the required information, we discussed things that we had in common in our background; music for one, birthday for another (although I’m more than a decade older), and that led to a friendship that has spanned at least 35 years. I even rehearsed with the Chamber Singers a few times in those early years but, sadly, my schedule made it difficult for me to allow proper time for seriously participating in the group. I regret that.
After I left public accounting, George stayed on as my tax client, which gave us, at a minimum, an annual opportunity to get together. The numbers always spilled over into conversation and much laughter; at times shaking our heads over the state of one thing or another, always followed by even more laughter. When my wife and I moved to Ocean Shores, George would join us there to take care of tax and briefly, relax. One year he joined us on a Grays Harbor bus tour. The passengers were far more excited by being in the company of George, their KING-FM favorite, than they were in their tour destination. As always, George was his charming self and graciously answered all the questions and listened to all the stories. I don’t know if they remember anything about the tour but I know they all remember the time they got to ride with and talk with George Shangrow.
We’ve been back in Everett for the last 10 years with not only occasions to visit with George over filling in the blanks, but also to see him action. From our home, we walked a couple of blocks to Our Savior’s Lutheran Church to experience George. The music, as always, transported us, but this occasion had more in store. While the musicians packed up, George treated us to a little harpsichord history and a lesson on how they differ from the piano. Depressing a key on the piano causes the string to be struck, producing a tone. That same action on the harpsichord will pluck the string, instead. The mighty motion, striking the strings and pushing air through every instrument with the waving of his arms, a nod, and the glance; that’s George the piano. The laughter, the raised eyebrow, the warmth and generosity of his spirit that plucked at your heart; George, the harpsichord. How gracious God is that we lived on the Earth at the same time as George Shangrow. Amen.
Our thoughts and prayers are with his daughter Daisy, his family, and his many friends.
David & Jill Hansard
God’s peace to all who loved our George. May so much love heal the raw and gaping wound of this much too sudden wrenching away of his life with us.
Beloved Soul, I will always love you. Thank you for everything that is you and all that we are because of our life with you.
“I’m so glad God gave you to us.”
P.S. I was wrong when I advised you to leave out a few exclamation points in your letters/e-mails—no amount of exclamation points could have ever been enough.
George’s Final Performance With Orchestra Seattle
The End of an Era
Such an unbelievable loss. My deepest condolences to George’s family, especially Daisy. How fortunate I was, at the beginning of my career—almost 40 years ago—to be a member of the Seattle Chamber Singers. George’s love of music, his wit and contagious enthusiasm were incredible; and some of my best memories ever are from those performances, especially Israel in Egypt. George was best man at our wedding, and a very important part in my husband Dennis Van Zandt’s life, their friendship going back to junior high school in the mid ’60s. (I’m not sure if George ever really forgave me for taking Dennis to Germany.)
I’m so grateful that George accompanied Carol (Kia) Sams and me in a duet recital last summer, and the thought of never having that opportunity again is very painful. Thank you, George, for shaping and influencing much of how I feel about music. I miss those days. I hope you are in a wonderful place now; playing music with all the masters and having a blast.
George’s Mysteriously Effective Instructions
People have mentioned those one-of-a-kind Shangrow-esque instructions—the mysteriously effective and often hilarious things he’d say that somehow conveyed just what we should do. Their example was of a tempo: “shopping music.” What the heck is shopping music, let alone the tempo of shopping music? I didn’t get to hear that one, but apparently it worked like a charm. Here are a few more that floored me.
My favorite is one he gave to the orchestra in a dress rehearsal of a Bach cantata. Standing in the chorus, I got to observe objectively how well it worked. George wanted a certain gorgeous, intense sound from the violins—I don’t know what to call it myself, but he said, “It’s like you opened the garage doors and a huge wall of water poured out.” How this simile instantly changed the sound of an entire section I will never know, but the sound sure gave you goosebumps when it came out.
In Bach’s Christmas Oratorio, he wanted one of the chorales to be infinitely gentle and quiet, but we choristers kept stomping all over it at mezzo something until he said, “Shhh—you’re going to wake up the baby!” You suddenly saw the wise men and the ox and lamb around the cradle and we got the magic stillness he was looking for.
Then there was a decelerando we couldn’t get together until he told us it was like one of those runaway truck ramps. Once you envisioned a big heavy truck going at full tilt and then heading up the ramp, you couldn’t get it wrong. Why not? I dunno, but it worked immediately.
And sometimes no words were involved. George would do one of his masterful pieces of physical comedy, and you’d never forget the way it was supposed to sound.
I’m alternatively devastated by our collective loss and grateful for the time we had with him, but when I think of these Instructions from George, all I can do is grin.
alto, Seattle Chamber Singers
I only got to sing with George for one concert in Seattle, but I was grateful for that opportunity and also to be able to get to know him where I live on Orcas Island.
George’s Music Lovers’ Seminars at the Orcas Island Chamber Music Festival were a total delight. He will be sorely missed at this year’s Festival and for many years to come.
This past winter, I turned pages for George at his annual holiday concert with Jeffrey Cohan at the Emmanuel Episcopal Church in Eastsound. That was quite a treat—being that close to the fabulous music flying out of the
harpsichord as George played.
That was the last time I saw George. And he was at his best. At least I assume he was, because I can’t imagine him being any better than he was that day.
My condolences to all of George’s family and friends, especially everyone in OSSCS.
I was truly blessed to call George Shangrow my friend. He had a singular wit, displayed a great love of children (being one himself, even at age 59), and was, in my mind, the epitome of a music director. I sang with him and the Seattle Chamber Singers for nearly 10 years. I learned so much more from him than I could possibly ever list. Although I don’t remember every little moment with him, very many endearing memories stand out in my mind, including:
- The way he and I always locked eyes in measure 68 of “Lift Up Your Heads” of Messiah—the place where the altos bring out Elvis when they sing, “He IS the King!”
- That little tuft of hair that was so mesmerizing as it swayed when he directed
- When SCS used to have their Music Marathon in the Olympic Four Seasons and a group of us performed Pirates of Penzance at 1:00 in the morning; George was the Major General
- Hearing him announce to all of Seattle on “Live By George” that Haydn turns him on
- Long cat
- Our trip to France, with goofy George driving, me navigating, and my husband relaxing in the back seat, soaking in the sights and daydreaming. Occasionally, George would say something totally off-the-wall, such as, “Let op! Drempels!” Or he would shout, “Jorge ” and I’d finish with, “ Away!”
- On the same trip, how we just had to stop for pizza au feu de bois for lunch, whenever we could find it
- How George chose his “Chorus of Virgins” in Handel’s Judas Maccabaeus
- How he would put down his baton and direct the choir with empty hands; he was caressing us all, as well as the music, with those hands
- George wearing a diaper on his head at the baby shower for he and Julie when their daughter Daisy was born
- George crawling on hands and knees, chasing our toddler around the kitchen
- That little giggle when I told him, “I just love those iniquities!” after a particularly satisfying performance of Part II of Messiah
- How he tried to talk my husband out of moving away from the Seattle area
When my husband took a job out here in Idaho, I knew it would be difficult leaving the area I grew up in all my family, old friends, a job I actually enjoyed. Believe it or not, the most difficult part was leaving the Seattle Chamber Singers. That group kept me sane. And George was the embodiment of the Seattle Chamber Singers. George knew how badly I would miss singing with them with him. And so he allowed me to come back and sing with them whenever I felt like it, as long as I’d performed the piece with him before and I attended a couple of rehearsals, including the dress. He knew I would never show up unprepared.
I took George up on his offer a handful of times, calling my trips over there “getting my George fix.” Each trip was extremely therapeutic.
I don’t know what George got out of being friends with me, but I can’t imagine it was even a fraction of what I got out of being friends with him. As I’ve been thinking about him this past week, I realize that, even though I haven’t seen him in several years, he’s still a large part of my life.
Maybe someday I’ll get to lock eyes with George again and sing, “He IS the King!”
But until then, I’ll miss him terribly.
alto, Seattle Chamber Singers, 1993–2002
I miss George as he was such an important part of my life and of so many others close to me. I will always remember the inspiring concerts he conducted for the audience and the musicians, the years of enriching “Live by George” programs on KING-FM, playing two-piano music with George, his jokes, his amazing sight-reading and natural music-making, working with him on the OSSCS board and auctions, and just George, the truly incredible human being. Very sad
pianist, listener, admirer
George Shangrow: Nonpareil
He told us before conducting Brahms’ Requiem as a fundraiser for Haitian relief that basic necessities make life possible, but music makes life worth living! That was characteristic of George Shangrow—a marvel and a miracle: Magnificent maestro, musician, mentor, magician; friend, father, teacher, leader and so much more! My mind overflows with shimmering memory-treasures, shining images, shifting pictures!
As so many have mentioned, there is a huge George-shaped hole at the center of our solar systems. We have been unable to think or function normally because our brains’ connections to our hearts have been severed. Those hearts are missing—George has them. In the middle of the webs of our lives, the strands no longer connect to the human being who brought with him so much GOOD of every kind—so much bliss and sheer ecstasy—to the members of his many “families” and to so many others. The threads are broken, loose and dangling. The pipes of the great organ whose joy-waves echoed over the musical world—our voices and instruments—have been silent because the master who sat so exuberantly at the console and —played us—in his matchless way is absent. Our soul-lights are dimmed by the disbelief and deep grief that overwhelmed us when we heard the horrific news of George’s death just over two weeks ago, and we began to grope about in one of the darkest and most painful and sorrowful nights of our lives. Tears still spring to our eyes all too easily. We reach out to comfort one another and to give thanks for our gifts: our exquisitely beautiful (I can think of few beauties more breathtaking than George conducting and/or playing!) and deeply beloved George; the making and appreciation of fine music; the bonds that unite our remarkable community of friends.
After attending a Summer Sing that George conducted and, over the course of a few hours, falling in love, both with him and with his way of music-making, I auditioned for SCS in the late summer of 1995. To my surprise and delight, George admitted me as a “probational soprano,” ushering me into a musical mansion in whose variously furnished rooms I found myself closer to heaven than I ever imagined it possible for me to be! I look back and know that 15 years of glorious, uproarious creative life there with George and my fellow OSSCS members were not NEARLY enough!
I stood in absolute awe of George’s talent and gracious, grace-full personality and usually found myself content simply to be in the same room with him, at a post-performance party at his home, in the lounge on a Holland America cruise ship during one of his erudite and entertaining lecture-demonstrations, at a chamber music concert, at one of our fundraising events, or anywhere at all. Because I wanted to be the best chorister I could be for him, I signed up for the first voice lessons of my life. But he was also a friend to whom I turned in the toughest times, one who helped me not only to survive them but to thrive through them all. He once told me, soon after I’d begun chemotherapy in the summer of 2007, when my head was bare and my heart uncertain, that I was beautiful and he hoped I would outlive him. I responded that I did NOT WANT to outlive him—what would I do without him? Now, I am forced to find out. I felt that George took such good care of me in our conversations, asking me, “How is your health? How is your head? How is your heart?” He listened so lovingly as I tried to tell him, and I did all I could to take care of him as well in any way that I could, having seen him tired, ill, sad, and vulnerable too. I’m so glad that I hugged and kissed him as often as I could, presented him with little remembrances on special occasions, and frequently said, “I love you!!” If only I could do that again now
George once told me that he wasn’t afraid to die, because he had really lived! Who could have lived more richly and fully, and who could have been a more loving father? After OSSCS performed Vaughan Williams’ Dona Nobis Pacem in June of 2003, I told George that my father had died a few days earlier and that, from his place in God’s presence, he could appreciate our music without needing streaming audio over the Internet. George said that he hoped that he could be as good a father to his daughter as mine had evidently been to me, and I know he was! What an incredible daughter he raised, and may she be blessed always by St. Cecilia, patron of music, who weeps with all of us as we mourn George’s loss, and by the knowledge that her father was so widely and profoundly cherished!
As the days pass, I picture George in God’s loving presence, already enjoying the abundant “life of the world to come” that Christ’s resurrection has opened to us, surrounded by the saints (especially musicians!) and angels, and I continue to hold his immediate family members, and all of us, in my thoughts and my prayers, that God will grant comfort, strength, guidance, wisdom, hope, and peace, and also, one day, more of the wild joy in music that was one of George’s best and most valued and enduring gifts, and the love that such joy engenders.
As a Christian and a member of the Anglican Communion (Episcopal Church in the USA), I present these prayers from our burial liturgy:
Lord, grant to all who mourn a sure confidence in your tender care, that, casting all their grief on you, they may know the consolation of your love. Help us, we pray, in the midst of things we cannot understand, to believe and trust in the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, and the resurrection to life everlasting. Grant us grace to entrust George to your never-failing love; receive him into the arms of your mercy, and remember him according to the favor which you bear to your people. Amen.
My dearest George: I love you so much and always will! My gratitude to you far exceeds the bounds of language, though music expands them considerably
In paradisum deducant te angeli,
in tuo adventu suscipiant te martyres,
et perducant te in civitatem sanctam Jerusalem.
Chorus angelorum te suscipiat, et cum Lazaro quondam paupere
aeternam habeas requiem.
May the angels lead you into paradise,
may the martyrs receive you in your coming,
and may they guide you into the holy city, Jerusalem.
May the chorus of angels receive you, and with Lazarus who once was poor
May you have eternal rest.
Pax et amor in aeternum,
soprano, Seattle Chamber Singers
The horrific report of George Shangrow’s death reached me several days later at Mt. Baker Lodge, where I was on vacation. The sorrow and shock of that news will stay with me forever.
George was one of a kind: a fantastic musician, outstanding conductor, good friend. Anyone who ever sang or played in George’s groups always knew what to do. His directing was crystal-clear.
I first met George in 1979, when I auditioned for the Seattle Chamber Singers not too long before my 50th birthday. I’d heard them in concert and decided, “This is the group for me.” My audition appointment was at University Unitarian Church, where a young man greeted me and sat down at the piano. I soon realized that George himself would be my accompanist. I sang my song (I’ve forgotten the title) and did some sight-reading for him. He thanked me and said someone would call and let me know. Later I learned he was music director at UUC and had founded the Chamber Singers 10 years earlier, at age 17.
After I’d been a member of SCS awhile, George would kid me that I was old enough to be his mother (it’s true). And I’d say, “At 21, the last thing in the world I wanted was a baby.” He had such a great sense of humor that he was fun to banter with. I will always remember the two European concert tours I went on with SCS (1981 and 1983) and how we divided ourselves into the “tasteful” bus and the “tasteless” bus—guess which one George rode on?
