Tuesday, December 15, 2015

November and December of 2015 will be the months remembered for the horrific terrorist attacks in Paris and San Bernardino.  As a nation, we mourn and sympathize with the country of France and the state of California.  Social media lit up with pictures of Paris and San Bernardino, expressions of sympathy, pictures of the French flag, quotes from politicians, religious, and philosophical leaders.  Our hearts go out to all affected by these horrible acts and to those who survived.

Multiple times on Facebook appeared a quote from American composer/conductor, Leonard Bernstein.  In reply to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in November 1963, Bernstein wrote a letter to be included in the New York Philharmonic programs that weekend.  The quote:

“We musicians, like everyone else, are numb with sorrow at this murder, and with rage at the senselessness of the crime.  But this sorrow and rage will not inflame us to seek retribution; rather they will inflame our art.  Our music will never again be quite the same.  This will be our reply to violence: to make music more intensely, more beautifully, more devotedly than ever before.” 

From an historical point of view, Maestro Bernstein hit upon the healing and comforting power of music.  Across the centuries music has been written to commemorate freedoms won, for commentary during times of suffering and war, and times of peace.  Whether these pieces of music were composed to arouse a sense of patriotism or give solace in the time of loss, music’s profound effect is felt on an individual basis.  We turn to music…..the great comforter and the sound that will transport us for a few minutes or hours to a place of escape. 

Two days after President Kennedy was shot by an assassin, Bernstein conducted the New York Philharmonic in a performance of Mahler’s 2nd Symphony, “The Resurrection.”  Writing about the choice of resurrection, the conductor expressed that, “…. resurrection was for the soul of one we love, but also for the resurrection of hope in all of us who mourn him.” 

As I thought about what Leonard Bernstein had written, I spent time looking at music history and which composers wrote works during times of conflict and what inspired them to write that specific piece.  One could go on for pages citing works of composers, yet, I chose four composers to highlight for their beliefs and musical reactions to political strife.

Dame Ethel Smyth (1858-1944) was a British composer, suffragette and author.  Having joined the Women’s Social and Political Union in 1910, Dame Ethel composed March of the Women, the anthem and battle call of the movement.  The anthem was sung across England to further the demand for women’s rights.  Along with other suffragettes, she was incarcerated at Holloway Prison in 1912 for she had broken windows and caused political disorder.  Leaning out of her cell with tooth brush in hand, she conducted her fellow suffragettes singing their anthem.  Close your eyes and envision what a performance that must have been.  A year earlier in 1911, Ethel had conducted the same anthem at the Royal Albert Hall in London.  In my personal opinion, I think the 1912 prison performance was most likely the most impassioned one given! 
Oppression of women, the rights of women to vote and make decisions for themselves was honored by an anthem that united the suffragette movement in music!

Ludwig van Beethoven’s (1770-1827) “Ode to Joy” from his Ninth Symphony has been performed during times of unrest, protest and celebrations.  Using a portion of Friedrich Schiller’s poem honoring brotherhood and the unity of all mankind, Beethoven’s work has been performed at Tiananmen Square during the student uprising, at the fall of the Berlin Wall conducted by Leonard Bernstein and by protesters during the demonstrations against Chile’s dictator Pinochet.  Though not composed as a political commentary piece, “Ode to Joy” rings forth as a hymn of unity, comfort and compassion for every citizen of the world.
Since Gena Branscombe (1881-1977) has been a part of my life for the past 16 years, I do tend to put her music forth frequently in this blog.  To financially assist the Canadian Red Cross during World War I, Miss Branscombe and fellow Canadian poet Katherine Hale joined together to publish the song, “Dear Lad o’Mine.”   A mother prays for the protection of her soldier son with outbursts of anger at war, followed by comforting thoughts for his safety in the trenches.  All proceeds from the sale of this song went to the Canadian Red Cross.  During World War II, Gena worked with fellow Canadian poet, Arthur Stringer, to publish “Grow Softly Maple Leaves,” a song of comfort to all who lost their lives protecting the rights of Canadians.  Rather than rouse people to the cause of war, composer and poets sought to make aware the horrors of war and at the same time pay tribute and comfort to those who fought and those who survived.

