Followers of this podcast will remember two central characters from Season 1: Milton Babbitt, the Princeton Music professor and avant-garde composer who was an early devotee of electronic music; and Babbitt’s protégé, Godfrey Winham, a composer whose work at Princeton made it possible for the masses to hear music made on a computer. Both men had one partner in common: soprano Bethany Beardslee.

Black and white Bethany Beardslee portrait
Bethany Beardslee

Beardslee, still alive but long retired at age 98, was one of the great voices of her generation. For Babbitt, Beardslee’s voice brought his compositions to life. Winham married Beardslee, and they had two children before his tragic passing in 1975.

Beardslee could not be reached for the main Season 1 podcast. But after it was aired, we got in touch with their son, Chris, who set up a microphone so we can interview her. In this remarkable interview, she looks back at a time when Babbitt and Godfrey Winham — as well as Beardslee herself — were changing the sound of music. Chris contributed his own memories of his father during the conversation.

Beardslee, who was born in 1925 in Michigan, is best known for her collaborations with prominent mid-century composers such as Babbitt, Igor Stravinsky, Pierre Boulez, George Perle and Sir Peter Maxwell Davies. She delivered spot-on performances of atonal composers like Arnold Schoenberg, Alban Berg and Anton Webern. Contemporary composers came to rely on her to perform their challenging works.

“Were there no Bethany Beardslee, she could not have been invented,” Babbitt once said of her. Beardslee’s career spanned from the early 1950s to the late 1990s. She received an honorary doctorate from Princeton in 1977.

There have been many interviews with Beardslee over the years, and we discuss her career during our conversation. But few prior interviews have focused on her memories of her late husband, whose story we told in Episode 3 of Season 1, “The Converter.”

Black and white photo of Godfrey Winham and Bethany Beardslee, in profile
Godfrey Winham and Bethany Beardslee Winham

Godfrey Winham was the first recipient of a doctorate in musical composition at Princeton. Beyond his advances in music generation software, digital speech synthesis, and the development of reverb for art’s sake, he was also a fascinating character.



[00:00:00] Bethany Beardslee: You know, the thing with my husband was that he was like a Renaissance man. He was interested in many things.

He was interested in logic, philosophy, computers, chess, Go, anything that commanded his brain. He lived with this brain that just controlled him and, in a way, killed him.

[00:00:30] Aaron Nathans: That’s Bethany Beardslee, as she’s known professional. She’s one of the preeminent sopranos of her time, and at age 98, one of the few remaining voices of her generation. Before her retirement, she was known as a composer’s singer, someone whose soaring voice was so flexible as to sing just about anything. And she was handed some big challenges singing avant-garde new music with composers, including Princeton’s own Milton Babbitt, who had her accompanying a synthesizer in the early 1960s. She affectionately called it Milton’s robot Orchestra.

[00:01:18] Aaron Nathans: Personally, she goes by Bethany Winham. She was married to Godfrey Winham, one of Babbitt’s main composing proteges during his short lifetime. Godfrey Winham became the driving force behind computer music at Princeton in the 1960s and 70s, as engineers and composers worked together to help realize the potential of computers as musical instruments. Godfrey Winham was an intellectual, a visionary, and boy, was he a character. Her memoir, “I sang the Unsingable,” was a big reference for me in building the main podcast. I had hoped to speak with Beardslee and her son Chris for the main podcast, but we weren’t able to arrange anything. However, after hearing the first season of Composers & Computers, Chris graciously arranged an interview and set up the microphone for his mom. Today’s episode is that conversation.

[00:02:18] Aaron Nathans: From the School of Engineering and Applied Science at Princeton University. This is Composers & Computers,” a podcast about the amazing things that can happen when artists and engineers collaborate. I’m Aaron Nathans. Season Two, Episode Four, Bethany Beardsley Winham and Chris Winham.

You’ll probably hear me talking loud during this episode. That’s by request. By her own estimation, Bethany has had some hearing loss.

We start this conversation by talking about her history as a singer, but we quickly switched gears to talking about Godfrey. As the interview went on, Chris did more of the talking. I found this fascinating because in light of Godfrey’s death from Hodgkin’s disease in 1975, I was able to speak with his colleagues about his professional legacy, but I knew he had a personal legacy as well. What happens when your father is a genius, an innovator, a larger than life personality, and then when you’re a teenager, suddenly disappears? If you haven’t heard Episode Three of Season One of Composers & Computers, called “The Converter,” which is Godfrey’s story, I’d recommend it. It’ll put everything you hear during this episode into context.

I started by asking Bethany how she learned such difficult pieces and whether she had more patience than other singers to learn them.

[00:03:54] Bethany Beardslee: I don’t know what is going on in the serious music field anymore.

I don’t really keep in touch with it. But at the time, it was a very big thing.

And part of that is due to the presence of Milton Babbitt, who was a profound influence on Godfrey and many, many composers in Princeton.

[00:04:32] Aaron Nathans: I noticed that you’ve said in interviews over the years that music is not always there to be enjoyed, that it’s not always something that’s a thing of beauty, necessarily. If not the aesthetic beauty of the music. What drew you to that kind of music?