I soon realized he was the best conductor I’d ever sung with in 35 years of church choirs and many other choral groups. I sang with Chamber Singers and his smaller group, the George Shangrow Chorale, for 25 years and reluctantly retired at age 75, when prolonged standing was starting to be a problem. George said I could sing sitting in a chair, but I declined the offer. Now I wish I had taken him up on it.
alto, Seattle Chamber Singers, 1979–2004
I feel so incredibly fortunate to have had two years singing with Seattle Chamber Singers, cut short by a move. I always thought I would be able to come back one day, but it is not to be. George allowed me access to a sublimity of performing that I will likely not experience again—some kind of powerful joy which is at the heart of human expression, the very reason people make music. When we sang for George, his direction was not so much do this and do that, but rather a seduction from us, a conjuring up of the beauty of the sum of the perfect parts. His direction was an opening of dark vines, an offering of sweet bribes, shock by thunder—whatever it took to make us understand and then do. When we struggled, he was frustrated and persistent, like a thirsty man negotiating for water, and when everything worked, our joy was so much larger than pride over achievement, something more akin to rapture. These are superlatives, but in this case, I stand by the words. What a huge gift he had, and he in turn gave, and gave, and gave. He created an enormous treasure. My heart goes out to his family and his beloved friends. We will miss him so.
Most of the time George would “B Sharp”; on occasion he might “B Flat”; all of the time he would “B Natural!”
George was always original and natural. My life and music are richer for having known him. He infused our music, all music, with sparkle and life. Whenever we dare to lose ourselves in our music, in our lives, there we will be in touch with his spirit.
Last night in my dreams, George was conducting with utmost joy and feeling by hitting red tennis balls gracefully into a lake, in the way that clearly communicated the character and charm of the perfect tempo to his orchestra. It was such a familiar feeling—always fun to experience your energy and expression (as you readers all know) I awoke with a big grin on my face. Your musical spirit continues to live inside me, guide and inspire me. Oh, and thanks for letting me awake today with a smile and for years of corny jokes, witticisms, and bellylaughs. You will always be the best!
Many thanks, George, from those of us in the early music world for your enthusiastic dedication to the music of Bach and Handel and other great Baroque composers. Your regular performances of Messiah, the Bach Passions, and various oratorios brought to Seattle a repertory that is difficult to produce because of the number of performers required and the expenses involved. Never a deterrent to you! Your longtime partnership as a harpsichordist with Baroque flutist Jeffrey Cohan helped to increase interest in the Baroque chamber music repertory also. Not to mention all those years on KING-FM, where you generously welcomed local performers to the studio and promoted their events. Thanks for all your work. You will be greatly missed.
Maria V. Coldwell
executive director, Early Music America
Thirty-four years ago, I became George’s harpsichord student for several years. I had had piano teachers as a child, but they were nothing like George. Each lesson was an occasion, a happening, a revelation. No other teacher had actually snorted or guffawed when I played poorly (this was never mean-spirited and usually sent me into gales of laughter); no other teacher had ever made me get up and skip and dance in order to grasp a complex tempo; no other teacher had taught me theory in order to help me better understand the structure of pieces; and no other teacher generously offered me so many ways to have rich, musical experiences. But, most of all, no other teacher had taught me that music doesn’t have to be serious business. From George, I learned that we can laugh and skip and dance from the pure joy that music provides, that we can be irreverent, and that we can swoon from music’s exquisite beauty, because music (whether producing or listening) grants us the possibility of feeling and expressing and being all that is best of the human experience. Because of this, my life, like that of so many others, has been immensely richer.
My heart goes out to Daisy Shangrow, who wrote such a loving tribute to her dad, and to all of George’s family.
George’s performances of Baroque music did much to develop the scene for early music in Seattle as we know it today. He was one of the first to regularly program the Bach Passions, Bach Magnificat and other cantatas and oratorios, building an audience that eventually would attend Early Music Guild, Seattle Baroque and other period concert presenters. George’s last performance for the Early Music Guild was with his long-time duet partner, Baroque flutist Jeffrey Cohan, in November 2009 at Trinity Parish Church as part of our First Tuesdays series. We’ll miss you, George!
executive director, Early Music Guild of Seattle/Seattle Baroque Orchestra
I include this poem to introduce a thought regarding George’s passing:
When Death Comes
When death comes
like the hungry bear in autumn;
when death comes and takes all the bright coins from his purse
to buy me, and snaps the purse shut;
when death comes
like the measles-pox
when death comes
like an iceberg between the shoulder blades,
I want to step through the door full of curiosity, wondering:
what is it going to be like that cottage of darkness?
I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened,
or full of argument.
I don’t to end up simply having visited this world.
[Read entire poem at: books.google.com]
Well, dear hearts, if anyone I know has not ended up “simply having visited this world,” it is surely our dear friend, George.
OSSCS Messiah fan
Gone, But Never Forgotten (posted on Facebook Sunday, August 8)
Thus ends the first week since a hole was blown out of many people’s worlds, some to more degrees than others but nonetheless, all affected. I don’t know about the rest of you, but I just haven’t gone through the textbook “five phases of grief” apparently the way I ought. I suppose denial was first for everyone impacted by this, if not strongly then absolutely fleetingly. Anger? Depression? Shock? No order there, just a steady flow back and forth. And even now, disbelief (which I don’t think is listed as one of the phases, amazingly). Even now, at times it is still almost impossible for me to believe that this force of nature embodied in a middle-aged man with a walrus mustache is really and truly gone. It’s not denial, it’s just stunned, astonished, disbelief.
I won’t go on about memories. I and many others have shared our loving memories and thoughts already, and more continue to pour in. I will, however, go on a bit about loss. When you lose a good friend who is also a cherished musical colleague, the ante is upped in ways maybe many of us didn’t fully realize until he was snatched away from us so cruelly. Not only is that funny, warm, charismatic, intelligent, yet very human friend suddenly no longer there, that musical collaborator is gone, too. That person who “got” you as an artist and made sure you knew it not only with praise but with creating opportunities to share your artistry, the one who always kept an open mind, who looked at the whole instead of obsessively picking away at the parts, the one who every day showed his appreciation and respect for the musicians surrounding him. This loss for me has many, many layers. I don’t think I have still got to the bottom of them yet.
I guess we go on. We have to—life doesn’t stop whether we wish it or not. I am glad others are passionate about trying to carry on. I’m not there yet. I can’t see down the road, but I will do everything I can to help honor his memory and his life’s work, if that is the road we end up taking. I do know this community of musicians left “orphaned” as Melinda Bargreen so rightly said, is knitted together by our shared experiences with this incredible human being. You are all in my heart, and I know that even though he is no longer with us, we are still united in our love of music and the years of joy we shared with him.
principal flutist, Orchestra Seattle
Dancing With George
My friendship with George started in the fall of 1983 when he auditioned me and asked me to join the soprano section of the Seattle Chamber Singers. From the first rehearsal, I realized that my relationship with music would be forever changed because of him. Never had I experienced such joy in the music-making process. I sang with the Chamber Singers for 14 years. In that time, George gave me numerous solo opportunities. I would have to say that George was the person who started me off on a solo career I never dreamed I would have.
I have soloed with his groups for the last 25 years. Over the years, George and I have built an unspoken bond in our music-making together. There were times in performances when I couldn’t see him or his baton, and yet it was as though we were joined at the hip—he knew what I was going to do, and I knew what he was going to do. Never was this more evident than when we did our numerous recitals together. It became clear right away that we didn’t have to talk about what where to phrase, or where the ritardando would happen—it just happened. When the chemistry was there, it was as if we were dancing. It was magic! I can’t imagine making music without my dance partner, but I do know that every lesson or class I teach, every new song I prepare, every oratorio or art song I sing, will have George’s fingerprint on it. Thank you for the dance, George!
Thank you, George and OSSCS, for welcoming me into your family. The folks here on Orcas Island will miss you greatly.
George was Mr. Handel, but not many know that he had what he considered his three desert-island composers. Interestingly, Bach was not one of them, but George’s performances of the great German Baroque master’s works stood out in Seattle. That’s also what attracted me first to his group. As a kid, I sang the St. Matthew Passion in a youth choir in the Tonhalle in Zürich, Switzerland. So it was with great pleasure that I was able to perform the work half a lifetime later with Orchestra Seattle and the Seattle Chamber Singers. For many years, I felt like a newbie in his group, but now it’s been over 15 years that I’ve played in the violin section. And I’ve played in almost all of the concerts since then, too numerous to mention, but they are all remembered. There were some highlights that were exceptional for me and probably for many others in the group and audience. Among them were Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony in the acoustically superb Benaroya Hall, and the surprise engagement of Chuan Yun Li, the virtuoso violinist from China. A performance of Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto with Ron Patterson also stands out among the many happy Sunday afternoons at our current performance space. George was very personable. Between him and myself, our inside jokes were around our Swiss connections and the way violinists play pizzicato. I had the audacity to challenge him on the latter count, after which he never let me out of his sight when the score called for a precise pizz. There was never a dull moment with George, be it at a rehearsal or at a performance. Some of his wittiest moments were reading though concerti at the first rehearsal, with him giving the play-by-play of the solo instrument. Two additional events stand out: the tribute to his beloved Swiss harpsichord teacher, Sylvia Kind, and the Shangrow-Mania Roast at Town Hall. He was a genius. I will miss George dearly and my thoughts are with his family, including his extended family of musicians
violinist, Orchestra Seattle
Thank You, George
We can not fathom our church without George's music-making. We have been incredibly blessed to have George lead his forces through some of the the most remarkable concerts in our community. For the past four years we have partnered with Orchestra Seattle and Seattle Chamber Singers by being its principal performance venue. It has truly enriched our church’s and community’s life. We hope to continue his legacy of bringing exciting, inspired and fun concerts to the Seattle community in a way that honors his life. Thank you, George.
First Free Methodist Church
I sang with George in the 1970s to early 1980s, before I moved back East. What joyful memories I have of those experiences! I remember in one of my first rehearsals with George, he had us do something “totally tasteless” (his term) with one passage—probably in Messiah. Then he asked if any of US had ideas about how to do the passage. Several of the singers—being lively, excellent musicians—did have ideas, and weren’t shy about sharing them. We tried them all. I don’t remember whose interpretation we ended up doing, but I do remember thinking that THAT was the way I wanted to make music—with a conductor who had so much joy in the music and encouraged the same joy in us all.
About five years ago, I moved back to the Pacific Northwest. Ever since, I’ve toyed with the idea of reconnecting with George and the Chamber Singers, but always found excuses not to. It can seem like a long way from Olympia to Seattle. Now I’m kicking myself.
I don’t know what the memorial service will be like, but I’m thinking it would be great to give all the many musicians and singers who worked with George the opportunity to make music together in his honor. If such an opportunity were given, I would certainly participate. Perhaps we could do the wonderful slow “Amen” from Messiah that so many people have written about on the Web site. It certainly is one of my sublime memories. That, or the “Dona Nobis Pacem” from the B Minor Mass—or—in a different vein—the hailstones chorus from Israel In Egypt.
Confessions of a George Groupie
Me: Stressed out nurse looking for a place to sing. Showed up in church choir one day in 1984. I need to share. So here goes.
George: Wow! Who was this guy? Amazing musician, funny stories, glorious music! Was this really church choir? It was all so much more than I was expecting. I was smitten. It was love at first sight! I wanted more. I remember being in such awe.
So, after a while, I auditioned for the Chamber Singers, with much encouragement from George he always knew how to bring out the best in people and encourage them to stretch themselves so, I auditioned, and GOT IN!! barely. Then came more wonderful music in my life, much more than I could have ever imagined all the incredibly beautiful great choral works performed with a wonderful orchestra. Oh, the amazing music! George would stand before us and the music would flow from him to us and from us to him to us and from him to us and from us to him and well, you get the idea magic!
But then there was more. After concerts, George would open his home to the whole group and we would all have the opportunity to listen a recording of our just-performed concert and revel in the music and our performance while sharing food and wine and friendship. Does it get any better than that?
Well, the world travel was pretty great! My first trip with George and the group was in 1989 when we did a performing trip. No one could pack more delightful experiences into one trip than George
he was also our travel
agent and then there was the music which put the whole experience way over the top. It was nothing short of life changing for me. So, I guess one trip was not enough and so I went on eight subsequent ones all equally wonderful and full of great food, culture and adventure not to mention people who have become my friends for life. Just a few of the many reasons I am grateful to and love George.
My heart and love go out to my dearest friends and I send condolences and love to his wonderful family at this sad time. We have all lost an irreplaceable treasure and we are inconsolable. I am so grateful to him for all that he has done for me and I will never forget the joy that he brought into my life.
alto, Seattle Chamber Singers
former OSSCS president and board member
I recall reading a comment by a Zen Buddhist teacher, who said that to become accustomed to anything was a great misfortune. Probably all who knew him would agree that George Shangrow was never in any danger of becoming dull in music through habituation: his zest was in fact one of his most prominent qualities. Some years ago he gave with his orchestra a reading of Dvořák’s 8th Symphony. I had already heard it live a few times, and once just the season before, so I went to the concert with no particular expectations. George and the orchestra, though, played the piece with such relish and spirit that memories of earlier performances were, to my surprise, more or less superceded. It could be said of George, musically, that “his eye was not dim, nor his vigor abated.” His enthusiasm, in conducting and in person, was quite winning, as was the alertness, quick-witted perception, unstuffy erudition and great warmth that I came to recognize as I grew to know him better.
It was always a great pleasure, and very rewarding, to enjoy and benefit from George’s great musical range, as it was demonstrated to me in over 30 years of his work on the harpsichord, on the piano, with the baton (or some tandem combination of these). Like his beloved Bach, he seemed open to virtually every type and genre of music, save possibly opera. Concerts with George could range from the very large (Dvořák’s Stabat Mater, crammed into the Nordstrom Recital Hall of Benaroya), to the very intimate (Vaughan Williams’ Songs of Travel, with Brian Box as singer). John Lennon once sang, “There’s nothing you can do that can’t be done”: true in theory, perhaps, but quite misleading in life. George in fact did much that would not have been done otherwise locally, and audiences are greatly in his debt, for such performances as his numerous traversals of Bach cantatas, Handel oratorios, and such pieces as the Britten War Requiem and the Vaughan Williams Hodie. He added so much that would have been unheard here without him.
