Barney Sherman

Classical Music Host

Barney Sherman joined Iowa Public Radio member station KSUI in fall 2001 as Classical music host. In his role with Iowa Public Radio, Barney hosts weekday and Sunday afternoon Classical programs. He has written about music in books for Oxford and Cambridge University Presses and in articles for the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Journal of the American Musicological Society, Early Music, and many other publications. Another topic he has written about is Iowa, for The Atlantic (and for Iowa Public Radio!).


Decorah composer Ben Hippen studied music at Harvard in the 1980s, then programmed music software, then went in the 1990s to work on a feature film in Eritrea. The country touched something in him deeply and he stayed, teaching music and immersing himself in Eritrea's languages, songs and culture. What drove him away at the turn of the century was the Eritrean-Ethiopian War.

Kael Bloom / Unsplash

Even long-time Iowans might not realize how many composers our state has produced. Here are five videos of their music being played by other Iowans. 

Fede Casanova / Unsplash

Finding solace in a distant star, mystery in an ancient site and magic in returning to Iowa, today’s wind-band music takes us far beyond parades and pep rallies. And in this thriving art form, Iowans produce some of the finest work. Here are three recent Iowa concert videos focused on 21st-century gems, including one composed by an Iowa native as a tribute to the school that trained her.

Mark Zaleski / AP Photo

As you've probably heard, singer-songwriter John Prine passed away Tuesday, after being critically ill with COVID-19.

Since his first album was released in 1971, Prine's gentle humor and way with words have been an inspiration to many. Some members of IPR's staff each picked a favorite John Prine song to share.

David Beale / Unsplash

With concert-giving on hiatus, here's another sampling of the rich variety of choral music in our state.

This week's batch of videos includes a motet from Shakespeare's day that offers reassurance, a new work by a Des Moines composer that affirms simple love, and a song by a Des Moines gospel choir that reminds us to listen for the voices of those in need.

Credit Wartburg College, Wartburg Choir

Choral groups around our state have canceled or postponed concerts until it’s safe to congregate. Instead of “Big Lists Of Choral Events,” we're going to start sharing videos of some of our favorite choral performances from around Iowa. 

Courtesy of the University of Northern Iowa

All across Iowa, choirs are planning impressive spring concerts in the coming months. 

Here's a list of everything we know about that's happening in March. If your concert is missing, email us, and please let us know what we should add!

Luther College

As you're reading this, it's likely that someone in Iowa is practicing, memorizing, warming up or rehearsing for a choral concert in December. Iowans have planned over 60 of them from river to river, and we hope to give you a complete listing on this page. 

Tim Griffith / University of Iowa

Sarah Cahill has premiered over 60 new works by renowned composers like John Adams, Julia Wolfe and Terry Riley.

Today from 2 to 5 p.m., she’ll share another innovation at Voxman Music Building in Iowa City. She’ll play three hours of music written by women, ranging from 1707 to 2019. Admission is free, and you can come and go as you please, staying for as long or as short as you like.

Wikimedia Commons

On a stormy winter night in 1953, North Sea waters overwhelmed dykes and raged over the Dutch lowlands, drowning 1,836 people. Fifty years later, the flood remained vivid in Dutch memory, and composer Douwe Eisenga was commissioned to write a memorial piece.

He wanted to create a work that honored the occasion but also transcended it and spoke to audiences outside the Netherlands. He succeeded.

Phil Roeder

Week after week, choral singers across our state have been rehearsing diligently. Now, 'tis the season when we get to hear the results. Below is a round-up of Iowa choral concerts in November.

We'll be publishing a December "Big List," too, and we will update the November list as we learn about new concerts.

PersianDutchNetwork / Creative Commons

How can today's artists say something new and helpful about the Holocaust? For Minnesota composer Stephen Paulus and poet Michael Dennis Brown, the key was to focus on children.

In their multimedia oratorio “To Be Certain Of The Dawn,” the pair took inspiration from Roman Vishniac's photographs of Jewish children in pre-Shoah Europe. Brown, a graduate of the Iowa Writers' Workshop, says the “children’s faces are the sun, moon and stars of this work.”

Drake University Choirs

For her farewell concert, Drake University choral director Aimee Beckmann-Collier commissioned five new works - and we've got a first listen to one of them. It's a setting of a Rabindranath Tagore poem by the renowned Latvian composer Eriks Esenvalds.

Jackie Blake Jensen

"Bach is the father, we are the kids,” said Mozart, maybe. The quote was reported 40 years after Mozart’s death by someone known to make stuff up and otherwise fall short of NPR sourcing standards. But even if it’s apocryphal, what makes it interesting is not who said it but which Bach he had in mind: not Johann Sebastian, but his second son, Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach. Let's call him CPE (1714-1788).

