Sunday, October 8, 2017

An undated letter

As prolific a letter writer and correspondent as Miss Branscombe was, it never ceases to surprise me when one of her letters appears on E-bay for sale.   For many years the owner of the letter held onto it.  They or someone processing their estate made the decision to put it up for sale.  Maybe there was hope that a Branscombe family member or someone with knowledge of the writer would purchase the letter understanding the importance of its message.

An undated letter of Miss Branscombe’s was listed on E-bay and, of course, I acquired it.  The address at the top of the letter is 180 Claremont Avenue, New York, NY where she resided with her family after their return to the city from Mountain Lakes, NJ. 

The salutation is to a Miss Diane. The first paragraph acknowledges that Gena knew Diane’s mother and that she had driven by their “fine old place” belonging to the family.  Apologies are said for Diane’s mother not feeling well.  There is no indication who Diane or her mother are or how they knew Miss Branscombe. 

Now for the clues of when this letter was written.  Gena mentions her oldest daughter, “another  Gena”  being thirteen years old who has had a bad time with asthma.  She mentions they lived in the “hill country” while daughter Gena was recovering and healing from asthma. Oldest daughter Gena was born in 1911 thus the letter was written in 1924 or 1925.  The family lived in Mountain Lakes, NJ from 1921-1923 due to young Gena’s health problems.  The move back to New York City had been rather recent when the letter was written.


Ever the one to promote her own music, Gena enclosed with her response to Diane an autographed copy of one of her songs.  Exactly which one it was is not made clear. 

Gena closes the letter by mentioning she will soon be traveling to Picton, Ontario to visit her mother and bring home two of her children who were visiting their grandmother.  Miss Branscombe then tells Diane to tell her mother that she will be driving through Wellington, a city near Picton.  



Diane and her mother are from Canada, most likely acquaintances of the Branscombe family.  Research will have to be done to seek out who Diane and family are.  In the meantime, another of Miss Brancombe’s letters is preserved and a snatch of her daily life revealed.




Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Musical Courier 1933



Beginning in 1880 and continuing into the mid 20th century, Musical Courier was the weekly classical music trade magazine.  Nearly every angle of the classical music world was covered from obituaries, laws and legal business in the world of music, scholarly articles on music and instruments.  African-American music and women’s rights were topics of interest as well as the Nazi influence on European culture. 

Composers as well as performers were chosen to be featured on the cover.  Publicity of this kind was and is priceless for a musician’s career. 

Promoting performances of her work, Youth of the World, Gena Branscombe was featured on a 1933 cover of Musical Courier.  Now added to my Gena collection is an original framing copy of the cover.  

By 1890 Musical Courier had its own British version and in 1897 the publisher, Mr. Marc Blumenberg, split the magazine into two editions; one being for musical news and the other for industrial departments.  Purchased by Professor Lisa Roma in 1958, Musical Courier remained in print until 1961. 


Wednesday, July 26, 2017

MacDowell Club Christmas Concert Program

“Christmas Festival ~ MacDowell Club of Mountain Lakes”  -  a green program held together with gold colored thread.  Delicate and fragile inner pages spell out a concert given by the MacDowell Club chorus conducted by Gena Branscombe.  The concert was presented on Tuesday evening, December 20, 1932 at 8:30 PM at the Community Church House.   The performance was given nearly 85 years ago during the height of the great Depression. 



Established in 1896, MacDowell Clubs formed to honor American composer, Edward MacDowell (1860-1908).  At the height of their popularity there were 400 such clubs across the United States.  In the ensuing years the number of clubs has dwindled to only five remaining clubs; Mountain Lakes, New Jersey being one of them.

The MacDowell Clubs were community organizations where lectures were presented by renowned people of their day, concerts of piano or vocal literature were performed, some chapters established their own symphony orchestras as well as choruses.  Like the Mountain Lakes MacDowell Club, most often the clubs were for female members only though a few had male members.  Individual clubs maintained their financial backing of the MacDowell Colony in Peterborough, New Hampshire.

Miss Branscombe along with her husband and three oldest daughters moved to Mountain Lakes, New Jersey in 1922 residing there until 1924 when they returned to New York City.  It was in the Fall of 1922 when she was invited to conduct the MacDowell Club chorus.  She held that position until 1943 when World War II gas rationing prevented her from driving to Mountain Lakes. 

Two of the members of the MacDowell Club chorus, Emma Davidson and Madeleine Davis, went on to become charter members of Gena’s Branscombe Choral in New York City. 


In my possession now is a MacDowell Club of Mountain Lakes Christmas concert program from 1932.  The original owner of this program was most likely a member the Mountain Lakes Club and its chorus.  A cherished memory of making music with Gena Branscombe, she held onto this program for nearly 85 years.  


