Thursday, July 15, 2021

Katey J. Halbert and Pacific Sketches


The Gena Branscombe postings on my blog have centered on her vocal music, singers who performed her songs as well as her life and career.  Little has been written about the instrumental music she composed.  That’s my fault. 

 Gena’s instrumental works were not published as her songs and piano pieces were.  Her orchestral and instrumental compositions are in manuscript held at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts.

  Several weeks ago I was searching YouTube for Gena Branscombe recordings that may have been posted.  What a wonderful surprise to come upon Katey J. Halbert’s recordings of Miss Branscombe’s Pacific Sketches for French horn and piano. 


A trip to Hawaii in 1955 was the inspiration for these works.  Flying to San Francisco from New York, then boarding an ocean liner, on board Gena attended Hawaiian cultural lectures and took hula lessons.  She was 74 years old!  Way to go, Gena!


The sound of bells playing gospel hymns intrigued her.  She included that musical memory into her piece “Kona Beach” which is a movement in Pacific Sketches.  Later she composed “Homeport” and “Night in the Islands” to round out the work. 

 The pieces were played live on WNYC in February 1956 for the Annual American Music Festival and again in April 1956 at the New York Federation of Music Clubs Biennial Convention.  Katey Halbert’s recordings are the first in 65 years! 

 Katey Halbert’s recording came about as part of her doctoral project.  Searching for French horn pieces composed by women, she found Miss Branscombe’s “Pacific Sketches.” Thanks to Katey’s beautiful playing and to her great pianist, Casey Dierlam Tse, for bringing these pieces alive in the 21st century.

More of Miss Branscombe’s instrumental music will be uncovered in the near future 

Enjoy listening to Pacific Sketches and Gena’s scenic musical descriptions. 


#Katey J Halbert

#Casey Dierlam Tse

Tuesday, July 6, 2021

Nevada Van der Veer - Contralto


“Am enclosing a programme of Nevada Van der Veer’s concert” …. ““Happiness” was well received in spite of the fact that the accompanist composed as she went along.”  (from a letter to Arthur P. Schmidt, publisher, dated February 11, 1916)


Today as I was transcribing a few of Gena Branscombe’s letters to her publisher, Arthur P. Schmidt, I came across this quote and it made me laugh out loud.  There is no mention of where the concert was held or the accompanist’s name, which is good.  We all have bad performance days.


Nevada Van der Veer (1884-1958) was a New York City born contralto.  Her first name was derived from the admired American opera singer Emma Nevada (1859-1940).  


Miss Van der Veer was a contralto soloist at several New York City churches including Fifth Avenue Presbyterian.  Her singing voice was said to be powerful, even and velvety.  Known for her recital work, she toured frequently.  She recorded with the Victor Light Opera Company and recorded duets with her husband, Reed Miller.  During a meeting given by the National Woman’s Party, she sang at the grave of Susan B. Anthony.  In later years, Nevada became Head of the Voice Department at Cleveland Institute of Music from 1934-1949.


Gena Branscombe gave no indication if she personally knew Nevada Van der Veer or how the singer came to perform her song “Happiness”.  As an accomplished pianist, Miss Branscombe’s accompaniments are difficult and require a great deal of personal preparation and rehearsals with the singer.  Still….the quote made me laugh.