Thursday, August 18, 2016

19th Amendment

The 19th Amendment to the United States Constitution was ratified 96 years ago today, August 18, 1920.  This is the amendment that guarantees the rights for all Americans to vote regardless of their sex.  YES!

Celebrate ladies and gentlemen, yet, keep in mind this Constitutional amendment did not happen overnight.  Strong men and women believed in and fought for the suffragette movement.  They never lost sight of their ultimate goal, “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.”

During the mid 1700s women were allowed to vote in certain states.  Slowly from the 1770s through to the 1790s, states began to rescind those rights.  The United States Constitutional Convention of 1787 allowed that women’s voting rights would be left to the individual states.

In 1848 Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony convened the first convention for women’s rights in Seneca Falls, New York.  Joining them and impassioned in his beliefs for women’s rights was Frederick Douglas.  As a home is built on a foundation, the suffragette movement began to build its foundation because of this convention.  The movement grew, subsided during the Civil War, gained and lost momentum.  Societal change is never easy.  Opposing sides battle out their beliefs trying to convince their supporters and deniers that they are by far superior and hold the absolute truth on the subject!

By 1872 Susan B. Anthony registered to vote and voted in Rochester, New York citing the 14th Amendment to the Constitution which granted citizenship to, “all persons born or naturalized in the United States.”  She believed the amendment allowed her the right to vote.  Days later she is arrested and the following year denied a trial by jury, then, loses her case.  Progress is slow.  Passion wins out.



In 1870 Utah and Wyoming grant women’s suffrage, Washington State welcomes women voters in 1883, California joins the movement in 1911, Oregon in 1912 and the list goes on.  Many states deny the suffragette movement.  Remember, it is men who are voting on this issue.


Seventy two years of slow, painful, methodical, back braking progress and American citizens whether men or women were granted a constitutional amendment for equal voting rights.

What really is the issue here?  Is the issue only women’s voting or is there more depth to the subject?  In 1914 anti-suffragette Grace Duffield Goodwin put forth a list of commandments rejecting women’s voting rights.  It was published in the New York Times.

Reading over her list I was amused by some of her reasons and why shouldn’t I be?  It is 102 years later and we have changed our views.  What struck me most was the perception of a sense of loss of control and then fear of what will happen to our society if we change.  We ponder and obsess about the future without staying in the moment and seeing what the reality is of the here and now.  Yes, every one of our actions has an impact on our future. 

Citing women’s traditional roles in society and the stability of civilization as it was, the country would lose special privileges accorded by law.  Women’s power in 1914 was considered unique and instrumental to the operation of our country.  To mess with that balance would take away the rights of women in different spheres.  What spheres would those be?

Mrs. Goodwin then states that giving women equal voting rights to those of men, meaning their husbands, brothers, uncles, sons and fathers, would even the playing field in areas where women held the upper hand.  My response 102 years later is, “Really?”  She did not want to upset and I quote, “the hen house”. 

Let us learn from the past the lessons and examples Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony set forth; the rights of all citizens to vote no matter their sex.  They stood up to fear and those who thought we would lose control of our country.  These two women must have had their own fears, yet they recognized women would not denigrate voting in our country rather women were citizens who would be making well thought and intelligent decisions for the betterment of themselves, their families and our country. 


Now, it is our responsibility to continue to strike down fear and put aside our desire to control everything thereby giving ourselves a freedom…………..that freedom is VOTING!


Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Women in Music - August 2016

This summer has brought us an abundance of political news I am sure most of us would rather ignore.  Our wish may have been that we could escape all of it for the joys and freedom of vacation time. 

During the hot, humid days of July and now early August, announcements and news about women in the arts have lit up my computer screen.  Creativity, digging in with determination and bold, daring decisions initiated new opportunities for performances of women’s music! 

From Vancouver, British Columbia came the announcement that the Allegra Chamber Orchestra, an all female group, will be showcasing women composers. Five women conductors will be leading the Sao Paulo Symphonic Orchestra in Brazil.  In England, the London Festival of American Music featured all women composers. 


