Monday, November 17, 2014

Musical America

Musical America – the mention of that publication to any classical musician means the holy grail of the international performing arts scene.   When the annual directory appears at the beginning of the year, artists from all avenues of the performing arts rush to see what artist management company their friends and colleagues may have, who ran ads promoting upcoming performances, what concert series are presenting for their upcoming season, what new music festivals listed by state and country are available, what music schools have run ads and much, much more.  It is the Holy Grail!

Today’s editions of the directory feature “Musician of the Year” photos and an article about that person.  It’s an honor to be chosen for the cover of Musical America.  Recent honorees have included singer/actor Audra McDonald and conductor Gustavo Dudamel. 

October 8, 1898 marked the debut of Musical America published by its founder, John Christian Freund.  The original format was a weekly newspaper for the classical music aficionados featuring articles about conductors, singers, composers, concerts being presented and interviews with various artists.  Singers, teachers and instrumentalists would place ads in the magazine to promote upcoming concerts, their availability for work or their fame as a guru to the great musicians of the day. 

Reaching the one-year mark for the publication, Mr. Freund took a six year hiatus from the publishing of Musical America and then returned to publishing the weekly newspaper for distribution in 1905.  For 25 years musicians, audience members and fans of classical music purchased the paper to stay up-to-date on what was happening in concert halls and to read about the featured artist in the informative articles. 

By 1921, John Freund began publishing the Guide which was the forerunner of the present day directory. 

Occasionally old issues of the Musical America newspaper come up for sale on E-bay or one page of the publication featuring an artist’s interview with the paper will be sold.  One such page came up for sale featuring Felix Borowski, who taught music theory and composition at the Chicago Musical College, and who was Gena Branscombe’s teacher.  He was featured in an interview in the June 29, 1912 edition.   Mr. Borowski was quoted as saying the future of American music had to be cultivated in the home.  Music was to be performed on the local level not necessarily in concert halls but in private playing the great masterworks.  Maybe this would happen in the era of the article and until after World War II, yet sadly, I think this rarely happens now.  His perception was right….music education begins at home.

In the March 28, 1910 edition of the newspaper, Gena Branscombe was featured and a review written about a concert of her works in Berlin.  Soprano Belle Forbes performed songs that, “are original and of melodic and dramatic effect.”  Also presented was a violin with piano accompaniment piece.  What a wonderful boost to her career as she was about to conclude her one year study with Englebert Humperdinck in Germany and return to the United States to continue composing and performing.

The second time Gena was featured in Musical America was in November 1920 when the publication praised the composer for the choral arrangements she had written for Arthur P Schmidt, music publisher.  In a philosophical way Miss Branscombe explained to the interviewer her own musical beliefs:

“I believe that a beautiful snatch of melody, even if it happens to be a hymn-tune, may be a richer gift to the world than a learned symphony.  Music is the most potent force making for spiritual liberation.  The musician holds a trust so sacred that he cannot give expression to the more sinister emotions without in some measure betraying it.  In my younger days I reveled in gore like most beginners in art.  Then a deep grief came to me, and I learned that I could take no lasting satisfaction in work which failed to carry a reminder of the highest possible conception of the destiny of the human race.”

Musical America continues to promote musicians worldwide.  Now on the internet, on a weekly basis there are interviews and articles about artists, orchestras, opera companies, and concert halls around the world.  Our holy grail continues to inspire.  

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

A Lesson Learned

How many people, no matter their career, could honestly say, “In a long working life, there are too many heartwarming experiences to list one.”?  So frequently we complain about all the events and happenings in our lives and work that are wrong, yet if we flip that attitude towards looking at what wonderful things have happened to us, we will find many that bring a smile to our face.

In a recent acquisition from an e-bay auction, I purchased a note card, maybe a partial letter that Gena Branscombe wrote.  From the dates she cites, I gather this was written post 1960 when she would have been in her 80’s.

Reflecting on highlights of her musical career she points out conducting the New York City performances with her own Branscombe Chorale.  Then Miss Branscombe goes on to mention the chorus of 1000 voices singing under her direction in Atlantic City in 1941, a Delta Omicron performance of her “Coventry’s Choir” in 1959 and the Royal Canadian National Band playing her Navy song, “Arms that Have Sheltered Us.”  These professional events brought great joy to her and they are only four events that occurred in a career that spanned nearly 80 years. 

