Friday, August 12, 2022

Self-promotion/Tito Schipa


Self-promotion….self-promotion for artists….a very difficult function of our career journey with networking, making sure our names are associated with our talent and performances, conversing about ourselves and always creating a personal narrative that will sell, sell, sell.  From afar we admire artists who fly through this process without self-doubt. We try to imitate them or learn to do what they seem to do with ease.  Yet, we all come to acknowledge that self-promotion, though it is a necessary part of our business, is a challenge.


November 14, 1926, a letter from Gena Branscombe to Mr. Austin at Arthur P. Schmidt Company in Boston:

“I’ve an appointment with Mr. Schipa  – this Wednesday – am showing him a manuscript song – and if you will send me on the following songs (as I’ve none here) I’ll take them in also.  “There’s a Woman like a Dewdrop”  “Hail Ye Tyme of Holiedayes” “Three Mystic Ships”  “At the Postern Gate” and “Happiness.””


Mr. Schipa was the world renowned tenor, Tito Schipa (1889-1965).  He was known for having a beautiful lyric line in his voice.  Though his voice was not a large one, he was heard to the back of any big opera or concert hall in which he performed.  He was equally at home singing opera and concert repertoire.  Schipa was one of the highest paid classical singers of his day who also loved his celebrity life style.


Ever the self-promoter, somehow Gena Branscombe was able to make contact with Mr. Schipa.  She may have had a friend of a friend who helped, contacted someone with his management company and maybe by direct contact. 


She created a time to present her songs to this world class singer. Research into Schipa’s concert programs shows no indication that he performed Gena’s songs.  Together they worked on her songs on Wednesday, November 17, 1926.  Her November 19, 1926 letter to Mr. Austin acknowledged. “Had a fine session with Mr. Schipa.” 


Gena Branscombe seemed to have a knack for self-promotion for she knew the only way to have her music performed was to make contact with performers.  And, that she did with great determination.  BRAVA, Gena. 


Tuesday, August 2, 2022

My Artistic Creed


Though I have posted this quote several years ago, when I came upon it once again, I was moved by Miss Branscombe's personal message.  

“My Artistic Creed” 


“It is – to be ever constant in my endeavor to express thru music a firm faith in the joy, beauty, and harmony underlying life, the certainty of a loving and sustaining Higher Power which helps us in all our undertakings, & the value of a high courage.  Music is to me the most beautiful & instantaneous road to God.  I feel it to be one of the most potent forces for regeneration operating on the earth.” 


 Gena Branscombe -  Diary entry, Sunday, July 13, 1916


Tuesday, July 26, 2022

Gena Branscombe - July 26, 1977

Today marks 45 years since Gena Branscombe left this world.  Surviving her were daughters Gena Tenney Phenix and her husband, Philip, Dr. Vivian Tenney, two grandsons and her extended family known as the Branscombe Choral. 


Gena founded the Branscombe Choral in 1934 and remained its conductor, composer and arts administrator until 1954.  Looking over the twenty years of Branscombe Choral programs one can easily see numerous women who sang every concert while others sang only a few concerts. 


After the disbanding of the chorus, Gena wrote letters and notes to members sending them articles about her and her music career.  There were always good wishes sent to the members, comments and questions about their families and more. 


Recently my friend Peggie Biscaye Oury, whose mother and two aunts were long time members of the Branscombe Choral, mailed me a note she found in her mother’s files which also included Gena’s New York Times obituary.  The note was written by Gena Tenney Phenix.  Like mother, like daughter, Gena Tenney Phenix took up the mantle of letter writing and keeping in touch with former Branscombe Choral members. 


Many times I have written about the Choral members cherishing their musical experience with Gena Branscombe.  They kept their programs, choral folders, recordings, articles, newspaper clippings and letters.  Thank goodness they did this as many items have been given to me. I’ve made friends with three members who are now deceased, their children, grandchildren and nieces and nephews.   


On this the anniversary of Gena Branscombe’s death, I thank her for choosing me to carry on her legacy.  What a journey and honor it has been. 


Monday, July 18, 2022

Florence Foster Jenkins


Six year ago the movie Florence Foster Jenkins starring Meryl Streep and Hugh Grant hit the big screen and was a hit.  Based on the play Souvenir which played Off-Broadway and Broadway starring Judy Kaye, both the play and movie highlight the life and singing career of New York City’s socialite Florence Foster Jenkins. 


