Thursday, April 23, 2020

Honorary Degree

“Am only just back from my trip to the coast – have had a simply marvelous time, hospitality – friendliness, two concerts, speeches – interviews – my honorary degree – (Marion Bauer also received one) – and such scenery from the southern desert to the Canadian Rockies.”

July 12, 1932….a letter to Mr. Austin at the Arthur P Schmidt Company in Boston – her publisher.

Gena Branscombe recounts the honorary degree conferred on her from Whitman College in Walla Walla, Washington.  She was proud and thankful to be given a Master of Music degree alongside fellow composer and colleague, Marion Bauer.

Gena joined the faculty of Whitman College as Head of the Piano Department in 1907.  During her two year tenure at the college, she taught piano, theory and composition.  Concerts of her music were performed there. Metropolitan Opera soprano, Lillian Nordica was on concert tour in Seattle and performed Gena’s song “Hail Bounteous May.”  She met her future husband, John Ferguson Tenney, while teaching at Whitman. 

Miss Branscombe’s career went on to include studying in Germany, becoming a recognized composer whose music was often performed, being a conductor and a promoter of American women composers.  The honorary Master’s degree was well deserved.

Composer Marion Bauer was a native of Walla Walla, Washington, who taught at New York University and Juilliard.  Her promotion of American music helped to found the American Music Guild, American Music Center and the American Composer’s Alliance.  The honorary Master’s degree was well deserved.

During an interview Miss Bauer mentioned that Gena Branscombe, Amy Beach and she are known to be “the triad of American women composers……the “three B’s of music.”  She admitted that Amy Beach was America’s outstanding woman composer and Gena was a close second.  What a great colleague Marion Bauer was. 

In 1932, the “three B’s of music” usually referred to Bach, Beethoven and Brahms.  Marion Bauer meant three living American women composer B’s!

It may seem strange that only a Master’s degree was conferred.  In the early 1900s, a Bachelor’s degree was required to teach in college.  Today, colleges require a doctorate and it is an honorary doctorate that is given to an individual for outstanding contributions in their given field.

A little background - the first honorary degrees were given in the Middle Ages.  The first recorded degree was awarded by the University of Oxford to Lionel Woodville in the 1470s.  He became the Bishop of Salisbury.  The same university conferred a doctorate on Franz Joseph Haydn in July 1791.