Sunday, August 22, 2010

Celebration of Life for George Shangrow

Today I attended the Celebration of Life service for George Shangrow, Seattle's musical dynamo, killed in a car accident on July, 31, 2010 at the age of 59. The turnout at University Christian Church was staggering. The church was filled to capacity. An over flow of mourners crowded all the way upstairs to the balcony—some were left to stand for the duration. With his immense talent, love and enthusiasm for music, the ability to communicate with audiences of all ages from diverse backgrounds, George Shangrow brought light to the hearts of many.

Now, at the age of 51, I have become increasingly aware of the finiteness of life. Every day is precious, for we never know when it will be our last. With each death or parting, a deeper meaning attaches itself to life; a new revelation comes into focus. What struck me about George, as I listened to the shared musical experiences and remembrances, was how steadfast and loyal he was as a friend and colleague.

I'll always remember him as a most gracious host on his radio show, KING-FM's Live By George. Lou Magor, a pianist and friend, shared that with his wealth of knowledge, expertise, and quick intellect, George could easily have upstaged, or stolen the spotlight from any guest on his show. But he never did. I remember feeling jittery for my first appearances with him on the radio. As a young performer, I had been encouraged to do less talking and more playing. One of my teachers, Heifetz in particular, would become impatient with any explanation that resembled a dissertation, so I hesitated to speak about music in public. But with George, my fears were groundless. I merely had to give him that certain look in the studio, a look which signaled, let's not go there—and he deftly switched the topic with just the right dose of humor.

He had an almost childlike, naive trust in others. Betrayal from a colleague hit him hard and was unfathomable. While former KING-FM radio host, Tom Dahlstrom, shared reflections about the sixteen years he enjoyed as a co-worker with George at the station, he mentioned the two times that he had detected a quiver in George Shangrow's voice. Fearless in front of the microphone, and also in front of audiences in the concert hall, his was the voice of calm. There was a quiver, though, as George recounted the horrors at Mauthausen, the notorious Nazi punishment camp, which he visited on more than one occasion. He sought to find answers to the atrocities, the senseless deaths, but found there were no answers, only more questions. George Shangrow, a man who lived and breathed joy in music, could not wrap his head around mankind's destructive urge and capacity to wipe away countless, innocent lives. It was inconceivable that prisoners at Mauthausen Concentration Camp had been exterminated with Beethoven's "Ode to Joy" playing in the background.

There was a quiver in George's voice when he received messages at KING-FM, through various e-mails, that his job was being terminated; he warned his friend and colleague Tom Dahlstrom of an impending, similar fate. As I listened to flautist Jeff Cohan, pianists Robert Kechley, Mark Salmon, and George Fiore perform at the memorial service, I realized that George valued his friendships and the people he worked with above all else; he wouldn't betray a colleague, although another person with the same initials might have no problem doing so.

The proof of George Shangrow's legacy was there today at the memorial service, and is all around us. George Shangrow's devotion to music lives on, through Orchestra Seattle and Orchestra Seattle Chamber Singers,  through the many live interviews and programs that he hosted, through his beautiful and talented daughter, cellist Daisy Shangrow, and the many inspired students from his classes at Seattle Conservatory. He enriched countless others by sharing classical music so freely with all, while making it accessible, and with the talent for inclusion rather than exclusion.

His friends quipped that George Shangrow loathed deadlines. Punctuality was not, well, his strong point even for a show live on the air. But with a trace of humor that echoed George, to the point that I could almost hear his voice:
He was early for once—but to his own funeral.

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