Often times politically based musical works are wrapped in alternative storytelling to by-pass censorship.  So was the case with Finnish composer, Jean Sibelius (1865-1957) when he wrote the orchestral tone poem, Finlandia.  This work was a protest against the censorship of the Russian Empire.  To perform Finlandia, the title was changed to appease censors yet the underlying story of this provoking and tumultuous work was the struggle of the Finnish people to recover their country.  In 1941 Sibelius reworked Finlandia into a hymn with words by Eikko Antero Koskenniemi.  The hymn is now one of the most important national songs of Finland.  Here is a link to the hymn........
A hymn creates a sense of pride for Finland and leads that country to its rights for making their own decisions and political statements.

In their own way, each of these artists made a statement against war, violence and oppression.  In my mind, they sought comfort for those at home, concern and love for those at the front lines and then a sense of patriotism for their country.  Whether their music was heard in a grand concert hall, a church, a small recital hall, in someone’s home or for an individual’s personal listening, these artists abhorred the senseless violence and through their music sought to triumph the mind over the world’s heightened sense of fear.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Women Composers……………….

What a pleasure it was in early September of this year to read that young Jessy McCabe, a student at the private Twyford Church of England High School in London, England, stood up to exam boards for the A level music tests.  Among the 63 composers listed on the exam, not one of them was a woman nor were women composers listed on the syllabus for course work. 

In Miss McCabe’s estimation, something had to be done and it was her responsibility to correct the wrong done to women composers.  She began a journey to change the way advanced music courses were taught.  She received an apology from the exam board and an assurance that women composers would be included in her music classes. 

This young lady had taken a course entitled, “Fearless Futures” which raised the subject of gender inequality.  Her eyes were opened to the role of sexism in all facets of our everyday life.  With her determination to see an end to this sort of discrimination, she presented a list of women composers to the exam board, went on social media to promote her idea with the end result being a change in the way music courses are being taught in England. 

Miss McCabe’s comprehension of the lack of understanding of women’s inclusion in all aspects and courses in education is commendable.  Jessy did not stop at just music classes.  She approached the Secretary of Education in England to make sure these discriminatory practices were changed across all areas of course work and exams.  BRAVA, Jessy.

Through the centuries classical music women composers have survived, usually scoffed at or hidden behind the fame of their brother, father or husband. 

Hildegard von Bingen (1098-1179), a Catholic nun, whose liturgical music inspires us to this day, was looked down upon by the church clergy for she was only a nun. 

Barbara Strozzi (1619-1677) who was one of the most prolific composers (man or woman) of her era whose published compositions were nearly all secular vocal settings, was an independent woman.  Her father encouraged her musical career. 

Wolfgang Mozart’s sister, Nannerl (1751-1829) is said to have been as equally talented as her famous brother.  The sister/brother child prodigies were adept at performing on the harpsichord and fortepiano, yet once she became of marriageable age, her performing career stopped at the insistence of her father.  Nannerl was known to compose as Mozart mentioned her works in his letters.  None of her compositions have survived. 

Fanny Mendelssohn (1805-1847), sister to Felix Mendelssohn, was a composer of songs and instrumental works.  Her music was published with the aid of her famous brother who affixed his name to them. 

Clara Wieck Schumann (1819-1896) was a piano prodigy and composer whose father was her teacher.  Her performing career began at a young age and continued throughout the years of her marriage to the famous composer, Robert Schumann.  Their lives and careers became intertwined.  With eight children to support, Clara’s income from performing and the publishing of her songs and other works was essential to the support of the family.  Robert’s mental health was unstable and at times Clara either completed works Robert had begun or wrote works using his name for publication.  Robert’s name brought in more royalties than Clara’s. 

Alma Mahler, (1879-1964), wife to composer/conductor Gustav Mahler, composed 17 songs.  Her husband scoffed at her musical works then later regretted his actions when a friend pointed out that Alma’s music had substance.  Gustav edited her works and saw to it that her songs were published.  In addition, he orchestrated a number of her songs.

