Monday, March 16, 2020

Gena the Thespian

Research on the internet is a luxury as one does not leave one’s home.  Enter your inquiry into Google and the information from the far reaches of the world’s libraries or other sources is right in front of you.  What you may not find on the internet then may cause you to venture out to an actual library where articles and clippings may not have found their way to the internet. 

Small historical societies are a treasure trove of information.  Scrapbooks, articles, pictures and personal items have not been scanned to the internet.  Time, money and expertise may have prohibited these societies from sharing their antique gems. 

Several years ago through connections in Picton, Ontario with Gena Branscombe’s family members and friends, I was put in touch with John D. Lyons.  John is a researcher with his own projects.  He kindly added researching Gena’s younger years to his list of things to do.  He has passed on to me census filings, pictures of Gena’s father’s pharmacy and home, articles about the family and more.

When Laurine Elkins Marlow interviewed Miss Branscombe for her dissertation, Gena mentioned she had participated in local Picton theater productions.  Thanks to John Lyons there is now proof of her being in an amateur opera company play.

A local historical society holds the scrapbook of Josephine Annatje Reynolds.  As John was researching for something else, he found on page 68 of the scrapbook an article from the Picton Gazette from pre 1896.  No exact date is given.  The four act comedy, "School," was performed by the amateur opera company of Picton.  In the cast was Miss Gena Branscombe.  Held at the Bijou Theater, the “theatrical treat” was a success because of the “beauty and talent” of those in the cast. 

Miss Gena Branscombe, pianist, composer, conductor and leader of women in music was indeed a thespian. 

Thank you to John D. Lyons for his continuing research on the life and music of Gena Branscombe.  You have found some delightful treasures.


Tuesday, March 10, 2020

The Gena Branscombe Project

Twenty years have passed since I began The Gena Branscombe Project.  Exploring her music, recording her songs and piano works, meeting her family, creating a one-woman show and much, much more became my musical mission.

Then three years ago, Dan Ryan, conductor, friend and all around wonderful person, discovered Gena's music by purchasing a copy of her oratorio, Pilgrims of Destiny, at a yard sale.  Because of his purchase, a performance of the oratorio happened in April 2019 at Clark University in Worcester, MA.  As I have told Dan on a number of occasions, he was chosen to continue the work on Miss Branscombe's legacy.

Our next step forward, thanks to Dan's creativity and hard work, is The Gena Branscombe Project website.  There is much happening in the future including an April 2020 concert in Boston of Miss Branscombe's music.  In addition, we are offering three scholarships in her name.  You can apply online.

We continue to promote the performance of Miss Branscombe's dramatic oratorio, Pilgrims of Destiny, which will be published this year.  Choruses and conductors will have access to the piano/vocal score as well as the orchestral score.

Our work continues and as Gena's grandson would say, "My grandmother is looking down and saying, 'MARVELOUS.'"  Onward with Gena's music and life.  And, a special thank you to Dan Ryan.


Monday, January 20, 2020


Collecting manuscripts, letters and autographs as a business and hobby dates back to Aristotle who amassed a library of maps and scholarly papers.  During the era of the Ptolemys beginning in 306 BC, autographs were acquired and preserved.  Empires conquering other empires helped themselves to these collections storing and preserving them until some other empire “borrowed” them.  Centuries of fallow collecting occurred until the 17th century when a rekindling of interest in autographs and preserving documents became de rigeur.  England created a market place for autographs with auctions.  Collecting became a profit centered business. 

Ushering in the Victorian era, people created autograph albums of a wide range of people who were unconnected.  One autograph may have been from a person famous in one field of expertise with the next autograph from someone far ranging from that knowledge.  Autograph hunting became an insatiable mania! By the 1880's in the United States, there were store fronts that sold autographs and auctions were held.  Among America’s autograph collectors were J P Morgan and President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. 

Even today in the 21st century star struck people wait at stage doors to get the autographs of the Broadway show stars, opera singers, ballerinas, country western singers, rock bands, comedians and even politicians.  They hold on to these signatures as an emotional and physical reminder of the experience they just had. 

