Friday, June 3, 2022

Marie Zieres's Letter


At the bottom of Gena Branscombe's letter she wrote, “My loving thoughts go out to you –I never forget you.  Noone should mind being older, life is just better and better.”  The letter’s envelope is post marked May 23, 1968, has 6 cents of stamps on it and is addressed to Mrs. Marie Zieres.

 Over the thirteen years of writing my blog, Music Meets Drama, I have written about Gena Branscombe’s prolific letter writing three times.  A number of her original letters to friends, colleagues and former Branscombe Choral members have become a part of  my Gena collection.


In June 2008 Dan and I drove to Jamestown, NY to meet Marie Zieres, a former Branscombe Choral member.  Just weeks before our visit with Mrs. Zieres, the Branscombe Choral scrapbooks had come into my possession.  In their protective boxes, the scrapbooks also made the trip to meet Mrs. Zieres.  Before our arrival she had brought out her remembrances of being a Choral member – her red choral folder, 45 rpm records and programs of the concerts as well as letters from Miss Branscombe.  What a heart-warming visit where I learned a great deal about Gena and her Choral.


Four years ago Mrs. Zieres’s grandson Mark gifted me his grandmother’s red Branscombe Choral folder.  Inside were concert programs and a receipt for her membership fee. 

A few weeks ago the 1968 letter appeared, again, sent to me from Mark. 

 Miss Branscombe’s typed letter is filled with belated holiday greetings, news of her newest composition being performed at the National Federation of Music Clubs’ Convention, an award she received and saying “Canadian officialdom did something nice for me, too.”   There is news of her two daughters, Vivian and Gena as well as Gena’s husband Dr. Philip Phenix. 

 This lovely, newsy typed letter has a personal hand-written section wishing Mrs. Zieres a wonderful summer and thanking her for her Christmas message.  She, signs the letter, “Your friend – Gena Branscombe”.

 Letters - personal letters – there is nothing quite like them for the intimate quality that e-mail cannot replicate.  If you think about it, Gena Branscombe actually held and touched this paper, her whole being sent the message and signed it.  Letters - - personal letters.

 With many thanks to Marie Zieres’s grandson, Mark. 

And, remember, “Noone should mind being older, life is just better and better.”



Monday, May 23, 2022

What a Surprise!


“As I looked at the young Queen and her husband, Prince Philip, on their visit to New York, it seemed that she was filling her role with great dignity but also with some weariness. How very young this couple looked—and how we do make our visitors work!”  (Eleanor Roosevelt diary entry, October 26, 1957)


On October 21, 1957 and for a mere 15 hours, Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip were in the United States for their first state visit.  During those hectic hours they were honored with a ticker-tape parade on Broadway, had lunch with dignitaries at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel, followed by the Queen’s speech at the United Nations and a return to the Waldorf Astoria for dinner.  The dinner was co-sponsored by the English-Speaking Union of the United States and the Pilgrim Society of the United States.  At 2 AM the royals were at Idlewild Airport where they boarded a plane for a return to the United Kingdom.  Yes, this is the same Queen; Queen Elizabeth who continues her reign today and marks the 70 anniversary of her coronation. 


Much to my surprise and Gena Branscombe’s grandsons’ surprise, we recently learned that Gena had been invited to attend the dinner honoring the royals at the Waldorf Astoria on that October evening.  With many thanks to John Lyons of Picton, Ontario for his researching and discovering an article that Gena Branscombe penned for the Picton Gazette on November 8, 1957. 


In vivid detail Gena described the Waldorf Astoria’s Grand Ballroom décor of blue satin draperies, a gold throne like chair, guests decked out in “marvelous gowns, superb jewels and evening furs, the men in uniforms or white ties and tails.”  Queen Elizabeth’s gown was pale pink, green and blue with embroidery and a fan-like train.  She wore diamond and sapphire jewelry and the “Russian-fringe tiara – made solidly of diamonds.”


