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.