Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Lucielle Browning, Mezzo-Soprano

 

“To Miss Lucielle Browning – With all good wishes – of Gena Branscombe”  inscribed on a piece of Gena Branscombe’s sheet music.  Who was Lucielle Browning?  An internet search offered information about Miss Browning.   Lucielle was born Lucielle Raynor Brown on February 19, 1913, in Jacksonville, NC and died on August 8, 2011 in Florida.   


 A number of my blog posts have been about discovering Miss Branscombe’s compositions either on E-bay or Amazon.  On occasion the works found are ones that I own yet I will buy them because they are autographed or inscribed to someone.  On other occasions a piece not in my collection appears for sale and obviously I purchase it.  This blog posting will be about these very reasons for a recent purchase of Gena’s music. 


With friend and poet, Arthur Stringer, the two New York based Canadians collaborated on a patriotic hymn written for the Royal Canadian Navy.  “Our Canada, From Sea to Sea” (When Maples Leaves Turn Red) was published as a solo song and four part choral arrangement in 1939 by Toronto based Gordon V. Thompson, Limited. 

 Yes, a copy of the song was for sale on E-bay which I purchased.  As the seller was about to send me the song, he found another of Gena’s pieces among his collection, “Hail Ye Tyme of Holiedayes.”  I own several copies of that song yet this one was inscribed and autographed.  I purchased it.




When the music arrived I began my research and what came next was an education as I had never heard of Lucielle Browning.  According to her obituary, she received a full scholarship to Juilliard School of Music in 1932 and went on to perform with Sigmund Romberg on the Swift Hour as well as working with Andre Kostelanetz, Paul Whiteman and Wilfred Pelletier.  Her opera debut was in Falstaff with Fritz Reiner conducting the production for the Philadelphia Opera Company. Offered a contract in her final year at Juilliard, Lucielle joined The Metropolitan Opera.  She became a principal mezzo-soprano with the company from 1936-1951 singing over 500 performances of which 75 were Suzuki in Madama Butterfly.  Life after her  years with the Metropolitan Opera included concerts and performing on television. 



How did Miss Browning happen to have Gena Branscombe’s songs with the inscription to her?  Did she perform the two songs on her concerts?  I don’t have the answers to the questions.  Miss Branscombe was a constant self-promoter of her music.  Instructing her publishers to send copies of songs to singers, the publisher encouraged  performances of her songs.  At home Gena kept a small inventory of some of her published songs.  When meeting singers, their accompanists or their managers she would autograph and inscribe them, again in hopes of having a performance of her work. 

Two songs added to my Branscombe sheet music collection and an introduction to mezzo-soprano Lucielle Browning.  One day I do hope to learn even more about Lucielle, her life and career. 


#BringingBackBranscombe

Wednesday, December 9, 2020

GIFT

 

This time of year brings on a flurry of shopping for gifts to be given to children, parents, friends and colleagues.  The expectation of finding the correct item is great and the expectation of what we hope we will receive is even greater.  What a rut we have created for an act that should be from a loving heart.

 

Researching the definition of a “gift” I found numerous meanings.  The most common would be giving or donating of a thing to someone or an organization voluntarily without payment in return. 

 

Next comes the mention of a natural talent which I, of course, think of the gift of music.   In my years of working as a performer, it was my inherent musical gift that I then gave to an audience who would receive my personal message.  That also is a gift. 

 

I have said that discovering the music and life of Gena Branscombe was and continues to be one of the most unexpected, surprising gifts to my musical career.  From recording her songs, to the one-woman show, to putting her forth into the 21st century with a performance of her dramatic oratorio, Pilgrims of Destiny, and the formation of The Gena Branscombe Project not-for-profit is a gift to the world. 

