Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Miss Peg McIntyre - Gem of a Teacher

In our adult lifetimes we can look back at the teachers whose classes we attended whether in grade school, high school or college then wonder how we ever learned anything.  Yet, amongst the multitude of teachers are gems, real gems of education who taught us their passion for the subject matter. 

In my education which includes a Master degree, I have had maybe five outstanding teachers and many fine teachers.  One of those outstanding gems of a teacher was my freshman in High School English teacher, Miss Peg McIntyre.  From her I learned the basics of our language and most important I learned to love Shakespeare.  We studied and read out loud “The Merchant of Venice” with Miss Mac reading Shylock.  She explained the meaning of each scene, the under currents of the plot, each character’s motivation and the history of the play’s era. 

Miss Mac advised her class to have a dictionary at hand when reading Shakespeare.  You must look up all the words you don't know and write the definitions in the margin so you will remember them!  To this day when I read Shakespeare, my dictionary is next to my book from which I am reading the play.

A few years ago when Al Pacino performed Shylock in the “Merchant of Venice” for Shakespeare in the Park, Dan and I were lucky enough to get tickets.  I had no time to review or even read the play in preparation.  As I sat in the outdoor theatre mesmerized by the performances at hand, I recalled the play as if I had studied it with Miss Mac just a short while ago.  The plot unfolded, I remembered much of the dialogue and the characters’ motivations and for me it was thrilling.

Having stayed in touch with Miss Mac over the years, I wrote her a note thanking her for being the gem of a teacher she was and telling her how the story and characters of “Merchant of Venice” had come alive because of her all these many years later.  Nearly two weeks went by when the phone rang, on the other end, Miss Mac saying how surprised she was to get my note.  We laughed, reminisced and then she explained something that took me by surprise.

My freshman year was the first time in her many years of teaching that she had taught “Merchant of Venice” and she was scared teaching it to us.  “Scared?,” I said and her response was, “I didn’t know what the hell I was doing.  I was afraid you students were not learning the play.”  I reassured her she had taught the play just fine! 

Miss Mac left my high school after my freshman year, went on to teach elsewhere and then married.  As I said, we stayed in touch.  Yearly I sent her a birthday card with a letter.  Two weeks ago I sent her a belated Happy Birthday card and in today’s mail I received a letter from her husband telling me she had died in July.  My heart sank….my gem of an English teacher who taught me to love Shakespeare is gone having left an indelible mark on me and I am sure many of her other students. 

Grace “Peg” McIntyre Lamb….a classy lady, always dressed in the most beautiful clothes, hair coiffed, nails manicured, with an Irish glint in her eye, a smile that lit up her classroom and a gem of a teacher.  Miss Mac, you will always be with me every time I attend a Shakespeare play because you knew how to teach…even if you didn’t know what the hell you were doing.  

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Hail Ye Tyme of Holiedayes

By the time Halloween arrived this year, we were bombarded with Christmas commercials on television, stores that were decorated for the Holiday and announcements were made as to how early retailers will be opening on Thanksgiving Day.   What happened to Halloween?  What happened to Thanksgiving?  What happened to Christmas shopping and advertising starting the day after Thanksgiving?  OK, I’m giving away my age and my disgust at the consumerism that has become our Holiday season. 

Writing this blog just two weeks before Thanksgiving, I remind myself of all the beautiful Christmas music that will flood the airwaves very shortly.  Gorgeous secular tunes that remind us of how wonderful it will be to be home for Christmas, twelve days of Christmas with birds, dancers and golden rings for gifts and then, reindeer with red noses set a mood of crisp winter air.  Carolers may appear at your door singing “O Holy Night” or “O Christmas Tree.”  Our memories recall these words and melodies easily, no matter what our age. 

In 1912, Arthur P. Schmidt published Gena Branscombe’s beautiful Christmas song, “Hail Ye Tyme of Holiedayes” with words by Kendall Banning.  Yes, old English words were used to give a feeling of merry old England’s celebration of Chrystmasse.  Recalling mistletoe, hollie, feastings, noblesses dressed in gold and songs of happiness, the poet and composer declare a tyme of peace, madrigals for halle and that Chrysten gentlefolke be reminded that Chryst will be with alle! 