There is an all female electronic music festival in San Francisco.  

Dr. Julia Mortyakova, pianist, of the Mississippi University for Women, has released a CD of works by women composers.  Celebrating 70 years of existence, the Ojai Music Festival in Ojai, California declared their season, The Year of the Woman.  

Spring in the northeast brought the inaugural concert of the BostonWomen’s Music Project.  The Festival was founded by New England Conservatory of Music student, Katherine Miller.  

Take a look at the website, MANY MANY WOMEN, an index of woman composers and performers of all genres.

Bona fide creativity deserves an award!  In the site of a former Harvard swimming pool, four singers and a pianist, playing an electric piano, presented four operatic scenes by historic women composers.  What an inspired project though I am sure the group would prefer a real theatre and a grand piano for their next performance.  

Through the ages of classical music women composers have been marginal citizens.  As I have written in past blog entries, these women produced their own concerts, became marketing experts and were performers.  Era upon era of women composers laid down a pathway, brick upon musical brick, for those who would come after them. 

Our present generation of women composers, performers of their music and the audiences are reaping the benefits of those wonderful women of the past.  Make it your musical journey to experience and be a patron of women’s music in your communities.   

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Baton

The setting….1944 ….Leonia, New Jersey….the Biscaye home.  The dinner guests that evening were Gena Branscombe and her husband, John Ferguson Tenney.  Ruth Biscaye, for many years a loyal member of the Branscombe Choral, was preparing dinner for her friend and respected conductor. 

Ruth’s children, Pierre and Peggie, had attended the many Choral concerts at Town Hall and the Broadway Tabernacle Church.  Among the family’s prized musical possessions was sheet music autographed by Miss Branscombe with one dedicated to Pierre and Peggie.  Most prized, an autographed original manuscript for a choral arrangement of “There was a King of Liang.”



That night at dinner Miss Branscombe gave one of her conducting batons to Pierre and another to Peggie.  These batons had led the Choral in one of their concerts that their mother sang! 

Fast forward 70 years, all the above items still exist and thanks to Pierre and Peggie, they are in my possession.  In my May 31, 2012 blog entry, I told the story of Pierre contacting me and Peggie sending me music and pictures.

In early June, Peggie Biscaye Oury visited her daughter and family in New York City.  We managed to schedule a visit and had lunch together.  As Peggie looked over the items in my Gena collection, she would recall how Miss Branscombe’s walk made her look as though she were floating from place to place.  Elegant and kind were words used to describe the conductor who touched their family’s lives.


What had come as a surprise a few weeks before Peggie’s visit was that in his attic Pierre had found the baton Miss Branscombe had given him in 1944.  He wanted to know if I still wanted it……my immediate answer was, of course, “Yes!”  The baton arrived nearly two weeks ago along with a hand written note explaining the provenance of this gift given to him in 1944……72 years ago. 



The baton with a slender cork bulb, once held in her hand, has scratches on it.  The shaft of the baton is wood with a small chip missing on the tip.  A baton that is old….now an antique.  Held in her hand, part of her being and emotions, with this baton Gena inspired her Branscombe Choral to higher realms of music making!



What continues to touch my heart is the people who knew or worked with Miss Branscombe have kept their music, pictures, programs, letters and a baton.  How she touched and inspired their lives is why these possessions were cherished for many years; a part of her continued to be with them. 


This is a quote attributed to Leonard Bernstein, “If one (the conductor) uses a baton, the baton itself must be a living thing, charged with a kind of electricity, which makes it an instrument of meaning in its tiniest movement.”  

Monday, June 27, 2016

Research

Research.....that daunting word when you are a student knowing you have a paper due or a presentation to give.  Hours spent in the library going through materials and old books.  Or, research could be a scientist spending countless hours, days and years creating experiments that hopefully will lead to a breakthrough in medicine.  As researchers we gather all we have read and learned in the hours of reading and experimenting to create a paper, presentation and an announcement that will change the world.