What brought about this blog entry entitled “GIFT?”  Through The Gena Branscombe Project we are offering to singers, pianists and instrumentalists the music of Miss Branscombe.  Performers choose which of her compositions they would like to learn and video record her music to be put on our YouTube channel.  In this process I have offered to coach performers on style, the poets, and where the repertoire fits in her life.  What a joy it has been to share my knowledge with these talented, inquisitive and appreciative musicians. 

 


Via ZOOM, I recently had several sessions with soprano Jessica Zamek who worked on two of Miss Branscombe’s songs.  With passion she invested herself into the songs and will be recording them.  We had in-depth discussions of style, interpretation and more.  Every hour spent together was an education for me and I hope Jessica.  What a musical gift to one another that includes becoming friends.

 

Two weeks ago a surprise gift arrived at my door and I do mean surprise.  In the small padded envelope was the bag pictured below.  Jessica designed the bag and one of her gifted friends created it.  Here was a bag with Gena Branscombe’s picture and her name below each image.  This was the most astonishing, thoughtful and much appreciated gift from a friend and musician. 


Gift giving involves many layers of understanding.  It is not only the physical gift that is important; it is the “gift” of appreciation by people that mingles the two together for the investment in a relationship.  Jessica and I gifted one another our musical talents then created a friendship.  Thank you so much for your beautiful singing and the Gena bag, Jessica.   


#BringingBackBranscombe

 

Saturday, November 28, 2020


With many thanks to Carolyn Sebron for interviewing me for her web series, C'est Sebron.  The twenty two year journey of creating The Gena Branscombe Project from finding Miss Branscombe's music, recording her songs, my one-woman show, the performance of Pilgrims of Destiny, all the people involved and now our scholarship fund are explained.  It's quite the journey and one for which I have great pride.  Thank you, Carolyn.  





 






#BringingBackBranscombe

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Where Are All The Black Female Composers

 

Where are all the black female composers?  A great question we should all consider.   Have we studied the black female composers in music history?  Have they been included in women composer reference books or were they presented at women composer and women in music conferences?  The answer to those questions is no. 

 

A recently published book, “Where Are All the Black Female Composers?: The Ultimate Fun Facts Guide,” written by Nathan Holder with captivating illustrations by Charity Russell, answers the questions.  Mr. Holder is a London based musician and author.  Ms. Russell, originally from Zambia, now resides in Bristol, England.  

 

Written for ages 8-14, the book covers over 150 years of music composed by Black Female Composers.  Four young guides take the reader on a journey introducing each of the composers.  They ask questions, share facts about the composers’ music and lives as well as offering titles of their compositions.  Before you begin reading, scan the QR code in the back of book.  Spotify will play the compositions of these women. 



The reader experiences Florence Price, Errollyn Wallen, Margaret Bonds, Leila Adu, Julia Perry, Shirley Graham Du Bois and more.  These women span the world coming from the United States, Ethiopia, United Kingdom, Brazil, Nigeria, Cuba and Jamaica. 





Black Female Composers long forgotten, ignored or lost  are brought to life in this 21st century book.  Celebrating Black History Month and Women’s History Month will be made easier because we have Nathan Holder’s book that honors the achievements of black female composers. 

 

Where Are All the Black Female Composers? is a gift to the world and to music education for children and adults. 



 


#BringingBackBranscombe

 

Monday, July 6, 2020

Pandemic 1919 - COVID 19


Dating back to 1929 the six degrees of separation theory was first proposed by a Hungarian writer, Frigyes Karinthy.  By 1967 a sociologist tested the theory and proved that an unknown person is connected to someone you know through six other people.  The theory proves how small the world is.

Then, there are experiences where the separation is even smaller, maybe one degree of separation.  Recently it came to me that through one degree of separation I had known of a child who died in the 1918-1919 flu epidemic, the Spanish flu.  Yes, this was a century ago.

Reading Dr. Laurine Elkins Marlow’s dissertation on Gena Branscombe, the composer recounted the influenza outbreak and how it tragically affected her family.  Their three year old daughter Betty died of the flu. Reading the description of the family’s illness with Gena caring for her husband and three daughters was heart-wrenching.