For decades singers and the public have been introduced to and listened to the recorded singing of Florence Foster Jenkins (1868-1944) which leads to uproarious laughter and head shaking disbelief that someone could possibly sound like that and be proud of it.  Her sense of pitch is precarious, correct rhythm was not in her personal music lexicon and phrasing did not seem to interest her.  Her recitals presented in her apartment or private clubs were by invitation only.  With over-the-top costumes designed by her and befitting the arias she was performing she added flowers, props and even some dancing.


Because her recitals had become notorious, Florence Foster Jenkins booked Carnegie Hall for her October 25, 1944 recital.  Tickets were at a premium and sold out weeks before the concert took place.  The audience laughed, applauded and scoffed her.  Scathing reviews from New York City’s papers appeared the following day.

Unanswered are the questions: “Did Florence Foster Jenkins know how bad her singing was?”  “Emotionally how did she handle the rejection?”  “Was she self-delusional?” 


Aside from her singing, Florence Forster Jenkins formed the Verdi Club in 1917.  Attempting to impress her New York City high-society friends, she wished for them to appreciate her dedication to classical music’s traditions.  Membership grew to 400 people including honorary members Enrico Caruso and Geraldine Farrar. 


What does all of this information about Florence Foster Jenkins have to do with Gena Branscombe?  There is an answer to this. 


In a December 2, 1924 letter to Mr. Austin at Arthur P. Schmidt Company, Gena requests Mr. Austin to send Florence Foster Jenkins copies of her SSA arrangements of her songs, “Hail Ye Tyme of Holiedayes,” “A Wind from the Sea,” and “Spirit of Motherhood.”  She then informs Mr. Austin that Miss Jenkins is the director of the Verdi Club.  Mr. Austin was meticulous about sending out the requested pieces of music.  Whether Miss Jenkins went on to have a women’s chorus of the Verdi Club perform these works is not known.  Yet, Gena, ever the self-promoter, knew of Florence Foster Jenkins and her Verdi Club.  Maybe her music would be recognized and performed. 


Florence Foster Jenkins' first accompanist was Edwin McArthur. A detailed blog posting for the future!  Stay tuned!


Friday, July 1, 2022

George Boziwick, Librarian, Composer, Author

Where would we be without librarians?  In this day of researching on the internet it may seem as though a librarian’s job is something of the past, soon to be expendable.  Au contraire – think again.  A librarian’s job is ever evolving in our world of technological advances.  Their creative drive helps guide new avenues of dynamic research.  Keeping track of online creativity that must be held for future generations is their ever expanding role.  And, there are precious historic items not yet digitized and available online that only they have access to.   Most of all, a real, live librarian, through their experience and knowledge, will act as your guide and mentor opening new pathways of research you have yet to discover. 


So it was when I was introduced to George Boziwick nearly 22 years ago.   At the time George was Curator of American Music at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts.  At our first meeting, I was new to my Gena project with dreams, thoughts of where I wanted to go, recording a CD, but most of all; I had much work to be done in the library.  George sat quietly listening, offered advice, research tools and encouragement for which I am thankful to this day. 


Over the years, I would see George during my many research visits to the library.  He always offered support as I continued my work on The Gena Branscombe Project.  We were honored when he and his wife attended the performance of Pilgrims of Destiny at Clark University in April 2019.  When he retired five years ago he was Chief of the Music Division. 

 Not only was George a great librarian, he is a man of many talents and interests.  He is a former oboist and is a blues harmonica player.  He is a composer whose works have been performed and recorded.  His Magnificat was published by C.F. Peters.  His numerous articles have been published in scholarly journals.  George’s article Take Me Out to the Ball Game’ The Story of Katie Casey and Our National Pastime was published online and in Base Ball: A Journal of the Early Game. He curated an exhibition at the Performing Arts Library entitled Take Me Out to the Ball Game which featured 100 Years of Music, Musicians and the National Pastime materials. 

 As an Emily Dickinson scholar his blog and articles have been published as well.  He has set Dickinson’s poetry for solo voice, instruments and voices and for organ and choir. 

 His most recent accomplishment is his book, Emily Dickinson’s Music Book and the Musical Life of an American Poet which was published by the University of Massachusetts Press on June 24th and is now for sale!  Congratulations, George. 


With many thanks and much appreciation to George for his guidance and mentoring.  May you continue to enjoy a retirement filled with composing music and being an inspiring author.

