The Brooklyn College Vanguard

Piano Professor Pays Tribute to Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Prof. Jeffrey Biegel performing “Reflection of Justice: An Ode to Ruth Bader Ginsburg.”/ @JeffreyBiegelMusic on Instagram

   Since Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg passed on Sept. 18, Americans are still grieving the loss of the esteemed public servant and reflecting on the legacy she left behind.

   For Brooklyn College Piano Adjunct Professor Jeffrey Biegel, this commemoration has taken on a musical form.

   “Ruth’s passing and legacy had indeed stirred up many to preserve her values and her lifelong dedication to our Constitution and humanity,” Biegel released in a statement.

“She should be remembered.”

   Recently, Biegel, a longtime pianist, performed as a soloist in Kenneth Fuchs’s “Spiritualist,” a piano concerto which won a Grammy for the Best Classical Compendium. Biegel also performed a series of  #StayAtHome Saturday Concerts this past spring during the COVID-19 quarantine.

   This time around, however, Biegel announced he would write “Reflection of Justice: An Ode to Ruth Bader Ginsburg,” a piano piece set to honor the late justice. Soon after, Biegel began sharing updates via his page on how the piece was coming along. This included a couple of revisions to ensure its perfection.

   “I’m certainly not on any level to the great composers, but what I have learned…is that the great composers would have revised their music if they had more opportunities to revisit them,” Biegel wrote in one of his updates. “Many have, but many composed their music on instruments quite different in sound, key size and depth to our modern instruments.”

   On Oct. 30, Biegel shared the “first public performance” of “Reflection of Justice: An Ode to Ruth Bader Ginsburg” on his Instagram page (@JeffreyBiegelMusic), which shows Biegel seated at his piano at home paying tribute to Ginsburg. 

   The musical elements translate this idea even further with “each letter of her names set to musical alphabet tones.” This includes RBG and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, which actively spell out her names within the piece.

   “In the beginning, it is RBG for several measures, and then R-U-T-H and B-A-D-E-R and G-I-N-S-B-U-R-G,” Biegel explained in one of his updates. “The ‘right hand’ rapid notes form an obbligato repeated section of ‘Ginsburg’ with ‘Ruth’ and ‘Bader’ played by the ‘left hand.’”

   Aside from these alphabet tones, however, the piece also references America and gives a nod to other parts of Ginsburg’s life, such as “Kiki,” one of the late justice’s early nicknames.

Page 1 of “Reflection of Justice: An Ode to Ruth Bader Ginsburg.”/ @
JeffreyBiegelMusic on Instagram

   “Listen for a brief quote of ‘The Star Spangled Banner’ as the climax builds toward two big chords played with the entire arm length of the right arm, symbolizing the ‘long arm of the law,’” Biegel wrote. “The nickname, Kiki, appears just before the end in four high register tones before the final measure.”

   The most recent performance of the piece, which can be found on Biegel’s Instagram page and via his YouTube channel, shows him playing on the piano alone, but a new work is in the planning stages.

   Two weeks prior, Biegel announced that he teamed up with Ellen Taaffe Zwilich, a Pulitzer Prize-winning composer, and Denyce Graves, an American operatic mezzo-soprano, to honor Ruth Bader Ginsburg further in a new musical work to be composed by Zwilich.

   “Added to voice and piano will be [a] small orchestral ensemble,” Biegel announced. “Vocals and narration will include biographical text and powerful quotations from Justice Ginsburg’s lifetime dedication to equality and human rights. Stay tuned!”