In the past 12 years I have purchased two of Gena Branscombe’s autographs that were for sale on the internet.  The first was in 2008 when an original autographed manuscript of the first three measures of her song “Serenade” came up for sale.  This is the first three measures of the first song on my CD … what a find.  The manuscript is framed and hangs next to my piano.  Whoever the original owner of this small manuscript was must have collected original snippets of composers’ music. 

Last week autograph #2 was added to my Gena collection.  Marked “teneremente” with four measures of her song “Heartsease”, written below that – “St. Valentine’s Day 1926” – signed “with love Gena Branscombe”.  “Heartsease” is also on my CD … another find. 

This autograph came with some provenance.  The autograph was given to Geraldine Bergh, daughter of Geraldyne Bergh, an heiress in social and charitable circles.  She was the wife of renowned American composer, conductor and accompanist, Arthur Bergh.  Geraldine assembled an autograph collection of artists, singers, actors, conductors, composers, writers and other music personalities that she met.  Her collection of over 800 autographs was given to a church who  sold it to an antiques dealer who sold it to me. 

This lovely autograph is to be framed and hung next to my piano. 


Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Association of Canadian Women Composers Article

One year ago the Association of Canadian Women Composers invited me to write an article about Gena Branscombe.  The article "For the Love of Two Countries" was published in their Fall 2018 journal.  

This year I was asked to write a follow-up article about the April 2019 concert of Miss Branscombe's dramatic oratorio, Pilgrims of Destiny.  Below is the hyperlink to the Journal with the article on page 12.  

Miss Branscombe's music is now firmly placed in the 21st century. 


Tuesday, October 15, 2019


An e-mail from Allison Charney arrived in my mailbox asking me how to pronounce Gena Branscombe’s first name.  She went on to explain that with her colleague and friend, Donna Weng Friedman, the two would be hosting four one-hour radio shows featuring women composers entitled -  Her/Music:Her/Story. 

The shows were broadcast on WQXR on four consecutive Friday evenings at 9 PM starting on September 13th.  

The first show celebrated the 200th birthday of pianist/composer Clara Schumann (October 13, 1819 – 1896).  Allison and Donna took us on a journey discussing Clara’s life as a piano prodigy, wife to composer Robert Schumann, mother of eight children and composer.  Interspersed with their informative discussion were examples of Clara’s music - piano, instrumental and vocal. 

The second broadcast was the Three B’s: Lili Boulanger (1893-1918), Gena Branscombe (1881-1977) and Amy Beach (1867-1944).  How creative that is!  Again our hosts discussed each composer’s life and music then highlighting that with examples of their music.  Congratulations to Allison and Donna for performing live one of Miss Branscombe’s and Mrs. Beach’s songs. 

French composer Cecile Chaminade (1857-1944) was the subject of the September 27th broadcast.  A popular and successful composer who won the French Legion of Honor award and was an internationally recognized artist, she died alone in 1944.  There have been nearly 200 Cecile Chaminade clubs in existence some of which continue to honor her today.  We were treated to the composer’s piano and vocal music.

The final broadcast featured Women of our Time – composers Jennifer Higdon, Stefania de Kenessey, Thea Musgrave, Kim D. Sherman, Gabriela Lena Frank and Jessie Montgomery.  To listen to these composers’ music and hear Allison and Donna’s personal stories of connection to these women was fascinating.

Congratulations and thank you to Allison Charney and Donna Weng Friedman for creating informative and wonderful radio broadcasts.  They definitely gave life to the title Her/Music:Her/Story.  The countless hours put into producing these shows more than proves dedication, passion and support of women composers across the ages.  Their knowledge of each composer’s life and music along with the ability to discuss them was an education for the listener.  

From this listener and supporter of women composers, I hope you will continue these broadcasts and may they be heard across the country inspiring musicians and arts organizations to perform, promote and commission works by women composers!

Tuesday, October 8, 2019


In 2018 two recordings were released that included works by Gena Branscombe.  Orchestral music of American composers from the late 19th century and early 20th century represents one of the CDs.  The second recording features the piano music of 13 American women composers. 