Friday, June 3, 2022

Marie Zieres's Letter


At the bottom of Gena Branscombe's letter she wrote, “My loving thoughts go out to you –I never forget you.  Noone should mind being older, life is just better and better.”  The letter’s envelope is post marked May 23, 1968, has 6 cents of stamps on it and is addressed to Mrs. Marie Zieres.

 Over the thirteen years of writing my blog, Music Meets Drama, I have written about Gena Branscombe’s prolific letter writing three times.  A number of her original letters to friends, colleagues and former Branscombe Choral members have become a part of  my Gena collection.


In June 2008 Dan and I drove to Jamestown, NY to meet Marie Zieres, a former Branscombe Choral member.  Just weeks before our visit with Mrs. Zieres, the Branscombe Choral scrapbooks had come into my possession.  In their protective boxes, the scrapbooks also made the trip to meet Mrs. Zieres.  Before our arrival she had brought out her remembrances of being a Choral member – her red choral folder, 45 rpm records and programs of the concerts as well as letters from Miss Branscombe.  What a heart-warming visit where I learned a great deal about Gena and her Choral.


Four years ago Mrs. Zieres’s grandson Mark gifted me his grandmother’s red Branscombe Choral folder.  Inside were concert programs and a receipt for her membership fee. 

A few weeks ago the 1968 letter appeared, again, sent to me from Mark. 

 Miss Branscombe’s typed letter is filled with belated holiday greetings, news of her newest composition being performed at the National Federation of Music Clubs’ Convention, an award she received and saying “Canadian officialdom did something nice for me, too.”   There is news of her two daughters, Vivian and Gena as well as Gena’s husband Dr. Philip Phenix. 

 This lovely, newsy typed letter has a personal hand-written section wishing Mrs. Zieres a wonderful summer and thanking her for her Christmas message.  She, signs the letter, “Your friend – Gena Branscombe”.

 Letters - personal letters – there is nothing quite like them for the intimate quality that e-mail cannot replicate.  If you think about it, Gena Branscombe actually held and touched this paper, her whole being sent the message and signed it.  Letters - - personal letters.

 With many thanks to Marie Zieres’s grandson, Mark. 

And, remember, “Noone should mind being older, life is just better and better.”



Monday, May 23, 2022

What a Surprise!


“As I looked at the young Queen and her husband, Prince Philip, on their visit to New York, it seemed that she was filling her role with great dignity but also with some weariness. How very young this couple looked—and how we do make our visitors work!”  (Eleanor Roosevelt diary entry, October 26, 1957)


On October 21, 1957 and for a mere 15 hours, Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip were in the United States for their first state visit.  During those hectic hours they were honored with a ticker-tape parade on Broadway, had lunch with dignitaries at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel, followed by the Queen’s speech at the United Nations and a return to the Waldorf Astoria for dinner.  The dinner was co-sponsored by the English-Speaking Union of the United States and the Pilgrim Society of the United States.  At 2 AM the royals were at Idlewild Airport where they boarded a plane for a return to the United Kingdom.  Yes, this is the same Queen; Queen Elizabeth who continues her reign today and marks the 70 anniversary of her coronation. 


Much to my surprise and Gena Branscombe’s grandsons’ surprise, we recently learned that Gena had been invited to attend the dinner honoring the royals at the Waldorf Astoria on that October evening.  With many thanks to John Lyons of Picton, Ontario for his researching and discovering an article that Gena Branscombe penned for the Picton Gazette on November 8, 1957. 


In vivid detail Gena described the Waldorf Astoria’s Grand Ballroom d├ęcor of blue satin draperies, a gold throne like chair, guests decked out in “marvelous gowns, superb jewels and evening furs, the men in uniforms or white ties and tails.”  Queen Elizabeth’s gown was pale pink, green and blue with embroidery and a fan-like train.  She wore diamond and sapphire jewelry and the “Russian-fringe tiara – made solidly of diamonds.”


Continuing on Miss Branscombe wrote of Canadian Members of Parliament in attendance, ambassadors and a toast given to President Dwight D. Eisenhower.  One can tell that Gena was impressed with Her Royal Highness, the speech she gave mentioning the Commonwealth and especially Canada.  Prince Philip was mentioned for his dignity, warm kindness and his sense of humor.

Having read this article five times, I find Gena’s writing formal, eloquent and yet, underlying all of that was her excitement, honor and awe of being in the company of the royals, dignitaries and all others that filled the ballroom. 


Again, thank you to John Lyons for his research.