Friday, June 8, 2012

A Celebration of Women in Music – Brattleboro, VT

Community music organizations are the backbone of classical music in the United States.  Whether you have a community concert series that presents well-known artists, a local symphony orchestra or chamber music society, area choruses or a grass roots group that presents concerts on a year-round basis, all are promoting and presenting great music to their local people. 

These organizations rely on their year-round residents to sell or purchase tickets, promote the concert by word-of-mouth, make brownies or hors d’oeuvres for the reception and then be in the audience.  Creative concert planning is a must for in this day and age, it is a struggle to find interested audience members and volunteers, yet somehow concert societies persevere and the reward is great. 

For forty-six years the Friendsof Music at Guilford (Vermont) has been presenting concerts to the public in the Brattleboro area.  Starting with an organ recital in a rural barn in the 1960’s, the Friends return annually to that same farmstead for a two-day festival.  Over the years they have promoted chamber music, choral and orchestral music, contemporary music with premieres of over 400 works by New England composers and art song recitals.  Keeping new ideas flowing, the Friends introduced out-reach concerts for senior citizens and an enrichment program for the area schools.  New to their presentations has been a house concert devoted entirely to women composers.

We received an invitation to perform on the Celebration of Women In Music concert held, Sunday, April 29, 2012.  What a lovely experience we had!  Opportunities such as the one with Friends of Music at Guildford bring into my life the chance to meet music enthusiasts whose personal warmth welcomes you with open arms. 

Administrative Director Joy Wallens-Penford was a delightfully organized person with whom we discussed all the details of travelling to Vermont.  She arranged a collaborative pianist with whom I would work and coordinated our stay in the beautiful home of Ede Thomas. 

When I travel to perform and have the pleasure of working with a new and unknown pianist, I know their level of musicianship will be fine.  Then, I met my new Vermont collaborator, Julia Bady.  Our initial meeting was over the phone where we discussed my Gena Branscombe repertoire.  Having e-mailed the music, we discussed specific details to each of the songs we were to perform and Julia agreed to play one of Gena’s solo piano works.  To say the least, Julia and I had an immediate connection. 

Frequently with traveling to a “gig” such as this one in Vermont and working with a new, unknown accompanist, you may have two hours of rehearsal time and then, you perform.  As professionals we have all done our homework, yet there is that certain and inexplicable quality of collaboration in music-making that can sometimes just happen or it needs to be worked on for hours.  With Julia, it just happened!

In mid-March Julia and I had two days of rehearsal when she made a trip to New York City for piano lessons.  Focused and detail oriented was our time together.  We worked through songs, stopping frequently to make corrections or discuss what we needed from one another.  Julia was prepared and had obviously practiced these difficult accompaniments.  When I arrived in Brattleboro, we had another 2 days of rehearsing in the performance space.  Again, we worked diligently, trusting one another’s musical instincts.  

Imagine my surprise when looking at the Celebration of Women in Music program to discover the other women composers represented on the program were Amy Cheney Beach and Mabel Wheeler Daniels, two of Gena Branscombe’s closest friends.  Also included was Connecticut based composer Elise Grant whose piano work, “Etude: Anger and Nostalgia” was performed.  This was creative programming at its best!

The concert and reception were held in the beautiful home of Lesley and Robert Cotter.  
Pianist William McKim played two pieces by Amy Beach and Elise Grant’s work.  “Three Observations for Three Woodwinds” composed by Mabel Wheeler Daniels was performed by Zeke Hecker, oboe, Karen Bressett, clarinet and Michelle Huddy, bassoon.  To finish the evening’s music-making, Julia and I performed the Branscombe songs.  What a joyful concert and one that proved the word composer is genderless for a reason!  

Let me also mention the food at the reception was wonderful.  Hors d’oeuvres and desserts, (especially the peanut butter chocolate bars),  were delicious, every last one of them.  My congratulations to the food committee… are definitely foodies! 

Thank you to Joy, Zeke, the Cotters and particularly Ede who made us feel as if we were family in her delightful home.  Special mention - Brava, Julia….you were a dream collaborator.  We now have enlarged our family of music friends to include all of you in Vermont.  Lucky are we!