Life experience is research, also.   With knowledge and facts you have accumulated over your time on this earth, you can put yourself in a setting, observe your surroundings, imagine a by-gone era then try to connect the dots of facts, scrutinize details and come up with an actual retelling of a happening.  That may sound weird, yet, it works.

Recently my colleague and friend, Dr. Laurine Elkins Marlow, along with her husband, Bill, and I made a trip to Methuen, Massachusetts where Gena Branscombe is buried.  In her husband’s family plot in the Walnut Grove Cemetery, Gena is buried next to her husband, John Ferguson Tenney, along with three of their daughters; Betty, Beatrice and Vivian nearby.


Laurine had not been to the cemetery after Miss Branscombe's funeral in New York City in 1977.  Nearly 40 years after beginning her interviews with Miss Branscombe which led to writing her dissertation on her, this was a bit of closure for Laurine. 

The Tenney family burial area in the cemetery is extensive with three large monuments heading up individual Tenney families and the various family members’ graves.


The Tenney area is set on the side of a hill with a mausoleum at the top of the hill.  Beautiful old trees shade the mausoleum.


At the bottom of the hill and next to the entrance to the cemetery is a small chapel built by the Tenney family.  There services were held for family members before burial.  The day we were at the cemetery, the chapel was locked tight.



What came next for Laurine and me was envisioning a reality in Miss Branscombe’s life.  When looking across the street from the cemetery, we noticed the old railroad station.  It had been abandoned in 2002 after many years of passenger and freight train usage.  Laborer’s Union Local #175 purchased the station, restored and preserved it, now using it as their headquarters.  We sauntered over to take a tour of the inside of the station and looked at the tracks.


The 1919 influenza epidemic took the life of Gena Branscombe and John Tenney’s third daughter, Betty.  She was a delightful, happy and loved child.  With Gena being the only family member who did not suffer the consequences of the epidemic, via train she travelled to Methuen with the casket that now embraced her darling daughter.  Betty would be buried in the Tenney family plot. 



Laurine and I stood next to the train tracks looking south knowing that was the direction from which Gena came. 


Upon her arrival Gena and members of her husband’s extended family took Betty’s small casket across the street to the Tenney family chapel where a service was held.  From there they proceeded up the hill and buried her.  


Laurine’s one-on-one interviews with Miss Branscombe in 1976 and 1977 were written into her dissertation.  Retold was the story of the death and burial of Betty.  What became a reality of Laurine’s research was the life experience we had exploring the cemetery, being outside the chapel and standing at the train station looking at the cemetery then connecting in that moment the story Laurine had been told. 

For quite some time we stood quietly seeing in our combined minds’ eyes January 1919 with cold winds and snow, a grieving mother bundled under her winter coat, a small casket being carried to the chapel, family members surrounding Gena who was putting to rest her “own little pilgrim, Betty.”  Envisioning this happening is possible.  The impossible and all the research in the world cannot solve…..imagining the grief of a mother burying her child.  

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

November and December of 2015 will be the months remembered for the horrific terrorist attacks in Paris and San Bernardino.  As a nation, we mourn and sympathize with the country of France and the state of California.  Social media lit up with pictures of Paris and San Bernardino, expressions of sympathy, pictures of the French flag, quotes from politicians, religious, and philosophical leaders.  Our hearts go out to all affected by these horrible acts and to those who survived.


Multiple times on Facebook appeared a quote from American composer/conductor, Leonard Bernstein.  In reply to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in November 1963, Bernstein wrote a letter to be included in the New York Philharmonic programs that weekend.  The quote:

“We musicians, like everyone else, are numb with sorrow at this murder, and with rage at the senselessness of the crime.  But this sorrow and rage will not inflame us to seek retribution; rather they will inflame our art.  Our music will never again be quite the same.  This will be our reply to violence: to make music more intensely, more beautifully, more devotedly than ever before.” 


From an historical point of view, Maestro Bernstein hit upon the healing and comforting power of music.  Across the centuries music has been written to commemorate freedoms won, for commentary during times of suffering and war, and times of peace.  Whether these pieces of music were composed to arouse a sense of patriotism or give solace in the time of loss, music’s profound effect is felt on an individual basis.  We turn to music…..the great comforter and the sound that will transport us for a few minutes or hours to a place of escape. 