We all could take home a lesson from Miss Branscombe’s writing of this note.  Each day step back and look at your life, whether professional or personal, then find a highlight that warms your heart and brings a smile to your day.  Thanks for the life lesson, Miss Branscombe. 

Friday, July 18, 2014

Coventry's Choir

South Devonshire, England, the village of Branscombe……that’s where Gena Branscombe’s paternal family heritage began.  Through her musical compositions and life style, she honored her British roots. 

“Tea, we must have tea,” a line from my one-woman show probably best describes how Miss Branscombe lived her life.  Tea and small sandwiches were served when one had company, making conversation quite civilized!  Laurine Elkins Marlow, who wrote her dissertation on Gena Branscombe, told me that each time she visited the composer they would work together for a short while, then tea was served after which they returned to work.  Laurine has in her possession the tea cup that was officially hers during those working sessions.

“Coventry’s Choir,” a choral work, was composed amidst the bombings of England during World War II.  Coventry Cathedral, known as St. Michael’s, located in the West Midlands of England was destroyed by the Luftwaffe on November 14, 1940.  As church members emerged from their damaged homes, they gathered near the ruins of their church where only the great Gothic tower remained standing.  Through their tears and disbelief, they sang.  There was no doubt that rebuilding St. Michael’s was an act of faith and healing for the future.

Taking up the cause of the reconstruction of St. Michael’s, Gena Branscombe encouraged those around her to become deeply involved.  She wrote “Coventry’s Choir” in 1944 and dedicated the piece to her Branscombe Choral which was celebrating its Tenth Anniversary.  With words penned by Violet B. Alvarez, the story of the Cathedral from its 12th century beginnings until the 1940s is sung by the four part women’s chorus and soprano soloist.

The Branscombe Choral members who were actively singing during World War II and who I have had the pleasure to meet, have told me their beloved conductor encouraged them to donate money to the rebuilding of the Cathedral.  She not only asked them to make donations but suggested that since they were professional working women, they should sacrifice going out to lunch at least twice a week and give that money to the Cathedral’s reconstruction fund!  Encouragement with a plan…..leave it to Miss Branscombe!

“Coventry’s Choir” was sung frequently by the Branscombe Choral at their Town Hall concerts and performed by the Simmons College Glee Club.  In 1957 Miss Branscombe visited Coventry, England where she met the Lord Mayor and Alderman and arranged a performance of the work at St. Michael’s.  A dream comes true for someone who took up the cause of rebuilding this great church. 

Former Branscombe Choral member and my friend, Agnes Conway, recently sent me her autographed copy of “Coventry’s Choir.”  Agnes had the honor of performing this work at the 1953 Branscombe Choral’s Town Hall concert.  Thank you, Agnes for entrusting me with this piece of music.

Here's a hyperlink to St. Michael's Church which will give you additional information.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

More Pictures

A message on my answering machine last week from Marguerite (Peggie) Biscaye Oury told me she had found three more pictures of the Branscombe Choral and one picture of Gena Branscombe standing on a dock waving goodbye.  Would I like to have these pictures to add to the items she gave in 2012?  Yes, of course, was my answer.

Peggie’s brother, Pierre had called me in November 2011 and recounted his story of knowing Gena Branscombe and her family.  His fond memories of his mother and two aunts being long-time members of the Branscombe Choral were touching.  He even has the conductor’s baton that Miss Branscombe gave him.  See my blog posting of May 2012. 

I called Pierre’s sister, Peggie, and we also had a lengthy phone conversation.  She told me she had Branscombe Choral pictures, autographed sheet music and a few other items.  She graciously sent these items to me for safe keeping and I assured her all these treasured possessions would be given to the New York Library for the Performing Arts.  Now there are four additional photos to be added to the Biscaye/Oury folder!

A short e-mail exchange with Gena Branscombe’s grandson, Roger Phenix, and the photo of her waving goodbye is probably from the 1930’s when she and her daughter, Gena, sailed to England.  The photo of the Branscombe Choral in front of a tapestry with Gena accepting flowers from two little girls is from a Spring concert in Town Hall.   The other two photos of the Choral are undated and were taken at Christmas time.  Venue is unknown. 

Four more pieces of Gena Branscombe history are to be given to the library.  What treasures!