Continuing on Miss Branscombe wrote of Canadian Members of Parliament in attendance, ambassadors and a toast given to President Dwight D. Eisenhower.  One can tell that Gena was impressed with Her Royal Highness, the speech she gave mentioning the Commonwealth and especially Canada.  Prince Philip was mentioned for his dignity, warm kindness and his sense of humor.

Having read this article five times, I find Gena’s writing formal, eloquent and yet, underlying all of that was her excitement, honor and awe of being in the company of the royals, dignitaries and all others that filled the ballroom. 


Again, thank you to John Lyons for his research. 

Wednesday, May 11, 2022

Festival Prelude/Festival March - Part II


Posted on The Gena Branscombe Project Facebook page on May 9, 2022 was the following:

Tuesday, May 3rd at Berklee College of Music in Boston, Gena Branscombe’s 1913 composition “Festival Prelude/March” was given its 21st century premiere.  The Gena Branscombe Project 2020 conductor scholarship winner, Damali Willingham, not only conducted the performance but also arranged this orchestral piece for wind ensemble. 

Willingham poured musical talents into the arrangement creating a score filled with lush textures, delicacy of melody and rhythmic drive.  Damali conducted the piece with authority knowing every note and phrase then drew it together with her ensemble to make heartfelt music.  The Gena Branscombe Project thanks Damali and professor, Dr. Dominick Ferrara, for your dedication to this beautiful piece of music. 

Now to get this piece published!


The concert was indeed wonderful.  The Gena Branscombe Project sponsored a post-concert reception as a thank you to Damali, Dr. Ferrara and the members of the wind ensemble.  We are making one more step forward promoting the performance of Gena Branscombe’s music. 


Sunday, May 1, 2022

Ladies Speak

Trying to define what promoting a woman composer or women composers is in one’s life can be perplexing.  Is it a job?  Is it detective work uncovering or digging up something from the past?  Is it a mission?  Is it a passion?  Is it fun or a hobby? Maybe it is a combination of all of these.  We have wrapped ourselves in a blanket of passion that fills our lives as a job whose title is being a mission driven detective while having a delightful time learning something new and something not taught in those college music history classes!  

We eagerly pursue new ways and avenues to promote women composers through blogs, presentations, published articles, performances, recordings, interviews, social media and podcasts.  We work to get out the message that women have existed as composers as long as men have – always!

I would consider my many years of work on the music and life of composer Gena Branscombe as an absolute passionate joy of a job! Over the years the number of people who have crossed my path encouraging my work is astounding.

 Recently I was contacted by Matt Spangler who has produced the new podcast “Ladies Speak.”   

Their first episode features the music and life of Margaret Ruthven Lang. This 40 minute podcast takes us through the life and music of this wonderful Boston born composer.  Music historians and performers recount the composer’s works analyzing, performing and comparing them to other composers of her era. This is a woman composer who presented her music to Antonin Dvorak while he visited her home.  While in Germany she went to the home of Franz Liszt.  We learn that at the age of 50 she stopped composing as she had said all that she had within her.  In 1972 Margaret Lang died at the age of 104.  There is much more in the podcast.  I highly recommend spending 40 minutes to learn about a brilliant composer whose name is Margaret Ruthven Lang.

And, yes, Matt Spangler and I will be discussing Gena Branscombe sometime in the near future.  In the meantime, listen to the first podcast of “Ladies Speak!”


Thursday, April 21, 2022

The Gena Branscombe Project - 2022 Music Scholarships

In early April, The Gena Branscombe Project announced that their 2022 scholarship applications are open.  We welcome and encourage up and coming arts administrators, conductors and composers to apply.  Go to our website - to fill out the application. 


Over the past two years The Gena Branscombe Project has offered these three scholarships to honor the legacy of composer, conductor and arts administrator Gena Branscombe.  With her personal belief in hard work, her determination to compose music steeped in the tradition of the 19th century German Romantic period and her role as a leader and promoter of American music, she set an inspiring example for everyone.   