Two days after President Kennedy was shot by an assassin, Bernstein conducted the New York Philharmonic in a performance of Mahler’s 2nd Symphony, “The Resurrection.”  Writing about the choice of resurrection, the conductor expressed that, “…. resurrection was for the soul of one we love, but also for the resurrection of hope in all of us who mourn him.” 

As I thought about what Leonard Bernstein had written, I spent time looking at music history and which composers wrote works during times of conflict and what inspired them to write that specific piece.  One could go on for pages citing works of composers, yet, I chose four composers to highlight for their beliefs and musical reactions to political strife.

Dame Ethel Smyth (1858-1944) was a British composer, suffragette and author.  Having joined the Women’s Social and Political Union in 1910, Dame Ethel composed March of the Women, the anthem and battle call of the movement.  The anthem was sung across England to further the demand for women’s rights.  Along with other suffragettes, she was incarcerated at Holloway Prison in 1912 for she had broken windows and caused political disorder.  Leaning out of her cell with tooth brush in hand, she conducted her fellow suffragettes singing their anthem.  Close your eyes and envision what a performance that must have been.  A year earlier in 1911, Ethel had conducted the same anthem at the Royal Albert Hall in London.  In my personal opinion, I think the 1912 prison performance was most likely the most impassioned one given! 
Oppression of women, the rights of women to vote and make decisions for themselves was honored by an anthem that united the suffragette movement in music!


Ludwig van Beethoven’s (1770-1827) “Ode to Joy” from his Ninth Symphony has been performed during times of unrest, protest and celebrations.  Using a portion of Friedrich Schiller’s poem honoring brotherhood and the unity of all mankind, Beethoven’s work has been performed at Tiananmen Square during the student uprising, at the fall of the Berlin Wall conducted by Leonard Bernstein and by protesters during the demonstrations against Chile’s dictator Pinochet.  Though not composed as a political commentary piece, “Ode to Joy” rings forth as a hymn of unity, comfort and compassion for every citizen of the world.
Since Gena Branscombe (1881-1977) has been a part of my life for the past 16 years, I do tend to put her music forth frequently in this blog.  To financially assist the Canadian Red Cross during World War I, Miss Branscombe and fellow Canadian poet Katherine Hale joined together to publish the song, “Dear Lad o’Mine.”   A mother prays for the protection of her soldier son with outbursts of anger at war, followed by comforting thoughts for his safety in the trenches.  All proceeds from the sale of this song went to the Canadian Red Cross.  During World War II, Gena worked with fellow Canadian poet, Arthur Stringer, to publish “Grow Softly Maple Leaves,” a song of comfort to all who lost their lives protecting the rights of Canadians.  Rather than rouse people to the cause of war, composer and poets sought to make aware the horrors of war and at the same time pay tribute and comfort to those who fought and those who survived.

Often times politically based musical works are wrapped in alternative storytelling to by-pass censorship.  So was the case with Finnish composer, Jean Sibelius (1865-1957) when he wrote the orchestral tone poem, Finlandia.  This work was a protest against the censorship of the Russian Empire.  To perform Finlandia, the title was changed to appease censors yet the underlying story of this provoking and tumultuous work was the struggle of the Finnish people to recover their country.  In 1941 Sibelius reworked Finlandia into a hymn with words by Eikko Antero Koskenniemi.  The hymn is now one of the most important national songs of Finland.  Here is a link to the hymn........
A hymn creates a sense of pride for Finland and leads that country to its rights for making their own decisions and political statements.

In their own way, each of these artists made a statement against war, violence and oppression.  In my mind, they sought comfort for those at home, concern and love for those at the front lines and then a sense of patriotism for their country.  Whether their music was heard in a grand concert hall, a church, a small recital hall, in someone’s home or for an individual’s personal listening, these artists abhorred the senseless violence and through their music sought to triumph the mind over the world’s heightened sense of fear.