From the title of my blog and my many entries, you know I discovered the music of Canadian American composer Gena Branscombe.  I have recorded her songs, told her life’s story in a one-woman show and lectured about her.  When I began my research to find other women composers whose music I might record along with Miss Branscombe’s, I found hundreds of women from the era of 1880-1950.  We know the names Mrs. Amy Beach, Harriet Ware, Mabel Daniels, Mary Howe, Liza Lehmann and a few others as they were famous in their day and their music performed.

My eyes opened to the fact that yes, some of these women’s songs were published, but hundreds and hundreds were lost to history.  Where was their music?  Were their family members available to recount their story?  More and more questions to be asked, yet no one to answer them. 

When depressions or economic downturns hit the economy, publishers would first drop the women composers’ works from their catalogue over that of a man’s.  Often times the women composers’ music was destroyed before the publisher notified them.  What a loss to our music history. 

And, why, why did I never hear of these women composers or their impact on music history mentioned all the way through my bachelor’s and master’s degrees?  Why were they left out or why was their no specific course taught about women composers?  Why on my oral exams for my masters degree was I not asked one question about a woman composer? 

Much like Jessy McCabe in England, we must take the responsibility to correct the teaching of music history.  Women composers must be mentioned alongside their male counterparts in music history and theory courses.  A few colleges offer overview classes about women composers from the middle ages to the present day.  It’s a step in the right direction yet more must be done to bring these women to the forefront. 

What is our responsibility in this matter?  Attend your local orchestra concerts, college recitals, high school concerts, local choral concerts and any other music offering.  Make note of the composers being performed on the programs, challenge the performers and conductors as to why women composers were not featured. 

Music appreciation classes in grade school, middle school and high school must include the teaching of music by women. High school chorus, band and orchestra programs must include works by women.  Begin gender equality education at a young age with the end result being informed adults.  Masters and doctoral degree music students, insist that questions about women composers be asked on your written and oral exams.  Challenge your college and university boards to demonstrate their belief in equality in the music world.

We must take action just like Jessy McCabe, for how else are we able to tear down the walls of discrimination towards women in all walks of careers?

One small reminder, the English language is a difficult one with many words sounding the same yet spelled differently.  There is an advantage to our language; nouns are genderless.  The word “composer” has no gender.  Women write and wrote music.   They are composers whose works are not to be judged because they are female but because they wrote music.  One day soon may we come to that place….a composer!  Until that time, our mission should be to promote women's music.

The women mentioned above are composers of notoriety over the past 10 centuries.  There are thousands of lesser known women whose music is sitting in a library not catalogued or in someone’s attic, in a box waiting to be opened. Their music must be discovered, published, performed, recorded and their life stories told as profoundly as that of Beethoven, Mozart or Brahms.  Music education has sorely left women composers out of their history books and classrooms.  Let us all work to correct this.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Norman Carlberg

Norm Carlberg

Looking at my calendar today brought me a reminder that my friend and colleague, Norm Carlberg died unexpectedly ten years ago today.  As we all say, how time has flown.  Yet my memories of Norm are clear and filled with admiration of a good, true, giving person who was extraordinarily talented.

In July 2010 my blog entry was about the three directors who made my “Life! Love! Song!  A Visit with Gena Branscombe” show come alive.  Norm Carlberg, Evan Pappas and Ellen Harvey gave of their talents to guide me through the development and performance of this wonderful and fun one-woman show.

It was Norm Carlberg with whom I first shared my idea of the show.  Over dinner, I sought his advice on how to go about writing and creating my idea….how to make it a reality.  Listening intently as I recounted my Gena Branscombe journey up to that day, Norm slowly spoke in his deep bass voice, “Just start writing” was his advice….”write and write without editing your work.”  Even with my doubts, I knew he was correct.

I invited Norm to be my director and he accepted then offered to have the premiere performance at the Liederkranz Club where he was Director of Music.  There we rehearsed staging, music and character ideas and constantly changed the script.  Our show was coming alive!