As with anyone who knew George, all manner of general and specific impressions and memories come to mind. Just a few that I have recalled over the last few days:
- On a rather gray Sunday afternoon, George and forces giving what surely was the local premiere of Handel’s Jeptha, one of his longer oratorios. As we trouped back into the hall after the second intermission, from a long Part II (coming after an equally long Part I), I looked around to see the audience severely attenuated. George continued to conduct eloquently and energetically as before, for such of the faithful as remained.
- In the KING-FM days, Tom Dahlstrom doing the handoff on radio to “the Doctor,” and George coming along to introduce, with characteristic warmth and involvement, the recording or local performer to be featured next, and throughout his shift into the evening.
- George bouncing on his bench at the harpsichord as he conducted the “All we like sheep” chorus from Handel’s Messiah. It seemed like both Georges, Handel and Shangrow, were enjoying their diversion from the path of righteousness. I asked him about this once, and remember his broad smile and quick agreement.
- Once, at a gathering, recalling his long association with churches and church music, I hazarded to point out to George how a famous hymn tune could be combined quite felicitously (or infelicitously) with the lyrics to “Oh My Darling, Clementine.” I even sang him the first verse to illustrate the point, though quietly so as not to alarm the other guests with the sprechgesang style of my singing voice. Not in the least non-plussed, George proceeded to demonstrate how one could, more or less, combine the tune of the funeral march of Beethoven’s Eroica with the words to “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad,” giving what must have been one of the more melancholy performances ever of that famous lyric.
For several years my mother, also a faithful attendant at George’s concerts, had been urging him to program a great favorite of hers, the chorus “Va pensiero” from Verdi’s Nabucco. I had also asked him to consider trying more opera choruses, given the dramatic flair that he could impart to Bach’s Passions and Handel’s works. You may imagine how pleased we both were to see opera choruses set in for one of the concerts in Spring 2011. Now, of course, we are left only to imagine what those performances might have been like. This kind of reflection has been running through my head so often in these last few days: how much George did and accomplished, but how much more we looked to hear, and now will not.
Unlike that Zen adept, I have in my life become accustomed to much, but I think that I never took George for granted, or failed to appreciate his great gifts, or the wonderful experiences that he offered to us. It was always a great joy to encounter George, either musically or personally. He was a true individual, completely himself, and never to be confounded with anyone else. I am so glad to have had the chance to know him, and will always regret that the accident and his premature death have deprived us of the opportunity to have him with us, and to accompany him further on his musical and life journey and explorations.
Today, August 8, was the last day of the Midsummer Musical Retreat at Whitman College in Walla Walla. A week ago our beloved music camp for adults was thrown into mourning when the word came of the accident. Camp was filled with George’s old friends and colleagues and the new friends he made last year when he came to conduct our newly created string orchestra. He fit in immediately, as we knew he would, charming all those he worked with in the orchestra and chamber groups. We cried together and laughed together as we shared our stories and memories of him. For me these go back 40+ years. There were so many wonderful times but especially I remember his joy in bringing Handel’s Israel in Egypt (“the horse and his rider hath he thrown into the sea”) and Bach’s cantata Ein Feste Burg to Seattle audiences.
Frances Walton, who had come to camp with her string quartet, graciously stepped in to fill our huge loss. At our concert yesterday she led the string orchestra in a performance of the Barber Adagio in honor of George. The following poem was printed in our program, and while I do not know anything about the author, I think she has captured what George would want of us. It is very hard even to accept that he is gone from us and the grief is still so fresh, but I would like all those who loved George to know the poem from our program:
If I should die and leave you here a while,
be not like others sore undone,
who keep long vigil by the silent dust.
For my sake turn again to life and smile,
nerving thy heart and trembling hand to do
something to comfort other hearts than thine.
Complete these dear unfinished tasks of mine
and I perchance may therein comfort you.
—Mary Lee Hall
I have no doubt that George would want us to love life and music and each other to the fullest for every day we are given on this Earth, just as he did.
violinist and founding member, Orchestra Seattle
Back in the mid-1990s, I was fortunate to snag a job as a news producer for then-KING 1090 AM, moonlighting periodically as an evening producer for KING-FM. So, in the course of that nighttime gig, I had the periodic chance to help set up and then monitor the equipment used during the good maestro’s popular show, “Live By George!”
What I saw from my persective as a relatively young but enthusiastic classical broadcaster was that George had a wonderful way of making the classical repertoire touchable and relevant to just about anyone who listened, through his candid and often humourous chats he had with those lucky artists featured on the program. Then, through the handful of passing chats I had with him along the way, he also impressed on me how so important he felt it was to remind the world that classical music is truly an art form in which any and everybody should be allowed and encouraged to participate and enjoy—to the greatest of their abilities.
It was in large part from that brief but meaningful time I spent around George Shangrow that I conceived Music 101, my own radio feature that currently runs daily on a public radio station in Los Angeles and promotes the idea that there are generations of young music students in our community who may have yet to be publicly acknowledged, let alone professionally discovered, but whose efforts to develop their talents, improve their lives and realize their dreams deserve to be acknowledged.
Truly, during those many, many times over the years I’ve been asked about the origins of my program, I’ve found myself so often talking about about George and his radio magic and how I continue to hope, in some small way, to carry on his brand of musical education.
I remember my audition for Orchestra Seattle 11 years ago. It was in George’s living room, and all of the principals attended. I had never been in an orchestra before, having played in jazz and wind ensembles. I did not know any of the traditional bass audition pieces, and yet, I was welcomed with warmth and encouragement. I had no idea back then that becoming a member of Orchestra Seattle would have such a profound impact on my life.
George had a talent for inspiring musicians to do their best. When he heard wrong notes in rehearsal, he never called out an individual, but would instead say something like, “Let’s all take a look at that for next week.” His tone was playful, but we all took those words very seriously.
My first concert with OSSCS has to be one of my favorite memories. We performed the unlikely pairing of Beethoven’s “Emperor” Concerto (with Mark Salman on piano) along with John Williams’ suite from The Phantom Menace in Benaroya Hall. We had standing ovations for both pieces and played the Darth Maul theme as an encore. During rehearsal, George sang the choir part of the Darth Maul theme as, “Hot dogs! Popcorn!” That still makes me laugh.
I have so many other wonderful memories of music with George: playing as part of the continuo during the soprano aria in Bach’s St. Matthew Passion to a silent, packed Benaroya Hall; having to tune down to a low C in Handel’s Messiah for one note and praying that I got the right pitch; the sea of waving plastic batons that were handed out to the audience during one of our holiday shows; and growing together as musicians either through the nuances in Baroque works, the challenges in contemporary works, or breaking new ground with commissioned works. We were so lucky to have a conductor with so much knowledge and flexibility.
Lastly, as double bassists we are very conscientious of our volume, and we often have to play quietly to avoid covering important parts of the music. I remember the look George would give me when he wanted more power from the double bassists. It is that look he is now giving to all of us to keep the music going.
double bass, Orchestra Seattle
To Our Beloved George
You streaked into our lives like a comet, dazzling us with your talent and wit. No one could pull music out of us the way you did, no one could make us laugh harder and no one could break our hearts the way you did by leaving us so early. But you left each of us with a rich store of “George Memories” to treasure and share for years to come. Thank you for gracing this world, dear friend—you added zest and sparkle to our lives.
violinist, Stony Brook, New York
The Impact of George
I first met George in 2005 when I began dating one of the choir members, Dr. Nancy Shasteen. At first I went to the concerts to support Nancy. That motivation was short-lived and replaced by the motivation to hear and see George. George brought the music alive with his charisma, intellect, wit, and charm. His explanations of the music coupled with stories about the artists always held my full attention. The musicians were captivating and under George’s direction, provided me with great enjoyment. I never new George well, but when Nancy knew he was over at the Methow Valley the same time we were, she invited him to her cabin for wine and cheese. She said he might not come because he had such a full schedule, but he did come and we spent the most enjoyable hour and a half. George was captivating, but was also a terrific listener and very interested in what you had to say. He was genuine and endearing. More importantly, he was happy. He shared with us his plan for his lecture the following day and I knew his audience was in for a huge treat. George was full of passion for life and music. He touched my heart and I can only imagine how hard this is for those who have known and loved George for many years, and especially the family. My thoughts are with you all.
Henry M. Brashen
I was deeply saddened on learning of George Shangrow's tragic accident. Like many, I felt a personal loss. I have sung in choruses for some 40 years, and for the last eight of those years, I was privileged to sing with Seattle Chamber Singers. It was not odd that many of George’s friends singled out Messiah in these tributes. Previous to the Seattle Chamber Singers, I had performed it many times, but after the first rehearsal with George, I thought, “This is exciting stuff!” George had a way of bringing out the drama and excitement in music that I had not experienced before. My only regret is that I decided to retire from active performance four years ago. I now wish that I had continued singing with George.
tenor emeritus, Seattle Chamber Singers
My candle burned alone in an immense valley.
Beams of the huge night converged upon it,
Until the wind blew.
Then beams of the huge night
Converged upon its image,
Until the wind blew.
—Wallace Stevens, Collected Poems, 1957
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do go gentle into that good night.
Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Wild men who caught and seeing the sun in flight
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
And you, my sad father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
—Dylan Thomas, Collected Poems, 1952
Any man's death diminishes me, for I am involved in mankind.
—John Donne, Meditation XVII
George got us going. He brought us together. Music is FUN! It’s more fun when we do it together and well. For George, music was a paradigm of life itself, exciting, vibrant, full of surprises, amplifying existence.
With exuberance and gusto, HE JUST DID IT. He showed us more of life's possibilities than we even dreamed.
Who else would bring the English spiritual “Amazing Grace” (“I once was lost but now am found ”) to the great cathedrals of northern France? Who else but George could convince Carol Sams to compose a Requiem which he and Carol and SCS premiered beneath and surrounded by the terrible machines of Hitler’s Wehrmacht at the War Museum in Caen, France? We dined, as always, on pizza, beer and wine at a local café after the performance.
Families came into being under his musical aegis.
Who can forget the post-concert BACH(and other)-analias? His spot-on imitations of SATCHMO? His Inspector Clouseau “False canards of a different couleur”? Who else could claim Vivaldi’s chief compositional device was the STENCIL?
George was the center, the musical sparkler, Roman candle, skyrocket who illuminated the lives of thousands in Seattle and musical communities worldwide.
WE are now the image of that candle which burned so brightly, showing us vast realms of possibility.
WE are now the acolytes with many candles to push back the “Huge Night.”
The wind will never blow strongly enough!
You made the world a better place.
In death, your work continues in the candles of each of us you touched!
Goodbye, George Shangrow, until we meet again.
A Roaring Presence on Seattle’s Classical Music Scene
Why is this one man so important? Because it’s impossible to think of anyone who more embodied the essential joy of music—the visceral thrill of great music, great performances and wholehearted participation. George’s heart and soul were bound up in this joy, and he was determined to share it with the world.
[Read more atseattletimes.com]
I have sung as Evangelist in both the St. Matthew and St. John Passions under George’s baton. It was such an exciting and musically fulfilling experience. George, you will be missed dearly, and we will always remember your enthusiasm and passion. Thank you for the opportunity to learn from you!
tenor and voice faculty, West Chester University
The beauty and grace of George’s Messiah first captured me while I was a graduate student at the UW in the 1970s. His Messiah was stirring and thrilling, unlike any I have ever heard or seen, before or since. No row of stuffed-shirt soloists sitting in the front; rather, members of the choir stepped forward to sing the arias.
I was fortunate to experience it three times, but longed for more. So I wrote to George, asking him how I could get a recording of his Messiah. “There isn’t one available,” he replied, but if I sent him a few dollars, he’d copy one from his reel-to-reel recording on his living room tape deck. Arriving in the mail two weeks later were two cassette tapes (different brands, of course), with “Messiah” scribbled with a pencil on the labels. Even though I later purchased the CD version, those two cassette tapes remain the most prized item in my musical collection.
Thank you, George! You were my favorite Seattle musician, and you will be missed.
Again tears stream down my face for this magical man that I only knew from a distance; my vantage point of his life was always and solely as that of an audience member. Over decades, from chairs, pews, cushioned rows; be it in church, orchestra hall, an island gig or listening to the music he created with you all on the radio. I feel lucky to have known him—isn’t that odd that I actually feel like I’ve known him? My heart goes out to each of his friends and kin. To his musical family, I also add a words of thanks.
The Importance of Being George
It is not overstating to say that George’s loss is a tragedy to Seattle music. He was one of the most generous musicians I have ever had the privilege to know, always up for the next adventure, always enthusiastic about the next project, always exploring for the new, always finding new things to be excited about in the old. His fertile imagination and boundless enthusiasms were an inspiration. It was impossible not to love George for his whole-hearted love of music.
From a more practical perspective, George was Example A of a musician who not only managed to have a career but was a musician who really mattered in his community. For all his many performances, jobs and projects, George wasn’t about The Career; his career was about making music happen and making it fun, and in the process he made a difference for his audiences as well as his musicians.
He never tired of recommending this or that or trying to nudge you to take another listen to this piece or that performer. He never hesitated to help when asked. In a better world that better rewarded value, George would have been a materially rich man; he had a richly rewarding career, but it ought to have been easier.
The music he was a part of always bore George’s indelible stamp. There are many great musicians in the world. George wasn’t just a great musician, but an inspirational person as well. The world is a poorer place for his not being here.
It doesn’t seem possible to have a Seattle music community without George Shangrow. His large, warm, inspiring personality has touched almost every organization and individual. I was fortunate enough to perform piano concerti with him at least six times, and each experience was fresh, spontaneous, joyful. Performing four-hand piano pieces together and listening to him inspire and inform audiences everywhere: the University Women’s Club, KING-FM radio, private homes, churches. My last musical experience with George was in a concert at the Governor’s Mansion. He had graciously agreed to play TWO taxi horns for a two-piano arrangement of American in Paris for me and Jill Timmons. Not only did he steal the show, but he coached and guided Jill and me like a true Maestro, and chatted with the audience in his own delightful manner. George’s legacy is to remember the joy and love that is essential to being a musician. I will always try to keep that as part of me. Thank you, George. You are so loved and will be so missed.
artistic director, Governor’s Chamber Music Series
I had never seen a happier group of musicians. — Jason Kuo
Yes, George, there was never a happier group of musicians than we lucky few who played under you once a week for most of each year. Your rehearsals were fun, full of laughter that followed from the satisfaction of productive work punctuated by a running patter of George-isms. We ought to make a collection of our favorites—mine has to be the instruction to the cello section, when we weren’t being assertive enough on a particular passage, to be “lawn apes.” Lawn apes! Heaven only knows what a lawn ape is, but we knew exactly what you meant, nonetheless.