Monday, October 12, 2015

Women Composers……………….

What a pleasure it was in early September of this year to read that young Jessy McCabe, a student at the private Twyford Church of England High School in London, England, stood up to exam boards for the A level music tests.  Among the 63 composers listed on the exam, not one of them was a woman nor were women composers listed on the syllabus for course work. 

In Miss McCabe’s estimation, something had to be done and it was her responsibility to correct the wrong done to women composers.  She began a journey to change the way advanced music courses were taught.  She received an apology from the exam board and an assurance that women composers would be included in her music classes. 

This young lady had taken a course entitled, “Fearless Futures” which raised the subject of gender inequality.  Her eyes were opened to the role of sexism in all facets of our everyday life.  With her determination to see an end to this sort of discrimination, she presented a list of women composers to the exam board, went on social media to promote her idea with the end result being a change in the way music courses are being taught in England. 

Miss McCabe’s comprehension of the lack of understanding of women’s inclusion in all aspects and courses in education is commendable.  Jessy did not stop at just music classes.  She approached the Secretary of Education in England to make sure these discriminatory practices were changed across all areas of course work and exams.  BRAVA, Jessy.

Through the centuries classical music women composers have survived, usually scoffed at or hidden behind the fame of their brother, father or husband. 

Hildegard von Bingen (1098-1179), a Catholic nun, whose liturgical music inspires us to this day, was looked down upon by the church clergy for she was only a nun. 

Barbara Strozzi (1619-1677) who was one of the most prolific composers (man or woman) of her era whose published compositions were nearly all secular vocal settings, was an independent woman.  Her father encouraged her musical career. 

Wolfgang Mozart’s sister, Nannerl (1751-1829) is said to have been as equally talented as her famous brother.  The sister/brother child prodigies were adept at performing on the harpsichord and fortepiano, yet once she became of marriageable age, her performing career stopped at the insistence of her father.  Nannerl was known to compose as Mozart mentioned her works in his letters.  None of her compositions have survived. 


Fanny Mendelssohn (1805-1847), sister to Felix Mendelssohn, was a composer of songs and instrumental works.  Her music was published with the aid of her famous brother who affixed his name to them. 

Clara Wieck Schumann (1819-1896) was a piano prodigy and composer whose father was her teacher.  Her performing career began at a young age and continued throughout the years of her marriage to the famous composer, Robert Schumann.  Their lives and careers became intertwined.  With eight children to support, Clara’s income from performing and the publishing of her songs and other works was essential to the support of the family.  Robert’s mental health was unstable and at times Clara either completed works Robert had begun or wrote works using his name for publication.  Robert’s name brought in more royalties than Clara’s. 

Alma Mahler, (1879-1964), wife to composer/conductor Gustav Mahler, composed 17 songs.  Her husband scoffed at her musical works then later regretted his actions when a friend pointed out that Alma’s music had substance.  Gustav edited her works and saw to it that her songs were published.  In addition, he orchestrated a number of her songs.



From the title of my blog and my many entries, you know I discovered the music of Canadian American composer Gena Branscombe.  I have recorded her songs, told her life’s story in a one-woman show and lectured about her.  When I began my research to find other women composers whose music I might record along with Miss Branscombe’s, I found hundreds of women from the era of 1880-1950.  We know the names Mrs. Amy Beach, Harriet Ware, Mabel Daniels, Mary Howe, Liza Lehmann and a few others as they were famous in their day and their music performed.


My eyes opened to the fact that yes, some of these women’s songs were published, but hundreds and hundreds were lost to history.  Where was their music?  Were their family members available to recount their story?  More and more questions to be asked, yet no one to answer them. 

When depressions or economic downturns hit the economy, publishers would first drop the women composers’ works from their catalogue over that of a man’s.  Often times the women composers’ music was destroyed before the publisher notified them.  What a loss to our music history. 

And, why, why did I never hear of these women composers or their impact on music history mentioned all the way through my bachelor’s and master’s degrees?  Why were they left out or why was their no specific course taught about women composers?  Why on my oral exams for my masters degree was I not asked one question about a woman composer? 