[00:05:00] Bethany Beardslee: Well, I was always involved in contemporary music from the moment I left Julliard back in 1950, I was given the chance to premiere a work by Ben Weber for voice in a small orchestra. And after that, I was hooked, I was always the one that many of the composers would get in touch with.

And so I got involved in the whole contemporary music scene.

[00:05:39] Aaron Nathans: You seem to really tackle some very challenging music flawlessly. Was it easy, or how did you make it look easy?

[00:05:50] Bethany Beardslee: Well, I had a very good sense of pitch.

I didn’t have absolute pitch, but I had a very good ear, and I worked very hard.

And that was really the main thing, was that I had this patience within myself to work very hard and learn new music.

[00:06:24] Aaron Nathans: How much patience did it take to learn Milton’s music?

[00:06:28] Bethany Beardslee: Milton is different because Milton is basically a tonal composer.

He’s not difficult like, say, Weber or some of the young American composers that I sang at the time.

Milton, his vocal lines are very tonal. He uses thirds, he uses fourths, and uses fifths as the predominant intervals.

And those three are the ones that are used by all the tonal composers. Although he calls himself a twelve-tone composer, I never felt that about his music when I was learning it. The background of his music is very complex, but I wasn’t involved in the background.

[00:07:29] Aaron Nathans: You know, now that you mention it, yeah, I wasn’t thinking about that. But that is.

[00:07:36] Bethany Beardslee: Yeah, I’m a one line performer.

[00:07:42] Aaron Nathans: We can only sing one line at a time.

[00:07:44] Chris Winham: Yes.

[00:07:46] Aaron Nathans: Were there other composers that tried to throw stuff at you that was just too difficult for a human being to pull off?

[00:07:56] Bethany Beardslee: Not in my career, but I’m sure that there are.

[00:08:03] Aaron Nathans: What is the most challenging work that anybody handed you and how did you manage it?

[00:08:10] Bethany Beardslee: I think the most difficult work I learned was a work by Ernst Krenek. It was called “Sestina.”

If I had to learn that today. I don’t think I could.

[00:08:39] Aaron Nathans: What year do you think that was?

[00:08:41] Bethany Beardslee: That would have been in the sixties, around ‘62.

[00:08:48] Aaron Nathans: And what made that work challenging?

[00:08:51] Bethany Beardslee: Well, like Weber, he had many very difficult intervals.

[00:08:59] Aaron Nathans: So I’m not a musician, Ph.D. or anything. An interval is like two notes played together at the same time, right?

[00:09:09] Bethany Beardslee: No.

[00:09:10] Chris Winham: Well, I can give you, it’s basically the distance from one note to another.

[00:09:16] Bethany Beardslee: That’s very good, Chris.

[00:09:19] Chris Winham: Like, you know, a fifth is a certain amount of semitones away from the root, and a fourth is a certain amount of semitones away. So it’s the interval.

[00:09:30] Aaron Nathans: So this composer had you reaching, had you doing kind of acrobatics?

[00:09:36] Bethany Beardslee: Well, yes.

[00:09:38] Aaron Nathans: I mean, do you think that you just had more patience than other singers to sit down and…

[00:09:44] Bethany Beardslee: No, I really think it’s because I had very good relative pitch. When you say relative ear, a very good ear.

And I was, I just had this knack of being able to learn difficult music easily.

[00:10:23] Aaron Nathans: So what’s the difference between pitch and relative pitch?

[00:10:27] Bethany Beardslee: You can’t really, I couldn’t possibly tell you the scientific reason why people have different ears, but they do.

And I know that there are some singers who have what’s called absolute pitch, but I’ve always felt that having good relative pitch is really very important because you are able to tune, you’re able to sing pitches slightly higher or lower, and it’s in the tiny, tiny degrees.

And that’s very important because music is always something that, it’s an art form that all of the people who perform it have to know how to tune their instrument to the lines that they’re playing in context to the harmonic field of the music. Does that make sense to you?

[00:11:39] Aaron Nathans: Oh, sure. Yeah.

[00:11:41] Chris Winham: Absolute pitch is also kind of can be difficult because absolute pitch, when you have that, it’s like if somebody plays an A on the piano, you know it’s an A, and you know that because you have absolute pitch. If you have relative pitch, it means, you know, what, in what relative interval shall we say the pitch is to a pitch that was played? And that’s why the tuning comes in, because you don’t have the absolute pitch can actually hinder you sometimes if you’re like, hearing something that’s somewhere in between two notes.

[00:12:15] Aaron Nathans: Mm hmm.

Is there any music that, do you still, do you still listen to music.

[00:12:22] Bethany Beardslee: Very rarely, because one thing I’m not, I’m a little deaf, and I don’t hear the string sounds of music, and therefore I don’t really listen to serious music anymore, I guess. Well, Chris says, you just get some hearing aids, Mom. But, you know, they’re such a bore to put on, and I just haven’t done it.

[00:12:54] Aaron Nathans: Have you ever listened to music just for pleasure?

[00:12:57] Bethany Beardslee: Of course.