Speaking at a memorial service for Norm held at the Liederkranz Club, I said the following about our work together:

“I soon learned that Norm’s way of directing was to give you an outline of staging, a few key words for character then he left you to use your imagination, emotions and intelligence.  Phone calls to Norm after rehearsals were similar to the pain of pulling teeth.  I would ask what suggestions/criticisms he had and his response would be….”just keep going in the direction you are.” Or maybe….”mumble to yourself a little more” or “don’t worry it’s fine.”  We singers are more insecure than that and he knew it.  We need to be stroked, yet I learned in his quiet way he was allowing me to grow as an artist …telling me to be stronger and more self sufficient, and watching me grow as a singing actress.  After the performance he called and said in his low voice, “It was really good!” Four simple words……discreet, sincere and filled with pride of our partnership.  A more kind and understanding colleague one could not find and as a friend, a blessing to my life.”

Norm Carlberg, I miss you and thank you for your belief in my dream of a one-woman show about Gena Branscombe.  You were a true teacher, friend and colleague….a blessing to this singing actor’s life.  

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Stephanie Samaras, Voice Teacher

Stephanie Samaras…..

During one’s years as a music student, then as a professional working musician we have many people who guide us, teach us, offer advice and help us along the crazy path of this career. For any musician, your private teacher is much more than a teacher of technique and musical style.

My voice teacher, StephanieSamaras, has been the champion and guide of my vocal technique for well over 15 years.  Her knowledge of the human body, human voice and how it all functions to form beautiful sound is to be respected and revered.  Her ability to listen to her student’s singing, diagnose the problem and fix it with exercises or verbal images is something to behold.  I am thankful for her wisdom. 

Much more than that, Stephanie is a cheerleader for her students, always making suggestions for repertoire, auditions or work they might find.  Cheerleading also means she is part therapist as well.  Her interest in her students is always for their betterment and to help each of us attain our highest goals possible.  I am thankful for her guidance.

So, why am I writing about Stephanie other than to literally sing her praises?  Well, Stephanie became my teacher at a time when I needed vocal help.  Carefully she listened to my explanations of what I thought was wrong, made suggestions and then we went to work correcting my problems.  Her vocal exercises were geared to my voice’s needs.  She obviously spent time contemplating and creating exercises for me.  Or as I would often say to her, "Do you dream up these exercises to torture me?"  I am thankful for her dedication to my vocal health and well-being. 

As my Gena Branscombe project began, there was Stephanie cheering me on, encouraging me to record this almost unknown music.  She prepped me before every recording session always with a positive pat on the back.  Then, as my Gena Branscombe show, “Life! Love! Song!  A Visit with Gena Branscombe” began to take shape, she suggested her student and my former upstairs neighbor, Evan Pappas, help write the dialogue.  As I prepared for the premiere performance of my show, there was Stephanie coaching me on how to go from singing to dialogue and back to singing.  She was brilliant.  I am thankful for her knowledge of theatre and music.

Along the way, Stephanie has also become my friend and I have appreciated the tomatoes and basil from her summer garden.  What a treat for a city dweller!  I am thankful for the produce.

Stephanie and I have attended a few performances together.  It’s been a pleasure to hear her music theatre students and her doctoral voice students perform.  They are well prepared musically and vocally.  I am thankful for sharing these musical times.

My voice teacher, Stephanie, has helped me prepare at least three different art song recitals, the Bach B Minor Mass, Brahms’ Alto Rhapsody, Mendelssohn’s Elijah, Gena Branscombe songs and much, much more.  With my wide variety of repertoire brought to lessons, she is comfortable helping me find the beautiful sound I must produce to sing all of it.  I am thankful for her knowledge of musical style. 

Stephanie Samaras, voice teacher, whose studio is just a few short blocks from my home.  A joyful walk to and from a lesson is something I treasure.  Most important having a friend and dedicated teacher will be forever in my heart.

The next chapter in this story?  Yesterday was my final lesson with Stephanie in New York City.  She and her husband, Ryan, are leaving the New York area to relocate to Charleston, South Carolina.  There she will form a new studio of singers and continue to teach healthy vocal technique.  Lucky are those new students.  I am positive that her current students will be traveling to Charleston for lessons; myself included.