Education is the gateway to achieving your music career goals.  You have until May 15th to apply for one of these scholarships. 



Friday, March 18, 2022



Ludwig van Beethoven, Jean Sibelius, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, JS Bach, Frederic Chopin, Anton Bruckner, Robert Schumann, Giacomo Puccini, Giuseppe Verdi, Johannes Brahms, Luigi Boccherini, Sergei Rachmaninoff, Hector Berlioz, and Richard Wagner.  What do all of these composers have in common?  First, they are all men and second, they have statues of their likeness in public squares across Europe and some in the United States. 


Chris Wiley, of London, England, recently posted on Facebook that a statue of composer/suffragette Dame Ethel Smyth (1858-1944) had been unveiled in her home town of Woking, England.  The unveiling, appropriately, was held on International Women’s Day, March 8th.  

Dame Ethel Smyth’s legacy as a composer and suffragette is exemplary for those of us who have come after her.  She studied at the Leipzig Conservatory.  She  met Clara Schumann and J
ohannes Brahms.  She composed instrumental works, choral pieces, a Mass in D and six operas one of which, “Der Wald,” was performed at the Metropolitan Opera.  There are numerous  recordings available that reveal the brilliance of Dame Ethel Smyth’s music. 


For two years beginning in 1910, she gave up composing to join the Women’s Social and Political Union which advocated for women’s rights.  She wrote “The March for Women” which became the movement’s anthem.  During one particular contentious march for women’s rights, Smyth and 100 other women were arrested and served two months in prison.  Suffragettes marched and sang her anthem outside the prison.  Smyth leaned out of her prison window and conducted her colleagues using a toothbrush! 

In 1935 Gena Branscombe traveled to England to visit her daughter, Gena Tenney, who was studying at the Royal Conservatory of Music.  During her time in London, Gena visited with Dame Smyth and no doubt the two composers shared afternoon tea! 

Reading about Dame Ethel Smyth’s statue, I wondered if any other women composers had been honored with the same.  Research found that Hildegard von Bingen (1098-1179), Wilhelmine von Bayreuth (1709-1758), a contemporary of JS Bach, and Clara Schumann (1819-1896), wife of Robert Schumann, have statues in town squares.  Only three women composers? 

Amy Beach (1867-1944), probably America’s most famous woman composer, does not have a statue honoring her.  Amy Beach earned the endearing title of “Aunt Amy” because she was a leader of American women composers and mentor to all of her contemporaries.


There are hundreds of women composers, whose renown and contribution to the world of music make them candidates for a statue in their hometowns.  They are role models of discipline. They stood up for the right to be recognized as a composer in a man’s world.  These women wrote music of the highest quality only to be turned away by publishing companies and performing organizations because they were women.  Many were suffragettes, wives, mothers and business women striving to lay a path for women in the future.  They accomplished that without recognition and fanfare. 


What an idea – statues of women composers!!


Thursday, March 10, 2022

Putnam Griswold

 The great German composer, Richard Wagner (1813-1883) wrote challenging and complex operas including” Parsifal,” The Ring Cycle,” “ Lohengrin,” “ Die Meistersinger, “ “Tristan und Isolde”  and many others.  The vocal demands on singers who perform roles in these operas are great.  The vocal lines are long and complicated supported by an orchestra of 100 musicians.  Wagnerian singers are the royalty of opera singers and are in demand.


Less than thirty years after Wagner’s death, American bass-baritone Putnam Griswold (1875-1914) became known as the leading interpreter of Wagner’s   heroic bass roles.  His success did not come overnight and required years of training. 


Born in Minneapolis, Minnesota and raised in California, Griswold Putnam followed a business career.  At the age of 22 he discovered his singing voice.  He began his training in California, studied in London, Paris, Frankfurt and Berlin.  His opera debut was at the Royal Opera House in London in 1901.  He became a regular member of the Berlin Opera performing Wagner’s great bass roles.   Germany’s Kaiser Wilhelm twice decorated Griswold for being the foremost interpreter of Wagner…..and he was a foreigner!