[00:12:59] Aaron Nathans: What was, what sort of music did you listen to? Just for the pure aesthetic beauty of it.

[00:13:06] Bethany Beardslee: All of the 19th century composers, especially Brahms. I’m a big fan of Brahms.

Do you know who that is?

[00:13:22] Aaron Nathans: Sure.

[00:13:23] Bethany Beardslee: Okay.

[00:13:24] Aaron Nathans: Lullabies.

I mean, in some of your interviews a long time ago, you said that, you know, music is serious business, and it’s not necessarily, you know, it’s something to be studied like medicine, not necessarily to be enjoyed. Do you still feel that way?

[00:13:44] Bethany Beardslee: Yes. It’s an art form.

It should be taken seriously.

[00:13:50] Aaron Nathans: Can music be both taken seriously and enjoyed? Is that two different experiences, or can it be done simultaneously?

[00:13:57] Bethany Beardslee: You’ve got to define the kind of music you’re listening to.

Popular music has always existed, and that’s what most people listen to is popular music.

If you got, if you’ve been trained as a musician and you usually listen to serious music, which is slightly more complex, it’s music that really goes somewhere. It has form and it’s just. It’s like, I don’t know, comparing. You can’t compare the two.

[00:14:41] Chris Winham: It’s like comparing three-dimensional chess to checkers.

[00:14:45] Bethany Beardslee: Yes, three-dimensional. Chris said it’s like three-dimensional chess to checkers.

[00:14:53] Aaron Nathans: Rather than aesthetic beauty, enjoyment, do you get a different kind of satisfaction out of serious music?

[00:15:02] Bethany Beardslee: Oh, yes. Yes, very much so.

[00:15:05] Aaron Nathans: Can you describe what that kind of satisfaction feels like if it’s not just being soothed or spiritual?

Bethany Beardslee: It’s spiritual

Aaron Nathans: What advice would you give today’s singers and vocalists who want to improve upon their craft?

[00:15:20] Bethany Beardslee: You have to have a decent singing voice to begin with.

I don’t know. That’s a question that would take me hours to tell you. I can’t really say. It is something that you can’t talk about singing just in one sentence.

[00:15:42] Aaron Nathans: Have you ever given lessons?

[00:15:45] Bethany Beardslee: Yes, I have.

And I’ve had several students that so really had very beautiful voices and went on and had careers. But most of the people that take singing at college level do it as an elective just to get the points.

And they come into your studio, the only thing they know about singing is rock and roll. And, you know, that doesn’t wash with me.

And that’s about it.

[00:16:26] Aaron Nathans: Have you ever willingly listened to rock and roll?

[00:16:32] Bethany Beardslee: Yes. I love the Beatles.

[00:16:34] Chris Winham: She’s been forced to listen to quite a bit of rock and roll.

[00:16:38] Aaron Nathans: Chris, I get the sense that you have made some rock and roll in your time.

[00:16:42] Chris Winham: Oh, yeah, sure, sure.

Listen to jazz a lot, too, but I love jazz.

[00:16:49] Bethany Beardslee: And my son. I love to listen to my son play.

[00:16:54] Aaron Nathans: What do you play, Chris?

[00:16:55] Chris Winham: I mean, as far as the material I play is mostly, you know, jazz standards, you know, you know, from the. From the real book. And, you know, I mean, I’m influenced by Bill Evans. I like Bill Evans a lot, and I listen to Bill Evans.

[00:17:09] Aaron Nathans: Me, too.

[00:17:10] Chris Winham: So, like, you know, I guess that’s what I try to emulate, I guess. And I know mom loves Bill Evans, too, so, you know. You know, I play for her sometimes right here in her house. And she’s got a nice, beautiful Steinway. Old Steinway. Same Steinway my dad played when he was writing music and back in the day.

[00:17:29] Aaron Nathans: It’s the same piano.

[00:17:30] Chris Winham: It’s the same piano. And we’ve had it for well over 50 years now. I guess something.

[00:17:35] Bethany Beardslee: This piano is a Steinway. It’s 1907.

[00:17:41] Chris Winham: Yeah, it’s gorgeous. It’s got. It’s a Rosewood Steinway B, with a great, beautiful Hamburg carved music stand. Really nice. And, you know, it’s so old that the sound board, even though it’s had, like, a lot of screws put in it and stuff, and it’s been, you know, basically modified over the years, it just has a beautiful, mellow sound, but it’s always sounded good. Ever since I was a kid, I’ve always loved the sound of this piano.

[00:18:08] Aaron Nathans: Wow. What do you remember hearing as a kid from that piano?

[00:18:13] Chris Winham: Well, when I was a kid, when we lived in Belle Meade, my dad, you know, just a few years before he died tragically, he was writing his Sonata for Orchestra, which is his most significant piece that he wrote, you know, while he was living. Unfortunately, he never finished the whole thing. He finished two of the movements, and the third movement was never finished. But I remember, clearly, him playing the piece in our living room. And, you know, and I remember him. He played it on the piano while he was writing it. So, you know, I remember that. And I just remember, in general, my brother and I were both piano players, so we would come in and play the piano in our great big living room there. Back in Belle Meade. That’s where we lived for most of the time that we were growing up in Princeton, not in the village of Princeton, necessarily, but in a little town called Belle Mead, which was outside of Princeton. And so, yeah, I remember that clearly. And that piano was a really, you know, it’s just a part of our life. It has been, you know, forever since I can remember, and we still have it and still here.