For those of us left here, we will miss Stephanie’s good and cheerful personality, her 1000 watt smile, her hardy laugh, her vocal knowledge and constant support.  So many things to be thankful for with Stephanie but most important, I am thankful for her as a true human being and voice teacher.

Thanks, Steph.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Pilgrims of Destiny

Imagine the pain a mother and her family experience when they lose a three year old child to influenza.  The depth of panic and foreboding tragedy that parents feel as they strive to save their baby, all the while knowing there is no hope, is beyond comprehension.  Yet, in early 1919 this scenario was experienced by Gena Branscombe and her husband, John Ferguson Tenney. 

In late 1918 the entire family with the exception of Gena had been struck with influenza.  In January 1919, third daughter, Betty, and her older sister Vivian were particularly ill.  Today this outbreak is known as the great influenza epidemic of 1919.  In its wake, the epidemic took young Betty’s life leaving her parents, her two sisters and extended family devastated. 

Grief is an animal in and of itself leaving each of us to find our own path to dealing with the loss of someone beloved.  In the process of mourning, we learn to move forward with our lives.  Miss Branscombe was pregnant with her fourth daughter when Betty died.  My guess is her grief was nearly insurmountable yet her responsibility to herself and her unborn child had to have been foremost in her mind. 

Daughter Beatrice was born in June 1919.  With the help of her mother, who took care of the older daughters, Gena immersed herself in composing and writing the libretto for, “The Pilgrims of Destiny,” a large scale choral drama.  The story emphasized the pilgrims’ hardships on-board the Mayflower and their arrival in Plymouth, Massachusetts, on November 9 and 10, 1620.  Her husband, John, was her editorial assistant and historical advisor for the libretto.  He even typed the manuscript for his wife.  Work became another way for Gena to move forward with her life despite her loss. 
Large scale works are not composed over a summer or even a year.  With family responsibilities, leadership roles in women’s organizations, conducting, and accompanying, Miss Branscombe worked on “Pilgrims of Destiny” for a number of years. 

 With its themes of bravery in the face of adversity, devotion to God and loss, “Pilgrims of Destiny” won the 1928 Best Composition award from the National League of American Pen Women.  Along with the $100.00 prize, the work was published by Oliver Ditson Company of Boston and given a gala performance at the Plymouth Memorial Building in Plymouth, Massachusetts with Miss Branscombe conducting.   What a perfect location for an historical work such as this!  She received rave reviews for the premiere and “Pilgrims of Destiny” went on to be performed across the country, again with Gena conducting.

In 1960, Gena Branscombe became one of the first women ever to have her music requested for the permanent collection in the Library of Congress in Washington, DC.  She submitted to the Music Department her “Pilgrims of Destiny” original manuscript of the orchestral score, instrumental parts and the published vocal score.   This is quite the honor!

In 1999 I saw a copy of the vocal score when I visited Gena Tenney Phenix, Gena Branscombe’s oldest daughter.  She brought out her copy of the score for me to look through.  There I saw a very romantic and dramatic piece of music which I could only surmise from the piano accompaniment probably had a very rich and dense orchestral score.   Several years later, my colleague Laurine Elkins Marlow and I were at the Library of Congress doing research work.  I requested the original orchestra score for my review and there before me was the full choral drama score.  With rich orchestration reminiscent of the late German romantic style and even some late Verdi, Gena had poured forth her complete knowledge of writing an impressive large scale work.  I was astonished. 

From many of my previous postings you know that I have purchased and collected Gena’s piano pieces, songs, song cycles and choral works.  A copy of the vocal score for “Pilgrims of Destiny” has always been high on my wish list of Gena’s compositions that I hoped would appear for sale.  This past Sunday, my wish came true.  A copy of the vocal score was listed on Amazon and surprise! surprise! I purchased it immediately.  The store that sold this work was in Plymouth, Massachusetts…..the city where the premiere performance took place.  Coincidence, I think not!

