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.”