A bright, cheerful song filled with Gena’s usual zest for life, “Hail Ye Tyme of Holiedayes” became her best selling song earning her more royalty money than any of her other published compositions.  Not only did she compose this as a solo song in a multitude of keys, her own Branscombe Choral performed it in an SSAA arrangement nearly every year on their Christmas concert at the Broadway Tabernacle Church.  They also performed it for the commuters at Grand Central Station and Pennsylvania Station in New York.  In addition, she arranged the song for SATB and men’s chorus.  She covered all the bases of publishing this work for every possible musical need!

This Christmas song is performed during my one-woman show where Gena recalls her beloved Branscombe Choral’s lush, rich sound from the alto section!

A beautiful Christmas anthem not in the standard Holiedaye repertoire today, yet a song that clearly expresses Miss Branscombe’s old fashioned beliefs. 

May all of our Holiedayes whether it be Chanukah, Christmas, Winter Solstice or Kwanza be filled  with peace, kindness, happiness and gentlefolke!

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Wider Than the Sky - Emily Dickinson International Society

Founded in 1988 and now celebrating its 25th year of existence, the Emily Dickinson International Society (EDIS) encourages the continuing study of our great poet's life and works.

Their presence is felt in local chapters worldwide, through continued publication of scholarly papers published in journals, sponsoring international conferences and awarding scholarships to promote the continued study of Emily's impact not only in the literary world but on the world stage. 

The University of Maryland at College Park hosted this year's international conference from August 8-11th.  A gathering of Emily scholars celebrated "Emily Dickinson, World Citizen"  with research papers, panel discussions, creative presentations and performances by a variety of actors and musicians. 

 To fit into an evening of Emily Dickinson musical performances, Barbara Dana trimmed "Wider Than the Sky" to 30 minutes highlighting scenes from the show.  Again, we had the lovely Elizabeth Morton as Emily and Martin Hennessy playing piano. Jamie Smithson and Laurie McCants joined us to create several characters in Emily's life. 

Having an audience filled with Emily Dickinson scholars and afficianados could be a bit daunting.  Yet, they were attentive and drawn into the story and show Barbara and I have developed.  What a pleasure it was to bring a new facet of Emily to the Emily Dickinson International Society conference.

"Wider Than the Sky", as I've said several times, continues to be a work in progress and a journey ever so worth the process!

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Emily Dickinson - The Next Chapter

"I Told Myself to Sing" is now titled "Wider Than The Sky".  Powerful new avenues have come to Barbara Dana's and my dream of a play with music.  With each revision the show gets stronger and deeper.  Emily Dickinson's spirit and spunk sparkle with intensity and purpose.


On Friday evening June 7th, Hudson Stage Company in Croton-on-Hudson sponsored our staged reading of "Wider Than The Sky".  The newest version of Barbara's brilliant script inspired all of us to new levels of performance.  With songs and music that were further adapted to fit the flow of Emily's journey of accepting her own death, the show was an emotional success for the actors and audience members alike.

We welcomed Susannah Jones and Morgan Auld to the cast who found voices for multiples of characters who enter Emily's life.  Elizabeth Morton as Emily delved into the poet's soul with elegance.   Again, Martin Hennessy and I offered our musical and dramatic talents.

Also, new to this reading was our director, Anthony Arkin.  A veteran actor and film director, Anthony brought great insights to the show, to our characters and the overall shape of the story. 

Thank you to Hudson StageCompany, Denise Bessette, Dan Foster and Olivia Sklar for making this performance possible, for providing dinner between the rehearsal and performance and for your dedicated audience who attended. 

Emily Dickinson has taken us on an ever evolving dramatic journey.  Next stop on our staged readings calendar was a performance for the Emily Dickinson International Society's conference in College Park, MD.  As I have said before, "Wider Than the Sky" is a work in progress.  Emily Dickinson's inspiring life and poetry cheer us on. 

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

People Living Through Cancer

Giving of your musical talent for an organization that has been your support group through life-threatening  health issues is a gift of gratitude and a way of paying forward for the people who will need assistance in the future.  This describes my friend, tenor Alex Charles Klebenow, who has organized, produced and performed three concerts benefitting People Living Through Cancer (PLTC) in Albuquerque, New Mexico. 