The vocal score arrived yesterday and to say the least I am thrilled.  Gena dedicated this work to her daughter, Betty.  During my one-woman show I recite this dedication after having a phone conversation where she discusses the loss of her dear Betty.  It is a poignant moment. 

One more original Gena Branscombe work to add to my collection and one that for over 15 years has been something I desired.  There is still one more piece of hers that I hope will appear…..and, maybe someday soon, hopefully not another 15 years of waiting, it will show up for sale on the internet.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Americana Art Song Recital

Preparing art song recitals has always been one of my great loves.  Choosing a theme or a story to tell through songs, then, hunting through countless volumes and stacks of music by assorted composers, finding just the right poetry and songs that fit my idea takes hours and hours of research.  My hope always is that the 15-20 art songs I choose to perform will be a musical challenge for my pianist and me, then the audience will be engaged for a musical journey of not only poignant but entertaining songs.  Yes, this is a lot of work however it is work that brings me joy.
Over the July 4th weekend of 2014, pianist Julia Bady and I performed at the Deerfield, Massachusetts’ Memorial Hall Museum. Since this was the celebration of our nation’s independence, why not celebrate America’s poets and composers?  My research took me to anthologies of American songs and song cycles ….. what set our country apart, what songs would best depict life in America, what about featuring well known poets, what about politics….the “what abouts” kept churning in my brain.  Songs were found in various collections, then, I stacked the open books about my living room floor in piles where I thought they fit a certain theme.  I checked the poetry, key signature of each song to see if the songs fit together as a story.  After weeks of work, I came up with Julia’s and my recital program,

America: Poets, Patriotism, Politics and Life.

What a story we told of America featuring songs by Edward MacDowell, Gena Branscombe, Aaron Copland, Jean Berger, Martin Hennessy, Leonard Bernstein, Richard Hundley, Ernest Charles, Gladys Rich and William Bolcom.  These songs told stories through the poetry of American poets Emily Dickinson, Langston Hughes, Arnold Weinstein, Herman Hagedorn, Robert Louis Stevenson and Alan J. Lerner.

We opened the recital honoring our country’s calm and beauty by performing Edward MacDowell’s “To a Wild Rose.”  Originally composed as a piano work, MacDowell added the words of his friend and colleague, Herman Hagedorn.  This led into Aaron Copland’s, “The Dodger,” a commentary on America’s politicians with their promises and fast talk.  War is a never ending part of our history which we acknowledged with Gena Branscombe’s World War I song, “Dear Lad O’Mine.”

America has countless talented poets whose works have been set to music.  The stories of collaboration between poet and composer can be fascinating.  Thus is the story between poet Langston Hughes and immigrant composer Jean Berger. 

Communicating by telephone and through mail, African American poet Langston Hughes and composer Jean Berger joined creative forces on their cycle “Four Songs”.  Theirs is a seamless wedding of word and music.  Each of the four songs, express not only hope and joy for life in America but also give credence to the less fortunate, innocent and hard working people of our country.  Both composer and poet were victims of prejudice, one religious and the other racial.  Berger, as a Jew living in Germany during the Nazi regime, was forced out of his assistant conductor position at the Mannheim Opera.  He immigrated to the United States and served in our army to fight against the country of his birth.  Langston Hughes suffered the prejudice of racism and searched for a homeland where he could find peace in a country that would accept him for the person and poet that he was.  Composer and poet never met in person, still they created songs that are true American works of expressive art.

Massachusetts born Emily Dickinson is one of America’s most treasured and enduring poets.  Her poetry is filled with her sharp, clear observations of the world around her.  The frequent subjects of her more than 1800 poems were death and immortality yet they hold a great deal of humor and wisdom.  My friend, collaborator and composer Martin Hennessy wrote two Emily Dickinson songs for me, “Let Down the Bars, O Death” and “My River Runs to Thee.”  Aaron Copland’s “Why Do They Shut Me Out of Heaven?” ended the first half of the recital. 