And unlike many conductors, you never singled out errant players or chastised us for playing badly—if we stumbled repeatedly, you just waggled your eyebrows and said something general like, “Now we know what to practice.” Your faith in our abilities and in our commitment to the music and to the group was steadfast and inspired us to live up to it. I think the orchestra reached a new pinnacle with Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra last February—when I first got the music I said to myself, “I can’t play this,” but you trusted that we could, and I practiced harder than I have in years, and in the end I played better than I ever have. It was telling that you confided to us before the performance that even you were nervous, but you believed in us, so we pulled it off. Yes, the music you drew from us was inspired.
What a gift it was to be in the middle of the music, to feel all the emotion you poured into it! After the time I dripped tears silently onto my cello during an achingly beautiful aria toward the end of Bach’ St. Matthew Passion, I got a special handkerchief to keep in my pocket, and I put it to good use.
The “Amen” at the end of Messiah, where you take it from a hauntingly beautiful piano to the full force of choir and orchestra together in one rousing two-handed gesture, gets me every time.
This music, this passion, is your creation, and we’ll do our best to make it a lasting legacy. We want to make you proud, George, as we have been proud to play with you. The music must go on.
cellist, Orchestra Seattle
There are two memories of George that I recall the most fondly. The first that I have is from an October 2001 Orchestra Seattle performance of the Brahms Requiem. I was playing the contrabassoon and made my entrance in the second movement a bit more robustly than might be tasteful. George raised his eyebrows in my direction, with a face that said, kindly and humorously, “Really? That’s the volume you want there?” Immediately I adjusted to play the part with less rumbly gusto and with more finesse. The second memory is from one of the after-concert parties that he threw at his lovely home. I remember asking George why he believed in God. He responded succinctly, “Flowers.” It was one of the most beautiful and concise expressions of faith I have ever heard in my life.
bassoonist, Orchestra Seattle, 1999–2004
I met George and began performing with him in the mid-’70s. I was blessed to perform with him, Orchestra Seattle and the Seattle Chamber Singers for many years. It was always a pleasure to work under his baton and watch with wonder as his musical gifts brought out the incredible sounds of those he conducted. I was amazed at the depth of his talents and the way he could coax such sounds out of so many musicians. I remember that as one of many part-time professional musicians, we would do almost anything to perform with George purely for the love of his talents and being a part of something incredible. Although I ceased perfuming in the late ’80s, the memories I have of his humor, friendship and deep love of music have continued to be the best memories I have of performing with anyone. You will be missed, my friend.
I hesitate to add my simple comments to those of so many luminaries who worked with George and knew him well, but I want to say how he touched my life and how very sad and stricken I feel learning only today about his untimely death. Ironically, I was checking out the Seattle Times review of Seattle Opera’s Tristan and Islode, which many people have referenced here, when they sent me to a link, “Seattle Conductor Dies in Car Crash.” I gasped when I opened it, never suspecting it was George.
When I first came to Seattle, feeling lost and unmoored, I joined the Seattle Chamber Singers for Handel’s Israel in Egypt. It was there I first experienced George’s vibrant and exciting conducting and musical direction. In addition to being a brilliant musician, he was generous and kindhearted, and had a great sense of humor. He made music fun. It was there also at the Chamber Singers that I met Melinda Bargreen, then music critic for the Everett Herald. Melinda and I shared a lot in common, including our love of music, our parenting of young children, and our both having advanced degrees in Medieval literature (go figure). For over twenty-five years, I came faithfully the day after Christmas to sing along with George’s conducting of Messiah. In this more informal setting, there was much amazing music, and much hilarity. I still remember with astonishment how George would move over to the harpsichord and play while continuing to conduct, and how various members of the impromptu choir, many of them studying with George, would jump up and take on a solo part, or play the oboe if needed. I was surrounded by people passionate about music and George was the draw. The Seattle Times’s link to the YouTube of George conducting “Comfort Ye” and “Every Valley” brought back great memories.
Today I sing with the Threshold Choir. We sing at the bedside of those who are dying. We rehearse every other week at the University Unitarian Church and sing at their Christmas Healing and Remembrance Ceremony. I can never go to the University Unitarian Church without thinking of George.
For many years, I listened eagerly to KING-FM’s “Live by George,” and marveled at his easygoing yet highly educated way of introducing young artists and giving them a start. What a contribution he made to the Seattle music scene. Several times I saw him broadcasting live from Benaroya Hall or McCaw Hall, where I could see his warm smile and happy manner in person.
I am honored to have known this man, to have had the opportunity to sing with him. My heart and prayers go out to his family. May it comfort you to know that your dad has made a lasting impact on the musical life of this city, and helped at least this one lost soul to feel connected.
Henriette Anne Klauser
I was stunned to learn of George’s death. At 59, he was only seven years older than I am. Our daughters are the same age. And for six years we worked closely together to keep OSSCS afloat when its financial survival was, shall we say, tenuous. I met my wife, Cheryl, at an OSSCS fundraiser in 1993. So the connections were numerous, and reading Daisy’s tribute on the OSSCS Web site brought tears to my eyes, causing me hastily to close my office door and get out the Kleenex.
I had known about George for a very long time. Until 1984, my parents, Jim and Peggy Middleton, published a monthly magazine, Soundings Northwest, that featured radio listings and a fine arts calendar for the Puget Sound region. I recall George coming to our Bellevue house in the early 1970s to drop ad copy off—Soundings was a good vehicle to reach audiences for classical music. We attended many concerts; one benefit of Soundings was getting comps to virtually any performance we wanted. George seemed to be everywhere. Of course we all listened to KING-FM, so became quite used to George’s voice. Indeed, George always made a point of saying that, before she died, his was the last voice Dorothy Bullitt heard before she fell asleep each night.
But it was joining the board of OSSCS that enabled me to get to know George much better. In all, I served on the board for six years, and was president for at least four of those years. We struggled mightily to make ends meet, and my tenure ended at about the time OSSCS had its first performance in the main hall at Benaroya on Good Friday 1999—Bach’s St. Matthew Passion. OSSCS nearly sold the house out—the number I recall was 2200 tickets sold. All of us on the board looked at each other and said, nearly in unison, “cash flow!!!” I remember when the board approved that season. We all had the sense that this was make or break. Well, we made it, and the credit goes entirely to George, the Chamber Singers and Orchestra Seattle.
Working with George meant approximately monthly meetings, usually held at my office, with whatever board members could attend plus George. There was also the annual holiday lunch at Crepe de Paris (or “The Creeps”). At least half the time he was in flip-flops, hair always a bit disorganized, with at least one pretty awful joke to tell, frequently involving an atrocious pun. But there’s no question that George brought ideas and energy to each meeting and singers and musicians joined OSSCS to be with George. The board (before I became president) went through an exercise we thought of as “planning for the future”—imagining the group without George as its leader. I think the exercise lasted about 10 minutes before we all looked at each other, shrugged our shoulders, and said, “Who are we kidding?” There was no imagining OSSCS without George!
OSSCS was always trying to find a way to reach new audiences, sometimes successfully, sometimes not. George programmed a concert at [First United Methodist Church] featuring the Górecki Third Symphony. It was a great success, even if the musicians thought Górecki's Third was awfully tedious, because it allowed us to tap into grant money from the Polish Consulate and the local Polish community when the Eastern European Mystics were all the rage. The Third was paired with a world premiere (the composer is now forgotten by me) that was very Hollywood soundtrackish—drawing a very favorable response. Throughout the very necessary and unpleasant business of fundraising, George was always gracious and kept his sense of humor. During one fund drive, at a concert at Shorecrest [Performing Arts Center], we told the audience that our featured pianist of the evening would play an encore if we raised enough money by intermission. What would he play? “Danny Boy,” or as George put it, “London Derrière.” We met our goal, and I’ve never heard “Londonderry Air” played so beautifully.
I am at a complete loss to imagine how the Seattle musical world can even begin to fill the void George’s death has left. And that void is nothing compared to the loss the Shangrow family must feel. My heartfelt condolences to the Shangrows and the OSSCS family.
former president, OSSCS
I am so saddened by the tragic and premature loss of George. The last time I saw him was this past summer at a recital of Carol Sams and Margaret Russell. I have many fond memories of my collaborations with him and the Seattle Chamber Singers and the Broadway Symphony. George ushered me into a significant chapter of my life—that of professional singing. His playful nature, ability to inspire and encourage, and his energetic enthusiasm helped create an atmosphere of joy in making music that will never be repeated. My condolences to his family and all of us.
Jacalyn Schneider Boreson
Forever In Our Hearts
Reading all of these tributes, anyone can see that George Shangrow was loved. His community was overflowing with those who were touched by his music, who laughed at his bad jokes, and who felt his unconditional kindness and warmth. Many, like myself, apply to all three. I have a lifetime of memories with him, but I’ll just share a few.
One night, he decided to take me out to dinner at one of our favorite restaurants. After our salads came, he started staring quite intently at my napkin, which was not on my lap. After a few seconds, I asked him if there was a problem. He replied with, “Where does that white thing go?” I thought for a few moments, then slowly picked up the napkin and draped it over my head and looked at him questioningly. We both erupted in laughter, and all I heard about from his friends in the next couple of weeks was the napkin hat, and how my sense of humor is exactly like my father’s.
It was so like him to tell everybody about every little thing that I did. Upon meeting friends of my dad, the first thing I would hear is how crazy he was about me. However embarrassing it was, I always secretly loved that he just wanted to brag about me all the time. If he’s in heaven, he’s probably having a glass of wine with some composers in between rehearsals and telling them all about his crazy, musical, adventurous daughter.
I loved having him for a dad. He came in and worked with my school orchestra on Beethoven’s Egmont Overture a couple years ago, and I remember him singing along to one of the themes, “EGMONT, OH EGMONT, I love you sooooo,” and all of the kids were just laughing like crazy while they were playing their instruments. They all still quote him on that two years later. All of my friends loved him, and I always felt a huge sense of pride when I could say yes to people who asked me if I was George Shangrow’s daughter.
Dad, you and I weren’t two halves of a whole, we were two wholes who made a super human! I’ll go on in my life and make music, live every moment to its fullest (just like you!), and explore the world. Even though you won’t be physically here with me, you will shine through my music and through my life. You’ll always be my Dear Old Dad (DOD).
Somehow, Daddy, I always knew you were only temporary, but it took me until now to realize that you are truly eternal.
cellist, singer, friend, student and daughter
Seattle has lost a city treasure—George Shangrow—a loss that devastates his immediate family, his very large professional music family, and all the ordinary Seattle people that so loved his music performances. He was a man of music perfection yet was humble and gracious in every way—a Seattle icon who can never be replaced.
All of us who annually attended his Messiah performance with Orchestra Seattle and the Seattle Chamber Singers will have beautiful memories of those presentations which started the holiday season. Those memories with George’s distinctive actions are a priceless gift that will linger on through the rest of our lives.
Rest in peace, George—you will never be forgotten. And may your Orchestra and Chamber Singers continue on in endless tribute to your cause, as I am sure we will all support.
Heartfelt prayers to all of your family.
Marie and Marvin Hurd
I am glad so many are sharing their memories of George—no one person can get it all down. I met George in 1976, and although I moved to Texas in ’81, we remained close, especially during the last few years. The first time I saw him—I had been conscripted to join his chorus for a concert of Bach cantatas—the rehearsal was in an August-hot, airless church social hall. Some of you will remember it: University Unitarian. The zipper had broken on his fly, and it was held together with one safety pin. I thought, “Cool this guy has confidence!” Then he began to conduct, and I was instantly spoiled for life. He was hilarious, spirited, insightful, exciting, crazy, and just so damn good.
He visited me in Texas a number of times, sometimes to make music and a couple of times just for fun. I’m going to miss the fun and the many, many laughs. But I want to write about his most recent visit here, because it’s such a good example of one of the things I loved most about George: his unselfish joy in other people’s talents, discoveries, accomplishments. (I think, for example, of the way he loved and celebrated the compositions of friends like Carol Sams, Robert Kechley, Huntley Beyer.) In December ’09, I invited him to come and be my “opera slave” for a week in March—to coach my students at Texas A&M-Commerce on Baroque opera solos and ensembles. The students are fine singers, very young, and new to opera, especially Baroque opera. They worked hard for him, and he worked very hard for them (see “opera slave,” above), treating them like the professionals they are soon going to be. My husband Charlie (a political theorist by training) found it so inspiring that he came to nearly all the sessions—about 15 hours’ worth. No performance, just joyful exploration of what Monteverdi and Purcell have to tell us. Lots of laughing and terrible puns. He picked up a couple of choral rehearsals along the way, with Bruckner’s Os Justi as a highlight. At night we would sit around and talk about how terrific the kids had been that day. In April, he wrote and asked me when I wanted him to come for final exams. He loved my opera kids and what they achieved in his short time with them. A magical week with the opera slave.
George, we would give anything if you could come back for final exams—or for anything else. All my love,
Texas A&M University-Commerce
I just learned about Saturday’s accident cutting short the life of a man who made music live. I recall several “Messiah Sing-Ins” on December 26 which he conducted. I remember vividly the first time he talked about taking the last piece, “Amen,” at a very, very slow tempo. He recalled the conductor who had taught him to do the “slow version.” Every time I hear the “amen” I think of George and I think about how more incredible that piece is when given the slow approach. Thanks, George.