 In 2007 Alex was diagnosed with cancer of the groin which metastasized to his spinal column and then his brain.  His fight to hold onto life was won with the help of wonderful doctors, family and friends.  Surviving is only part of cancer recovery.  A patient needs emotional support and a secure place to share as well as express their anger, frustration and issues related to cancer.  Alex found such a place in PLTC and over the past five years since his recovery, he has attended group sessions regularly. 

Gathering his Albuquerque singer friends, accompanists and instrumentalists, he asks them to donate their time and talent.  Alex carefully chooses music that draws in an audience.  He programs  repertoire familiar and not so familiar, finds solo pieces for everyone, features a composer from the American song book, finds audience sing-along pieces, writes spoken dialogue for the performers, makes floral arrangements for the stage, arranges receptions to follow the concerts and then, it seems, "VOILA" he has a fund raising concert for PLTC.  Of course, we know it takes countless hours plus much more than what I've written to produce a concert of quality that will raise money.  With heartfelt dedication, Alex has given of himself without reservation to benefit and thank PLTC.
This year I was able to join Alex and his friends for their third annual PLTC concert.  Entitled, "I Shall Hold to Life" the music inspired survival and the gift of life for all.  What an honor it was to be able to perform with Alex, tenor Tom Crow, baritone Alfredo Beltran, bass Peter Tras, wonderful accompanists Daniel Cummings and Mackenzie Reed and instrumentalists Wake Patterson and Chuck Lucero.   Each of the performers was either a cancer survivor or has had cancer touch their lives in family members or friends. 

 Two well-attended concerts raised money for PLTC.   New cancer survivors in Albuquerque will have People Living Through Cancer support in part because of Alex's musical talent and generosity of creating these concerts.  Bravo, Alex.  Mary Ellen, Cindy and Leslie of the People Living Through Cancer organization, thank you for your work helping people through their cancer journey.  You are much needed in this world. 

New Mexico, Land of Enchantment, is indeed enchanting.  The beauty of the land can take your breath away.  The people... friendly, welcoming, warm and with a great sense of humor. 

Monday, August 5, 2013

Mother and Daughters

In previous posts I have often recounted how generous the Branscombe/Tenney/Phenix family has been to me.  My recent correspondence with Gena Branscombe's grandson, Roger, has included a request for a copy of an article she wrote in 1956.  Roger was sure it was in his family files and quickly sent me a pdf copy and along with that article were copies of programs of her music performed in Plymouth, Massachusetts.  My research and reading continues!

As always, Roger, in his search for the things I request, seems to find additional materials or pictures he wants to share with me.  These items take me by complete surprise.

This picture arrived in yesterday's e-mail.  The image took my breath away as it is the first picture of Gena Branscombe I have seen where she is smiling....truly smiling and her face is filled with love for her two daughters which she holds in her arms.  What a joyful picture to share with you my readers!

Thank you, Roger Phenix.  

Friday, July 19, 2013

Gena & the MacDowell Colony

Any person in the arts will tell you that the one thing they would like for their career is to spend uninterrupted time creating their specific area of the arts whether that be sculpting, painting, writing, photography, film, graphic arts, dance, or composing music.   Time for creativity and developing our talent is at a premium for all of us as life gets in the way with jobs that support us, family crises or a million other details.  We dream of a place and an extended period of time that will allow us to be in our art; to practice and to create. 

Such a place exists in the MacDowell Colony in Peterborough, New Hampshire.  When American composer and pianist, Edward MacDowell died in 1908, his wife, Marian, spent the next 48 years of her life creating and fundraising for his vision; an artist's retreat where people would enjoy the solitude of creative work at Hillcrest, a farm the couple had purchased in 1896.


Even before Edward's death, Marian transferred the deed of Hillcrest to the newly formed Edward MacDowell Association.  Among the Association's earliest financial supporters were former President

Grover Cleveland, Andrew Carnegie and J. Pierpont Morgan, each of whom believed that Edward MacDowell's dream should become a reality.


MacDowell did live to see the first Fellows arrive at the newly formed MacDowell Colony.  Among the original artists to be chosen in 1907 were Helen Mears, sculptor, and her sister, Mary Mears, a writer.  