[00:19:28] Aaron Nathans: Do you know the origins of that piano? Did Godfrey pick it out, or did your mom pick it out?

[00:19:36] Chris Winham: I think my father picked it out, and he had it in England and shipped over from England when he eventually immigrated to the United States. Because we have pictures of him playing that piano in Joldwins, which is an estate that my father’s father owned and which was then inherited later on by the family members. And we still have my younger cousins now, still live at Joldwins. And I remember we have pictures of dad playing that same Steinway at Joldwins.

[00:20:10] Aaron Nathans: That’s amazing. Do you feel your dad’s presence when you’re playing that piano?

[00:20:16] Chris Winham: You know, I’m not like that kind of a spiritual person. I feel my dad’s presence in a lot of other ways.

Not necessarily when I’m playing that piano, but when I’m listening to his music. I sure do.

My mom, a bucket list thing for her was to get this music recorded properly by an orchestra. And a good friend of ours named Joel Suben helped us out tremendously with that.

And we were able to go to Seattle and have some members of the Seattle Symphony, they recorded the first two movements of the piece in this place called the Bastille, which is well known. They do a lot of film recording for orchestras, for films and stuff. And it was just a really amazing experience because Joel was a great conductor, and he pulled the whole thing together, and we finally got it done, and now we have the result of it. It’s on CD and everything. So it was really a very, very great thing. Here, I’ll show you a picture of it. Here you go.

[00:21:43] Aaron Nathans: Yeah. So I was listening to that on YouTube about an hour ago. It’s a gorgeous piece. It sounds different than your dad’s other works.

[00:21:55] Chris Winham: Well, it’s. It’s more. It’s really a tonal piece. It’s not atonal or twelve tone, really, in any way. I mean, there he stretches the boundaries, but he still leaves you in a place where even the most, you know, average listener can find, like you said before, some joy and just, you know, pleasure in listening to the piece. But he also will push those boundaries a little bit more than, you know, some of, some of the more, the traditional composers, will. The traditional composers will try to keep you in a safe space, but dad tries to push it a little bit more, I think.

[00:22:42] Aaron Nathans: What do you think drove, either one of you, what drove Godfrey to make music that was that adventurous?

[00:22:52] Chris Winham: I couldn’t really tell you that. I mean, Mom, maybe you have an idea better. He was always, you know, he studied with Milton Babbitt, you know, and Milton was incredibly adventurous, and he was doing, like, what Mom would call serious music.

You know, the kind of music that you really have to work to listen to. You know, it’s not like you just sit back and listen to it and not pay attention to it. You can’t really do that with that type of music. And Dad was always very interested in that type of music that you really have to listen to. You can’t just have it lulling in the background, you know, like Bill Evans. You can have lulling in the background.

[00:23:46] Aaron Nathans: Sure, and I often have.

[00:23:50] Chris Winham: My father’s music, not so much. He sort of forces you to listen to it, you know? But, like, you know, you can, too. I mean, there, there are some passages where it’s very much more traditional and tonal, if you will.

But he did both, you know, it was just a bucket list thing for my Mom, and we got it done. And, you know, that’s why basically, whenever somebody asks me about myself, I always end up talking about my Mom and my Dad, because they’re way more interesting people than I ever was.

Bethany Beardslee: Stop that.

[00:24:26] Aaron Nathans: Well, they are remarkable parents. I hope I get to hear some of your music, Chris. Is it on the Internet?

[00:24:34] Chris Winham: Well, another shameless plug coming up here. We have a music licensing site that me and a couple friends run called, where we license out hundreds of thousands of tracks from, like, literally a thousand different contributors.

And I have a lot of my music on that site, so if you wanted to check out some of my. A lot of it’s music for film and TV, so it’s, it’s kind of like custom music done…

When somebody says they want to hear something that sounds like John Williams that’s like, oh, great. You know, that’s a, that’s a fun thing to try to do, but if they want to hear something that sounds like Megadeth, you know, that’s not my thing, really, you know what I’m saying? So.

[00:25:24] Aaron Nathans: Right.

[00:25:25] Chris Winham: But I have to deal with both on a regular basis. So even though I don’t necessarily enjoy it, uh, making, like, you know, hard rock, you know, music. Yeah, I sort of have to do it sometimes, but it’s what we have…

[00:25:48] Aaron Nathans: Sure.

[00:25:49] Chris Winham: That’s what we’ve been. That’s what I’ve been doing for the last ten years or so with my, with my two other good friends.

[00:25:55] Aaron Nathans: Uh huh.