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

A Trip Down Memory Lane

Sitting in my closet are two plastic storage containers that hold the physical history of my Gena Branscombe project that began in 1999.  Manila folders hold my handwritten research notes from the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts where I found Gena’s original manuscripts, published works and Laurine Elkins Marlow’s dissertation.  Also in folders are copies of letters from Gena Branscombe’s family, my contract with Albany Records, copyright approval to record certain songs and also to print specific poems in the CD booklet, a fairly large  number of pictures, two 3-ring binders with copies of nearly all 150 of Gena’s songs, cards and letters from people who purchased my CD or attended one of our performances, magazine articles about Gena or myself, programs and publicity from performances of my one woman show and lecture recitals I have given.  In addition I found the original mock-ups of the publicity brochure I designed for “Life! Love! Song!  A Visit with Gena Branscombe” including the lace fabric I purchased to scan for the background of the brochure. 

Recently it came to me that it was time to weed out the excess paper in those boxes.  Out they came and I began the daunting decision making task of what to throw away.  In doing so I had quite the trip down memory lane.

A project such as the one I created about composer Gena Branscombe has many levels of creativity to it.  For me, the first was researching the life and music of a woman composer who was unknown to me.  What was it about her that intrigued me?  Her compelling life struck a chord in me and then I found her life’s experience infused into her songs.  I spent hours in the library, hours and hours which is an activity I never thought would be in my personal dictionary of interests!  Yet, I returned day after day which led me to the next step. 

Recording a CD of this woman’s music long forgotten in a library was my second goal.  Beautiful romantic songs with flowery poetry seemed to fit my voice and personality as if Gena had written them for me.  Recording was a new experience fraught with a reminder of needing to be patient, re-recording measures sometimes two at a time to get the perfect balance necessary.  The detailed work of listening to my own singing take after take was sometimes painful, then the decision making about what to splice together culminated in the release of my CD by Albany Records.  Quite an accomplishment!

Level number three came in the form of creating a one-woman show.  In past blog postings, I have written about all the people who helped me on this journey and to say the very least, these friends and colleagues were the best and most supportive team a person could dream of having. 

So as I held pieces of paper reminding me of the levels of creativity I put into the life and music of Gena Branscombe, I came to know there were far deeper realizations to a project such as mine.  I allowed myself to be vulnerable to a new aspect of a musical career that I had never imagined.  Focusing on opera, chamber music, oratorio, recitals and contemporary music had been my performance goals and through those avenues came Gena’s music.  A door opened and I chose to walk through it on to an unknown path. 

All my work researching, recording and writing was a full-time act of love.  Never had I been so busy and full of drive with the rewards being much more than I could have envisioned.  Entering my life was a cadre of people never possible to dream about.  Gena’s immediate family…her daughter Gena and two grandsons, Roger and Morgan Scott, her extended Branscombe family including a 94 year old nephew, great nieces and great nephews, members of the Branscombe Choral; nieces, nephews and friends of Branscombe Choral members, the great granddaughter of Gena’s publisher, Arthur P. Schmidt, Dr. Laurine Elkins-Marlow, poet Katherine Hale’s niece, and the list goes on.  The conversations with these wonderful people and the stories they told me about Miss Branscombe fill my heart.  There is no monetary reward that could possibly equal the joy of being part of creating this project.

  The Branscombe Choral 

More so, the life lessons of looking within to challenge what you perceive to be your talents then pushing yourself beyond those perceptions to find you are capable of giving even more.  Patience to know what you are creating has a purpose in your life and the world at large.  Life is not about making yourself or your music famous, it is about allowing your soul to find a place of peaceful expression in your work.  Living in the moment, breathing happiness into your life for you are working on a project you love that has an impact on the musical world though you may not comprehend how or why right now.  Being vulnerable is so hard for us all, yet when we put down our guard so much more will come to us because of the work we have accomplished. 

What does all of this mean?  Well, more than a CD of Branscombe songs or the one-woman show, this project has created new avenues for me.  I have become an advocate for women composers of Miss Branscombe’s era.  There are hundreds and hundreds of these composers whose music is seldom heard, maybe it is even forgotten, languishing in a library soon to be discovered.  Despite the adversity these women composers faced in their day, they set an example of strong will and determination for the sake of music.  Now it is my time to be their champion.

Being a part of women in music or women in the arts festivals where I present lectures or lecture recitals is another path where I have found colleagues putting forth other women composers.  We share our stories, the historical era, the intrinsic value of the music of the late 19th and early 20th century.  Much to my surprise I have been a mentor to other women who have discovered women composers and who wish to create their own project.  Mentoring….now there is another avenue never thought to be in my life’s story.  So much to be learned and so much to be shared.  
Would I change one moment of the work I have done to promote the music and life of Gena Branscombe?  Not one second!

