Thursday, July 15, 2021

Katey J. Halbert and Pacific Sketches


The Gena Branscombe postings on my blog have centered on her vocal music, singers who performed her songs as well as her life and career.  Little has been written about the instrumental music she composed.  That’s my fault. 

 Gena’s instrumental works were not published as her songs and piano pieces were.  Her orchestral and instrumental compositions are in manuscript held at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts.

  Several weeks ago I was searching YouTube for Gena Branscombe recordings that may have been posted.  What a wonderful surprise to come upon Katey J. Halbert’s recordings of Miss Branscombe’s Pacific Sketches for French horn and piano. 


A trip to Hawaii in 1955 was the inspiration for these works.  Flying to San Francisco from New York, then boarding an ocean liner, on board Gena attended Hawaiian cultural lectures and took hula lessons.  She was 74 years old!  Way to go, Gena!


The sound of bells playing gospel hymns intrigued her.  She included that musical memory into her piece “Kona Beach” which is a movement in Pacific Sketches.  Later she composed “Homeport” and “Night in the Islands” to round out the work. 

 The pieces were played live on WNYC in February 1956 for the Annual American Music Festival and again in April 1956 at the New York Federation of Music Clubs Biennial Convention.  Katey Halbert’s recordings are the first in 65 years! 

 Katey Halbert’s recording came about as part of her doctoral project.  Searching for French horn pieces composed by women, she found Miss Branscombe’s “Pacific Sketches.” Thanks to Katey’s beautiful playing and to her great pianist, Casey Dierlam Tse, for bringing these pieces alive in the 21st century.

More of Miss Branscombe’s instrumental music will be uncovered in the near future 

Enjoy listening to Pacific Sketches and Gena’s scenic musical descriptions. 


#Katey J Halbert

#Casey Dierlam Tse

Tuesday, July 6, 2021

Nevada Van der Veer - Contralto


“Am enclosing a programme of Nevada Van der Veer’s concert” …. ““Happiness” was well received in spite of the fact that the accompanist composed as she went along.”  (from a letter to Arthur P. Schmidt, publisher, dated February 11, 1916)


Today as I was transcribing a few of Gena Branscombe’s letters to her publisher, Arthur P. Schmidt, I came across this quote and it made me laugh out loud.  There is no mention of where the concert was held or the accompanist’s name, which is good.  We all have bad performance days.


Nevada Van der Veer (1884-1958) was a New York City born contralto.  Her first name was derived from the admired American opera singer Emma Nevada (1859-1940).  


Miss Van der Veer was a contralto soloist at several New York City churches including Fifth Avenue Presbyterian.  Her singing voice was said to be powerful, even and velvety.  Known for her recital work, she toured frequently.  She recorded with the Victor Light Opera Company and recorded duets with her husband, Reed Miller.  During a meeting given by the National Woman’s Party, she sang at the grave of Susan B. Anthony.  In later years, Nevada became Head of the Voice Department at Cleveland Institute of Music from 1934-1949.


Gena Branscombe gave no indication if she personally knew Nevada Van der Veer or how the singer came to perform her song “Happiness”.  As an accomplished pianist, Miss Branscombe’s accompaniments are difficult and require a great deal of personal preparation and rehearsals with the singer.  Still….the quote made me laugh. 


Sunday, March 28, 2021

 A new website has been created with current information and pictures.  Thanks to my web designer, Jeff Williams, for all of his creative and hard work plus his patience through delays.

What a wonderful journey,


Wednesday, March 10, 2021

The Gena Branscombe Project - Scholarships

For over 20 years, it has been an honor to work on the music and life of composer Gena Branscombe.  The Gena Branscombe Project is announcing their second annual scholarships for an emerging student conductor, composer and arts administrator.  See details below!

The Gena Branscombe Project is proud to announce that applications for the 2021 scholarships will open March 8, 2021, International Women's Day! A scholarship will be awarded to an emerging student composer, conductor, and arts administrator. In addition, this year we will offer a Composer Commission Prize.

Details can be found on our website:

Please pass on this information to your colleagues, friends and students.


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. 


Wednesday, December 9, 2020



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.   



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.