To make music with George was transformative. He knew his composers intimately through their music, whether they were current or had been gone for 200 years. He stopped many a rehearsal in its tracks to point out a turn of musical phrase, to wax poetic about shades of that same phrase in other pieces, to add sly witticisms about the composer, and to share his reverence for the transportive qualities of that one simple collection of measures. He took his singers and musicians with him to that place of unbridled joy that shone so clearly in his face as he conducted. George, you were, and will always be, a treasure.
alto, Seattle Chamber Singers (alumna)
On behalf of Northwest Girlchoir, our thoughts and prayers go out to George’s loved ones, and to all that were touched by his life and music. Through his daughter’s participation, George was a part of the Northwest Girlchoir family, just one of his countless musical families. He will be so greatly missed.
managing director, Northwest Girlchoir
My connection with George is very recent and was much too brief. In March of this year, my son performed the Torke concerto for soprano saxophone with George and Orchestra Seattle, and George graciously invited me to the party at his house afterwards. We had only a very little time to talk one-on-one, and not surprisingly, what we shared with each other was thoughts about being a parent and raising children who loved, if not played, music. I was so warmed by the atmosphere in George’s home, but especially by what I observed about his own parenting. Clearly he was so proud of his bright and beautiful daughter Daisy (the only one of his children I met), who plays the cello (but also did a great job, with good humor and grace, collecting contributions for the pizza that night).
And then, only last night, my son and I attended Tristan and Isolde together, and, as at least one other person has already noted on this Web site, the translated libretto, suffused with Hindu and Buddhist-inspired reflections on the ultimate unity of being (“TristanIsolde, no need for ‘and’”), as well as its poignant acknowledgement of the pain that comes from longing and impermanence, certainly made me think of the community’s huge sense of loss at George’s passing. And yet also, see how Isolde’s words about her now-dead hero remind us of a way that George too might endure in our hearts and lives forever:
Do you not see?
How he shines
soaring on high,
stars sparkling around him?
When I launched the Northwest Sinfonietta in 1991, one of our most ardent supporters was none other than George Shangrow. It is not that customary for conductors to extend a helping hand, but George was the epitome of generosity and gave us a heartfelt welcome that I will never forget. He simply loved music too much to think in terms of rivalry. He invited me to countless interviews on KING-FM and later was the fabulous host of our live broadcasts. I still can hear George’s voice in the background setting the mood just before I gave the downbeat. First and foremost, George was a great musician who had very strong aesthetic convictions and a superior intellect which forged his unmistakable musical imprint on everything he created. He was absolutely fearless with repertoire and I often stood in awe of his audacity. Last winter, I invited George to play harpsichord with the NS, but unfortunately he had to travel to Texas. It would have been great to make music with you one more time, George. Wherever you are, we will play for you and honor your memory as the great man and colleague that you were and you will remain in our memories.
music director, Northwest Sinfonietta
music director, Lake Union Civic Orchestra
director of orchestras, University of Puget Sound
Like so many others, my memories of George Shangrow are inextricably linked with Handel’s Messiah. My parents introduced me to this yearly tradition and it was the first place I ever encountered a live harpsichord. What joy it was years later to sit in the viola section, so close to the most witty and imaginative continuo playing around, as George and Bob [Kechley] would trade licks, underpinning the whole magnificent enterprise. With George, the music was always front and center; I loved the way his interpretations were historically informed without being museum pieces. And as others have written, his penchant for singing the singers’ cues is worth noting; the tenor solo from Beethoven’s Ninth will be forever branded in my mind a la George: “O, Freunde, nicht diese Töne! Sondern laßt uns blah blah blah and all that fol-de-roll !” And his descriptions and characterization of music: Et in Unum Dominum from the B Minor Mass as “shopping music,” perfectly describing the proper tempo for this movement. And a word must be said about programming! An OSSCS concert was often a feast of various courses that one wouldn’t often encounter on the same program. I remember the first show I played, Firebird, two scenes from Götterdämmerung and Beethoven’s Fourth Piano Concerto, with Mark Salman! For all this and more I truly feel blessed to have played under George’s baton for a few short years. Thank you, George!
violist, Orchestra Seattle
George, Thank You for Believing in Me
I still have the “Auditions” listings from the Seattle Post-Intelligencer’s “What’s Happening” section dated Friday, August 28, 1998. I remember that Friday well. It was my last day as an intern with Microsoft, and the following Monday was to be my first day as a full-time employee. Since I would be staying in Seattle, I was looking for an orchestra to play in. Not knowing anything about the classical music landscape, after working until almost 11 p.m. I happened upon that day’s P-I sitting on the pool table near my office. Much to my surprise, there were several orchestras listed in the “Auditions” section, and I marked several to investigate. Over the next week, however, I decided to follow up on only this ad:
ORCHESTRA SEATTLE — Openings in all string sections. Auditions through August. Call George Shangrow at
I don’t know what it was about the listing for Orchestra Seattle that got my attention, but I called George and arranged for an audition shortly thereafter. Having just come out of college as a double bass major, I had plenty of audition material at my fingertips, but that didn’t help me be any less nervous when I showed up at the audition. I remember playing Bloch’s Prayer as my solo piece, and I remember Allan Goldman, the principal double bass player in Orchestra Seattle at the time, placing Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 1 on the music stand for me to sight-read, a piece I’d not studied before. When he pointed at the 3rd movement, Allegro, in 6/8 time, I remember panicking inside, thinking to myself, “They would pick a 6/8 movement for me to sight-read. I hate 6/8. Oh well, I guess this audition is probably over.” However, I muddled my way through the passage and, much to my surprise, they all congratulated me and asked if I could stay for that evening’s rehearsal, which was to begin shortly.
I still had no idea what to expect from Orchestra Seattle, because I hadn’t looked up their concert schedule or anything else about them. But that evening, I began an eight-year journey through some of the most sublime music ever written, much of which I had never played before. In college, we never performed any of the big choral masterpieces—we stayed focused on the symphonic repertoire. Joining an orchestra that was performing the DvoŚák Stabat Mater was an exhilarating experience, and that exhilaration continued over the years as we performed choral masterworks such as Bach’s Christmas Oratorio, Mass in B Minor, St. John Passion and St. Matthew Passion, Beethoven’s Choral Fantasy and Missa Solemnis, Brahms’ German Requiem, Handel’s Israel in Egypt and Messiah, Haydn’s Creation, Mendelssohn’s Elijah, Monteverdi’s Vespers of 1610, Mozart’s Requiem, Purcell’s “Hail, Bright Cecilia!,” Schubert’s Mass in E-flat and Mass in G, Stravinsky’s Symphony of Psalms, Vaughan Williams’ Dona Nobis Pacem and Hodie, and Zelenka’s Missa Dei Filii. And all that is to say nothing of the wonderful symphonic repertoire we played through those years, plus the many world premieres by composers such as Huntley Beyer, Robert Kechley, Carol Sams, Roupen Shakarian and William Wilde Zeitler.
If I hadn’t made that phone call back in 1998, my life would’ve been very different. It wouldn’t have been as full of beautiful music, and it wouldn’t have been full of the many fantastic friends I made in Orchestra Seattle and the Seattle Chamber Singers. And, most importantly, it wouldn’t have introduced me to the wonderful, versatile, passionate, exuberant, irreplaceable talent that was George Shangrow. Thank you, George, for believing in me, and for re-igniting my passion for great music.
My deepest condolences go out to the Shangrow family and to all of the people and musicians whose lives were affected by George. Rest in joyous music, my dear friend.
double bass, Orchestra Seattle, 1998–2006
I will miss you, George. I will miss our weekly conversations about life, gardens, home remodeling, and kids’ upbringing. I will miss a person who spoke music fluently, who was not afraid of making new words out of it, or of going back to the archaic ones. I will miss the person who never got bitter over the difficulties of life, and was always looking forward to the next day. You will always be here.
What a deep, inconsolable shock George Shangrow’s death brought to our family. We are not performers—we love music—and watching George’s joy in performing both the great old warhorses and his sometimes obscure but delightful “finds” enriched our lives beyond what my words can express.
We loved that he always gave us something old and well-loved, then presented us with something new to stretch our minds!
We went to his performances starting from when we were dating (early in the ’70s); brought our son to the concerts when he was a tiny Suzuki violin student, and every year Christmas couldn’t really happen until we had been to his Messiah. He has been a large part of our family’s life since our beginning together, and I cannot imagine what we will do without him.
Our thoughts and prayers go to his family, and to all his musical family as well.
I had the privilege to play trumpet under George’s baton from the inception of the Broadway Symphony and through its metamorphosis into Orchestra Seattle until I moved from Seattle in the summer of 1993. One could not play or sing for George without having their love of music enriched and enjoying every moment of rehearsal or concert performance. I was deeply saddened upon learning of George’s tragic death. I know the musical scene in Seattle has suffered a major loss. George was one of those “one of a kind” personalities who not only elevated his own art but did the same for all those who were associated with him. He will be sorely missed.
West Milford, New Jersey
When George conducted the Summer Sings for the Seattle Symphony Chorale a number of years ago, we were singing through the Fauré Requiem, and George said (paraphrasing here), “Other requiem masses are magnificent, each in its own way, but this one is what it must sound like in heaven.” I hope that’s true for George.
bass, Seattle Symphony Chorale
I heard George Shangrow’s voice many times on KING-FM, and I saw him conduct numerous (but not enough) concerts. I loved his interpretations of familiar music, like Messiah, and through him I was introduced to new music (like Monteverdi’s Vespers) that I would not otherwise have known about. George has enriched my musical life as nobody else in Seattle has done. I never forgave KING-FM for letting him go. And I had looked forward to many future opportunities to hear concerts directed by him. I am stunned that I will never get to see him conduct again. Although I never met George Shangrow, and he never knew who I was, there is a void in my life—as if the Space Needle had fallen down, or as if the Olympic Mountains had been rubbed out.
I am not a professional musician but just someone who has always enjoyed classical music and who grew up listening to KING-FM.
When I heard of George’s death, I felt so sad. I knew how involved he had been in the music community and all he had given to so many. His contribution can’t be overestimated. He shall be missed by many many people who will never take time to write a note. I wanted to send in a donation in his honor but the information must be forthcoming.
My very good friend Horace Beasley sent me his soothing thoughts on the departure from this plane of my friend George. I couldn’t say it any better, so I will share them with you.
friend, colleague, co-conspirator
tenor, Seattle Chamber Singers
There will be a huge hole in the music universe of the Pacific Northwest. Yes, that sad news of George Shangrow’s death has reached this outpost here on the east coast. The width and depth of this tragic death and its impact on the music life of the region seems, even at this distance, unfathomable. I am quite certain that for those, like you, who had that great gift of his friendship and shared and participated in his musical genius are still trying to make sense of his absence. To the extent that anything that I may write of say can bring a modicum of comfort, please know that I join my thoughts and prayers with you and your colleagues there in Seattle. The psalmist says, “Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning.”
Reflecting on all of this and, I don’t think you know this, but the very first performance I attended after moving to Seattle in the early ’70s was to hear a performance of Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas, with the Seattle Chamber Singers with George at the helm. While I wasn’t particularly impressed with the vocal singing of that performance (a bit too arched for my more Italianate Baroque tastes), I was very impressed with the musicality of the performance and George’s exceptional harpsichord playing and what I presumed to be the vitality of the music scene of the region. It was a perfect introduction to what I later came to understand as a very vibrant community of musicians. I can also say unequivocally that I know of no other harpsichordist anywhere who played the Messiah as well as he did—pure, professional and unabashed improvisational brilliance. Even as I write these words, I can hear the “But who may abide” about 32 bars in and experience anew and be moved by the creative genius that was uniquely his and what he was able to achieve in those measures and in subsequent passages.
So yes, a light has gone out in Seattle. Not that any of you need to be reminded, but it is now left up to those of you who remain and continue to enlighten the darkness that now pervades. You will hopefully turn this present midnight into a bright and glorious day.
Finally, in times such as these, the opening phrase of Brahms’ Requiem is perhaps a fitting benediction:
Selig sind die da Leid tragen
denn sie sollen getröstet werden.
For The Sake of Creating Signs of Hope,
I feel so blessed to have worked with George both as a radio colleague and musician. I’ve never laughed as much in rehearsals as I did when George was conducting. When his ear picked up on a particularly witty or “tasteless” (as he would often describe it) section of music, his eyes would get wide, he’d fix his gaze on one of his players and utter (with a perfect mix of appreciation and irreverence) a line like, “Wow was that Beethoven a nut?!”
The last interview I did with George at KUOW was in November of 2007. That fall he reflected with great humor and joy on what it meant to him to have created the wonderful tradition of Messiah sing-alongs and performances in Seattle. His stories conveyed a deep gratitude for an extraordinary life in music. He expressed appreciation for his loving and talented family and for his extended family of instrumentalists and singers. He was a great musical communicator and was so very much the heart and soul and catalyst for the beautiful community of music and musicians that surrounds us.
Kathleen and I extend our deepest condolences to the family and to all who are hurting after the loss of George Shangrow, a rare and wonderful human being.
KUOW Public Radio
cellist, Broadway Symphony alum, radio colleague
Others have written about the snore coming from the audience at the end of Elijah, and the klunk coming from the risers during the climax of Beethoven’s 9th I had temporarily forgotten those priceless moments. What a trip it was to perform with George! I am eternally grateful I had the opportunity to experience music his way. I had written down his alternate lyrics in my Messiah score: “And he looks good in Levis,” “O thou that smellest good things from the kitchen,” “His joke is sleazy, His humor is slight,” ”Behold the leg of lamb,” “He has worn our briefs,” “All we like sheep (they’re good to eat),” “Great was the company in the bleachers,” “Let us break the bones,” “But tanks be to God who giveth us artillery,” “Wooly is the lamb” these little nuggets keep me laughing through the tears.
Jennifer Miletta Adams
soprano, Seattle Chamber Singers, 1990–1999
In 1973, a kid from Yakima came to the UW to study double bass. I had the luck to stumble into Sylvia Kind’s Collegium Musicum, and through her I did the first of many wonderful projects with George. I also had as much fun hanging out with him as I did playing with him. His enthusiasm is what I’ll remember most—not only for music, but for life itself. The most tragic irony of his death is he was one of the most “alive” people I’ve ever met. I left Seattle in 1978, and never had the chance to play with him again. The last time I saw him was at a concert with Jeff [Cohan] 10–12 years ago—magic, as ever. My heart goes out to his family, and to all the others who will miss him so much.
A month ago I stopped by George’s place on my way to a BBQ. When I walked in, George was reading through Ernesto Nazareth’s piano music at the piano. An odd choice, I thought to myself, because I had never heard of anyone playing Nazareth’s music. He commented that after couple hours of practicing, he was still having problem playing the piece, but the tune was stuck in his head so he had to keep practicing it. I figured that it was probably a syncopation or meter problem because the piece was a tango; I sat down at the bench and offered to read the left hand part while he took the right hand part hey, we sounded pretty good! But I am sure he spent hours afterwards trying to figure out why a seemingly simple piece turned out to be so awkward for one person to play.