The plastic containers are now lighter and less crammed with papers.  I threw out the multiples of programs and publicity as well as a few other non-essential copies of articles.  My own personal trip down memory lane is treasured, close to my heart and not possible to throw any of it away!

Monday, April 7, 2014

Dear Lad O'Mine

Just four days after the events of September 11, 2001, Martin and I had a recording session.  It was an arduous two hours as we were changing microphones, repositioning microphones as well as changing where I would stand.  Then we dealt with various other technical glitches that had to be fixed.  As the session drew to a close we had not recorded what had been planned for the day.  David Smith, our recording engineer, called up from the booth to suggest we record one more song before calling it a day.

Looking through our prepared songs, I chose the shortest one, “Dear Lad O’Mine.”  Martin found his copy, I positioned my sheet music on the music stand preparing to begin recording, when we heard David say from the booth, “oh, my.”  David had read the first line of the poetry, “War gods have descended, the world burns up in fine.”  Oh, my, indeed. 

Strong words, strong musical setting and an emotional connection to what had forever changed our city and world four days earlier gave us the strength to record the song in one take. 

To clarify the use of the word, “fine,” Webster’s Dictionary’s seventh usage of the word is “awful” used in the most intensive way possible. 

Canadian Poet Katherine Hale collaborated with Gena Branscombe on this song.  The two women donated the proceeds from the publication of this work to the Canadian Red Cross World War I effort.  In a letter to her publisher, Arthur Schmidt, Miss Branscombe stated she was not happy about working with Miss Hale. 

How true the words of the poem ring out in our world today.  War is war that starts with an evil act against innocent people.  Our dear soldiers are remembered every second they are parted from their loved ones, prayers are raised for their protection and we wish them a speedy, safe return home.   These soldiers are our cherished fathers, brothers, sisters, nephews, nieces, husbands, wives and friends who have given of themselves and their lives to protect us. 

Recently a copy of the original 1915 edition of the song came up for sale on Amazon.  It now has a home in my collection of Gena Branscombe's sheet music.

The poem:

War gods have descended
The world burns up in fine.
Warm your hands at the trenches fire, dear lad o’mine.
Sometime bullets cease at night,
Only songs are heard.
When you feel a phantom step
‘Twas my heart that stirred.
If you see a dreamy light,
‘Tis the Christ-Child’s eyes;
I believe he watches us,
Wonderful and wise.
Let me come to say goodnight,
Through the camplights shine;
Warm your hands at the trenches fire,
They still hold mine.
Dear lad, dear lad o’mine. 

(Reprinted with permission from Katherine Hale’s niece.)

Friday, April 4, 2014

Agnes Conway

In March 2008, Martin and I presented “Life! Love! Song!  A Visit with Gena Branscombe” at Hofstra University.  Little did we know that in the audience that day was a former member of the Branscombe Choral, Agnes Conway.  At the talk-back after our concert, a woman raised her hand and said she had her personal pictures and programs of the Branscombe Choral and letters from Gena Branscombe that she would like to give me.  To say the least, the audience was as surprised as we were!  A Branscombe Choral member was in our midst! 

In a binder lovingly cross-stitched with Gena Branscombe’s name and a fancy border, we found two Christmas greetings from Gena, copies of two articles written by the composer/conductor for the “Showcase, Music Clubs Magazine,” an invitation to a tea in honor of Gena’s 90th birthday, concert programs, and letters from the composer to Agnes.  In addition a small photo album again with cross-stitch, “The Branscombe Choral 1954” on the cover, filled with black and white photos of the chorus members.  Agnes had identified as many of the women as possible.  What treasured gifts.  

How did Agnes come to attend the concert at Hofstra?  Visiting a friend, she was looking through the local paper when she came upon the ad for “Life! Love! Song!  A Visit with Gena Branscombe.”  Surprised, she was!  Upon returning home, she immediately purchased tickets to the performance for herself and her daughter.  Then, those Branscombe Choral items she was thinking of throwing away……well, she went to work creating the cross-stitch covers and placed her memorabilia in the binders. 

After the talk back, Agnes and her daughter came up on the stage and looked at all of our props, pictures, tea tray, and more.  She even knew that during the show when Gena answers the telephone, then says, “Hello, Emma,” that Emma was Emma Davidson, President of the Branscombe Choral and dear friend of Gena’s.  She caught the detail!  