Marian MacDowell's determination and leadership to champion the Colony and to assure its financial stability became her life's work.  She returned to the concert stage giving lecture recitals of her husband's piano works thus raising funds for the continuation of his vision. According to Marian the most consistent financial support came from Women's Clubs, the National Federation of Music Clubs and professional music fraternities such as Alpha Chi Omega, Delta Omicron, and my own, Sigma Alpha Iota.  SAI, in 1916, provided the funds to build one of the artist cottages, known as "Pan's Cottage." 
Initially 32 individual studios were built where artists spent their time working.  Breakfast and dinner are served in the main dining room and the artists sleep in the residential houses.  Residencies are from two weeks up to eight weeks.  Room and board are free. 

An outgrowth of the MacDowell Colony was the creation of local MacDowell Clubs across the country.  Not only did these clubs contribute sizeable donations to the Colony, they were a leading force in their local arts' scenes.  As well, MacDowell Choruses performed and produced concerts in their communities.  Many of these clubs and choruses still exist today.

Among some of the famous people who have spent time at the Colony are Leonard Bernstein, Thornton Wilder, Aaron Copland, James Baldwin, Alice Walker and Meredith Monk.  The MacDowell Colony focus is not about the famous people who come to work, it is about artists from all areas of the creative process, famous or not. 

Life-long affiliations with professional groups were the building block of Gena Branscombe's career.  Her dedication and personal contributions to organizations was commendable.  Her association with MacDowell Clubs, chorus and Colony began as early as 1914 when her "Festival March" was performed at the MacDowell Festival in Peterborough, New Hampshire.  Edward MacDowell and Gena were both published by Arthur P. Schmidt and their works were performed on the same concerts for the American Composer's Festival.
In 1922 Gena and her family moved to Mountain Lakes, NJ (see my blog of  July 2, 2012) and there she became the conductor of the local MacDowell Choral Club.  Even after returning to New York City, two years later, she maintained her leadership of the chorus commuting each week for rehearsals and then performances.  The chorus performed many of her compositions including "The Dancer of Fjaard," "Youth of the World," "Maples" and several choral arrangements.  Once World War II broke out, gas rationing forced her to resign her conducting of this group.  For over 15 years she shared her music and talents with the MacDowell Club and Chorus of Mountain Lakes!

In July 1945, The New Jersey Federation of Women's Clubs sponsored Gena's one-month stay at the MacDowell Colony.  A cherished dream to spend one uninterrupted month composing became a reality!  Her goals were to prepare her choral work "Coventry's Choir" for publication.  She completed work on the proofs of her songs, "Blow Softly, Maple Leaves" and "Annie Laurie" sending them off to her publishers.  She continued work on "Ancient Suite" and composed a song for a poem by one of her fellow colonists, Alfred Kreymborg.  The song was performed for the entire group of colonists.  Gena also worked on arrangements of choral works for her own Branscombe Choral.  A productive month, indeed! 

Her fellow colonists that July included Jean Bothwell, composers Lukas Foss and Louise Talma, Larry Coleman and Alfred Labunski. 

Eleven years later in October 1956, Gena returned to the MacDowell Colony for another month of intensive composing.   This time her studio was the Sprague-Smith Studio. 
Her compositional output included work on "Thou Shalt Not Be Afraid," an orchestral suite "French Dances," and a set of choral dance suites with instrumental ensemble, "The Rigaudon of Old Provence" and "The Passepied of Brittany."    She wrote her own poetry for the choral dance suites.  Gena began work on the text for a Navy Hymn, "Arms That Have Sheltered Us" which she finished after returning home.

Her colleagues at the Colony this time were again Louise Talma, then, Ernest Toch, John LaMontaigne, Norman Vogel and Vladimir Ussachevsky. 

In the January 1957 issue of the National Federation of Music Clubs magazine was an article authored by Gena. She wrote of the 50th anniversary of the Colony and the 100th anniversary of the birth of its founder, Mrs. Marian MacDowell.  Depicting in great detail the beauty of the Colony and its 400+ acres, she also portrayed her interactions with her fellow colonists and the work each of them were able to accomplish in the solitude of Hillcrest!

