SLSO Untold: The Surprising Connection between Taylor Swift and the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra

Taylor Swift has a penchant for placing Easter eggs—hidden messages and nods to those paying close attention—in her music and videos. It’s not a surprise for such a prolific songwriter, since composers of all eras have long enjoyed this entertaining tradition. Early madrigal writers like John Farmer did it with text painting, while others like J.S. Bach and Dmitri Shostakovich placed ciphers of their names in music. Even Gustav Mahler joined in the fun—his First Symphony includes a moody funeral march set to the tune of “Frere Jacques.”


That’s all to say that several SLSO staffers were primed to pay close attention when Swift released her ninth studio album, evermore.


Track 13—an eye-catching number given Swift's well-documented preference for it—is an homage to her grandmother, Marjorie Finlay. The lyrics are part grandmotherly wisdom, “Never be so kind, you forget to be clever…,” part remembrance, and part strengthening the connection and legacy from grandmother to granddaughter.


It turns out that Swift isn’t the first famous singer in her family.

The program from Marjorie Finlay's 1962 performance with the SLSO

Marjorie Moehlenkamp Finlay, a native of St. Charles, Missouri, studied music at Lindenwood College, now University. In 1950, she entered and won a talent contest that resulted in a radio gig. She was 22 at the time, which begs a comparison to one of Swift’s more well-known singles “22.” She continued studying music before moving to Puerto Rico with her husband, where she had a successful run as a television host.


Swift’s lyric video for marjorie includes photographs and footage from her grandmother’s life in the 1950s and '60s. Included among them is a newspaper clip announcing her debut with the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra.


Finlay joined the orchestra for a pop concert on January 14, 1962, at the Kiel Auditorium. According to the SLSO archives, she performed “Jewel Song,” from Charles Gounod’s Faust; “My Hero,” from Oscar Strauss’sThe Chocolate Soldier; and “Rosalinda’s Czardas” from Johann Strauss Jr.’s Die Fledermaus.


While a recording of that concert does not exist, you can hear Marjorie Finlay’s voice in Swift’s track­, where she used old recordings to transform her grandmother’s voice into a backing vocal line. It's one more Easter egg, and a striking connection between two generations.

Caitlin Custer is the SLSO's Comunications Manager.