Agnes Conway sang in the final three concerts of The Branscombe Choral, December 1953, Spring 1954 and December 1954.  Her memories of her conductor, Gena Branscombe, were sweet ones of a leader who encouraged high musical standards and one who made music performance a joy!

Today, Agnes and I are friends on Facebook.  She comments on my postings about women composers or my general postings about life!  What a dear person and a connection some 60 years later to Gena Branscombe, her leader, teacher and conductor!

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Women's History Month - Women Composers

Women’s History Month officially came to a close yesterday.  As many of you may have seen, I posted on my Facebook page, Life! Love! Song!  A Visit with Gena Branscombe, a short biography and photo of thirty different women composers of Gena’s era (1881-1977).  On International Women’s Day I posted a photo and biographical information on Representative Jeannette Rankin of Montana who in 1916 voted for equal voting rights for women in all states.  To honor all thirty-one women during March was a learning experience and an eye-opener for their accomplishments.

What struck me as I did my research was that 23 of these women attended college including Juilliard, New England Conservatory, Leipzig Conservatory, Paris Conservatory, Royal Academy of Music, Royal Conservatory of Music, Peabody, Columbia, New York University and other schools.  These same women studied with the great composition teachers of the time whether here in the United States or in Europe: George Chadwick, Nadia Boulanger, Dallapiccola, Leo Sowerby, Irving Fine, Carl Renecki and Theodor Leschetizky. 

Undine Smith, Florence Price, Margaret Bonds, Louise Talma, Marion Bauer, Miriam Gideon, Mary Carr Moore, Mabel Daniels, Julia Amanda Perry, Helen Hopekirk, Eva Jessye, and Clara Kathleen Rogers taught at some of our most prestigious music schools mentioned above.  

Major symphony orchestras played the works of Margaret Ruthven Lang, Florence Price, Margaret Bonds, Gena Branscombe and Amy Beach.

Mary Howe and Liza Lehmann openly admitted that women composers were not given their just recognition or performance opportunities.  Miriam Gideon said she liked the English word "composer" as it had no gender identification.  Eight of the women featured in March were published by the premiere music publisher of the day, Arthur P. Schmidt of Boston.  Carrie Jacobs Bond was not only a composer but also a business woman who created her own publishing firm!

Despite the naysayers of women composers and their compositions, the featured composers for Women's History Month all forged a path for themselves, their colleagues and today's women composers.  They were highly educated, industrious women.  Creativity, rich harmonic music, melody and beautiful poetry combined to pour forth in their choral works, piano concerti, art songs, solo piano pieces, chamber music, operas, oratorios and symphonies.

Ladies, you are my inspiration for you set your goals, struggled, worked hard, lived your life through pain, rejection, highs and lows, and most of all you gifted the world your music for ages to come.  Thank you.  

Friday, March 21, 2014

Dame Ethel Smyth

Dame Ethel Mary Smyth (1858-1944)

Born in London, Dame Ethel Smyth was determined from a young age to become a composer.  Her musical talent granted her admission to the Leipzig Conservatory of Music where she met the leading composers of the day, Dvorak, Tchaikovsky and Grieg!  Through her composition teacher she was introduced to Clara Schumann and Johannes Brahms.  Not a bad start for a student in the music world!

Her compositions include songs, piano works, chamber music, choral pieces, a Concerto for Violin, Horn and Orchestra, a Mass in D and two operas, "The Wreckers" and "Der Wald" which was performed at the Metropolitan Opera.  Deafness prevented her from composing any other major works or ever hearing her music performed and accepted by adoring orchestra and audience members.  

Unfortunately for Dame Smyth and all other women composers, their music was always labeled as that of a "woman composer" and not as artistically viable as that of a man's!  To that end, she was also an active suffragette dedicating years of her life to the cause.  She composed "The March of the Women" in 1911 which became the women's suffrage anthem!

In 1935 Gena Branscombe traveled to England to visit her daughter, Gena Tenney, who was studying at the Royal Conservatory of Music.  During her time in London, Gena visited with Dame Smyth and no doubt the two composers shared afternoon tea!

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Mary Carr Moore

Mary Carr Moore (1873-1957)

One of the common traits among the women composers I have already posted and ones to come in the upcoming weeks is their ability to multi-task within their musical ability.  In addition, nearly all these composers’ talent was recognized when they were quite young!