Later I had the privilege of meeting Gena Tenney Phenix, Gena Branscombe’s oldest daughter.  There on her living room wall was an oil painting of a little girl.  I inquired as to who she was.  The answer was her sister Betty.  Mrs. Phenix, who was eight years old at the time of her sister’s death, was able to describe in detail how sick her family was except for her mother.  She explained how Betty declined and nothing could prevent her death.  Eighty years after Betty’s death, the experience of losing her sister had left an indelible mark on her heart. 



Whether through six degrees of separation or one degree of separation, our country is ravaged by COVID-19 and all of us will know someone who has had the virus or died from it.  For me the one degree of separation from a century ago and knowing 17 people who have had COVID-19 with three of them dead, makes me realize our individual responsibility for caring for one another and respecting each other’s lives rather than selfishly thinking of our own comforts and rights.

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

While in Berlin


While in Berlin, Germany in 1909-1910, Gena Branscombe was studying piano, practicing five to six hours a day, composing, performing recitals of her works at the American Women’s Club of Berlin, gaining recognition for her talents with an article in the Musical America magazine in the United States and accompanying recitals for singers and instrumentalists. 

One such recital was at a dinner party given by the American Ambassador to Berlin, David Hill and his wife, whose honored guests were President and Mrs. Theodore Roosevelt.  Gena accompanied her soprano friend, Belle Forbes.  Late afternoon of the dinner party, the two musicians were invited to perform with a car picking them up at 9 PM.  Even with this late notice, the two ladies were ready which Gena described in her Thursday, May 12, 1910, letter to her future husband, John Ferguson Tenney:



“I was ready when the auto came, with Belle looking like a queen.  She had Harriet Illsey’s diamond tiara and Mrs. Shayne’s yellow gown and was the most beautiful thing you ever saw.  I wore my ancient – and honorable lace gown with one pink rose on the left shoulder and no “jools” except a pearl pin.”


Gena went on to describe their performance:

“In spite of Belle’s being so tired, she sang superbly, and they praised her so.  I came in for my share too, and Mrs. Roosevelt said so many sweet and kindly things…..”



“That night, Mrs. Roosevelt said, wouldn’t Belle sing something of mine, and Belle said what a pity it was that she had brought nothing with her.  As an advertisement, I could have had nothing better, and it was the place for it – they wanted English songs….”

“It would have been so easy for Belle to have done it for me, she knew all the stuff…”

“I settled it all about Belle and am perfectly happy and comfortable about her –have no feeling of resentment – and it’s all right.  It came over me that that was Belle’s chance, and that it was wrong of me to in any way detract from her complete and undivided success – which would have been the case had I appeared in the light of a composer, for that art is taken very seriously over here…. it was wrong for me to have wanted my things done,… Belle has gone through tortures over here, and all these lovely things were coming to her, and I mustn’t feel hurt or resentful, only glad for her.  And it’s all right, and I’m sunny again” 

A great disappointment for Gena became an opportunity to take personal stock of her role in the evening’s performance and she makes peace with Belle’s decision.  Gena’s personality trait of looking within herself, assessing the situation and finding a resolution with which she could live is what made her a great musician, colleague and leader of women throughout her career. 



What brought this blog to be written?  My friend and researcher extraordinaire, John Lyons of Picton, Ontario, Gena’s hometown, sent me a clipping from the May 21, 2020, Picton Gazette’s “Stories from the Past” section.  Noted there in 1910 is the announcement that Gena was to play at the American ambassador’s home for President and Mrs. Theodore Roosevelt.  It also mentions that the Emperor of Germany was to be in attendance.  Unfortunately, King Edward of England had died and the Kaiser traveled to England for the funeral. 

#BringingBackBranscombe

Saturday, May 23, 2020

The Gena Branscombe Project 2020 Scholarship Winners

The Gena Branscombe Project announces their 2020 scholarship winners. Congratulations to these talented winners who will carry on Miss Branscombe's legacy of high musical standards, leadership, equality and inclusivity.