My own association with the MacDowell Colony was 50 years after Gena's published article.  In March 2007 Martin and I were invited to participate in a concert at the Library of Congress which celebrated the 100th Anniversary of the MacDowell Colony and the women composers of the Colony.  Martin and I represented Gena Branscombe's music.  Works by Louise Talma were performed by violinist, Katie Lansdale and her pianist, Andrew Hardley.  Piano Duo Sharon Johnson and Nancy Davis played Louise Talma's, "Four Handed Fun."  Elizabeth Brown's "Seawatch" was performed by Katie Lansdale.  Organized by Sarah Dorsey and Robin Rausch, the concert highlighted the importance of the Colony, its support of composers --- women composers.  Outside of the concert hall were displays of each composers' music held at the Library of Congress.

Three women composers, all MacDowell Colony Fellows, whose music echoed in the hallowed concert hall of the Library of Congress.  Their spirits reigned forth with thanks to the Colony for giving them time to create and develop their talent in solitude, just as Edward MacDowell had dreamed!

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Poets - All

With 150 art songs in her compositional output, Gena Branscombe set the words of famous and not-so-famous poets to music.  Her mother's poetry became song and her own poems set to music were dedicated to her mother and her daughters. 

One often wonders why a specific poem catches the attention of a composer.  When reading a poem that touches their inner feelings, does a melody form in their mind?  Maybe the poet approached the composer with their own works suggesting a collaboration.
Whatever Gena Branscombe felt about the poems she set, her songs beautifully imbue the words with melody, complex harmony and quivering emotion that grasps not only the performers but the audience as well.  The poets must have been pleased.
As a young ambitious music student, Canadian Katherine Hale (1878-1956) foresaw herself on the operatic stage with a career that took her around the world to perform in all the major opera houses.  Her singing career transformed to a literary career.  Miss Hale authored travel books, critiques, prose and poems.  Knowing of Canadian/American Gena Branscombe, Katherine Hale travelled to New York City to interview the composer.  During their conversation Katherine suggested the two women collaborate on a song based on her poem, "In the Trenches."  The title of the song became "Dear Lad O'Mine" and was published in 1915.  The song appears on my CD.   Proceeds from the sale of the sheet music went to the Canadian Red Cross World War I effort.  All was not happiness in this partnership as Miss Branscombe wrote to her publisher, Arthur Schmidt, that she was not particularly interested in composing this song.  She had other things to attend to!

Six poems of writer Laurence Hope (1865-1904) were set to music by Gena.  In the real world Laurence Hope was born Adela Florence Cory.  Easier to get your poems published using a man's name!  At the age of 16 she travelled from Great Britain to Lahore, India joining her father who was editor of the Military Gazette.  She married Colonel Malcolm Hassels Nicolson who was twice her age. 

Much of her poetry is infused with her life experience of residing in India.  Gena must have come across the Laurence Hope 1902 collection, India's Love Lyrics, for she set two of the poems.  I perform "Starlight" in my one-woman show where the song is positioned during a time of uncertainty in Miss Branscombe's life.  The music and poetry combine to convey  imagery of the heavenly stars, sadness, a sense of despair and unrequited love.
In 1906 Gena Branscombe set Richard Le Gallienne's (1866-1947) poem, "Sleep, Then, Ah, Sleep."  A dark, ruminating poem about the death of a loved one.  LeGallienne's first wife, Mildred, died in 1894 and I wonder if these words were an expression of his loss.  The musical setting is slow, with dissonant harmonies and outbursts of anger.  How could a composer only 25 years old comprehend and compose a work permeated with the finality of death?  Richard Le Gallienne's daughter is the famous American actor, Eva Le Gallienne.

Joining forces in 1923 for a New York State Federation of Women's Clubs pageant showcasing the progress women had made in the past 50 years, poet Louise Driscoll (1875-1957) and Gena wrote "Spirit of Motherhood."  Performed as a choral work for the pageant, it was also performed frequently by the Branscombe Choral.  In 1934 Gena arranged and published the piece for solo voice.  The words and music are, in today's world, a sentimental tribute to the most difficult job in the world - motherhood.