Much like Jessy McCabe in England, we must take the responsibility to correct the teaching of music history.  Women composers must be mentioned alongside their male counterparts in music history and theory courses.  A few colleges offer overview classes about women composers from the middle ages to the present day.  It’s a step in the right direction yet more must be done to bring these women to the forefront. 

What is our responsibility in this matter?  Attend your local orchestra concerts, college recitals, high school concerts, local choral concerts and any other music offering.  Make note of the composers being performed on the programs, challenge the performers and conductors as to why women composers were not featured. 

Music appreciation classes in grade school, middle school and high school must include the teaching of music by women. High school chorus, band and orchestra programs must include works by women.  Begin gender equality education at a young age with the end result being informed adults.  Masters and doctoral degree music students, insist that questions about women composers be asked on your written and oral exams.  Challenge your college and university boards to demonstrate their belief in equality in the music world.

We must take action just like Jessy McCabe, for how else are we able to tear down the walls of discrimination towards women in all walks of careers?

One small reminder, the English language is a difficult one with many words sounding the same yet spelled differently.  There is an advantage to our language; nouns are genderless.  The word “composer” has no gender.  Women write and wrote music.   They are composers whose works are not to be judged because they are female but because they wrote music.  One day soon may we come to that place….a composer!  Until that time, our mission should be to promote women's music.


The women mentioned above are composers of notoriety over the past 10 centuries.  There are thousands of lesser known women whose music is sitting in a library not catalogued or in someone’s attic, in a box waiting to be opened. Their music must be discovered, published, performed, recorded and their life stories told as profoundly as that of Beethoven, Mozart or Brahms.  Music education has sorely left women composers out of their history books and classrooms.  Let us all work to correct this.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Norman Carlberg

Norm Carlberg

Looking at my calendar today brought me a reminder that my friend and colleague, Norm Carlberg died unexpectedly ten years ago today.  As we all say, how time has flown.  Yet my memories of Norm are clear and filled with admiration of a good, true, giving person who was extraordinarily talented.

In July 2010 my blog entry was about the three directors who made my “Life! Love! Song!  A Visit with Gena Branscombe” show come alive.  Norm Carlberg, Evan Pappas and Ellen Harvey gave of their talents to guide me through the development and performance of this wonderful and fun one-woman show.

It was Norm Carlberg with whom I first shared my idea of the show.  Over dinner, I sought his advice on how to go about writing and creating my idea….how to make it a reality.  Listening intently as I recounted my Gena Branscombe journey up to that day, Norm slowly spoke in his deep bass voice, “Just start writing” was his advice….”write and write without editing your work.”  Even with my doubts, I knew he was correct.

I invited Norm to be my director and he accepted then offered to have the premiere performance at the Liederkranz Club where he was Director of Music.  There we rehearsed staging, music and character ideas and constantly changed the script.  Our show was coming alive!

Speaking at a memorial service for Norm held at the Liederkranz Club, I said the following about our work together:

“I soon learned that Norm’s way of directing was to give you an outline of staging, a few key words for character then he left you to use your imagination, emotions and intelligence.  Phone calls to Norm after rehearsals were similar to the pain of pulling teeth.  I would ask what suggestions/criticisms he had and his response would be….”just keep going in the direction you are.” Or maybe….”mumble to yourself a little more” or “don’t worry it’s fine.”  We singers are more insecure than that and he knew it.  We need to be stroked, yet I learned in his quiet way he was allowing me to grow as an artist …telling me to be stronger and more self sufficient, and watching me grow as a singing actress.  After the performance he called and said in his low voice, “It was really good!” Four simple words……discreet, sincere and filled with pride of our partnership.  A more kind and understanding colleague one could not find and as a friend, a blessing to my life.”

Norm Carlberg, I miss you and thank you for your belief in my dream of a one-woman show about Gena Branscombe.  You were a true teacher, friend and colleague….a blessing to this singing actor’s life.