Julia and I took a voyage through life in America starting with a lullaby composed by Gladys Rich whose 1932 song, “American Lullaby” allows the performers and audience to question the seemingly perfect life of busy parents, a child and a nanny.  Collaborating on 24 cabaret songs, poet Arnold Weinstein and composer William Bolcom created what seem to be whimsical pieces yet they are complicated harmonically and rhythmically, challenging emotionally and a delight to perform.  Their song “Amor” allows a woman to be quite impressed with her life’s story, yet is her life all that fulfilling?  New York based composer, Richard Hundley’s song, “For Your Delight” melds his understanding of beautiful melody with the wistfulness of a married couple waltzing while making promises and creating images of their life together.  Life must come to end for all of us whether we wish to accept that or not.  Ernest Charles’ poignant song, “Who Keeps The Years?” has a spouse recalling those special moments in a marriage that we hold forever in our hearts.

A July 4th celebration without looking at our patriotism would be sacrilege!  Leonard Bernstein’s, “Take Care of this House” from his Broadway show 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue expresses a young black White House maid who understands that our nation’s home is far more than a physical building.  We ended our recital with Gene Scheer’s beautiful “American Anthem” then segued into Lee Holdridge and Molly Ann Leikin’s, “An American Hymn.”  Both songs tug at the heart strings of patriotism.  Of course, there was an encore, but I shall not divulge that title except to tell you, I was not the only person singing it!

What a program that celebrates America!  What a delight to create this recital, to choose songs that tell a story about various aspects of our country, then share that passion with a warm, receptive audience.

An art song recital is a shared effort between pianist and singer.  It was my great fortune to create, rehearse and then perform this program with pianist, Julia Bady.  What a caring collaborator and one whose musical talent was a joy.  She not only learned her accompaniments, she studied and understood the poetry, and, was with me at every breath and musical expression.  With Julia I felt and knew that at each rehearsal we were digging deeper into the songs to cull the depths of expression.  WHAT A JOY! When we came to the day of performance, we had the freedom of a joint musical happening.  Thank you, Julia.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Women Composers Festival of Hartford – 2015

Fifteen years ago my friend, colleague and composer Heather Seaton along with several of her fellow student composers founded the Women Composers Festival of Hartford.  Their collective anger came from the fact that not one woman composer was represented on the Hartt School of Music’s recital programs.  For the next nine years, Heather and her friends saw their initial season of the Women Composers Festival blossom into an international event.  See my blog post of September 2011. 

Six years ago Heather invited Martin and I to perform Life! Love! Song! A Visit with Gena Branscombe in Hartford  The following day there was a concert of Gena’s instrumental and choral works.  A weekend of celebrating Gena Branscombe, her life and music was a dream come true. 

At the end of her ninth season as director, Heather gave up her leadership and handed off the management role to Daniel Morel.  He has kept the Women Composers Festival moving into the future.  

In late February Heather phoned asking me to perform her solo work, “Credo” at this year’s festival.  As a founding member, Heather had been invited to return as a featured composer and to participate on a panel discussion.  This was a well deserved honor for Heather!

Quickly Heather e-mailed me her “Credo", graciously agreed to rewrite some sections of the piece then, I was off learning her beautiful music.  On March 5, 2015, Heather and I performed her “Credo” on The Invisible Woman concert for the Women Composers Festival of Hartford - 2015! 

Other featured music on the concert was spirituals sung by Alika Hope, JS Bach/Anna Magdalena Bach cello suites performed by Maria Martinez and Barbara Strozzi’s “Begli Occhi” sung by Anna Hayrapetyan and Amelia Nogoski accompanied by Penny Brandt and Maria Martinez.  Between the performances Penny Brandt presented commentary about the composers, their music and the history of women in music.  It was an honor to return to this important event.

Six years after Heather’s departure, the festival’s president, Penny Brandt, and Executive Director Daniel Morel oversee scheduling, performances, performance spaces, panels, performers, budget problems and fund raising.  Women composers as well as performers who play works by women submit proposals to the festival for consideration.  All this culminates in a five day March weekend celebrating women in music. 