Thursday, April 27, 2017

Women Composer News - Aprirl 2017

The recent announcement that the opera, Angel's Bone, composed by Du Yun had won her the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for Music is cause for the continuing celebration of women's musical accomplishments. My sincere congratulations go to Du Yun and past Pulitzer Prize winning women composers, Jennifer Higdon (2010), Caroline Shaw (2013), Julia Wolfe (2015), Shulamit Ran (1991), Melinda Wagner (1999) and Ellen Taaffe Zwilich (1983).  These composers' Pulitzer Prize winning compositions span the musical genres of Violin Concerto, Oratorio, Symphonies, Partita for 8 Voices, Concerto for Flute, Strings and Percussion and now an opera.  Our assignment as supporters of women composers is to listen to their music, celebrate their works and educate, educate and educate continuously that women composers be heard without gender barriers.

Along with the Pulitzer Prize for Music announcement, there have been other articles recently written about and by women composers.  Each article highlights their musical interests and life's journey to get where they have been and are.

The BBC published an article about Nadia Boulanger (1887-1979) and her sister, Lili Boulanger (1893-1918).  Nadia was known for her teaching and mentoring of some of the 20th century's greatest composers.  Leonard Bernstein, Aaron Copland, Quincy Jones, Astor Piazzolla, Philip Glass, Igor Stravinsky and others benefited from her knowledge of theory, composition and her encouragement to find their own musical expression.  She was the first woman to conduct the New York Philharmonic!  Envious of her sibling, Lili, who also was a composer and the first woman ever to win the Prix de Rome competition, Nadia went on to promote her sister's music after her untimely death from intestinal tuberculosis at age 24.  Two women composers, who left an indelible mark on an era, require us to read and know more about them.

New Music Box published an article by composer Emily Doolittle, who shared the emotional and physical challenges of composing and motherhood.  Her honesty as well as her suggestions to the professional music world is insightful.  Thank you, Emily, for sharing your experience of being a working mother composer.

Canadian composer, Carol Ann Weaver, was featured in an article on The CWC Project, Facebook page.  She is quoted at the beginning of the article, "Music has always been within me.  It's the magic, the breath, the liquid in life.  It's why I'm here, and it's always been that way."  Read about her life story filled with music and the explanation of her in-depth study and work before beginning a composition.  She is the Chair of the Board of Directors at the Association of Canadian Women Composers.

Yes, I know that my blog is filled with entries about women composers and that I continuously promote their music.  Bear with me because I shall continue to champion them, always!  I want to feature women composers who are known and unknown to me, then share them with you, my readers.

Here are four women composers featured in various media outlets and publications.  Their individual lives are bound together by their compositions.  How lucky we are to be listening, experiencing and sharing their gift of music.  Now, we stand up and work to promote all women composers, their lives and music.  

Monday, March 27, 2017

Listening to Women Composers - March 2017



As we come to the end of Women’s History Month 2017, for me it has been a month of discovering women composers of the Romantic and Impressionist era.  I made it my goal to go to YouTube each day and find an unknown, to me, woman composer.

I started by putting in the name of French composer, Louise Farrenc (1804-1875) in the search area.  I had known her name from my music history classes.  Several times I listened to her Symphony #3 then went on to her Symphony #1 and chamber music.  Over and over I kept asking myself why her symphonies are not performed by all orchestras whether conservatory or professional.  These works are lyrical, full of emotion and major pieces of music that should be performed. 


YouTube then brought up composer Dora Pejačević (1885-1923), an Hungarian/Croatian composer.  I listened to her Symphony #4 in F# Minor and her Piano Concerto in G Minor.  Again, the question……….why are her works not performed?  Her output of 106 compositions includes songs, piano pieces, chamber music and orchestral works.  Beautiful romantic works draw the listener into her creative musical journey. 


Next up, came the PianoConcerto of German Romantic composer, Emilie Mayer (1812-1883).  What a surprise.  She composed eight symphonies, chamber music, lieder and concert overtures.  Such talent and again beautiful music.  WHY? …..you may finish the question.

A piano sonata written by Valborg Aulin (1860-1928), a Swedish pianist and composer was on YouTube’s list.  The strength and intensity of this sonata was compelling.  Along with her piano compositions are lieder, organ works and string quartets. 

As a friend of mine said about YouTube and listening to all the wonderful performances available, you feel guilty that you have not paid to either buy the CD, download the music or attend a concert where these works are being performed.  Yet, YouTube has, for me, become a learning tool and one which I appreciate greatly.  My mission is to continue finding these unknown, to me, women composers and listen, listen, listen. 

Most important, I intend to read more about these four women composers and champion their music as much as I am able.  Then, I must add a big thank you to the musicologists and performers who found the scores to these women composer’s works and recorded them.  The time and effort to do all that work is an act of love and dedication.  THANK YOU! 