After years of listening to George as a radio host, a conductor and a performer, I have always appreciated his intellect and musicianship. His adventurous attitude was reflected in his concert programming. His perspective on the standard repertoire was always refreshing. Those of you lucky enough to hear him performing with Jeff Cohan recently know exactly what I mean: five Bach flute sonatas in one evening and five contemporary flute sonatas (the earliest was composed in 1976) in another evening. But George was more than that.
I remember a few years ago watching George conduct a small ensemble of strings at University Village’s Barnes and Noble bookstore. It was near the closing hour; George was conducting from the harpsichord. It was Handel, but I cannot recall exactly what piece it was. What I remembered vividly was the way the musicians looked at him as he conducted; everyone must have felt quite relaxed and was enjoying the music-making in a casual setting. It was smiling eyes all around. The musicians observed his cues intensely, but with admiration and confidence in his directions. I had never seen a happier group of musicians.
George, wherever you are, I am sure you will be making beautiful music. You will continue to serve as an inspiration to many of us. I am privileged to be your friend.
I join in the sorrow expressed by all in losing our beloved George Shangrow. Making music with George was a life-changing experience. I remember writing funny things in the score, placing a heart above my favorite passages, alternate lyrics, little musical tricks to remember difficult intervals. Those who knew and loved George can understand how we could go from a four-hour oratorio performance to his home to eat, drink and listen to the recording until the wee hours of the morning. In George’s wonderful world we sang crazy variations on “Happy Birthday,” surprised him with sheep masks in the middle of a Messiah rehearsal, and went right on with “Freude, schöner Götterfunken” after a young singer fainted off the edge of a riser. Those years are indelibly marked with music, love, joy, and George’s magnificent gifts to us all.
New York, NY
soprano, Seattle Chamber Singers, 1991–1998
How heavy my heart feels on hearing of George’s death. So much emotion comes up, along with layer upon layer of memories from that time, for George was a significant person in my life during my years in Seattle. To enter his orbit for whatever length of time was really to step into a special sort of force field: pure musicality, humor and energy, intelligence and inspiration, willingness to risk, deliciously idiosyncratic humanness, openness and generosity of spirit. His warmth and enthusiasm lit up everyone around him. But for all his many strengths and talents, it is his personal kindness that stays with me most strongly. I remember with odd clarity the evening I first met him, when I came at the suggestion of a singer friend to audition for his wonderful chorus, the Seattle Chamber Singers. It would be hard to overstate the vulnerability I felt, and I am quite sure my audition gave him no particular reason to hope; yet he treated me with such warmth and such exceedingly gentle kindness that I have often thought of it in connection with him, and have always felt deeply grateful to him for it. Even with all those other talents of his, it is this one quality that has always stood out in my mind as the touchstone of a genuinely great soul. My life is so much richer for having known him. I extend my deepest, heartfelt sympathy both to his family, and to the wider family he created through his generosity in music and friendship.
There are these rare moments when musicians together touch something sweeter than they’ve ever found before in rehearsals or performance, beyond the merely collaborative or technically proficient, when their expression becomes as easy and graceful as friendship or love. This is when they give us a glimpse of what we might be, of our best selves, and of an impossible world in which you give everything to others, but lose nothing of yourself.
George was a visionary who freely gave us those opportunities to glimpse rare moments of our best selves. His untimely death is the end of an era. We all luxuriated in his kind and generous soul, and his musical gifts. We knew that he was special, and that our time wasn’t unlimited, but we thought we would enjoy him for a much longer time. I was honored to be part of Orchestra Seattle in his time and his era.
My sympathies and condolences to his family.
violinist and violist, Orchestra Seattle
As I am working with the musicians in my church choir and the young musicians at Seattle Pacific University, I find myself using a gesture or expressing a phrase of music in a certain unique way. I then remember where it came from. George passed on his musical DNA to so many of the musicians in this city and it has been my great honor and pleasure to pass it on to the next generation of musicians. We will miss you, George, and will continue to pass on your great gift of music-making to musicians and audiences for years to come.
music director, First Free Methodist Church
It wasn’t until the third or fourth hearing of the George Shangrow Messiah that I really “got it.” I grew up singing and later listening to the Messiah, or parts of it, with the usual lickety-split tempos on the final “Amen.” For two or three years I would (in my mind) impatiently urge the tempo to increase. It never did. I enjoyed the repeats that are rarely done, and I think George never met a repeat he didn’t like. Then one year, Orchestra Seattle and the Seattle Chamber Singers performed the annual Messiah at a church near Bothell. I decided I would just sit, in the moment, and try and really listen to see why he was taking it so slow. After all, he was the Handel expert. Then it happened. I closed my eyes and let it enter my soul. Each voice entering, building, building, building and when the sopranos entered with their descending passage, the heavens opened and the light exploded. The hairs on my arm stood at attention. Tears welled in my eyes as I filled with Handel’s beautiful ending. This was the way it needed to be heard. Every year since, I listen and wait for the soaring angels as a signal that my Christmas can begin.
Thank you, George. I shall miss all the wonderful concerts, but I shall miss this one most of all.
My warmest thoughts go to your family, and to your musicians.
To the family of George Shangrow, my heartfelt sympathy. Classical music has lost one of the most gifted musicians I have known. I’m glad I told him at a recent birthday party of a mutual friend that his Messiahs were the absolute best in the region and that I would only attend his performances of this monumental work. We will miss his wonderful Seattle Chamber Singers and Orchestra Seattle under his able baton, but most of all we’ll miss George.
Few people of rare talent also possess a deep compassion for people. George Shangrow was one of those jewels. One night minutes before a “Live by George” was going on the air, I saw a somewhat disheveled person approach the stage and call out to George. He turned and graciously listened to the man without taking his eyes off of him, even while the staff were repeatedly calling out time warnings. At the 30-second mark George reached down, shook the man’s hand and said, “Thank you so much for coming up to talk with me. I have to start the program now.” I don’t remember what was on the actual program that night, because I kept thinking, “Now that’s the kind of caring musician I always want to be.”
Heaven is richer
board member, Kirkland Choral Society
Today is Wednesday. This is Orchestra Seattle rehearsal day. George, I wish I would have told you how important Wednesdays have been to me for the last ten years. How I always looked forward to Wednesday evenings, being so lucky to be part of your incredible and talented orchestra. How much I appreciate what you have done for us with your extraordinary musical gifts. You brought out the best in us and we all loved you. We loved how you were so passionate and so in touch with the music we played. And how funny you could be. I will always remember you singing the soprano solo parts during our rehearsals. I will remember how you truly loved to conduct the Messiah every single year. And how you understood the Baroque composers so well. And how you inspired us with your joyful love of life and respect for us all. I am so grateful to have had the privilege of knowing you, working with you, and learning from you. Today is Wednesday and I miss you George.
violinist, Orchestra Seattle
George’s much-too-early passing is not only a tragedy in itself, it leaves a massive fallout cloud of sorrow and loss among the thousands of musicians, audience members, friends, and admirers in Seattle and throughout the world whose lives he enriched through his personality, musicianship and humor. We will miss him terribly
George was an important part of my life for nearly 16 years. He was one of the first musicians I met when I moved to Seattle, and the best. Singing for George—and being able to experience his warmth, wit, charisma and musical brilliance firsthand every week at rehearsal—is an experience I will always treasure.
The special moments, musical and otherwise, that George gave to me and the others who made music with him are too many to list. But the one that stands out for me above all others was his idea to dedicate OSSCS’s 2008 performance of Brahms’ Ein Deutches Requiem to the memory of my wife, who had passed away suddenly earlier that year. George showed his friendship and support in many ways during that time, but remembering my wife through that transcendent and moving performance was one of the most meaningful acts of friendship and compassion that I’ve ever experienced, and I will never forget it.
My deepest condolences to the Shangrow family.
tenor, Seattle Chamber Singers
I am a newcomer to the orchestra, last year was my first year in the viola section. It was such an amazing experience to play in George’s orchestra, I just can’t believe he is gone. I was looking forward to so many more years of making music with him, he is one of the best conductors I’ve ever worked with. He was also one of the funniest, nicest people, and his after-concert parties were some of my favorite music-nerd memories of all time. I couldn’t seem to get through a rehearsal of Orchestra Seattle without having to put my viola down at least once because I was laughing too hard to play
I can’t even imagine how hard it must be for the Shangrow family, and my heart goes out to them, as do my prayers.Thank you George for such a wonderful year, I am proud to say I was your fellow-musician and friend.
violist, Orchestra Seattle
I joined the Seattle Chamber Singers back in 1985; it was the “Bach year.” During that year we performed all Bach’s major choral works, his motets and altogether 36 of his cantatas. What a glorious year that was! It certainly was the best year of my long choral singing career. And it was all because of George’s incredible talent, his joyful love of music, especially Bach’s music, and his great ability to inspire us all. But even though he was always able to bring out the best of us, I felt he deserved to lead the best chorus there was in the whole wide world. He is now, in heaven.
My heart goes to his family and to his close friends.
alto, Seattle Chamber Singers, 1985–1994
What a tremendous loss to the musical community of Seattle. There are so many things one could say about George. I will mention two which are most memorable to me.
First, his ability on the harpsichord. I loved going to concerts when he played and/or conducted from the harpsichord. His touch was magnificent.
Second, his Messiah. It is always the recording I choose at Christmas. His interpretation of the fugal “Amen” is almost more than my heart could bear—so beautiful and unique.
It was a shock to hear of his tragic death and he will be missed.
music lover, Seattle
There was the time George and I sight-read sonatas live on KRAB in the fire station—it was around 1970. If I remember right, he did all the engineering and the announcing, answered the phone and played the piano part. George was music director at the University Unitarian Church and helped organize our first concert series as a group—Kronos played Black Angels for the first time and performed the first piece ever written for the group, Ken Benshoof’s Traveling Music, on this series. And then there was the immense personal help he and his family gave my wife and me early on. George always seemed kind of like Bach to me; music emanated so naturally and continuously from his imagination. George Shangrow—what a beautiful, generous force in the Universe.
Playing with George and OSSCS for the past 18 years has made me a better musician 1000 times over. I’ll never forget his wit, humor and overall joy during rehearsals and performances. He was not only my conductor, but a valued friend. I didn’t realize until now what a huge role George and his musicians have played in my life. Thank you George, for everything.
Judy Johnson Lawrence
principal bassoonist, Orchestra Seattle
**Memories of George Shangrow
I think I met him in grade school. University Heights. For the annual fair, he made a huge “computer” out of refrigerator boxes, Christmas lights, cardboard and paint. I stood in front and wrote down questions posed by the fairgoers, entering them into the “machine.” The lights twinkled, the cardboard “tapes” turned, and out would come an answer to the question, written by him behind the boxes, usually with a wry twist or joke.
We used to melt sugar in pans on his parents’ stove, and then stuff the resulting goo into little makeshift rockets that we hoped would zoom into the sky. Even when we learned how to make black gunpowder, no rocket ever did anything but blaze in the backyard. But we kept trying.
At Marshall Junior High, we were in choir together. (I have a picture of the choir, with him in the first row. An alto, I think.) At the annual talent show one year, we lip-synched Stan Freberg’s “St. George and Dragonet.” He played the detective, and I played all the other parts. It was my first taste of performing. The following year, we memorized the other side of the 45 record, “Little Blue Riding Hood” and offered it live. Again, he was the straight man, and he gave me the juicy bits.
At Roosevelt, he and I got out of “study hall” by going down to the auditorium to “work” on musical pieces for the organ. He never told anybody that I didn’t really contribute anything but companionship. During one of those hours, I first learned from him that “A Lover’s Concerto” by The Toys was actually a piece of Bach. You could do that with music? Who knew.
Odd that, as you get old, your past disappears with each passing death. But there is a tradition in my religion that our lost loved ones continue to abide with us in memories. I don’t have any contemporary memories of George Shangrow. We lost touch during college, and then I left Seattle in 1972, and we never regained contact. But he will abide with me as the funny, precocious, generous and laughing friend of my childhood.
My condolences to the many of you who knew him more recently. I will say kaddish for him this Friday night.
George gave us his infectious, pure joy in the music the sublime slow “Amen” at the end of Messiah, the approaching hailstorm in Israel in Egypt, the delight in watching him realize a figured bass, the exploration of “seldom-performed works,” the profound respect and love he brought to the music. The tremendous loss of him is filled, at moments, by the ongoing gift of his legacy.
Blessings and peace to his family and friends as they come to terms with this loss.
member, Seattle Chamber Singers, 1974–1983
Hardly a day goes by that I don’t have a moment’s reflection on how being part of George’s humanistic music-making changed my life.
George Shangrow is one of the finest musical personalities and musicians I have ever had the privilege to know. I was always amazed by his genius—his total commitment to music, his vast knowledge and talent, his inspirational spirit. What a gem!!! What a loss to everyone who knew him, worked with him, was inspired by him or admired him from the sidelines.
I will always remember George Shangrow with reverence and love and appreciation for his part in my musical growth and for his friendship.
Beverly Martin Gilyeart
Thank You, George
I sang in the University Unitarian Church Choir, and joined the Seattle Chamber Singers in the 1982–1983 season. My last season with you was in 1993–1994. It’s been sixteen years. I am sorry that I let so much time go by, when I did mean to at least stop by after a concert to say “hi” to you. Well, I will never say “goodbye.” I will always remember the good times we shared together, and all of the wonderful, glorious music I was honored to participate in helping to create with you, and with all of the terrific singers and instrumentalists who comprise Orchestra Seattle and the Seattle Chamber Singers. George, you were truly our “guiding star.” Now, you have moved to another plane, but the sparks from your light, which shone so brightly, still remain here—within each and every one of us whose lives you touched. We will “carry on.” Thank you for being here.
One of my most treasured memories was a performance of Mendelssohn’s Elijah. There is one movement that ends with a long decrescendo, slowly trailing off into hushed silence. George conducted it perfectly and the choir and orchestra followed. We froze at the end, as all good performers will, to prolong the effect. For a fraction of a second, the silence held. Then we heard it: an audible snore. We all choked—silently. I was in the choir, facing George. The look on his face as he attempted to maintain control was utterly priceless. I will never forget it. And I will never forget George.