Miss Driscoll was born in Poughkeepsie, NY.  Though her poems have not been set in a collection for publication,  she contributed her poems to some of the best magazines.  "Metal Checks", an early poem, received a $100 prize offered by "Poetry: A Magazine of Verse."
The poetry of Arthur Stringer (1870-1954) and Kendall Banning (1879-1944) was a mainstay of numerous of Miss Branscombe's vocal compositions.  Fellow Canadian and neighbor of Miss Branscombe and her family, Arthur Stringer provided witty and humorous poems for musical settings.  Poet and composer combined forces during World War II to publish the song "Blow Softly Maple Leaves" honoring their Canadian troops. 

Kendall Banning's poems became two of Gena's four song cycles.  Songs of the Unafraid and The Sun Dial are poems of wide open spaces, wandering, travel, adventure and the unknown.  Miss Branscombe's music has an expansiveness to it with sweeping accompaniments that challenge the pianist.  The singer rides above the piano with melody that expresses the deepest part of the poetry.  Banning's Christmas poem, "Hail Ye Tyme of Holiedayes" became one of Gena's most famous and financially productive pieces.  She set the poem for women's, men's and four-part chorus and solo voice.

Kendall Banning worked in the literary circles of New York City.  His own poems and prose were written about and described in New York Times' articles.  He won awards for his writing.  There seem to be no pictures readily available of him yet his impact on the world of writing was great.  It is unknown if he and Miss Branscombe knew one another.

Settings of Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning's poetry are part of the reason I found Gena Branscombe's music.  As I have said in previous blog posts, I found her song cycle, Love in a Life with poetry from Elizabeth's Sonnets from the Portuguese.  I recorded these six songs and in my opinion, her setting of "How do I Love Thee?  Let me Count the Ways" is plush with the understanding of young blossoming naive love.  She pours forth such emotion in the complex harmonic and rhythmic language to express the depth of the text. 

Robert Browning's poem "Serenade" from his collection In a Gondola was the first song I learned and performed of Miss Branscombe's.  She set it with a gentle, enticing opening line inviting the true love in, then moves forward with urgency the desire for a life-long love.  One of her most complicated songs is Robert's "The Best is Yet to Be" where Gena went full force with a motion filled and demanding accompaniment.  The singer rides above that foundation declaring life's challenges and expectations, faith and understanding; all the while assuring us that growing old with the one you love is not to be feared.  In my words, she nailed this piece!

Robert and Elizabeth Browning's journey is one of the greatest love stories in all of the literary world.  Brought together by their admiration for one another's poetry, Elizabeth's father nearly kept her a recluse because of health issues.  With great strength she and Robert arranged to meet one another in late evening outside her house, elope and leave England.  She was never to see her father again.  Yet with their determination to be together for life, Robert and Elizabeth gifted the world extraordinary poetry that will live on for centuries to come.

With a rippling, complicated accompaniment that surges forth to accept the challenges and responsibilities of life, Gena composed what I call her own "personal national anthem" with poetry by Josephine Hancock Logan (1862-1943).  "I Shall Hold to Life" published in 1934 finds Miss Branscombe's comprehension of the words to be exactly what she has experienced in her own life.  She acknowledges the challenges of being a leader of women, strives to fulfill her dreams while eager hearts lean upon her for guidance.  It is a joy to perform this song in my show.  Mrs. Logan was a poet, author and philanthropist.  She founded and was president of the Society for Sanity in Art.  She and her husband created the Logan Medal of Arts prize in 1907 and they were associated with the Art Institute of Chicago. 

Among other poets she set are Katherine Tynan, Anna Moody, Margaret Widdemer, Eichendorff, Harry Kemp, SSU-K'UNG T'U, Li Po,K'AO-SHIH(three poets from the Age of Enlightenment in China), Mary Alice Ogden, Houseman,Alfred Kreymborg, Paris Nesbit K.C., Elizabeth Vera Loeb and more.

Emotions from love to rage, introspection to outburst, self doubt to confidence and always faith in God, Gena Branscombe found a way to set words to music. Her understanding of word painting through harmony, rhythm and melody are attributes young composers of today should study. The human voice is given flowing lines supported by colorful and complex piano accompaniments. From lullabies to lengthy songs of dramatic proportion, she wrote it all. Wed together all these components and you have Gena Branscombe's 150 art songs!