There may be a day when the gender neutral English word “composer” is just what it says.  In the meantime - research women composers, listen to their music, buy their music, perform their music, attend concerts of their music and become an active advocate for women in music. 




Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Women's History Month 2017



During the month of March, we acknowledge and celebrate the accomplishments of women of historical importance and those of today's world who carry the torch to make an impact on our society.  Thousands and thousands of women's names should be added to an honor roll of some sort!

The first International Women's Day began here in the United States in 1911.  By 1978, the Sonoma, California school district celebrated a Women's History Week that surrounded International Women's Day on March 8th.  The following year, Sarah Lawrence College held a conference about women's history.  President Jimmy Carter, in 1980, declared the week of March 8th as National Women's History Week.  A year later, Senator Orin Hatch and Representative Barbara Mikulski co-sponsored the first Joint Congressional Resolution proclaiming a Women's History Week.  By petitioning Congress in 1987, the National Women's History Project had March declared as National Women's History Month.  Presidents since that time have issued proclamations for Women's History Month each March.  


Only 30 years have passed since our national government granted, on a yearly basis, the celebration of our women, their accomplishments and contributions to our society.  What women we have to honor!  There are the famous, not-so-famous, stubborn women, women who held their heads high to overcome the prejudice brought on them just because they were women in the work place, our mothers, grandmothers, aunts, cousins, writers, musicians, teachers, actors, judges, athletes, scientists, historians and much, much more.  We owe them a thank you for paving the road for us thus far and now we must continue their work. 



Though I look to history and say thank you to those women I admire, I also look around me for inspiration from women and girls in my everyday life.  Last month, I had the pleasure of observing on two different occasions during a five day period, two little girls approximately four to five years old, who were multi-lingual.  Both spoke English and Spanish fluently.  One of the girls also spoke French and Italian and the other spoke Portuguese.  What an inspiration these little girls were to me.  In my awe and quiet thanks to their mothers, grandmothers and family, I cannot help thinking of how worldly they already are at their young age. 

In a global society that is shrinking linguistically and where everyone must speak English, these young girls are experiencing a larger world because of their ability to communicate in multiple languages.  Even at their young age and as they grow older, they will have knowledge and understanding of a variety of cultures.  Rather than a shrinking world, they have the ability to converse with the world at large. 


Though I have no idea what the future holds for these two young girls or what they may choose as their life’s paths, for me, they are an example and inspiration for all women and girls to verbalize their ambitions, to look at the world and all its opportunities awaiting them, and then continue to pave the road for future generations of women and the language of their individual voices.  


Tuesday, December 6, 2016

One Page Diary Entry

With my recent and ongoing research about Miss Branscombe’s life, I have had the pleasure of making new friends in Canada.   Little is known about Gena’s younger years as she did not keep diaries.  There are no records of her activities in the local school. 

When I began making contacts in Picton, I found people who would then give me other names, phone numbers and e-mail addresses of someone who might have information.  One surprise was being in touch with one of Gena’s relatives!  All of these people were more than willing to help me in my quest for information from over 100 years ago. 

One individual, who has been generous beyond what words can express, was willing to make trips to historical societies where their records are not online.  I have received copies of pictures, newspaper articles, family lineage charts, letters and much more.  One cannot offer enough “thank yous” to my new found Picton friends for their help.

At the same time, Gena’s grandson, Roger Phenix, has also been digging through the family archives trying to find physical items that may answer my myriad of questions.  Over the years, Roger has provided me with a treasure trove of items, many of which have appeared in my blog postings.

Two days ago, Roger sent me a copy of a page from a diary.  According to Roger, the book contains quotes from poems, speeches by royalty and hymns.  This particular page is dated Sunday, July 13, 1919. 

In January of 1919, Gena and her family suffered the death of their third daughter, Betty.  She died of the influenza outbreak of that year.  June 1919, Gena gave birth to her fourth daughter, Beatrice.  One could say that the year 1919 had extreme lows and highs for the composer.

What may be surmised as a meditative mood or reflection, Miss Branscombe wrote on the top of the diary page:

“My Artistic Creed” 

“It is – to be ever constant in my endeavor to express thru music a firm faith in the joy, beauty, and harmony underlying life, the certainty of a loving and sustaining Higher Power which helps us in all our undertakings, & the value of a high courage.  Music is to me the most beautiful & instantaneous road to God.  I feel it to be one of the most potent forces for regeneration operating on the earth.” 


An “Artistic Creed” written at a time of loss and new life.  Great creativity was in her soul at this time for Miss Branscombe began composing her largest work ever, “The Pilgrims of Destiny”, a dramatic oratorio which would win her numerous national composition awards.  Working through grief, attending to her three daughters......composing was her “…..potent force(s) for regeneration operating on the earth.”