[Read more at: businessinwashington.com]
Margaret Wright Purvine
cellist & mezzo-soprano, OSSCS in the 1990s
The Sudden Loss of George, but Heaven’s Gain
I first found out from my son, stationed in Afghanistan, who sent me an e-mail. How about that, his news went around the world pretty fast.
I was just a friend, not one that shared a musical talent with him either, only music appreciation. I was one of the lucky ones that went on two cruises where he lead a small group. On both the Panama Canal cruise and the Antarctica cruise I had the privilege to get to know George in a different way than conducting the orchestra or just him and Jeffrey Cohan, which was the last concert I went to on Whidbey Island. Although I still remember his last words, leaving after the concert, “I have to try to catch the ferry to Mukilteo, but come over to the house soon.”
I had listened many years to “Live by George” on KING-FM, and was just mesmerized by his voice—then to have dinner with him and 12 other guests on the cruise every day and getting to know this legend as a person. We all learned a deeper appreciation for the music he had us listen to and ciritique, but always with a sense of humor. We teased him about the Panama shirt he always felt he had to wear for his “lectures,” but at night he had just as much fun playing jazz and other tunes at the piano bar. This was a different side of George we got to see. The same thing [happened] when I joined his group on the cruise in January 2006 to Antartica and Rio. That was a trip especially made memorable with George being our talented and gracious leader and host.
He made me part of his group of friends, although he had so many already. He always made you feel special, no matter what. GEORGE, WE ALL MISS YOU!
No matter how insignificant we were—we all felt priviliged to have known you.
just one of his many friends
I have met George just once at a live interview we had on my “Classical Edge” music program at KSER-FM in May of this year. It was a thrill to hear his professional announcing voice on the air. He was warm, courteous, patient and well-informed. Part of that interview will be rebroadcast tonight, August 3, at 10:30 p.m., at the beginning of my program.
I was looking forward to his being one of my mentors.
host, “Classical Edge,” KSER-FM 90.7
Dear family & friends of George Shangrow: I lost my husband of 28 years suddenly on August 5, 2006. Words cannot describe what unanticipated shock and loss feel like. As I approach the fourth anniversary of my loss, you should know that George helped me heal SO MUCH! I played viola in junior high and high school. After I married, I didn’t continue playing, but I loved listening to classical music. I listened to “Live by George” because my soul was soothed by his gentle combination of passion and knowledge of music. Life is strange. I too was driving through bad weather in eastern Washington late Saturday afternoon to attend an outdoor wedding. The storm passed as the bride walked down the aisle. I am so sorry and deeply touched by the loss of George Shangrow.
With deepest sorrow,
Carin Peterson Kruger
I did not have the opportunity to meet George Shangrow or to attend any of his concerts, but I found it wasn’t necessary. Very rarely did I miss his “Live by George” broadcasts on Classic KING; the TV would go off when his show would come on the air. He made the classics come alive me and sparked my interest in unknown composers and compositions. George was God’s gift to us and we are all the better for the life he shared with us, his listeners.
May the choirs of angels come to greet you,
May they speed you into paradise.
May the Lord enfold you in His mercy.
May you find eternal life.
—Ernest Sands, “Song of Farewell”
Gina (a fan and lover of classical music)
Brahms’ German Requiem, in February, and George’s joy in the music.
Selig sind die toten die in dem Herren sterben, von nun an.
Ja der Geist spricht, daß sie ruhen von ihrer Arbeit;
denn ihre Werke folgen ihnen nach.
Blessed are the dead, which die in the Lord, from henceforth.
Yea, says the Spirit, that they may rest from their labours;
and their works do follow them.
Heather J. Martin
I was so saddened to hear of George’s untimely death—what a huge loss for the music community in Seattle, and for all his many friends and family. On behalf of all the members of Seattle Pro Musica, I wish to express my deep condolences to his family, and to the members of Orchestra Seattle and Seattle Chamber Singers.
George touched thousands of people in the Seattle area and beyond—as conductor, radio announcer, pianist and champion of classical music. We are grateful for everything he did for so many musicians and music lovers. Though his life was shorter than it should have been, it was immensely full and he shared his love of music with deep generosity.
We all miss you, George.
Karen P. Thomas
artistic director & conductor, Seattle Pro Musica
A Condolence Note
This is a hard hit, both professionally and personally, a loss that blows a hole in the fabric of the Northwest’s musical life. George turned his genial side to me: I cherish memories of casual coffeeshop visits, a friendly nod, and a sense of collegial support, even in his post-radio days. His place in our local broadcast history remains unique. In his lectures and concerts, his unabashed love of making and sharing and publicly delighting in music touched me and, I know, others, like a puppy’s pure joy at play. George leaves a great legacy; he also leaves a calendar full of holes where delights were supposed to be. May his family find comfort in knowing that many, many people grieve with them.
George Shangrow was so talented, smart, funny and larger than life that I was a little intimidated when I sang with the Seattle Chamber Singers years ago. I bet he would be the first to admit that he was no saint. He grabbed life by the [horns] and had his way with it—something I can only aspire to.
I like to think of death as a graduation because it makes it a little less scary. George Shangrow “graduated” with honors. He was a remarkable person, and I feel so lucky to have known him. To George’s family and close friends, please accept my condolences. It is a huge loss.
Seattle Chamber Singers, 1987–1992
Heaven, Get Ready!
Bach, Mozart, Brahms, all you greats there assembled—a new baton has arrived in heaven. His name is George and when he first conducts your music in a manner not quite how you expected, perhaps your brow will furrow a bit but then the spirit and excitement that he puts to the score will bring you great pleasure. We will miss him here but we know you will grant him the greatest orchestra and chorus with which to delight the heavens.
baritone alum, Seattle Chamber Singers
Twenty years ago, as a newcomer to Washington, I was introduced to Orchestra Seattle and the Seattle Chamber Singers by Karen Fant, a giant in the Seattle environmental community for whom I was lucky enough to work. Karen shared with my husband and me a love of Handel’s Messiah, and it became a yearly tradition that we went together to a holiday performance. The first year or two we went elsewhere, and then Karen—knowing that we also had in common a fondness for George as an announcer on KING-FM—learned he was doing Messiah and proposed we try it out. In all the years since, I don't believe I’ve missed a single one. Once you've heard George’s Messiah, there simply IS no other. I can’t listen to my Mormon Tabernacle Choir recording anymore. Sadly, Karen no longer joins us. Saturday, the day George was killed, was the fourth anniversary of her equally untimely death at age 57. Along with so many others who have written, I was stunned and grief-stricken to learn George had died. It is simply unimaginable that he of such exuberant life and joy and gifts is no longer with us. The word irreplaceable comes to mind. My heart goes out to all of you who had the privilege of knowing and working with him, and especially to his family. Rest in peace, George. You changed my life, and I will never forget you.
longtime OSSCS season subscriber
Goodbye, Dear Friend
I, like an entire classical music community, am devastated by the death of George Shangrow. What a horrendous loss to us all. I knew George before I met him, when I went to the University Unitarian Church on Sundays and sat in a back pew letting his piano music wash over me—nobody could get the sound from a piano that he could. I joined the choir and my introduction to classical choral music was Mozart’s Requiem, soon followed by Israel in Egypt. I was so hooked, George’s love and passion for the music was contagious, and I became a Chamber Singer in 1977, until my retirement in 1999. George was my dear, dear friend, my mentor, my voice coach, my computer buddy. This is a loss that leaves us all with a complete emptiness in our hearts.
Ruht wohl, George, Dearest Friend
Shangrow families and friends, my heart is aching for your devastating and incomprehensible loss. You are in my thoughts, and I mourn with you this day and in those ahead. May music and the memories of George that each of you treasure, the memories family and friends carry in our hearts, be of comfort, and cause for rejoicing for having known this beautiful, brilliant, remarkable man and musician, our dear George Shangrow.
How gently and quietly he smiles,
How fondly he opens his eyes!
Do you see, friends? Do you not see?
How he shines even brighter, soaring on high, stars sparkling around him?
Do you not see?
How his heart proudly swells and, brave and full, pulses in his breast?
How softly and gently from his lips breath flutters—see, friends!
Do you not feel and see it?
Do I alone hear this melody which, so wondrous and tender in its blissful lament,
all-revealing, gently pardoning, sounding from him, pierces me through,
rises above, blessedly echoing and ringing round me?
Resounding yet more clearly, wafting about me, are they waves of refreshing breezes?
Are they billows of heavenly fragrance?
As they swell and roar round me, shall I breathe them, shall I listen to them?
Shall I sip them, plunge beneath them, to expire in sweet perfume?
In the surging swell, in the ringing sound, in the vast wave of the worlds breath—
To drown, to sink unconscious—supreme bliss!
—“Liebestod,” Tristan und Isolde, Richard Wagner
Ruht wohl, George, dearest friend, patient and generous, who gave so much to me and to so many, and who made the music come alive—you are the MUSIC, dear George. I will never forget the thrill of singing my first St. Matthew Passion in your chorus, your introducing me to The Ring and your excitement for this work, the joy with which you infused every performance, the wonderful and funny times—music-making and listening, travel, talking, eating, drinking and laughing—living life fully. You will always be missed, always be loved, and live on in my heart all the days of my life. And music, the music you gave us, brings us closer to the eternal, helping us cope with this loss. Forevermore, each time I listen to a recording or performance, play or sing a note, you will be there. And in making music still, may we honor you and the gifts you gave us. You are a beacon—your magnificent light shines!
With love, devotion, and gratitude, and in heartfelt sympathy to your family and loved ones,
soprano, Seattle Chamber Singers
I have played music with George since 1988. One of the major reasons I settled in Seattle was to play with the orchestra and with George. I was looking for passion and joy in my life and I realized I had found it when I played my first concert with the group. I would not know and love the richness of the Bach cantatas or St. Matthew Passion without George. I would not have enjoyed the leaping frogs in Handel’s Israel in Egypt. I would not have lost myself for hours in the Messiah only to emerge out of an “Amen” that was a tribute to life, spirit, and pulsing sound itself. Playing with George was a necessity for me in good times and bad. Playing with him and OSSCS buoyed me through the hardest times of my life—like the night we preformed St. Matthew to an almost sold-out hall in Benaroya just days after my father had passed. I can’t put in words what that meant to me and to my mother who sat in the audience. Right now I am too sad and shocked to be able to recall a story I want to tell—but I need to say that George approached music with heart, passion, intelligence, fun and humor and he taught me to do that same to the extent I was capable—though I am not sure I will ever be as creative as he was about finding metaphors for how to play music. (One of my favorites was , “This is shopping music,” and he would bounce and give that look that went with whatever “shopping” tempo really was.) I’d hoped to be learning from him and playing with him for many, many, more years—playing together into our old age at the “Fermata Inn,” as he used to joke about. I am so sorry that will not come to pass. George is in my heart, I thank him for all the heartfelt joy and music he brought into my life, and he will be forever inseparable from my love of music. I miss him.
cellist, Orchestra Seattle
One of the great joys of my life has been to play under George’s baton for the past ten years. What a musical mentor, what a conductor, what an ever-open mind for passionate invention and finding humor in music, intentional or not! As my time with the orchestra grew, I gained such respect for his treatment of “his” musicians—enthusiastic, kind, loving, understanding, yet always challenging. My favorite quote from him when someone played a loud B-natural against everyone else’s B-flat in the cello section was, “Sin boldly!” Goodbye, George. You lived boldly and have seeped into all of us. We’ll carry you forward in every note we play.
cellist, Orchestra Seattle
The Loss of a Wonderful Music Friend
George made music fun. He would laugh and joke at rehearsals and keep us all engaged waiting to hear his next musical idea or funny line. You had to keep watching all the time or you would miss something. Some conductors talk, talk, talk, and plan, plan, plan, but with George the beauty was in the unexpected. So what if it was a Baroque piece—it could still have a surprise. His enthusiasm was contagious.
[Read more at: bonnieblanchard.com]
Many current Seattle Symphony members remember both Maestro Shangrow and his radio show very fondly. We will all miss this popular figure in our Seattle musical community.
[Read more at: ssopo.org]
Seattle Symphony & Opera Players’ Organization
Nobody I have known in fifty years in music had more fun with music than George Shangrow. Whether it was playing, conducting, lecturing, or just shooting the breeze, he always seemed to be having an incredibly great time! We had known each other at Roosevelt High School and the UW, playing together together many times before I left in 1972, and even for me, he had always seemed a bit eccentric! He was always excited about something, and always having such a great time. Even though my sister Eleanor has sung with him often over the years, I had not seen him for almost forty years until we became reacquainted a few months ago. He was slower and grayer, his humor was laced with more irony, but he was as kind and gracious (and funny) as I remembered him. I was lucky enough to hear George and Jeff Cohan play a concert of Bach in June when I was in Seattle (they had begun playing when I knew them in college) and I was so impressed by George’s facility and musicianship—especially when realizing a figured bass. I am truly stunned by this tragedy. There is sudden gaping hole in the cultural life of Seattle, and the lives of so many people. No one is prepared for something like this. My heart goes out to his family, and to his musical family. We will not forget.
composer, pianist, double bassist, Phoenix Symphony
A Musical Force
With his death at just 59, we are robbed of what should have been many more years of passionate involvement in this community, but the extraordinary contributions he made over the past four decades will continue to enrich all our lives far into the future.
[Read more at: blog.seattlepi.com/jimtune/]
president, CEO, ArtsFund
George Shangrow, Musician and Humorist
I met George and a host of other exceptional musicians around 1975 as a cast member of a production of As You Like It, rehearsed and performed at the University Unitarian Church. Every possible musical opportunity was made the most of, from incidental music on harpsichord and flute, to a cappella quartets and choruses. Some of the music was from the period, some written by musicians involved with the play. It was a great deal of fun, and as I remember, we raised money for a worthy cause. George played Jacques with understated humor and flair.
He may have nearly forgotten that play among his many performances, but it remains in my memory as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see some of the best of Seattle’s musicians at work.
I also remember one performance of Israel in Egypt. We, the audience, demanded an encore. George graciously acceded, with a reprise of the chorus about the plagues of insects—which he conducted with a flyswatter.
He will, of course, be missed most by family and friends, but also by those of us who were touched by him as broadcaster and conductor and, however briefly, as an actor.