Monday, April 22, 2013

The Elusive Mr. Schmidt

The Elusive Arthur P. Schmidt
Gena Branscombe's music publishers were numerous and among them was Arthur P. Schmidt of Boston, Massachusetts.   In  my January 2011 blog entry, I wrote the following paragraphs about him.....

"German born Arthur Schmidt (1846-1921) was a trailblazer for American composers and in particular American women composers.  In my mind and opinion he broke down barriers, sought out potential that could be developed into the brightest and best.  He proved that the word composer had no gender bias to it….a composer is a composer whether man or woman! 

What I have found most interesting about Mr. Schmidt is the personal interest he took in his composers.  At the Library of Congress in Washington, DC is the entirety of his business records.  There are ledger books for sales of each composer’s works, royalties paid, copyright filings, renewals and expirations, inventory listings, files with each individual’s contracts, business documents, pictures of composers, their children, families and concerts where they performed, correspondence from each composer immaculately filed by year, and original scores with the copies of each piece of music the company published.  This collection is the history of one of our country’s leading music publishers.

All totaled, Arthur P. Schmidt Music Publisher printed and sold 76 different compositions of Gena Branscombe’s."

After reading the above, one could easily question "elusive"?  Arthur Schmidt, elusive?  Not really, yet amidst all of his business papers, there was not one photograph of Mr. Schmidt.  An online search brought forth no photos of this important business man from the world of music publishing.

 Enter into my life, Linda Johnson from the state of Washington.  She found my website and blog where I had written about Mr. Schmidt, her great grandfather.  Linda wrote me an e-mail and offered to send me a photo of an elusive music publisher from the early 20th century!  Now, the much wanted image of Mr. Schmidt makes him no longer elusive!   Thank you Linda and we will have great discussions in the near future. 

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Leaders of Women

In the early 20th century two women stood out as leaders of women composers, promoters of American music and in particular American women composers.  These women were friends and colleagues  ... Mrs. Amy Beach and Gena Branscombe.  Their intersecting lives left an indelible mark on American music and today's women composers benefit from the paths these two laid down for them. 

Mrs. Amy Beach was born Amy Marcy Cheney in Henniker, New Hampshire in 1867 and became Mrs. H.H.A. Beach in 1885 when at the age of 18 she married the famous physician, Henry Harris Aubrey Beach.  She was a child prodigy on the piano making her concert debut at the age of 16 in Boston. 

Imagine my surprise when I first met Gena Tenney Phenix in 2000 and asked her if during her childhood had she ever met Mrs. Beach?  Her response was, "Oh, you mean Aunt Amy?  No, I do not remember meeting her though I know she was in our home when we lived on West 82nd Street."  Aunt Amy? ... this famous woman composer and performer was called Aunt Amy? 

Little did I know that during her lifetime as a mentor to women composers and performers, Mrs. Beach became known as " Aunt Amy" for she was their principal role model, a caretaker, pathfinder and advocate.   Her "nieces" were members of the Society of American Women Composers, National Federation of Music Clubs and the National League of American Pen Women.

Gena Branscombe and Amy Beach had personal lives that were quite dissimilar.  Gena was a mother with four daughters whose musical career was woven into the fabric of her family life.  She composed while her husband took the girls to Central Park.  Gena's husband, John Ferguson Tenney, was a strong supporter of his wife's musical  profession.  Within her career as a pianist and composer, she became a conductor of choruses. 

Amy Beach was a concert pianist and composer.  When she married Dr. Beach, her husband insisted she not accept payment for her recitals and she even curtailed her performing appearances.  She was encouraged to compose though no formal composition lessons were taken.  Upon her husband's death in 1910, Mrs. Beach's career blossomed with travel to Europe and across the United States concertizing and composing. 

Professionally these two women composers and performers were linked by their leadership roles and memberships in the National League of American Pen Women, the Society of American Women Composers, the National Federation of Music Clubs and their publisher, Mr. Arthur P. Schmidt of Boston, MA.  Their friendship and musical goals grew out of these associations. 

In the early 1920's both Mrs. Beach and Gena became members of the National League of American Pen Women.  A Composers' Unit was organized and Mrs. Beach was elected chair.  This was the first group of women composers linked to a major organization in the United States.  Women composers were considered second rate musical citizens and their determination to move forward to change that image is commendable.  The NLAPW made it possible for these women composers of the day to support one another and attend performances of their works. 

