Ned Wharton

Imagine being able to lay down your burdens and fly away from Earth — to a place of harmony, where discrimination is left behind. That dream is the basis of the song "Blackstronauts" by Britton & The Sting, a standout entry in this year's Tiny Desk Contest. Britton Smith, who wrote the song, tells Weekend Edition he wrote "Blackstronauts" while thinking about one particular burden: the need for affirmation.

This year, many people have been turning to music for catharsis, but Mama Haze, aka songwriter Meaghan Maples, has been tapping into music's healing powers for a long time. Before pursuing music full-time, the Oakland, Calif.-based artist was a doula and caregiver, often prescribing music as an antidote to patients' pain.

In this time of social distancing, hunkering down and chatting remotely, we might learn some new things about each other. For example, you might know Marin Alsop as the longtime music director of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, one of the leading figures in classical music around the world and a frequent guest on Weekend Edition. But you might not know that back in the 1980s, she also led a swing band.

Harry Nilsson's concept album The Point turns fifty this year; to celebrate, the 1971 animated film adapted from the music will be released digitally and on BluRay for the first time. Nilsson, a beloved if occasionally overlooked writer of late 1960s pop hits, died in 1994, but his strange and endearing fairy tale album still resonates with those that remember it.

James Taylor has been a household name for a long time now. Taylor was just 20-years-old when he released his self-titled debut in 1968; in the half century since then, he has sold over 100 million albums and cemented his status as one of the most successful American singer-songwriters.

Every Christmas Eve at exactly 3 p.m., the Chapel of King's College in Cambridge, England plays A Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols. The tradition began in 1918, and for decades it's been broadcast on the BBC and around the world. A commemorative recording of last year's Centenary Service has just been released; it was the last one conducted by Sir Stephen Cleobury, the choir's music director for 37 years, who died just last month on Nov. 22.

For Alzheimer's Awareness Month, accomplished flutist Eugenia Zukerman has released a new book called Like Falling Through a Cloud: A Lyrical Memoir. It chronicles her internal and emotional journey since a diagnosis of "cognitive difficulties" three years ago.

Just this past September, Zukerman was playing Claude Debussy's "Syrinx" — a piece she figures she's played more than 20,000 times since the age of 10 — when she drew a sudden blank. So although she can't always find the notes these days, Zukerman is persistent in finding the words.

Massive anti-government protests in Chile over the past few weeks have united demonstrators in song. Last week, up to a million people protesting in Santiago were joined by a cavalry of guitarists. They played a song called "El Derecho de Vivir en Paz," which once stood as an anthem for resistance against the brutal regime of Augusto Pinochet that began in 1973.

You might say Making Movies is a band of brothers. The Kansas City-based group is made up of two Panamanian-Americans — guitarist Enrique Chi and his brother, bassist Diego Chi — and two Mexican-Americans; drummer Andres Chaurand and his brother Juan-Carlos, who plays percussion and keyboards.

Olivier Latry, one of the chief organists at Notre Dame Cathedral, was the last artist to record on the famous instrument before the catastrophic fire on April 15 that damaged the church and caused its spire to collapse. This pipe organ is the largest in France and dates back centuries. Though it was spared from the flames, it will still require extensive renovation.

Christine Goerke is focused on endurance. The dramatic soprano is tackling one of the most challenging roles in opera: singing Brünnhilde, the Valkyrie maiden warrior, in Richard Wagner's epic, Der Ring des Nibelungen, at New York's Metropolitan Opera. Otherwise known as the Ring cycle, the 16-hour saga spans four operas and tells the story of gods, monsters, humans and an insatiable urge to own an all-powerful golden ring.

The musical leg of SXSW 2019 has taken over Austin, Texas, once again and Alt.Latino's Felix Contreras has been standing amidst the food stands, venues and musical equipment cases to check out all the best Latin talent making noise.

"South by Southwest is becoming more important for Latin music every year," Contreras says. "More and more bands from Latin America, Spain and the U.S are coming here. I've been coming for 10 years and I used to be able to see most of the bands I needed. Now, its impossible."

Pianist Jeremy Denk's latest album is a musical odyssey. Starting with the austere tones of medieval composer Guillaume de Machaut, Denk travels in time across the keyboard all the way to the 20th Century landing on the atonality of Karlheinz Stockhausen and the minimalism of Philip Glass.

Since the late 1960s, NPR's Ned Wharton's brother Geoffry Wharton has worked as a professional violinist in Europe. Wharton often played jazzy pieces by a rather obscure composer named Audrey Call as encores. Maybe to Europeans it was the exotic sound of jazz being played at classical concerts that won their hearts, but Call's "Witch of Harlem" became a hit within Wharton's performances.

Over two decades ago in 1997, when violinist Hilary Hahn was 17, she made a celebrated recording debut, Hilary Hahn Plays Bach. That year, Hahn told NPR about her enthusiasm for Bach's music.

Every piece of music produced is a roll of dice for success, but sometimes, the stars just align. The music of George and Ira Gershwin, two of the greatest American songwriters of all time, have been given new life once again by two of the greatest jazz artists of all time, Diana Krall and Tony Bennett.

It all started with a tweet from Phil Collins.

In a now-viral post from earlier this month, the musician suggested people cue up his song "In the Air Tonight" so the iconic drum fill rings out at midnight on New Year's Eve.

In true 2017 fashion, the tweet lead to a meme, and the Twitterverse lit up with other ideas for climactic musical moments to ring in the new year.