St. Paul composer Stephen Paulus finished editing his new piece, “Prayers and Remembrances.” Then six weeks later, he had a massive stroke and died in the fall of 2014. But his music lives on, as he won his first Grammy Award on Monday, for best contemporary classical composition.
“I’m in shock,” Patty Paulus, his widow, said by telephone an hour after the trophy was presented to her in the pre-telecast at the Los Angeles Convention Center. “I don’t know how to describe this. We’re toasting Stephen with champagne. And we’re perpetually smiling.
“This is really fun. We were going backstage to meet the media and Johnny Depp walks by.”
Stephen Paulus, who was 65 when he died, was Minnesota’s most prolific classical composer, writing opera, oratorio, symphonic pieces and choral selections. He created nearly 60 works for symphony or opera and close to 200 choral pieces. “Pilgrim’s Hymn,” his best-known choral work, was sung at the funerals of former Presidents Ronald Reagan and Gerald Ford.
Stephen received his first Grammy nomination last year, also in the contemporary classical composition category. Patty and her sons, Greg and Andrew, went to the Grammys and came home empty-handed, but she did see Madonna rehearsing.
Patty had a good feeling about this year, however. The night before the awards, the Pauluses gathered with some of the forces behind Stephen’s composition, including 90-year-old Dorothy Vanek, a Tucson philanthropist who commissioned “Prayers and Remembrances” and its subsequent recording.
Stephen wrote it on the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, and Vanek knew people who died in the 9/11 plane crashes, Patty said.
Stephen’s compositions were connected to another Grammy winner on Monday — best classical compendium, for conductor Giancarlo Guerrero and the album “Paulus: Three Places Of Enlightenment; Veil Of Tears & Grand Concerto.” But Stephen did not get a trophy for that project.
The Pauluses received Stephen’s Grammy from Windom-born jazz composer/conductor Maria Schneider.
“It was a Minnesota moment,” Patty said.
At the podium, a nervous Patty pretty much ignored the cards on which she’d written notes with the help of her sons. Keeping her composure, she concluded: “Even though Stephen’s not with us, his musical legacy lives on.”
Schneider grabs two
Earlier in the pre-telecast, Schneider, a University of Minnesota graduate now based in New York, had collected her fourth and fifth Grammys. One was for best large jazz ensemble performance for “The Thompson Fields,” a work about land in southwestern Minnesota. The other was for best arranger for instruments and voices for David Bowie’s “Sue (Or In A Season Of Crime),” a new piece that appeared on his compilation album, “Nothing Has Changed.”
St. Paul rapper Allan Kingdom did not prevail in two categories — best rap performance and rap song for “All Day,” his collaboration with Kanye West, Paul McCartney and others.
Patty has no idea where she’ll display Stephen’s Grammy.
“Where is the best spot?” she asked as she waited for the main Grammy ceremonies to begin. “Oh, that ‘Wheel of Fortune’ guy, Pat Sajak, just walked by.”
Patty, an elementary school art teacher at St. Paul Academy and Summit School, did say that her students wanted to know whether she’d bring the Grammy to class if Stephen won.
Alas, she won’t have the trophy with her on Wednesday because the Recording Academy engraves the Grammy before sending it to the recipient.
As the Pauluses were walking through the media room Monday answering questions about Stephen’s work, Greg Paulus, a jazz trumpeter, turned to his mother and said: “Mom, I could really get into this.”
Patty responded: “Greg, you’re the next one.”