This year’s composer-in-residence was Dr. Lisa RenĂ©e Coons whose music was performed and who presented a lecture.  The concerts and presentations throughout the five days were diverse as well as inspiring for all who attended. 

The future of the Women Composers Festival of Hartford is bright.  Heather Seaton and friends set the foundation for the festival and we are thankful for their initiative.  Promoting women’s music is imperative for history has shuffled female composers to the background.  There is a rich repertoire of women’s music from the past and present that must and will be heard in concert halls throughout the world.  And, the performance of women's music has had a helping hand from the Women Composers Festival of Hartford.  

Thursday, January 29, 2015

The Dancer of Fjaard

Published in 1926, Gena Branscombe’s choral work, “The Dancer of Fjaard” was performed frequently by her own Branscombe Choral, the MacDowell Club Chorus of Mountain Lakes, New Jersey, the New York Matinee Musicale, Massachusetts Federation of Women’s Clubs and the National Federation of Music Clubs.  Miss Branscombe was the conductor of these performances.

What a wonderful selling and purchasing tool E-bay is in our world.  A copy of “The Dancer of Fjaard” came up for sale and obviously I bid on the item and won.  When the music arrived yesterday I opened the envelope and looked at the upper left hand corner of the cover where in very light pencil is written - Monday 9, Tuesday 1:30, Wed 1:00.  Musicians will often write final rehearsal days and times in their music and whoever originally owned and sang this piece did exactly that.

Imagine my surprise when I opened to the front page and found Gena Branscombe’s autograph and good wishes.  There is no name inscription.  The music has a few markings all of which are for dynamics. 

Whoever owned this piece of music was careful to protect it and now the music is preserved in my collection.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Among my treasured musical possessions

Among my treasured musical possessions is a personal letter written to me from conductor Antonia Brico.  Miss Brico (1902-1989) was a famous conductor and pianist, most important a woman conductor, who was known for many firsts during her long career.  The first woman to conduct the Berlin Philharmonic, the first woman to conduct the New York Philharmonic, conducts the San Francisco Symphony, Helsinki Symphony and Hamburg, Germany Symphony orchestras and many more.  She was named conductor of the Women’s Symphony Orchestra in 1939 which later became the Brico Symphony Orchestra.   

Settling in Denver, Colorado, Miss Brico founded the Women’s String Ensemble, conducted the Denver Businessmen’s Orchestra that became the Brico Symphony Orchestra and eventually was conductor of the Denver Symphony Orchestra. 

Among her most famous piano students was Judy Collins, folk singer.  A documentary film about the conductor’s life, “Antonia: A Portrait of a Woman” was released in 1974.   She went on to conduct the Mostly Mozart Festival and the Brooklyn Philharmonia. 

While attending the College-Conservatory of Music at the University of Cincinnati, I had the pleasure of meeting, and singing for Antonia Brico when she was guest conductor for the summer String Orchestra program sponsored by the American Federation of Musicians.  She was a sprightly woman, demanding in her musical preparation of the orchestra and she taught her students well.  Yet, she was kind and always willing to be of help. 

She invited me to sing for her and I did.  Yes, I was nervous but quickly she put me at ease, then offered constructive criticism and praise. 

As we all know, the world of acquaintances and colleagues in any profession is small.  Gena Branscombe and Antonia Brico’s lives crossed paths.  Having organized a meeting, gala concert and dinner for the New York Matinee Musicale in December 1935, Miss Branscombe engaged composers Amy Beach and Marion Bauer as well as Antonia Brico as speakers for the events. 

Both Gena and Miss Brico conducted the Women’s Symphony Orchestra.  Though they may not have been best friends, the two musicians were leaders of women in the field of music.  Their individual careers were diverse, yet they were crusaders for the cause of women being recognized as musicians. 

I met Miss Brico, sang for her.  Miss Branscombe, I never had the pleasure of meeting but I have sung her songs and felt her presence in my life.  I sang for Miss Brico in early July 1977.  Later that same month Miss Branscombe died.  Maybe there is a connection, maybe not, yet I will say to these two great women………..

Ladies, I thank you for being a mentor and guiding light as I continue forging my path promoting women in music!