Mary Carr Moore was a composer, conductor, singer and music educator which made her a working musician of her day. 

Born in Tennessee, she lived with her family for ten years in Louisville, Kentucky before they relocated to the West Coast.  California became her home base for the remainder of her life. 

In San Francisco Miss Moore began composition lesson with J. H. Pratt and voice lessons with H. B. Pasmore.  At age 16 she began teaching and composing.  That same year her first published song was released for sale.  Having composed her first operetta, “The Oracle,” she performed the lead at the premiere of the work!  Eventually Mary Carr Moore gave up singing to devote her time to composing and teaching. 

Her operetta was only the first of her stage works.  In Seattle, she composed a four-act opera titled, “Narcissa” about the attack on the mission of Marcus and Narcissa Whitman in Walla Walla, Washington in 1847.  Singers were brought in from New York City to perform leading roles and Miss Moore conducted the premiere since no other conductor was available.  She continued to promote opera in Seattle for the remainder of her life. 

Her two-act grand opera “David Rizzio” was commissioned for production in Venice.  This was the only libretto in Italian she set in her lifetime.  Though the performance in Venice did not evolve, an amateur group in Los Angeles premiered the work. 

From 1926 to her death, she resided in Los Angeles where she taught at Chapman College and the Olga Steeb Piano School.  Miss Moore promoted American Music organizing the American Music Center in Seattle and mentoring composers for performances of their music.

Mary Carr Moore’s musical style would best be described as conservative.  Holding to the Romantic era’s harmonies and tonalities with beautiful melodies, she also ventured into whole tone scales used in the Impressionistic period. 

Gena Branscombe and Mary Carr Moore were colleagues through their membership in the music section of the National League of American Pen Women!

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Mabel Daniels

Mabel Daniels (1878-1971)
Active in music from an early age, Mabel Daniels was a magna cum laude graduate of Radcliffe College.  While a student she was a soloist in the Glee Club and composed two operettas that were performed by her fellow students.  After graduation, she studied composition with George W. Chadwick in Boston who encouraged her to study with Ludwig Thuille in Munich, Germany.
Once in Munich she attempted to enroll in a score-reading class given by Director Stavenhagen.  No woman had ever been admitted to his class.  She entered the classroom to play her audition where thirty male students waited in judgment of her keyboard skills.  "You could have heard a pin drop, the place was so still. . . . Just as I took my seat before the keyboard, I heard one of the men smother a laugh. That settled it! I was bound to do or die, and with a calmness quite unnatural I played the bars set before me without a mistake. Nobody laughed when I had finished."  Way to go Mabel!

Returning to the States, Miss Daniels became director of the Glee Club at Radcliffe and later became head of the Music Department at Simmons College.  From 1918 on, she devoted her time to composing.

Choral compositions were the greater part of her output.  Her Exultate Deo was written for the 50th Anniversary of the founding of Radcliffe College and The Song of Jael was given its premiere at the Worcester Festival in 1940.  She spent 24 summers at the MacDowell Colony.  Her generosity of spirit shown through when she established scholarships and composition prizes for music students at New England Conservatory of Music and Radcliffe College. 

As with many women composers of her day, Miss Daniel’s compositions were published by Arthur P Schmidt of Boston. 

The Branscombe Choral frequently performed her choral pieces in concert and on radio.  In the Choral’s scrapbooks you will find handwritten notes from Mabel Daniels to Gena Branscombe thanking her for scheduling her piece and for the beautiful performance! 

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Marion Bauer

In honor of Women's History Month, on specific days I will post a woman composer's photograph and bio.  Each of these composers was of the same era as Gena Branscombe and may have had a connection to her.

Today's composer.......Marion Bauer

Marion Bauer (1882-1955)

The youngest of seven children, Marion Bauer was born in Walla Walla, Washington.  Her musical talent was quickly recognized by her father, an amateur musician.  By age 16 she had graduated from high school and headed to New York City to begin her advanced musical training in composition. 

Fluent in French and English, Bauer spent time in Paris studying with Raoul Pugno and became the first American to study with Nadia Boulanger.  Upon returning to New York City, she studied with Eugene Heffley and Walter Henry Rothwell all the while teaching piano and theory lessons privately. 

