50 years of Sesame Street: 10 stupendous classical moments

Big Bird and other 'Sesame Street' characters pose next to a temporary street sign in New York.Stan Honda/AFP/Getty Images

December 08, 2019

Editor's note: In memory of Caroll Spinney, who played Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch. He died Sunday at 85.

Fifty years ago, young people and their parents first took a walk down Sesame Street and met soon-to-be favorite characters Kermit the Frog, Cookie Monster, Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch. Since then, the show Sesame Street has become a cultural and educational phenomenon. Music has been a huge facet of that phenomenon, and classical music has been at the forefront. In celebration of the show's 50-year run, here are 10 of our favorite moments when Sesame Street went classical.

1. Gustavo Dudamel teaches Elmo about the word 'stupendous'

Gustavo Dudamel, the music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, shows Elmo some of the stupendous things he gets to hear all the time, including a sheep playing violin, an octopus playing percussion, and a hilarious all-penguin choir singing a bit of Beethoven.

2. Itzhak Perlman talks about 'easy' and 'hard'

In this touching clip, Itzhak Perlman demonstrates to a young violinist how some things that are easy for her are hard for him, and vice-versa.

3. Evelyn Glennie plays the drums

Telly's friend Evelyn Glennie has always dreamed of playing in the Grouchkateer Band. She shows a reluctant Oscar how a deaf person can understand what someone is saying by reading their lips — and she plays a mean snare drum, to boot.

Opera great Marilyn Horne performs Cookie Monster's favorite song with the set of Verdi's Aida as the backdrop.

5. Yo-Yo Ma plays the blues

"Man, that is one mellow cello!" Hoots the owl says after a playful back-and-forth between his bluesy saxophone and Yo-Yo Ma's luscious cello.

6. Denyce Graves sings Elmo a bedtime lullaby

Elmo is having some trouble getting to sleep, so he asks his friend Denyce for a bedtime story. She decides to tell him a musical story with a bit of Bizet's opera Carmen.

7. Lang Lang plays with the Grouch Symphony Orchestra

World-renowned pianist Lang Lang says he's wanted to play in the Grouch Symphony Orchestra ever since he was a young boy in China. He delights the orchestra with Rachmaninoff's Variations on a Theme of Paganini and Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2, followed by elbow music.

8. Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg plays Big Bird's feelings

Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg shows Big Bird and his friend how classical music can communicate exactly the way you're feeling.

9. Renee Fleming counts to five

Opera sensation Renee Fleming sings an aria from Rigoletto with a numerical twist that's sure to get stuck in your head.

10. Alan Gilbert teaches Murray Monster about conducting

Alan Gilbert, music director of the New York Philharmonic, teaches Murray Monster all about conducting, with students from the Juilliard School as his ensemble.

These are just a few of our favorite classical moments from Sesame Street. For even more, check out our YouTube playlist.