[00:25:56] Chris Winham: Uh, that I. One of them, which I played with in so many rock bands that I can’t even name them all. But, you know, and, and then after I stopped playing rock and roll, I started getting into jazz. And so, you know, then I sort of, like, after that, when we got into doing the music licensing thing, then I started really getting into composing, you know, because nowadays you can get sample libraries that sound almost incredibly just like, you know, real orchestras, I mean, real composers and conductors can tell the difference, but the average person, not so much, you know, I mean, so, like, you know, you’ve got Hans Zimmer, who’s probably the most successful film composer for, you know, movies. And I can assure you that, like, a lot of the time, it’s not an orchestra that you’re listening to. It’s a sample library.

[00:26:57] Bethany Beardslee: A sample library?

[00:26:59] Chris Winham: Well, yeah, I mean, you know, it’s. It’s interesting, though, because in that podcast about the converter that you did … When I think about my Dad and, and, you know, how he affected, you know, the music industry in general, I don’t know that he, you know, can claim, you know, that he, you know, obviously he didn’t invent digital-to-analog converter, but he made it possible for, for all of those musicians to, you know, hear their stuff right away. And, and it’s kind of like, I can tell you right now that anybody small studio or composer who writes music and writes for his own self in a band or whatever, usually has a studio with a D-to-A converter in it, you know?

[00:27:57] Aaron Nathans: Yeah.

[00:27:58] Chris Winham: And that’s just, you know, they didn’t have them back then. You know? I mean, they didn’t exist back then, but now it’s, like, the most common thing in the world. So, yeah, that’s what. Where the I technology part of it comes in. That’s what. That’s when I can kind of think about my dad and how he affected me.

[00:28:18] Aaron Nathans: I guess you are into the technology side.

[00:28:21] Chris Winham: Much so than mom ever was. Definitely, yeah.

[00:28:24] Bethany Beardslee: My husband was a genius. Really. A genius.

[00:28:29] Aaron Nathans: He was.

[00:28:30] Chris Winham: He was a big head, you know? I mean, I never claimed to be an intellectual, but I can tell an intellectual when I see one and hear one talking, you know? So it’s kind of like when my Dad used to talk with Jim Randall and Tuck Howe and Ken Steiglitz over at the house. I mean, you couldn’t understand anything they were saying.

You had no idea what they were talking about. I mean, but for them, it was just casual conversation. So I know the difference between an intellectual and somebody who thinks they’re an intellectual. But, like. Like I said, I don’t claim to be one myself. My Mom is one.

[00:29:10] Bethany Beardslee: I am not an intellectual.

[00:29:14] Aaron Nathans: Well, you have to have at least some intelligence to be able to pull off some of the stuff that you did during your career.

[00:29:21] Bethany Beardslee: No, really, I’m not an intellectual, but I did have a very pretty singing voice and a very, very good ear.

[00:29:31] Chris Winham: I think when you’ve got four honorary degrees from Princeton, Juilliard, you know, Michigan State, you can call yourself an intellectual. I think you’re qualified. But, you know, that’s just me.

[00:29:46] Aaron Nathans: You’re listening to the fourth and final episode of Season Two of Composers & Computers. We’re speaking with Bethany Beardslee Winham, one of the great sopranos of her generation, and widow of Godfrey Winham, one of the pioneers of computer music at Princeton University. We’re also joined by their son, Chris.

At its heart, this podcast is a story about interdisciplinary research. And here at the Princeton University School of Engineering and Applied Science, interdisciplinary work is part of who we are. We have a wide array of initiatives that cut across disciplines, including bioengineering, quantum computing, robotics, smart cities, data science, and, yes, engineering and the arts. You can keep track of all the exciting things happening here by following us on social media. If you’re on Twitter or Instagram, you can follow us.

That’s the letter E, Princeton. You can also find us as Princeton engineering on Facebook, LinkedIn, and YouTube.

Okay, here’s the second half of my conversation with Bethany Beardsley Winham and Chris Wynnum. We’ll start with a reference to the only computer music piece of Godfrey Wynnum’s that survives today, NP. In episode three of season one, some of Godfrey’s friends and colleagues speculated what those letters stood for. No one knew for sure, so I asked Chris and Bethany if they knew.

[00:31:11] Aaron Nathans: Did Godfrey ever tell either of you what “NP” stood for?

[00:31:16] Chris Winham: That’s a good question. I was thinking about that, and I think that, like, the best guess would be new piece.

Then there was the other one that said, not programmable.

I don’t know that Dad would have been, you know, that glib and what he would call a piece, but new piece. That sounds like Dad. Maybe.

Maybe he would say that. But again, I have no idea. I mean, you have any idea? No, no. We probably know as much as you do about, you know, the origins of that. But Ken Stieglitz would be the one to ask about that, I guess.

[00:32:06] Aaron Nathans: Bethany, do you remember what. What was the extent of Godfrey’s work with the Mark II? And was he doing work for Milton when he was on the Mark II?

[00:32:15] Bethany Beardslee: Well, I remember early on, before he got involved with Ken, he would make trips into the city because he was interested in the synthesizer down in the Columbia-Princeton synthesizer.

Is that the Mark II that you’re talking about? Yes.

[00:32:40] Aaron Nathans: Yes.

