Sitting in my closet are two plastic storage containers that hold the physical history of my Gena Branscombe project that began in 1999. Manila folders hold my handwritten research notes from the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts where I found Gena’s original manuscripts, published works and Laurine Elkins Marlow’s dissertation. Also in folders are copies of letters from Gena Branscombe’s family, my contract with Albany Records, copyright approval to record certain songs and also to print specific poems in the CD booklet, a fairly large number of pictures, two 3-ring binders with copies of nearly all 150 of Gena’s songs, cards and letters from people who purchased my CD or attended one of our performances, magazine articles about Gena or myself, programs and publicity from performances of my one woman show and lecture recitals I have given. In addition I found the original mock-ups of the publicity brochure I designed for “Life! Love! Song! A Visit with Gena Branscombe” including the lace fabric I purchased to scan for the background of the brochure.
Recently it came to me that it was time to weed out the excess paper in those boxes. Out they came and I began the daunting decision making task of what to throw away. In doing so I had quite the trip down memory lane.
A project such as the one I created about composer Gena Branscombe has many levels of creativity to it. For me, the first was researching the life and music of a woman composer who was unknown to me. What was it about her that intrigued me? Her compelling life struck a chord in me and then I found her life’s experience infused into her songs. I spent hours in the library, hours and hours which is an activity I never thought would be in my personal dictionary of interests! Yet, I returned day after day which led me to the next step.
Recording a CD of this woman’s music long forgotten in a library was my second goal. Beautiful romantic songs with flowery poetry seemed to fit my voice and personality as if Gena had written them for me. Recording was a new experience fraught with a reminder of needing to be patient, re-recording measures sometimes two at a time to get the perfect balance necessary. The detailed work of listening to my own singing take after take was sometimes painful, then the decision making about what to splice together culminated in the release of my CD by Albany Records. Quite an accomplishment!
Level number three came in the form of creating a one-woman show. In past blog postings, I have written about all the people who helped me on this journey and to say the very least, these friends and colleagues were the best and most supportive team a person could dream of having.
So as I held pieces of paper reminding me of the levels of creativity I put into the life and music of Gena Branscombe, I came to know there were far deeper realizations to a project such as mine. I allowed myself to be vulnerable to a new aspect of a musical career that I had never imagined. Focusing on opera, chamber music, oratorio, recitals and contemporary music had been my performance goals and through those avenues came Gena’s music. A door opened and I chose to walk through it on to an unknown path.
All my work researching, recording and writing was a full-time act of love. Never had I been so busy and full of drive with the rewards being much more than I could have envisioned. Entering my life was a cadre of people never possible to dream about. Gena’s immediate family…her daughter Gena and two grandsons, Roger and Morgan Scott, her extended Branscombe family including a 94 year old nephew, great nieces and great nephews, members of the Branscombe Choral; nieces, nephews and friends of Branscombe Choral members, the great granddaughter of Gena’s publisher, Arthur P. Schmidt, Dr. Laurine Elkins-Marlow, poet Katherine Hale’s niece, and the list goes on. The conversations with these wonderful people and the stories they told me about Miss Branscombe fill my heart. There is no monetary reward that could possibly equal the joy of being part of creating this project.
The Branscombe Choral
More so, the life lessons of looking within to challenge what you perceive to be your talents then pushing yourself beyond those perceptions to find you are capable of giving even more. Patience to know what you are creating has a purpose in your life and the world at large. Life is not about making yourself or your music famous, it is about allowing your soul to find a place of peaceful expression in your work. Living in the moment, breathing happiness into your life for you are working on a project you love that has an impact on the musical world though you may not comprehend how or why right now. Being vulnerable is so hard for us all, yet when we put down our guard so much more will come to us because of the work we have accomplished.
What does all of this mean? Well, more than a CD of Branscombe songs or the one-woman show, this project has created new avenues for me. I have become an advocate for women composers of Miss Branscombe’s era. There are hundreds and hundreds of these composers whose music is seldom heard, maybe it is even forgotten, languishing in a library soon to be discovered. Despite the adversity these women composers faced in their day, they set an example of strong will and determination for the sake of music. Now it is my time to be their champion.
Being a part of women in music or women in the arts festivals where I present lectures or lecture recitals is another path where I have found colleagues putting forth other women composers. We share our stories, the historical era, the intrinsic value of the music of the late 19th and early 20th century. Much to my surprise I have been a mentor to other women who have discovered women composers and who wish to create their own project. Mentoring….now there is another avenue never thought to be in my life’s story. So much to be learned and so much to be shared.
Would I change one moment of the work I have done to promote the music and life of Gena Branscombe? Not one second!
The plastic containers are now lighter and less crammed with papers. I threw out the multiples of programs and publicity as well as a few other non-essential copies of articles. My own personal trip down memory lane is treasured, close to my heart and not possible to throw any of it away!