Though never having been granted a college degree, Miss Bauer was hired to teach theory and composition at New York University where her teacher colleagues included Arthur Stoessel, who was Gena Branscombe’s conducting teacher.  Among her most famous students were Miriam Gideon and Milton Babbitt.  Bauer spent twelve summers at the MacDowell Colony concentrating on her own composing projects.  During the Depression she taught summer courses at Mills College, Juilliard and the Conservatory of Music in Cincinnati. 

Multi-tasking was one of Marion Bauer’s great attributes.  She helped found the American Music Guild, the American Music Center and the American Composer’s Alliance.  Along with Amy Beach, Gena Branscombe and 17 other women, they co-founded the Society of American Women Composers in 1925.  She wrote reviews and was a published author of articles and books on music. 

Her music is melodic featuring romantic and expressionistic harmonies.  She composed 160 works and wrote five books.  The publisher of her musical compositions was Arthur P. Schmidt of Boston, also Gena Branscombe’s publisher.  How all these women composers are connected!

At the College Conservatory of Music in Cincinnati is a beautiful room called, “The Bauer Room.”  When a student at the Conservatory I would enter this warm, carpeted room, look at the portrait of this woman Marion Bauer and at her desk and wonder who she was.  Over the years of researching Gena Branscombe, I came to learn about Marion Bauer and it has been a pleasure to meet her, though not in person.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Louise Talma

Louise Talma  (1906-1996)

New York City, 1991….phone conversation….

“Hello, may I please speak to Louise Talma?”  “Speaking.”  “Miss Talma, my name is Kathleen Shimeta and I am a mezzo-soprano.  You do not know me.  I am calling because I am in the midst of planning a recital of American art songs composed by living composers.  When I perform this recital, I would like the composers to be in the audience.  The program will take place in November, American Music Month, so my recital honors living American composers.  I would like to include some of your songs on the program.”  “Have you purchased any of my songs?” “Not yet.”  “Well, when you have purchased my songs, call me back.”  And, she abruptly hung up the phone.  Thus was my introduction to composer, Louise Talma.

Born in Arcachon, France, Miss Talma was raised in New York City.  Her musical training took place at Institute of Musical Arts (which became Juilliard), New York University and Columbia University.  Each summer from 1926-1939 she studied with Nadia Boulanger in Paris. 

Among Louise Talma’s achievements was the performance of her opera The Alcestiad in Frankfurt, Germany, a major opera house in Europe.  She was the first American woman to have held this honor.  Her collaborator for the opera was Thornton Wilder.  In addition, she was the first American to teach at Fontainbleau.  In 1974, she was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters.  Again, Miss Talma was the first female composer to have this honor. 

A prolific composer, Louise Talma composed countless songs, song cycles and choral works as well as well as chamber music and piano pieces.

In July 1945, Gena Branscombe and Louise Talma spent a month composing at the MacDowell Colony in New Hampshire.  They knew one another!

My friend and colleague, Sarah Dorsey, is a leading authority on Louise Talma.  Sarah is in the midst of writing a biography of the composer.  Can't wait to read your book, Sarah!

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Kathleen Lockhart Manning

Kathleen Lockhart Manning (1890-1951).

Born in Hollywood, California, Kathleen was fortunate to study piano and composition with Moritz Moszkowski in Paris.  Also a singer, she performed with the Hammerstein Opera Company in London during the 1911-1912 season. 

As a composer she wrote mainly vocal works for which she penned her own words.  Her song cycles include, “Sketches of New York,” “Sketches of London,”  “Sketches of Paris,” “Chinese Impressions,” and “Songs of Egypt.”  A number of her individual songs were arranged for chorus.

After the death of Miss Lockhart Manning’s husband in 1938, mental illness haunted her the remainder of her life.  She died in Los Angeles. 

I am not sure if Kathleen Lockhart Manning and Gena Branscombe actually knew each other but there is a reference to Gena in one of Kathleen’s diary entries.  She noted that she must send Miss Branscombe a copy of her newest published song cycle.

A CD of the Lockhart songs is available, To The Mart of Dreams: Songs by Kathleen Lockart Manning, Vol I.  Listening to her charming songs will brighten your day.  

My friend, Rebecca Schultz Lanning, is the leading authority on Kathleen Lockhart Manning.  Her research has put her in touch with the composer's family who have been generous sharing Kathleen's papers, compositions and diaries!  Way to go Rebecca.

