Thursday, July 29, 2010


Twenty years of collaboration….how does one write about those twenty years without sounding sentimental, saccharin and overly emotional? My job now is putting into words what it has been like to have an accompanist, collaborator, cheerleader and dear friend named Martin Hennessy.

“Concerts to Go” was a program sponsored by the music series at Trinity Church in New York City. With a baritone friend, Martin and me, we traveled subways and buses to perform opera arias, duets and show tunes in nursing homes throughout the five boroughs. Touching these elderly people’s lives with the gift of music and watching the smiles on their faces was a reward beyond what words can express.

Martin became my coach and accompanist from that original collaboration. Over the past twenty years we have prepared and performed countless recital programs. He has helped me learn oratorios that I have sung from New York to Maine. He knew which of my buttons to push to make me reach deeper inside myself allowing me to find ways to express the music and words in a more profound way. His knowledge and ability to teach musical style and languages are a singer’s dream of an accompanist!

Then, ten years ago I came to Martin with the first songs of Gena Branscombe’s that I had found. We read through the songs and immediately Martin said, “Who is this woman?” and “You need to record these songs.”

Truthfully, if it had not been for Martin’s encouragement I doubt I would have begun work on Gena’s music. He seemed to know that this project would change my career and give me a direction to use all of my creative abilities from researching, preparing and recording music, the business aspects of promotion for such a project, to writing and performing a one-woman show. Yes, Martin knew, encouraged and cheered me on. He had a vision of the dress I would wear for the CD cover pictures and was able to describe it in great detail long before the dress became a reality. Yes, he knew!

As I discovered that Gena wrote 150 art songs and a multitude of piano works, the whittling down of repertoire for the CD became important. With Martin’s help we made artistic decisions as to which songs would create a complete picture of Gena’s stylistic output. Martin offered to record four of the piano works written for Gena’s daughters. To sit back in the recording session and experience the heart and beauty of his playing touched my soul. Listen to the CD and you will understand.

Martin had previously recorded at Town Hall and recommended we record there using David Smith as our sound engineer. Recording is an animal in and of itself yet with Martin’s support and David’s expertise we produced a beautiful homage to the music of Gena Branscombe. During sessions though we were concentrated on doing a good job, Martin managed always to see the bright side and kept us laughing at our mistakes. We did need to lighten our attitudes even in the midst of intense work.

Albany Records picked up our recording for publishing and distribution. We were honored. Our CD, “Ah! Love, I Shall Find Thee: Songs of Gena Branscombe” was released late 2003 and signaled the beginning of our work on the one-woman show.

There was Martin encouraging me to continue down an unknown creative pathway. He carefully nudged me on to build a complete woman’s music project. He gave me strength and courage to face it all. Where does this incredible man find the depth of spirit to shout his approval of a woman composer from the past and a female singer fashioning a whole new world of women’s music for her career?

As we went into rehearsals for the premiere of “Life! Love! Song! A Visit with Gena Branscombe,” Martin embraced being musical director of the show and also participated as a dramatic character. He suggested and created his entrance to the stage which has purpose and it works beautifully. Martin improvised, played fillers and eventually was given a singing solo! He has done all this work with a great professional quality and a passion every singer should have the joy to experience.

There was never a doubt in my mind that Martin was there for me at every note, beat, dramatic moment or my personal ups and downs. He is always at my side, front and center! Every singer should be blessed with such an accompanist as Martin.

We began taking “Life! Love! Song!” on the road. Performing partners do not always travel well together. Not us…..we have the best time laughing, driving, flying and enjoying one another’s lives and hearts. I always have the feeling Martin is taking care of me while we travel, concerned that I am OK and have all the necessary encouragement to perform at my best.

Martin will now join my colleague, Barbara Dana, and I as music director of our Emily Dickinson show, “I Told My Soul to Sing.” His acting abilities will be tested and we know he will love the challenge! His pianistic and collaborative qualities without a doubt will be the best he has to give us.

I admit to having waxed poetic about Martin yet every word is true. Still there are many facets to his personality and life. On occasion I refer to him as my Irish leprechaun as he does have a devilish and deliciously wicked sense of humor. His smile and personality light up our lives and the stage where he performs with us.

His knowledge of wine, well, contact him and he can give you terrific, tasty suggestions with most of them under $15. He’s a fabulous cook, a gracious host, loving, crazy and generous to those of us lucky enough to work with him. You will hear Martin talking about and promoting nearly every one of his colleagues with whom he works. How lucky we are!

He is a composer whose music reaches such depth of soul whether it be his songs, piano or instrumental works. His music will be remembered for many decades to come.
So, this is my accompanist, dear friend, cheerleader and the reason my Gena Project has become what it is. Thank you dear, dear Martin.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you, Kathleen!! I think I like this guy.
    What a great pleasure it has been to work and play with you these many years. I will never forget meeting you through Jim Stith ( a wonderful baritone) and being invited to play for one of your joint concerts. He said you were good and I will never forget how delighted I was by your sparkling voice, warmth and charisma. You really commanded the stage and entertained that audience! And now to be part of your great one woman show: Life! Love! Song! A Visit with Gena Branscombe! I am proud and honored to be your friend and partner in song and theater. Warmest, Martin