Note-orious: Brooklyn College professor pens piano piece honoring Ruth Bader Ginsburg

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Brooklyn College piano professor Jeffrey Biegel penned a musical homage to the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
Mark Lerner/File photo

A Brooklyn College professor wrote a piano piece dedicated to the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. “Reflection of Justice: An Ode to Ruth Bader Ginsburg” pays homage to the legal eagle and Brooklyn native through music, according to its composer.

“It’s my way of connecting with her spiritually through music and trying to use music as a way to memorialize her,” said Jeffrey Biegel, an adjunct piano professor and composer who teaches at the college’s School of Visual, Media, and Performing Arts.

Following Ginsburg’s death on Sept. 18 at the age of 87, Biegel decided to pen a piece about the famous Brooklynite, whom he never met but has a family connection with via his in-laws.

“My father-in-law knew her when they were teens in Brooklyn,” said Biegel, who lives on Long Island. “When she passed I felt, ‘I wished I had the honor and opportunity to have known you and to have played for you.'”

Faced with the challenge of translating Ginsburg’s storied life into music, Biegel decided to write the melody using notes corresponding to the letters of her initials “RBG,” her full name, and her nickname “Kiki,” by which she was known as a youngster, according to Biegel’s father-in-law.

Biegel used the letters of Ginsburg’s name, initials, and nickname to compose the piece.Naturally Sharp Inc.

While composing the tune over the course of a couple days in October, he also included the opening notes of the “Star-Spangled Banner,” representing Ginsburg’s towering legacy for the country.

“It’s perhaps the most recognizable patriotic melody that we have,” he said. “I wanted to include that as a reflection of the title, a reflection of justice and that everything she stood for was the law and the history of the country.”

The roughly four-minute piece has a “celestial” and “floating quality” to it, said the musician, while some audience members have noted that parts evoke Ginsburg’s gavel going down in a courtroom. 

“[It’s] kind of like her soul flowing through space between here and there,” said Biegel.

The pianist has yet to make a professional recording of the piece, but he performed it for the live-streamed show “Stars in the House” back in November, which is available on his YouTube channel.

Next, the musician is working on a bigger project about Ginsburg to be composed by Ellen Taaffe Zwilich, who will write a piece for vocalist and narrator, piano, and orchestra featuring mezzo-soprano Denyce Graves and Biegel, slated to be finished in late 2021. 

“The only way I could connect with [Ginsburg] spiritually was through music,” said Biegel, adding that he wants the larger composition to “be performed way beyond her lifetime.”