In 1911, Putnam made his Metropolitan Opera debut performing the role of Hagen in “Götterdämmerung.”  The Metropolitan Opera became his home until his sudden death from an attack of appendicitis in 1914.  His fans were devastated. 


During the year 1913, Griswold Putnam met with Gena Branscombe to go over some of her songs.  In a letter to her publisher, Arthur P. Schmidt, Gena requested a copy of her “Chrystmasse Song” in the low key as Mr. Griswold was an ”absolute bass!”  She also requested a copy of her song cycle, “Sun Dial” to rehearse with him.   


When Putnam Griswold died in New York City, his funeral was held at the Broadway Tabernacle Church, Broadway and Fifty-Sixth Street.  This is the church where Gena and her family worshipped. 


Another famous singer from Miss Branscombe’s era graced her home to rehearse her music with her! 


Tuesday, February 15, 2022

Esther Dale


New York City’s December /January weather can be mild or brutally cold.  It was brutally cold in December 1920 and leading into January 1921.  Escaping that weather to make a two week trip to the sunshine and warmth of Bermuda would be many people’s dreams.  Add to that two week warm weather Bermuda trip accompanying soprano Esther Dale.  That’s quite the incentive!


“Am planning to go to Bermuda Dec 27th for a two week trip as Esther Dale’s  accompanist.  She will do some of my things.  Can I do anything for you – in Hamilton – make any connection with any music stores (if there are any!).”  The quote is from Gena Branscombe’s November 8, 1920 letter to Arthur Schmidt, her publisher.  Imagine a woman in 1920 taking a two week break from New York City to perform in Bermuda while leaving her husband at home to care for their three daughters, run the household and work full-time!  Gena Branscombe was an independent, career oriented woman with a husband who supported her.


As I read the above quoted letter, soprano Esther Dale was not a name I recognized.  Research had to be done!  Dale was born in Beaufort, South Carolina in 1885.  Her music studies took her to Berlin, Germany where it is possible that Esther and Gena may have met while studying there in 1909 or 1910.  As a lieder singer Esther presented recitals at Aeolian Hall and Carnegie Hall in New York City.  She was a guest artist with the New York Philharmonic and the Boston Symphony Orchestra.  At Smith College in Boston Dale was appointed head of the vocal department. 


This classically trained singer segued from her music career into acting having an impressive onstage presence as well as film and television.  In 1933 she was the lead in Carrie Nation on Broadway with her co-star James Stewart!  Additional Broadway performances included And Be My Love in 1944 and Harvest of Years in 1947. As the character Birdie Hicks, Esther Dale appeared in the Ma and Pa Kettle movie series during the 1940s and 1950s. 


Television appearances included guest spots on Maverick, Wagon Train, and The Donna Reed Show.  Esther Dale died in Hollywood during the summer of 1961. 

 Now, back to the Esther Dale Bermuda concerts.  I began searching for reviews or ads for the concerts.  Hopefully Gena’s name as accompanist and a list of the songs Esther performed would be in print.  I found two ads from The Royal Gazette, the Bermuda newspaper.  There is no mention of Gena in the ads for Town Hall in St. Geroge’s or Mechanics Hall in Hamilton .  No reviews appeared in the local papers.  In a January 29, 1921 article in Musical America, there is mention that Esther Dale performed two recitals and in a private home where former President and Mrs. Taft were in the audience.  The accompanist was Conal Quirke. 


That is a bit perplexing. I doubt Dale would have had two accompanists in tow.  It is possible Gena may have had to cancel the tour for personal reasons. 


What comes of all my research is that I now know who Esther Dale is and admire the span of her career.  A trained lieder singer who performed with top notch orchestras and an actor who worked for over 25 years on the stage, in film and television.  Inspiring! 