American Romantics III garnered the Lansdowne Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Reuben Blundell, the Ernst Bacon Memorial Award for the Performance of American Music.  Recording the music of David Stanley Smith, Carol Busch, Edward MacDowell, Charles Wakefield Cadman, Cecil Burleigh, Ludwig Bonvin and Gena Branscombe – not all the composers are familiar names to everyone, the music is beautiful and a tribute to  the wide range of American music.  Congratulations. 

Gena’s piece on this CD, “A Memory” was originally composed for violin and piano.  As a gift to the founder, Edwin Fleisher, of the Philadelphia Symphony club, composer William Happich arranged the work for harp and strings in 1922.  The arrangement is now held in the Free Library of Philadelphia.

On the Centaur Label, pianist Joanna Goldstein released her Nasty Women CD.  Along with Miss Branscombe’s “The Squirrel Party,” this recording includes works by Gena’s friends and colleagues Florence Price, Mary Howe, Harriet Ware, Amy Beach, Ethel Hier, Mana-Zucca and others.  Listening to each of these women composer’s distinctive piano works and musical styles is an aural and emotional treat. 

Gena Branscombe’s home country has never forgotten her.  Over many years Canadian musical artists have recorded her songs, violin and piano works.  Elaine Keillor, piano, has been a champion of Miss Branscombe’s music recording her “Valse Caprice” on her CD By a Canadian Lady – Piano Music 1841-1997.  With violinist Ralitsa Tcholakova, the two recorded Gena’s “Sonata in A minor” on their Remembered Voices CD.

 Le Souvenir – Canadian Songs for Parlour and Stage features baritone Russell Braun singing Gena’s song “Serenade.”  The same song was included on the CD, When You and I were Young Maggie – 19th Century Canadian Salon Music.  There is a slight twist to this CD as Gena’s song was performed on flugel horn and piano. 

Then, there is my CD, Ah! Love I Shall Find Thee: Songs of Gena Branscombe.  Songs and piano works by the composer.

Among the CDs, the individual’s work, dedication, effort and musical abilities gives voice to American and Canadian composers.  The composers are not as famous as the three male B’s.  The recording artists have given their listeners music from the past that warrants being heard.  Open your ears and soul to lesser known composers and artists as they have much to offer the classical music world!

Sunday, September 22, 2019

Kings of Hearts - Betty Tenney

“The youngest member of our family is to be called Elizabeth – as her next oldest sister put it - “Elizabeth for long, and Betty for short.”  If you ever see the frivolous “Cosmopolitan Magazine” – please look at the cover of the September issue and you will see Betty – good as she is.  It’s an excellent likeness.  She’s the most responsive little mate imaginable ….  loves to be sung to, will stop short in the loudest howl if her mother sings – and makes a funny little “high up” sound all the time one is singing, as tho’ she were trying to sing too. “

The quoted excerpt is from a September 4, 1916 letter to Gena Branscombe’s publisher, Mr. Arthur P. Schmidt, of Boston. 

The baby she refers to is the Tenney’s third daughter Betty who was born in June 1916.  At the time of this letter, Betty’s two older sisters, Gena and Vivian, were staying with their maternal grandmother in Picton, Ontario.  Mother Gena and her husband John were home in New York City tending to their newborn.

It was quite a surprise to find out that baby Betty was on the September 1916 cover of Cosmopolitan Magazine.  Entitled, “King of Hearts,” and illustrated by Harrison Fisher, it shows Betty and two adoring parents.  The parents in the picture are not Gena and John. 

This revelation led to an online search for an original copy of the magazine.  I did find a picture of the cover but not the actual magazine.  If one keeps searching online, you may find something even more intriguing and so I did. 

An offering for an autographed antique “King of Hearts” print came up for sale and I purchased it.  Renowned artist Harrison Fisher (1877- 1934) was a highly sought after illustrator in his day.  By 1918 the "King of Hearts" image had been made into postcards and prints were available for people to purchase.

It is unknown how Betty came to be painted for the cover and if Gena and her husband knew the artist or someone who worked for Cosmopolitan magazine.  With great pride and sentiment of her parents, little Betty was on the cover of Cosmopolitan Magazine!