[00:32:41] Bethany Beardslee: He would make trips. He’d stay overnight with Ben Boretz. That was the first thing he was interested in.

But he never wrote anything on the synthesizer.

He got interested in the computer, and after that, he had no interest in the Mark II. And he tried to convince Milton to start using the computer, but Milton wouldn’t.

He does not want to change.

[00:33:17] Aaron Nathans: Right. It struck me how people would get really into a technology, and then a new technology would come out, and they’d be like, nope, I like this one.

I guess Godfrey never lived long enough to reject the next piece of equipment. But do you think if he had lived, that he would have continued to reinvent himself technologically, or do you think he —

[00:33:41] Bethany Beardslee: Yes, he would have been writing programs. Don’t you think so?

[00:33:46] Chris Winham: Oh, yeah. He had a space in his study that when we lived in Belle Mead, he built a little space in the study there where he was going to have his own personal computer. This was before personal computers existed, and the space was about the size of a small shed. You know, it was gigantic. I mean, you could fit 50 computers in there now. But, like, you know, back then, you know, a computer took up two whole rooms, and, you know, so it was. They didn’t have microchips back then, and I think that the microchip was invented about ten years later or something like that. And so basically, you know, he had this big giant space in his study, which he was going to have his personal computer. And, you know, sadly, he never was able to, you know, realize that dream.

I mean, I’m sure he would have done some. Some other major things besides what he was doing at the time. But I know that if I had to say what his most, what his biggest love was, I wouldn’t say that it was necessarily computers over music. I think that music would still win out at the end of the day, but. And again, I don’t know, you know, he’s not here to ask.

[00:35:10] Bethany Beardslee: You know, the thing with my husband was that he was like a Renaissance man. He was interested in many things.

He was interested in logic, philosophy, computers, chess, Go, anything that was, that commanded his brain. He lived with this brain that just controlled him and in a way, killed him.

[00:35:41] Aaron Nathans: How so?

[00:35:43] Bethany Beardslee: Well, he wasn’t into, you know, he was a heavy smoker. That was one contribution.

And he just.

[00:35:56] Chris Winham: His lifestyle.

[00:35:57] Bethany Beardslee: His lifestyle was that he worked around the clock. You never knew. I never knew when Godfrey was going to bed or when he was getting up, because he sat in that chair in the study and was working all the time with his brain, except when he had dinner with Ken on Monday nights and going over to the computer lab. Otherwise, he was home thinking.

[00:36:30] Chris Winham: I was glad to hear from Ken. He wrote me an email and asked about Mom, and they were put together on an email thread, you know, basically all because of your podcast. So thank you for that.

[00:36:43] Aaron Nathans: Oh, you’re welcome. Yeah, you know, this has just been such a fascinating story, and your dad was just an amazing character to paint as part of this.

[00:36:56] Chris Winham: I appreciate that. I mean, you know, he. You probably know more about, you know, what he did now than I did, you know, back then, because all I remember was from the converter. I don’t remember the converter. I don’t remember ever seeing it or hearing anything about it other than that. Like, one day, Dad came back and he was playing mom’s voice on this old Altec Lansing speaker that they had in that same big living room where the Steinway was. And he was playing notes that he had said were digitized using the computer. And so I’m guessing he must have used the converter to do that. I mean, I don’t know exactly if it was that, that one or, you know, from Bell Labs or whatever. But, you know, I do remember that, you know, him playing Mom’s voice, and —

[00:37:50] Bethany Beardslee: I remember telling him, he said, one day, darling, there’ll be a computer in everyone’s home. And I told him that he was crazy.

I remember telling him he was crazy, that this would never happen.

[00:38:08] Aaron Nathans: And here we are talking on a computer.

[00:38:10] Bethany Beardslee: Yes, exactly.

[00:38:13] Aaron Nathans: Are there any remaining recordings of Godfrey’s voice?

[00:38:18] Bethany Beardslee: None.

I wish I had them.

[00:38:21] Chris Winham: I haven’t been able to find anything either, really. It’s really –

[00:38:26] Bethany Beardslee: I have. The only thing I have is a little bit snippets of him playing the piano. But that’s all I want to ask you.

[00:38:37] Aaron Nathans: Yes.

[00:38:38] Bethany Beardslee: Tell me something about yourself.

[00:38:42] Aaron Nathans: My mom is a singer, is a choral singer, and I grew up with her in the house.

[00:38:48] Bethany Beardslee: Oh, that’s wonderful. Everyone should sing. Everyone should be in a chorus.

It would be wonderful if everybody sang, because then we wouldn’t have as many wars.

[00:39:03] Chris Winham: Yeah, that doesn’t apply to me. I can’t sing worth a damn anymore. I was singing rock and roll. I blew my voice out years ago, and now I can’t sing it all.

[00:39:14] Aaron Nathans: Boy.

[00:39:15] Chris Winham: Yeah.

[00:39:15] Aaron Nathans: So you never took vocal lessons from your Mom?

[00:39:19] Chris Winham: No. I mean, not really, no.

