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.