Barney Sherman

Tune in this afternoon at 1 to hear a live preview of the 2019 ChamberFest Dubuque - including music by founder Michael Gilbertson that the Pulitzer Prize committee praised for its "rare capacity to stir the heart."  Ten years ago, Michael invited some musical friends to join him in his hometown to play a benefit for his alma mater, the Northeast Iowa School of Music. It worked - the School is going strong - and the concert has evolved into the annual ChamberFest, which still benefits community music education in Iowa.

Drake University Choirs

Aimee Beckmann-Collier jokes that she “had a plan for every minute of her life since junior high.” By age seven she knew she would be a teacher, and by age thirteen she was sure her focus would be high-school choirs. But plans can lead to unexpected vistas.


It's good to have many skills, but even better when they synergize. At Grinnell College, John Rommereim conducts choirs, writes music, teaches composition and theory, plays keyboards, and researches musicology. The strands are varied but they weave together into something more than their sum. What connects them, Rommereim told me, is imagination. He explains in this short interview: 

Chorus America/ University of Iowa

In the last two months of 2018, Iowans gave 100 choral concerts (we listed them!). But if December is "peak choral," the singing returns in February and especially in March and April. We won’t create another “big list” of every event, but will try to keep you updated with brief, occasional posts. As usual, let me know what I’m missing! Here’s a start:



RNZ Music / Stan Alley

Albert Mazibuko grew up on a farm in South Africa then found work at an asbestos factory. But since childhood he'd dreamed of singing with an innovative local ensemble, Ladysmith Black Mambazo. In 1969, he was invited to join the group, and half a century later he has lost none of his enthusiasm.

Haley Gibbons

 UPDATE: Tonight at 6:30 PM*, Vocalese will sing at St. John's Lutheran Church in Des Moines, as will the Urbandale Singers and Iowa State Singers. It's a "bon voyage" concert before the three groups sing at the American Choral Directors Association national convention in Kansas City - an honor mentioned in the original post below. The Iowa State Singers will also perform their program on Sunday, Feb 24th 1:30 at ISU Music Hall in Ames:

St. Olaf College

A Long Island teenager had a ticket to a Moody Blues concert, but his mother insisted he go instead to hear a college choir visiting from Minnesota. Eighteen years later, that young man, Anton Armstrong, became the conductor of that ensemble, the St. Olaf Choir - and as you can imagine, the details make quite a story. You can hear it from Dr. Armstrong himself in the clip below.

Wartburg Marketing and Communications

A Choral Iowa post: Supermarkets began piping in holiday tunes in November, so you've probably heard all the standards just in the course of buying groceries. But below is a gem for which you need a choral group. Called Estampie Natalis, it reflects two of the enthusiasms of its Czech-born composer, Vaclav Nelhybel.

Heartland Youth Choir,

It's the perfect month for a choral concert, and Iowa's artists have been hard at work preparing. From university concerts to madrigal dinners to Handel in Clinton and Cedar Rapids and an Iowa premiere in Grinnell, here's what I hope will become a complete list.  I'm sure I've missed things, so please let me know of omissions or corrections (at The goal is to include everyone!


Elaine Hagenberg

When Des Moines resident Elaine Hagenberg graduated from Drake in 2002, her degree was in music education. How did she go on to become an internationally admired choral composer, with works published by Oxford University Press and performances in London, Melbourne, and New York? She talks about it briefly in this interview with IPR's Jacqueline Halbloom.

“I shouldn’t tell you this, but she advocates dirty books… Chaucer… Rabelais... BALZAC!” It’s a laugh line that never falls flat, and it advances the plot of The Music Man. Broadway convention meant that Harold Hill and Marian Paroo must end up together, so Meredith Willson needed another dramatic tension, and he found it in priggish opposition to the library. And what bluenoses could be more hilarious - or more believable - than the mayor's wife and her cronies?


Barney Sherman

On April 16th, Dubuque’s Michael Gilbertson taught a class at San Francisco Conservatory, joined a colleague for a lunch meeting, then saw a warm but puzzling text message. It said "Congratulations!" He wondered "For what?" The texts and calls kept coming, and the reason became clear. The Pulitzer committee had awarded its annual prize for "a distinguished [musical composition] by an American," and Michael was one of the three finalists. He'd had no idea he was under consideration. Nobody did, to be sure, except the Pulitzer panel.

Wikipedia Creative Commons

She doesn't mind talking about barriers to women in the field of conducting - I'm glad I asked! But her achievement has made the term "woman conductor" obsolete.

When pianist/ composer Nathan Carterette plays the Goldberg Variations in our Cedar Falls studio on Tuesday, March 13th, you can listen on-air, or stream the video at our Facebook page. Carterette has performed the Goldbergs live on radio before (using Mr. Rogers' old piano at Pittsburgh's WQED), but this is the first time you can watch if you choose.