Among the other women composers who joined the NLAPW were Pearl Curran, Mary Turner Salter, Lily Strickland, Harriet Ware and Mary Howe.  Their compositions were performed at the League's meetings in late April 1924.  The Music Unit later presented the American Women Composers First Festival of Music at the Women's City Club of Washington, DC. 

Because of their active involvement and leadership for the NLAPW and their individual talents, both Gena and Amy were honored as outstanding members.   In 1929 the NLAPW awarded Miss Branscombe their National Best Composition of the Year prize for her oratorio Pilgrims of Destiny and in 1934 Mrs. Beach was presented  with a medal for her work in music.

As an outgrowth of the NLAPW's Composer Unit, Amy Beach, Gena and 18 other women founded the Society of American Women Composers.  Mrs. Beach proclaimed "This Society may come to mean much in the future of American music, if we go about the work in the right way."  In October 1925, Mrs. Beach was elected President.  Gena succeeded her as President in 1928.  Setting high membership standards, new women composers were recommended based on their personal and professional qualifications.  Once a majority approval was made by the Board, an invitation for membership would be granted.  Concerts were presented at various venues in New York City including Chickering Hall and Steinway Hall.  The Society disbanded in 1932, yet during its seven short years of existence, the members' music was heard and reviews in the papers kept them in the forefront of the music world. 

The Daughters of the American Revolution  figured into both Amy Beach and Gena's professional lives.  In 1927 the New Netherlands chapter of the DAR purchased a place for Gena's  name to be perpetually inscribed in the new Constitution Hall’s Honor Roll in Washington, DC.  Her oratorio Pilgrims of Destiny had won her this most prestigious honor.    Amy Beach was proposed for membership in 1926 by the Hillsborough, NH chapter. 
What drew these two women even closer was their publisher, Mr. Arthur Schmidt of Boston, MA.   The Library of Congress houses the entire Schmidt collection of letters, business files and photographs.  Letters from Gena and Amy to their publisher are held in this collection.  They mention one another frequently in their correspondence to him.  They requested complimentary copies of their songs or choral pieces to be sent to the same singer or conductor.  One young conductor of the time was a recipient of both women's choral works.....the young Robert Shaw.   To be published by Mr. Schmidt was an honor and he took great pride in promoting women composers of the day. 
Founded in 1898, the National Federation of Music Clubs was and continues to be a leading organization in the promotion of musical and cultural experiences in communities through sponsorship of concerts and educational programs. 

Mrs. Beach composed choral works for the women's choruses of the NFMC.  Her piano concerts were sponsored by local chapters and she attended meetings of those chapters.  When at these gatherings she mentored and guided young women composers and performers.   She presented piano recitals on the national level at NFMC annual conventions.  Her renown as a dedicated and loyal member is exemplified when NFMC choruses and clubs changed their  names to the Beach Choral Society or the Beach Music Club.  In addition, Amy won awards for her music compositions.

Gena Branscombe was also an active, dedicated member of the NFMC.  She conducted women's choruses for local chapters across the country.  Miss Branscombe was Chairman of American Music for the New York State Federation of Music Clubs and eventually a member of the Board on the state level.  Her leadership role was that of conductor, organizer and guest speaker.  The NFMC honored her by sponsoring the first complete performance of her oratorio, Pilgrims of Destiny in Plymouth, MA.

Memberships in clubs and being the recipient of awards from those clubs does not a leader make.  Yet, I believe that Mrs. Amy Beach and Miss Gena Branscombe left their marks on each of the women's clubs of their day.  By their dedication to the promotion of American women composers, they changed the course of music history and its women.  They attended meetings, upheld their high musical standards, created performance opportunities for themselves and fellow members.  They sought out women on the local level to sing in choruses, play music for one another at club meetings and encouraged those local members to be active in their own communities.  They were leaders by example and their  own music.

In their day, women composers' music was heard at women's clubs and rarely on the main stages of American performance spaces.  Within their world, they strove to make a better place for women composers and performers.  In my opinion, their work and dedication has made a difference for us all.