Unbeknownst to Her, a Viola Player Became a Part of Beatles’ History

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Violist Caroline Buckman was among the musicians invited by Paul McCartney to participate in a secretive Los Angeles recording session in 2022, unaware it was for the final Beatles song to be released 18 months later, titled Now and Then. Buckman died of cancer before learning what she was working on, but her friends and family are thrilled she was part of it.

It was a morning steeped in melancholy when Erika Buckman clutched her late daughter’s scarf, the weight of absence heavy in her hands. But an unexpected call was about to connect the past with the present in a way that defied time itself.

Caroline Buckman, a violist from Charlottesville, Va., who lent her strings to the melodies of Hollywood’s grandest, never knew she had become part of a Beatles’ finale. The caller had news: her viola harmonized with the legends on ‘Now and Then’—the newest Beatles record featuring the voices and strings across decades.

The track, released on November 2, amalgamates John Lennon’s vocals from the 70s, George Harrison’s guitar from the 90s, recent sessions by Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr, and a strings section that unknowingly included Caroline.

“She would have been delirious [with joy] about it,” imagined Erika, an 81-year-old mother grappling with pride and sorrow.

A Secretive Project with McCartney at the Helm

The plot of this Beatles project began with cryptic summons to over a dozen musicians in Los Angeles. A music contractor’s promise of involvement with Paul McCartney was all it took for cellists and violinists to reschedule their lives.

They were enticed into the studio with a decoy: sheet music titled ‘Give & Take,’ told it was a McCartney solo. In reality, they were breathing life into a track that needed just one more thing—a signature the Beatles had woven into their songs before: classical strings.

Like the song, the music video for Now and Then used modern software to blend together material from different eras. Seen here: present-day Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr, with 1960s images of the late John Lennon and George Harrison. (The Beatles)

The Studio Session: A Memory Carved in Melody

For three hours, the musicians became part of something that would be etched in history, though they were none the wiser. McCartney, present at the session, did not just oversee but immersed himself among the strings, seeking the magic in the music up close.

“A lovely man,” violinist Charlie Bisharat said. “You can’t say that about every artist.”

Cellist Mia Barcia-Colombo echoed the sentiment, highlighting the contrast with other celebrities who maintain a detached presence.

A Posthumous Revelation

For Caroline Buckman, the significance of that session at Capitol Studios would remain a mystery. She passed away on March 5, 2023, at 48, after a valiant fight with breast cancer. Her legacy, unbeknownst to her, was a melody shared with McCartney—a tale she would recount with sparkling eyes, holding a signed piece of sheet music, now a treasured relic.

A Musical Origin Story Tied to the Beatles

The roots of Caroline’s musical journey trace back to a piano her mother bought with East German currency—a symbol of dreams crossing the Iron Curtain. It was the beginning of a path that would lead Caroline from the desire to play the cello to mastering the viola, setting the stage for her unwitting yet monumental collaboration with the Beatles.

Erika Buckman: A Mother’s Pride and Remembrance

As Erika reflects on her daughter’s remarkable, if unknowing, accomplishment, she speaks of pride and a poignant ache. The Beatles were the soundtrack to her own life’s milestones—from dancing to ‘Twist and Shout’ at parties to witnessing her daughter’s name entwined with theirs in a cultural legacy.

For four minutes and eight seconds, Caroline Buckman, through the reverberations of her viola, joined the ranks of the Beatles, completing a circle that her mother had once danced to.