2020 SCHOLARSHIP WINNERS


Genevieve Welch


Catherine Willingham


Sydney Pepper

2020 SCHOLARSHIP HONORABLE MENTION


Michaela Gleason


#BringingBackBranscombe

Friday, May 15, 2020

Always a student


The scene – the summer of 1978 in the ballroom of the Holiday Inn in Pendleton, Indiana.  On an out-of-tune upright piano my friend and colleague, George Daugherty, is accompanying me as  I am singing for Metropolitan Opera mezzo-soprano, Rosalind Elias - a private master class with this wonderful singer. 

I finish an aria, Miss Elias corrects a few things, makes suggestions and gives compliments.  George and I then launch into a second aria and when finished Miss Elias again offers a critique and praise.  She is gracious, honest, kind and proffers professional advice.

Miss Elias asked where I was going to school and I respond that George and I are students at the College-Conservatory of Music in Cincinnati.  Immediately she asks, “Do you study with Italo Tajo?”  Yes, I had been directed by him in the opera La Cenerentola and had taken his opera characterization class. 


In our continuing conversation, she states that Italo is a great teacher and colleague.  A year or two earlier, Miss Elias had performed Rosina in Il Barbiere di Siviglia with Mr. Tajo directing.  Watching her face light up while she described the experience indicated the joy she had working with him. She had sung the role of Rosina many times before working with Italo.  Rosalind recounted how he had opened her eyes with new insights into Rossini’s music and his staging brought her a whole new perspective on the character.  The opera had come alive like she had never experienced previously.  She poured compliments on the great Italo Tajo as a teacher, director and colleague.  She then said I should make sure to listen to all he has to offer as Italo had a deep connection to an operatic era that must be kept alive.


Adding to her Italo Tajo story, she went on to recount her recent performances of Charlotte in Werther with tenor Alfredo Kraus in the lead role.  Again, her face lit up with the excitement of having worked with a wonderful colleague, someone who also taught her something new.  Each evening as Mr. Kraus sang the aria, “Pourquoi me réveiller” he held a letter in his hand and at the exact moment each evening, the letter floated out of his hand to the stage floor.  Miss Elias said that every evening her heart skipped a beat as the letter left his hand as it always took her by surprise.  It was organic, it was intense, it was a transcendental love sick poet moment where his emotions gripped his colleague’s heart.  She asked Mr. Kraus how he was able to recreate that moment every evening making it new and yet always the same.  His response was that the moment was in the music waiting for him to express it.  She held great respect for him as he taught her something new and something to add to her own musical knowledge.


As I listened to her stories I realized that though Miss Elias was an accomplished Metropolitan Opera star, someone who performed around the world, she was vulnerable, warm and always a student seeking out new ideas and ways to improve her craft.  Always a student!

How did this experience happen?  Well, my friend and colleague, George Daugherty, made it happen and I am thankful to him for asking Rosalind Elias if she would take the time to listen to me sing.  All these years later, I remember her warm and encouraging spirit.  Thank you, George.   




George was the founder, conductor and director of his own Pendleton Festival Symphony in his hometown of Pendleton, Indiana.  That summer Miss Elias was his featured soloist with his orchestra and the Harvard Glee Club.  George invited me to be Miss Elias’s understudy -  learn her arias and the Brahms’ Alto Rhapsody, then rehearse with the orchestra and George the night before Miss Elias arrived.  What an honor and privilege to work with George and his fine orchestra.  And, I learned a great deal from the experience - always a student. 

Ever the student and not one to pass up a new opportunity to perform …. in 2011,  Miss Elias made her Broadway debut at the age of 81 in Stephen Sondheim’s Follies!  Sadly, Rosalind Elias died on May 3, 2020.  I’m sure she continues her quest of always being a student!