We were singing rock and roll, you know, and that wasn’t her thing. So, basically, by the time I came around to appreciating, you know, new music and classical music and serious music, as Mom would call it, I was out of the pop music business and basically just doing the Fliktrax thing and now writing music for film and TV. So, basically, yeah. I mean, I didn’t really appreciate it until, you know, just the last ten years or so. But she has taught me some things about composition, which are very, very helpful.

[00:40:02] Aaron Nathans: Hmm. Like what?

[00:40:04] Chris Winham: Well, like, just, for instance, variations on a theme. Sometimes, you know, a pop music writer will just try to write classical music, and they’re just like, will write whatever comes willy nilly to their head and think that that’s fine and that’s okay, but that really doesn’t work. You know, you have to have something to develop, like a theme, for instance. So, basically, my mother really. She really instilled that into me and taught me, the importance of that, and it’s been very helpful to me.

[00:40:42] Aaron Nathans: So Godfrey only had the one computer piece that. That we’re aware of. Right. Do you think there were others?

[00:40:50] Chris Winham: That’s a good question. That’s the only one that we have, you know, recorded and documented there. There’s. Are you sure about that? Yes, I guess. Yeah. I mean, that we know of.

[00:41:04] Aaron Nathans: Bethany, why do you think. Why do you think there was only the one piece? If he was so involved with computers and spent so much of his time at the computer center helping other people make computer music, helping people realize their computer music, how come he spent so little time using it for his own musical benefit?

[00:41:29] Bethany Beardslee: I don’t know.

[00:41:31] Chris Winham: I think it’s because he died so early myself. I’m sure.

[00:41:34] Bethany Beardslee: Yes.

[00:41:34] Chris Winham: He would have written many more pieces, I’m sure.

[00:41:38] Aaron Nathans: So, yeah, I read in the book, and I know that you basically, I don’t know if commissioned is the right word, but you made sure that book happened by David Leslie Blasius.

It talks about how Godfrey’s musical style and his music theory was kind of. Of its own era, of its time.

I’m trying to kind of wrap my brain around what that meant.

What do you think that meant?

Do you think that his style reflected the times that he lived in, or is there something about his music that’s timeless?

[00:42:17] Bethany Beardslee: Oh, that’s a hard question.

I can’t answer that.

I think he just never had the time in his life to write outside of the sonata for orchestra and a few other pieces.

He didn’t compose enough.

And I regret that he, as I say, he was always interested in so many things that he could change his direction if he found something that was interesting to him. You know, like, I remember he, for instance, he used to send chess moves to his friend Ed Faber. They played chess by letter.

He just was interested in so many things.

[00:43:26] Aaron Nathans: Why do you think he was so beloved? He clearly, I mean, people. People just loved Godfrey beyond the two of you and your brother, Chris.

[00:43:37] Bethany Beardslee: I think he was loved because he was someone who, in his discussions with other people about music, he made things simple and not so complex so that they. They felt comfortable talking to him. I don’t know if that makes sense, but he had a way of making you feel comfortable when he talked with people about music. And he had met. He had many people, many composers who adored him. Yeah.

[00:44:27] Chris Winham: Also, he was a very sort of sociable guy in general. I used to like to play games, and he liked to play chess, and he liked to play board games. You know, I remember we used to play broker.

We used to play, you know, he used to play lots of different card games and stuff. Yeah, that’s right. He even invented a game which we still have the rules for, and a board which was made by one of his friends who made that again?

Bethany Beardslee: Gregory Proctor.

Chris Winham: Yeah, he made this board, beautiful board for the. Yeah, you know, all wood and finished with, you know, and then he used Lego pieces as the actual pieces for the set. Do we have the rules for it still rules? We have everything. It’s called Escalade. It’s like a war game, sort of like, you know, one of those Avalon Hill games. It’s similar, like, you know, you’ve got pieces that can move and have strength and stuff. But anyway, so he was very sociable and did enjoy games a lot. So I think that, maybe a lot of people remembered that aspect of him… We played a lot of games, you know? And, I mean, that was before I was even old enough to be able to play with the adults, you know, with the grownups. But, yeah, I do remember he used to like to play poker, too. Yeah, right. He went. With his best friend, you know, they would go into New York and play, you know, some serious poker with these guys, you know, for, you know, some serious coinage. But, yeah, he was a very sociable guy. And I guess that’s the only thing I can really think of to explain that. But I really appreciated it when Ken in the podcast said, we’re talking about all these really incredible things that they were working on together and the converter and so forth, and this really technical stuff, and that was all, you know, really great and everything, but when Ken said, he was just a really good guy, that really struck a chord for me. I really felt like that. That was really great to hear that, because he died when I was 14. I really didn’t get the chance to really have an adult relationship with my father. That’s the one thing I missed out on.

[00:47:01] Aaron Nathans: Yeah, well, I’m sorry.

[00:47:03] Chris Winham: Well, no, I mean, it was so long ago now that, you know, I mean, I’m over it, you know, but you never really get over it.

You know, my Mom, you know, she. She took care of us, and she got us through life, you know, so she was the one that really had to bear the burden. But we all live together, so, my brother and my mother and I, we all live within ten minutes of each other. So, you know, it’s like we’ve always been a very close family, and, you know, I don’t know, maybe that’s part of one of the things that my Dad instilled in us is to, you know, be close together.

