Tom Huizenga

"The Star Spangled Banner" turns 200 this year, and the attention it's been getting is again a reminder of how difficult it is for many Americans to sing our national anthem.

Carlo Bergonzi endures. Not only is the Italian tenor approaching his 90th birthday (on July 13) but for decades he sang with tireless warmth and precision, representing a certain old school approach to carefully cultivating one's vocal resources.

The year is half over and that means NPR Music and our public radio partners have been obsessing over our favorite songs of the year so far. The full list of 50 songs makes a potent stew ranging from power pop and brash hip-hop to electro-fueled dance music and intimate portraits from jazz vocalists, classical guitarists and folk troubadours.

Tracy Silverman has been called the greatest living exponent of the electric violin. But we're not talking just any electric violin.

Summer has officially breezed in with not only longer days but also sultry nights. There's something about summer nights that inspires composers — perhaps a certain stillness in the air or the allure of a new romance. To mark the changing of the season, test your ears in this nocturnal puzzler dedicated to musical snapshots of warm summer evenings. Score high and turn the air conditioner up a notch. Score low and sweat it out till morning.

In case you've been hiding under a rock (or a patch of AstroTurf), there's a little sporting event underway that has much of the world glued to the television. As the 2014 World Cup blasts into its second week, 32 teams (in groups of four, lettered A-H) continue to battle it out in Brazil.

The concerto. It's a musical recipe more than 400 years old but composers still cook with it. And why shouldn't they? We still seem to crave the sound of a virtuosic soloist playing with (and often against) an orchestra. As in centuries past, virtuosos still inspire, and in many cases commission, composers to write some of their best music, which can push an instrument to its creative limit.

Music by Richard Strauss is heard in symphony halls and opera houses across the world. He needs little help to boost his considerable fame. Yet 150 years after his birth, the German composer remains an enigma to some classical music fans and a polarizing figure for others. A perfect candidate, in other words, for a musical puzzler.

Can you hear the wedding bells? June has arrived. Theories vary on why this is the month for marriage. Old traditions like the timing of the harvest season (and pregnancies) might have had something to do with it, or more modern practicalities such as nicer weather and abundant fresh flowers. And then there's the name of the month itself, thought to be inspired by Juno, the Roman goddess of marriage.

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