Gone, but Never Forgotten
I, like so many others, am devastated at the loss of my musical colleague and friend. George touched so many lives in so many ways—I can’t imagine that the hole he leaves behind in our hearts can ever be filled. When I think of George, several words pop into my head: one is Respect. Never before has a conductor treated me with the level of respect George did. Another is Freedom. For so many of the solo sections I have had over the 10+ years I’ve been in OS, George completely respected my intuition and never tried to dictate an interpretation. I can never thank him enough for his trust in and respect for me as a musician over the years. And the last is Joy. Through George, I truly learned what the joy of music can be. Goodbye, my dear friend. We will raise a glass of “Gnarly Head” in your honor with a hunk of Manchung’s marinated steak you loved so much. Words can never say how much I’ll miss you.
principal flute, Orchestra Seattle
I first met George back in 1994 at Italian Spaghetti House. As he was my wife’s organ teacher in 1975 when she was 13 years old, a friendship formed that lasted through the years. I was lucky and honored to make his acquaintance. Although his charm and wit will be sorely missed, the warm memories will last forever. Puerto Vallarta the barbeques the concerts his Kamikazes that were the bomb and just plain having a good time hanging out. Our heartfelt condolences to the friends and family that knew George best. We love and miss you, buddy.
Mike and Kathy Pramhus
The Untimely Death of George Shangrow
I sang with George as a tenor both in the Seattle Chamber Singers and his small group—The George Shangrow Chorale—in the mid to late 1980s. I was shocked to read about his untimely death in The Seattle Times today. George will be remembered for his impeccable musicianship, his attention to detail (no wrong notes, please!), his work ethic, his keyboarding, and his sense of humor. After sitting in on the rehearsals of several choral groups at the time, I felt George and the Seattle Chamber Singers were the best fit for me: I was not disappointed. George worked us hard, but the result was beautiful music.
I hope to see you in Heaven, George. I’ll be happy to sing with you in your choir!
I first met George in math class at Roosevelt High School in 1967. Who else but George would organize the renovation of a pipe organ in a high school? I played for the very first concerts of the Seattle Chamber Singers, and was with George on many creative projects before I left town in 1971. I count my adventures with him as an indispensable and wonderful part of my musical development. He was one in a million. What a loss to the musical world. My thoughts and prayers are with you all who have been close to George over the years.
percussionist, Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra
What a shock to learn of George’s untimely death. About 26 years ago, I auditioned for trumpet in Orchestra Seattle (back then, the Broadway Symphony). I was fortunate enough to play in the orchestra under George for many years after that and when my schedule has allowed, I have subbed for a number of performances in recent years. What I enjoyed the most about playing for George was that his passion for the music we played would infectiously flow out of him and consequently he could get the very best out of each one of us. But not only that as a trumpet player I was so used to watching other conductors put their hands up to soften the loud passages written for the brass section. Not with George! When the music said forte, he wanted all of it, and it was so much fun to let it all out and watch him smile back at you. Making music with George was so much fun and made me feel so alive I know that all my fellow musicians have similar feelings. He will be sorely missed and yes, leaves a big hole in my musical life. But all that he added to my musical experience will certainly live on and be a big part of me forever. Thanks George, and my prayers go out to all the Shangrow family at this most difficult time.
Some of you may remember my mother, Irene White, who introduced me and my family to George Shangrow, seemingly at the very inception of his long tenure as music director for University Unitarian Church. She sang in his choir for as long as he was there. She formed a friendship with him, marked by their shared joy in choral music and a fierce loyalty that drove her to follow him to the University Christian Church choir, where she sang under his direction for as long as she physically was able to do so. In the aftermath of hearing the sickening news of George’s senseless passing, I take only slight comfort in reflecting that my mother did not live long enough to learn of it. If I were more of a believer, then I would enjoy great comfort in knowing that she and George now are reunited, regaling one another with unforgettable stories of triumphs achieved and battles shared, and enjoying every minute of it. Irene, and so many others, have had the privilege of sharing experiences with George far richer than my own. Thus, I will not burden this page further with my own relatively passing thoughts, save one: last November, when Becky and I were married, we were honored that George graciously agreed not only to be our guest, but also to provide us with several exquisite hours of Shangrow at the piano, making our wedding celebration truly magical. We were on the verge of a far deeper friendship when he was taken from us all. We join in offering our deepest condolences to the Shangrow family and to the community of musicians and friends George thrived among and loved so much every day of his life.
Jay and Becky White
I’ve known George for at least 40 years, since we were music students at the UW at the same time, although we were never close friends. I also conducted various music groups in Seattle from about 1972 or so, doing similar repertoire to George at that time. I particularly remember singing with George in his first Israel in Egypt performance at University Unitarian with the Seattle Chamber Singers, and also in hearing quite a few of his early performances.
George was, quite simply, a brilliant musician and charismatic leader. He offered Seattle music lovers an incredible variety of works in practically any genre, period and style you could name over his 40-year career. It should have been much longer.
George’s work at KING-FM, especially his incredible gift to local musicians through “Live By George,” was also immensely important. My later groups occasionally performed on his show and, like so many others, were able to reach more people (and more importantly, new people) through his generous and graceful introductions. One of his many talents was communicating his own love for and joy in music to others.
He will be greatly missed.
University of North Texas
I was very saddened to learn of George’s death this weekend. My family first met George back in 1978 when he and my older brother collaborated on a number of projects, and from the mid-80s to mid-90s I played with him at Orchestra Seattle a number of times—some of my most memorable musical experiences. In modern-day Seattle, with its very rich musical scene, it’s difficult to appreciate just what a pioneer George was when he started out nearly 40 years ago, and what a huge factor George has been in the evolution of Seattle’s musical climate. There was nobody like him, and we are all the poorer for his very premature death.
KING-FM would like to join you in mourning the loss of the beloved George Shangrow. George offered support and encouragement to performers, composers, and to a NW audience eager to attend hundreds of performances and lectures throughout the years. His passing is a great loss for us all.
We will be sharing recordings featuring George and Orchestra Seattle and Seattle Chamber Singers tonight and tomorrow evenings at 7:00 p.m.
Our thoughts and deepest condolences are with his family and loved ones.
On behalf of all of us here at KING-FM,
Classical KING-FM 98.1
My Friend George
To all of my friends in the OSSCS family—I wish I could be there and hug each and every one of you. George made a profound impact on all of our lives and will be deeply missed.
This afternoon I listened to a cassette of my first performance with the Seattle Chamber Singers, Israel in Egypt in 1977. What joy.
How lucky I am to have been able to work with him and call him a friend.
friend and singer
Remembering George in the Southeastern U.S.
I first met George at a Garfield High School concert many years ago. I listened to his show “Live by George” on KING-FM while I was living in Seattle. I was impressed by his musicianship as well as his ability to start orchestras like Orchestra Seattle and sustain them. He created jobs and opportunities for many musicians in the Seattle area. I have nothing but thoughts and prayers for the Shangrow family. The traffic accident hit home for me as a professional violinist based in the Southeast. I travel an average of two to four hours each way for symphonies, weddings and other events. I will definitely be more aware while driving and will continue to support safe driving programs/laws on a local/national level. God bless you all.
violinist, Gulf Coast Symphony Orchestra
I have had the pleasure and honor of being a member of Orchestra Seattle for the last nineteen years. Over these years, I have learned to appreciate George not only as a brilliant musician and a great director, but also as a warm, caring and loving human being. This past February, I was part of the Haiti benefit concert that George directed, together with 300 other musicians. I remember noticing the impact that George had on every one of these musicians, and I remember how privileged it made me feel at that moment that unlike many of the other musicians there, I got to work with George on a regular basis.
I am sure that right now in some corner of Heaven, George is having a discussion with his namesake George Fridrich Handel on whether the slow part of the Messiah overture should be single-dotted or double-dotted. I don’t know what Handel originally had in mind, but regardless, I am sure that George will ultimately convince him that single-dotted is the right answer. Farewell, friend—you may have left us way too early, but we will do our best to keep your memory and your love of music alive.
violinist, Orchestra Seattle
George Shangrow came into my life at a time when I was looking for something to feel passionate about. Boy, did I find it! Playing music with George for 10 years has been a deeply passionate and fulfilling experience. It changed my life. I stood in awe of George’s prodigious musical gifts, his pure love of music and his unbridled love of life. I was able to rediscover my own talents, so I will always be grateful to George for this gift. My heart and my thoughts go out to the entire Shangrow family. And I hope, even in this period of sadness and loss, that the OSSCS family—musicians and fans alike—will commit to keep playing and performing. That is what George would want.
violinist, Orchestra Seattle
Thank you, George
I am grateful beyond words for almost 30 years of friendship, and hundreds of performances toghether, both of orchestral and chamber music. Today there is a hole in my life that will never be filled, but my sadness is tempered by all those years of wonderful memories. It also helps to be part of that broader community with George at its heart, including his family, Orchestra Seattle, Seattle Chamber Singers and their audiences. May we all find a way to let George’s love of music live on through us.
co-concertmaster, Orchestra Seattle
Remembering George Shangrow
Somewhere there is a George Shangrow clock that has 25 hours in a day.
If you wonder why Seattle has such a rich classical music scene, why we enjoy chamber music, choral concerts, opera, ballet, symphonic music—all out of proportion to the size of our community—then you have George in large part to thank for this heritage.
[Read more at: crosscut.com]
George, you will be forever missed. Thank you for sharing your love and immense musical talent with all of us.
[Read more at: mktalvi.blogspot.com]
I was so saddened to hear of George’s untimely death. I was a 17-year-old actor in a production of the Second Shepherd’s Play at the Ensemble Theatre in Pioneer Square when George (also 17 years old) and the Seattle Chamber Singers made what may have been their professional debut as the musical accompaniment for that production. My father (a photographer) took what was probably his first head shot. George was, from the very beginning, a consummate professional and an important figure in promoting early music. I remember asking the 17-year-old George where he found a harpsichord (in 1968). He replied, “I built it.” He was an amazing person!
What a tragic loss for Seattle.
My condolences to family and friends.
I am so sad to hear the news. I worked with George briefly several years ago, and will always remember him as a sharp, talented, professional whose passion for the arts was amazing. My thoughts and prayers are with all of you.
Fisher Radio Seattle
When George asked me to sing the Britten War Requiem, I was beyond excited. The piece is so profound and yet so rarely done. George MADE this happen. I am privileged to have shared the stage with him. His initiative and inherent love of music will be sorely missed. Peace.
Remembering a Joyful Music-Maker
I was shocked and deeply saddened to receive the news of George Shangrow’s sudden death. He was a blessing to the music world, especially in this area. He exuded joy, both in personal interactions and on the concert stage, and was inevitably gracious.
Over the years there were occasions when I provided George with young singers for his oratoria and collaborated with him for other concerts. He was master of ceremonies at the Seattle Girls’ Choir Twentieth Anniversary Concert at Benaroya Hall in 2002. George delighted our audience—this time from the speaker’s podium. Orchestra Seattle provided a fine accompaniment to our choirs in that very special concert.
I have many great memories of George; and what has shone through was his consummate musicianship, fondness for the musicians fortunate enough to perform with him, and his complete joy in bringing people together to celebrate the wonderful activity of music-making.
George’s influence on our music scene is incalculable—and his teaching lives on in those who made music with him. My thoughts and prayers are with his family.
founder & artistic director emeritus, The Seattle Girls’ Choir
I was a bit nervous the night before my audition for Orchestra Seattle, when I tuned in to KING-FM to hear the end of Beethoven’s Fifth. When it was over, I heard George announce, “Even after all these years, I still get tingles listening to that movement.” I thought, “Now that’s someone I want to play music with.” I wasn’t disappointed.
Prayers for You
Dear Shangrow family, my heart goes out to you at this time of tragedy. George’s love of life, expressed so extraordinarily and uniquely in his love of music and toward all of his fellow musicians, is a spirit that will carry on forever. The many lives that he touched are forever blessed, and that is his legacy. He wanted everyone to share the joy of music. I remember praising him one time for not losing his “cool” when the orchestra was acting quite amateurish and not playing up to par. His comment was that he loved music too much to spoil it by being angry or upset. That’s George, and it was his joy of music-making that has largely kept me playing my violin all of these years. He will always have a special corner in my heart. I am so incredibly grateful to have known and played with him. God bless you, his family, with the comfort of knowing that he really does live on in Spirit and in the hearts of the thousands of lives he touched. My prayers are with you
violinist, Orchestra Seattle
Talent on Loan from God
Saw George and Jeffrey Cohan in the most intimate of chamber settings twice quite recently here in Bellingham at St Paul’s Episcopal Church—being great fans of Baroque music we were blown away by George’s harpsichord work and planned to see him again soon—but alas the Great Lord of all souls had other plans for George. Our loss (and the world’s loss) but heaven’s gain
Michael B. Smith
Tribute to a Kind and Generous Soul
As a member of the Seattle music community, I am deeply saddened to hear of the loss of George Shangrow. I first met George in 2003 when the community chorus I direct were guests on his live radio program. When George interviewed me, I sensed that he was a kind and generous person, and my interactions with him in the ensuing years have proven that to be true.
On several occasions beginning in 2006, I asked George to help to organize musicians for performances of great choral/orchestral works that I was conducting. With George’s assistance, members of Orchestra Seattle joined with Kirkland Choral Society for beautiful and memorable performances of some of the greatest music ever conceived, including Bach’s Mass in B Minor, Haydn’s Nelson Mass, Mendelssohn’s Song of Praise and Verdi’s Requiem.
In all of my interactions with him, by e-mail, phone and in person, George showed himself to be a kind and generous soul. He clearly loved music and cared about the people he came in contact with. My deepest condolences to his family and loved ones.
Glenn R. Gregg
music director, Kirkland Choral Society
My Dear Friend
I will miss George, always. It’s been twenty years since I regularly made music from within a George Shangrow ensemble, yet those memories are some of the strongest I keep. His intellect, joy and skill brought out more than the best we all had to offer. From obscure madrigals to the great St. Matthew Passion by Bach, he always knew the secrets—the mysteries—to make learning the music important and so worth the work. His enthusiasm for great music was infectious, and audiences felt it as much as we performers. He always said, “If it isn’t fun, don’t do it.” He was right. I cherish him.
alto, Seattle Chamber Singers, 1974–1993
George Shangrow Will Be Missed By Many
Know that many people share in the loss you must feel at the news of George’s untimely death.