[00:47:48] Aaron Nathans: I hope that the podcast didn’t upset you at all.

[00:47:54] Chris Winham: No, no good.

[00:47:55] Aaron Nathans: Reliving some of that would be…

[00:47:57] Chris Winham: Would be, yeah, I mean, I know what you’re saying, and it didn’t really, because, you know, it’s something that we had to deal with and we lived through it, and I remember the details. It was pretty rough. It was a rough time, for sure, and it brought back some memories. But again, I was only 14, so maybe I was spared a little bit of the intenseness of that. I remember it, but I think maybe the adults around him were more affected by it even than…

I mean, maybe my brother was. My brother had some rough times right back around then, too, as I recall. You know, it was tough. But, you know, what can I tell you?

… Why isn’t there more, you know, of the computer music? Why isn’t there any more documentation? Well, obviously it’s because he died, you know, at such a young age. Yeah, I mean, when you ask questions like, whether his music was timely or of his time, that’s really tough to answer because his time was so short that, you know, who knows? … If he lived another 20 years, maybe that you could answer that question with some accuracy. But otherwise, I don’t really see how you…

[00:49:36] Aaron Nathans: Yeah, no, it’s. Yeah, you think about John Lennon and, you know, what would he be doing now? And you just can’t know that.

[00:49:45] Chris Winham: Sure. Yeah. Yeah. It’s actually pretty good analogy, except for the fact that John Lennon was murdered, right. So, you know, that his life was stolen away from him. But I think that my dad had a very full life. Even though it was short, it was. It was a very full life.

[00:50:08] Aaron Nathans: He certainly did a lot.

He packed a lot in there.

[00:50:12] Chris Winham: Yeah, he really did. I mean, I am amazed at the music that he achieved, like the Jingle Bells variations, for instance. I’ve tried to sit down and play them on the piano, and I’m not nearly a good enough pianist to even come close to playing those things, you know? And he would probably just rip them right off. You. You know what I mean? He was an incredible pianist and he was an incredible composer, but, you know, so. So, basically, at the age of 35, I mean, he was doing stuff that I couldn’t even hope to be doing now, you know, and I’ve been playing music for, you know, 60… Well, I’ve been playing music for 42 years now, something like that. So, you know. Yeah, he was quite an individual, and, yeah, it’s really too bad, because there would have been a lot more really great music, had he not died so early.

[00:51:22] Bethany Beardslee: Anyway, I had 19 years of a wonderful man.

It was wonderful.

[00:51:31] Aaron Nathans: Do you have a just one good Godfrey story that wasn’t in your book? Before we go.

[00:51:38] Bethany Beardslee: A good Godfrey story?

Well, I was sitting with a very elegant woman who was a friend of mine. We were having coffee in the kitchen.

Godfrey appears at the door.

He wants his breakfast.

He has on his pajamas and an old flannel shirt, and he has a growth of beard, and he looks like some monster from another planet. And he looks at me with that terror that we all had of him when he wanted something, and I’ve never forgotten that. I was so embarrassed, I could hardly talk to [inaudible], and she was amazed at the person that she was looking at.

[00:52:43] Chris Winham: Dad was a little bit, like, more ornery in the morning than when he was playing games. And the sociable side of that, there wasn’t. There was also a sort of meaner side of dad, too, in the morning, especially before he had his coffee. Boy, you didn’t want to. You didn’t want to, you know, cross him then…
We were scared of him…

[00:53:13] Bethany Beardslee: Yeah, he had that demanding look in his face, and that used to scare me, too.

[00:53:22] Chris Winham: But by the same token, you know, when he was in a good mood and, you know, laughing about jokes and stuff, I mean, you know, he had really, really infectious laugh and just, you know.

[00:53:35] Bethany Beardslee: You know, he had a wonderful sense of humor. He said funny things.

[00:53:41] Aaron Nathans: Is there anything he loved?

[00:53:43] Chris Winham: W.C. Fields. I remember that.

[00:53:45] Bethany Beardslee: Yeah.

[00:53:53] Aaron Nathans: This has been Composers & Computers, the production of the Princeton University School of Engineering and Applied Science. I’m Aaron Nathans, your host and producer of this podcast. Thanks to Renata Kapilevich and the Princeton Music Department, as well as the folks at the Mendel Music Library for their support of this podcast. Podcast graphics are by Ashley Butera, Yoojin Cheong, and Neil Adelantar. Steven Schulz is the director of communications at Princeton Engineering. Additional thanks to Scott Lyon. Thanks to the folks we interviewed this season, Bethany Winham, Chris Winham, and, of course, Stanley Jordan. This podcast is available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google, Amazon, and other platforms. Show notes and an audio recording of this podcast are available at our website, If you get a chance, please leave a review. It helps.

[00:54:50] Aaron Nathans: The views expressed on this podcast do not necessarily reflect those of Princeton University.

This marks the end of season two of Composers & Computers. Thanks for listening, everybody. Peace.


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