#BringingBackBranscombe


Wednesday, May 13, 2020

WNYC - The Branscombe Choral


Found in the New York City Municipal Archives was a March 15, 1949 recording of the Branscombe Choral performing on WNYC.  The women’s chorus was led by “one of America’s foremost woman musicians,” Gena Branscombe. 



The four pieces featured on this broadcast were arrangements of folk tunes about the out-of-doors and the beauties of nature:

1.      “Girls in the Garden” -  arranged by H.A. Schemerling
2.       “O River Flowing Dark and Wide” – A Czech folk tune – arranged by Gena Branscombe
3.      “The Soldier” – a Kentucky folk tune – arranged by Katherine Davis
4.      “Murmur on, Sweet Harp” – a newly discovered Stephen Foster song – arranged by Gena Branscombe



The year 1949 marked the 15th Anniversary of The Branscombe Choral with members celebrating at an anniversary dinner.  They began the year performing on WNYC, then Town Hall in May and completing the year with their annual Christmas concert at the Broadway Tabernacle Church in December.  

Scroll to the bottom of this  hyperlink and you will find the 13 minute performance.  Another blog posting will feature Pilgrims of Destiny.



Enjoy listening to the broadcast which is Courtesy of the NYC Municipal Archives. 


#BringingBackBranscombe

Thursday, April 23, 2020

Honorary Degree


“Am only just back from my trip to the coast – have had a simply marvelous time, hospitality – friendliness, two concerts, speeches – interviews – my honorary degree – (Marion Bauer also received one) – and such scenery from the southern desert to the Canadian Rockies.”

July 12, 1932….a letter to Mr. Austin at the Arthur P Schmidt Company in Boston – her publisher.

Gena Branscombe recounts the honorary degree conferred on her from Whitman College in Walla Walla, Washington.  She was proud and thankful to be given a Master of Music degree alongside fellow composer and colleague, Marion Bauer.



Gena joined the faculty of Whitman College as Head of the Piano Department in 1907.  During her two year tenure at the college, she taught piano, theory and composition.  Concerts of her music were performed there. Metropolitan Opera soprano, Lillian Nordica was on concert tour in Seattle and performed Gena’s song “Hail Bounteous May.”  She met her future husband, John Ferguson Tenney, while teaching at Whitman. 

Miss Branscombe’s career went on to include studying in Germany, becoming a recognized composer whose music was often performed, being a conductor and a promoter of American women composers.  The honorary Master’s degree was well deserved.

Composer Marion Bauer was a native of Walla Walla, Washington, who taught at New York University and Juilliard.  Her promotion of American music helped to found the American Music Guild, American Music Center and the American Composer’s Alliance.  The honorary Master’s degree was well deserved.




During an interview Miss Bauer mentioned that Gena Branscombe, Amy Beach and she are known to be “the triad of American women composers……the “three B’s of music.”  She admitted that Amy Beach was America’s outstanding woman composer and Gena was a close second.  What a great colleague Marion Bauer was. 

In 1932, the “three B’s of music” usually referred to Bach, Beethoven and Brahms.  Marion Bauer meant three living American women composer B’s!



It may seem strange that only a Master’s degree was conferred.  In the early 1900s, a Bachelor’s degree was required to teach in college.  Today, colleges require a doctorate and it is an honorary doctorate that is given to an individual for outstanding contributions in their given field.

A little background - the first honorary degrees were given in the Middle Ages.  The first recorded degree was awarded by the University of Oxford to Lionel Woodville in the 1470s.  He became the Bishop of Salisbury.  The same university conferred a doctorate on Franz Joseph Haydn in July 1791. 



#BringingBackBranscombe

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.


#BringingBackBranscombe


* Miss Reynolds scrapbook is the property of the Prince Edward County Archives held at the Prince Edward County Municipal Library.  

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.

#BringingBackBranscombe



Monday, January 20, 2020

Autographs


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. 

#BringingBackBranscombe