Friday, February 28, 2014

Honoring Women during Black History Month

In honor of Black History Month, I have been posting pictures and biographical information about African American women on my Facebook page.  As trailblazers from the past to the present day, these women represent careers in nursing, space travel, music, acting, business, teaching, journalism, politics, missionary work, a woman who disguised herself as a man in order to serve her country during the Civil War and more.  All were and are pioneers of their day and the present day.  Strength, belief and the will to survive in the face of adversity is the example they all set forth for us.  Discovering and researching these women has been a learning curve of sheer joy for me. 

It came to me that I wanted to tie all these African American women who worked for equality into my Gena Branscombe project and blog. 

Gena Tenney Phenix, Gena Branscombe’s eldest daughter, was a pianist and musician who studied at Barnard College followed by two years at the Royal Conservatory of Music in London.  Upon returning from her European studies, she became head of the Music Department at Barnard College. 

After her marriage to her husband, Phillip Phenix, she became a community activist bar-none.  Creating the food pantry at Riverside Church in New York City was one of the couple’s most generous gifts to the city’s homeless and needy population.  The food pantry still exists to this day.

Among Gena Phenix’s other great contributions to society was her dedication to equal rights for all.  In 1963, she spearheaded the organizing of ten buses for New Yorkers who attended the March on Washington in August.  From my 2002 interview with Gena and Phillip, I was told they sat in the tenth row of seats for Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream Speech.”  To be among that large, peaceful assembly of people for one of the most momentous speeches of the 20th century must have been thrilling and to have been part of making American history on that day .... humbling.
As Black History Month 2014 comes to a close, I thank every African American woman I know, may come to know and those who I have featured this month on Facebook for all you have done to inspire me and countless others.  My thanks go to all people who have fought for equal rights and opportunities for everyone.  Your struggles, joys and work have been worth every minute, hour, day and year of your lives for you have set an example so strong that the correct words of praise fail me

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Radio Arts Indonesia

More good news!  Radio Arts Indonesia will be broadcasting numerous cuts from my CD, "Ah! Love, I Shall Find Thee: Songs of Gena Branscombe."  Thanks to Charles Conrad for introducing Indonesia to Miss Branscombe's beautiful romantic music. 

My wonderful pianist, Martin Hennessy, will be featured for the solo piano pieces he recorded.  I did say and mean wonderful!  Martin's expressive and musical playing of these lovely piano works written for Gena's daughters will capture your heart!  Enjoy!

Please go to their website and click on their "Listings" button.  There you will find the days, times and titles of the pieces Mr. Conrad will air.  

Tuesday, February 11, 2014


Some great NEWS!  Ellen Grolman of radio station WFCF will be playing several selections from my Gena Branscombe disc, Ah! Love, I Shall Find Thee: Songs of Gena Branscombe on her weekly radio show, Music of our Mothers, Wednesday, February 12th, between 1:00 and 2:00 PM.  What an honor to have a radio station play your recording!

The two-hour show streams live on iheartradio; simply search for WFCF, Flagler College Radio in St. Augustine, FL.  It is wonderful to look forward to sharing this beautiful music with the WFCF listening audience.

Thanks, Ellen, for promoting women's music. 

Monday, February 3, 2014

Spirit of Motherhood

About a month ago one of my “Google Alerts” caught my eye….a piece of Gena Branscombe’s sheet music was for sale on Amazon.  To my surprise, an original publication of “Spirit of Motherhood” was available.  I quickly purchased it.  The music arrived a few days later in beautiful condition. 

In today’s world the words may seem sentimental or even out-of-date and the music may be a little over-the-top dramatic, yet at the time it was composed, poet Louise Driscoll (1875-1957) and Gena Branscombe were giving tribute to the most difficult job in the world – motherhood.

In 1923 the New York State Federation of Women’s Clubs held a pageant showcasing the progress women had made in the past 50 years.  “Spirit of Motherhood” was performed by the Women’s Club chorus.  Imagine the progress made for women from 1873-1923.

This was a celebration honoring women’s suffrage, the work their leaders Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucy Stone and Susan B. Anthony had organized for many years that culminated in the 1920 passage of the 19th Amendment to the US Constitution.  "The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex."

Women could vote.  Mothers could vote for their future and the future of their children and families.

When we judge a piece of historic music by today's standards and what women composers are doing today, maybe we ought to stop, think, look at history and remember what women composers were accomplishing nearly 100 years ago for the rights of women.

A sentimental tribute to motherhood...very fitting even today as it is the spirit of love and acceptance without judgment.