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.