Friday, October 22, 2010


There is no need to tally up the years one has had a dedicated friend as the number is meaningless, the quality of friendship, a blessing in one’s life and, ….well, priceless, to quote an advertisement. Thus it is with my treasured friend Julie TeSlaa.

We met while Julie was in Junior High School and I was in college. It’s frightening to say that I was Julie’s voice teacher….what did I know about vocal technique in those years? Oh, dear me… to nothing. Still, Julie and I became fast friends.

She was introduced to opera when I took her to hear/see the Metropolitan Opera during their Spring tour in Minneapolis. She heard art song recitals by the great singers when they also came to Minneapolis. She was a sponge taking it all in.

As for Julie as a singer, with a 1000 watt smile, her sweet voice comes with the heart and soul of a performer. Standing a mere 4’10” she had the ability to draw you into her world of a song touching the audience’s soul.

So time marches on and so does our friendship. Julie, ever the true friend, has traveled to visit me in Cincinnati and New York. Without hesitation she used New York City’s public transportation and she loves every minute she has spent here. Hooked on New York is Julie!

She has two beautiful adult children though she never has or ever will look old enough to have had children! How can someone continue to look so youthful and now be a grandmother?

Previous postings on my blog are about Gena Branscombe and the supportive people surrounding me as I developed my project. So now it is time to talk about Julie, her husband, Orlin, and their help as well as dedication to my CD and one-woman show.

Stated in the booklet included with my CD is a paragraph thanking the people who helped me. Listed first are Julie and Orlin. These two cherished friends blew wind into the sails of my Gena Branscombe journey and without them I doubt Martin and I would have made the progress we did. It may sound dramatic yet it is true.

When I first shared with Julie my intentions of making a recording, her response was, “What can we do to help?” Speechless, yes, me speechless, I did not know how to respond. Shortly thereafter, Julie and Orlin sent financial help that covered the cost of recording and editing sessions. To say the least, I was thankful and finding the continuing words to say “Thank You” was difficult.

Their support is more than just money. It found deeper meaning in the many years of our friendship, the connection that music is what first brought us together and music continues to connect us so deep in our souls, plus their open-hearted, selfless gift of themselves. They have continued to be generous and supportive, always cheering me on every time there is a radio interview where my CD is given air time, or when we book yet another performance of “Life! Love! Song! A Visit with Gena Branscombe.”

Just when I need a pick-me-up, there is Julie on the phone checking to see how the Gena project is going. Ever sympathetic and understanding, she reminds me that I have so much to be thankful for……sincerely good and cherished friends, performing music of a woman composer whose heartfelt compositions speak to me and thus I can give that to the audience and, I have made a difference in the music world at large.

Trite as the words, “thank you for all you have done for me” may sound, they will have to suffice for you know that you deeply touch my heart.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Gena Branscombe's Life in Pictures

As I have written my blog entries, I realized recently that more has been said about my Gena Branscombe project than about Gena Branscombe the person.

When I perform my lecture recital, “Gena Branscombe: Her Life in Poetry & Song” after singing the opening song, I begin speaking with the statement,

“Gena Branscombe born Picton, Ontario, November 4, 1881 died New York City July 1977. Daughter, woman, wife, working mother with four daughters, pianist, accompanist, composer, conductor; founder, conductor, fund raiser and organizer for over twenty years of her women’s chorus The Branscombe Choral, leader of women holding executive offices in such organizations as the National League of American Pen Women, General Federation of Women’s Clubs, National Federation of Music Clubs, Society of American Women Composers, Altrusa International and more…..oh, and did I mention, she was the mother of four?”

Here in pictures is Gena’s life with a little commentary. I trust this will explain my fascination and dedication with this woman composer from one hundred years ago.

Gena Branscombe and her mother, Sara Alison Branscombe. The photo was taken in Picton, Ontario, Canada where Gena was born. Sara Branscombe was a poet and newspaper woman. Throughout her composing years, Gena set many of her mother's poems.....quite successfully!

Portraits of a young Gena Branscombe. Unfortunately there are no dates to these pictures yet look how gorgeous she was!

From the Summer of 1909 to June 1910 Gena along with her friend, Lillian Boulter, spent one year studying piano and composition in Berlin, Germany. During that time she had the honor of studying with the real Englebert Humperdinck. This picture was taken near his home. Imagine a woman traveling alone.....100 years ago. What spirit and what an inspiration!

The National League of American Pen Women's composers. Gena is in the back row, second from the right. Mrs Amy Beach is in the front row, second from the left. All the composers autographed this photo. These were the famous women composers of the early 20th century.

John Ferguson Tenney, Gena's husband. Originally from Methuen, MA, he was a lawyer. Gena and John met in Walla Walla, Washington where she was on the faculty of Whitman Conservatory. They were married in Picton, Ontario, August 1910. He insisted they live in New York City to further Gena's career. He was a dedicated husband and father babysitting his daughters so his wife could compose.

Gena Branscombe with her eldest daughter, Gena Tenney. Both mother and daughter were musicians. Gena Tenney went on to major in music at Barnard College, studied at the Royal Conservatory of Music in London and returned to New York City where she was head of the Music Department at Barnard.

Gena Branscombe with her husband John Ferguson Tenney, his parents and their three daughters.

Gena's daughters Vivian, Beatrice and Gena Tenney.

Spring concerts for the Branscombe Choral were performed at Town Hall in New York City. This photo is from 1949.

The Branscombe Choral performing Christmas Carols for the communters at Grand Central Station. An annual event for the Choral.

Grandsons - Roger and Morgan Phenix
This picture taken in 1975 just two years before her death. She looks youthful at age 94.