 Gena Branscombe knew Esther Dale and it’s possible she sang her songs.  This is all in a day’s work of research and worth every minute of the effort!



Wednesday, January 19, 2022

Madame Margaret Matzenauer


Carnegie Hall sits on the corner of 57th Street and 7th Avenue in New York City.  Built in 1891 the hall continues to be a center piece of the city’s musical life to this day.  There are a myriad of great classical musicians’ spirits hovering around that venerable stage where they once performed.  

 Only classical musicians?  NO!  Carnegie Hall has hosted fund raisers for orphans, peace concerts, Broadway shows done in concert format, jazz concerts, international peace and political action lectures. 


On April 5, 1918 the outer lobby of this revered space was decked out with banners and a poster of Uncle Sam.  Over the stage hung posters for the national war savings campaign and a picture of large guns and fighting men which stated, “These boys are giving their lives will you lend your quarters?” Another poster encouraged women of America to save their country.  What was the occasion?  The world famous contralto,Margaret Matzenauer, was giving a recital.  Why all the war advertising during her recital?  World War I had been raging for nearly four years and the call for citizen’s patriotism was at its height.  


Madame Matzenauer presented songs in English, French, Italian, Russian and Norwegian.  Not to leave out American composers, she sang songs by Marion Bauer, John Carpenter, Gena Branscombe and her pianist/composer Frank La Forge.  Half way through her recital, Matzenauer paused her program to sing the war song “Dear Lad o’Mine” followed by our Star Spangled Banner.  I am sure her audience was moved by her commitment to the American war effort.

“Had such a nice surprise Friday when Madame Matzenauer sang “Dear Lad” for an encore at the Carnegie Hall recital.  It’s a joy to hear a voice like that, do one’s things”  (Gena Branscombe’s letter to Arthur P. Schmidt, April 7, 1918 held at the Library of Congress).  Whether Gena Branscombe was at that Carnegie Hall recital is not known, yet, she knew Margaret Matzenauer performed her World War I song with poetry by Katherine Hale. 


Madame Matzenauer went on to perform “Dear Lad o’Mine” on a concert tour which included performances in Brooklyn and Denver. 


Collaborating with Canadian poet Katherine Hale, the two artists tell the dramatic story of a mother fearing for her young son at war.  All profits from the sale of this song were donated to the Canadian Red Cross World War I effort. 


Katherine Hale’s poem:

War gods have descended:

The world burns up, in fine.

Warm your hands by the trenches fire,

Dear lad o’mine.

Sometimes bullets cease at night,

Only songs are heard.

When you feel a phantom step,

Was my heart that stirred.

 If you see a dreamy light,

 ‘Tis the Christ Child’s eyes;

I believe he watches us,

Wonderful and wise.

Let me come to say good night;

Through the campfires shine;

Warm your hands at the trenches fire,

They still hold mine.

Dear lad,

Dear lad o’mine. 


Tuesday, January 11, 2022

Festival March/Festival Prelude


Festival March/Festival Prelude

 Should the title be “Festival Prelude” or “Festival March” or “March Prelude” or simply “March,” should it be called “Festival Overture” or maybe just “Prelude?”  Is the work to be scored for full orchestra, smaller orchestra or arranged for organ, piano and violin?  These are the unnerving tasks of assigning a title and deciding what instrumentation works best for the music you are hearing in your mind.   

Eventually Gena Branscombe used the titles “Festival Prelude” and “Festival March” interchangeably.  Writing to her publisher, Arthur Schmidt, on August 11, 1913, she reveals that she is busy orchestrating her “Festival March” and wonders, “How can one ever write well for orchestra - if one never can hear what one has written?”  Nearly a month later she tells Mr. Schmidt that her “Festival March” for orchestra was completed. 

As a self-promoter, Miss Branscombe dined with a Mr. Reinald Werrenrath who was connected with the MacDowell Colony. Dinner conversation included asking if a performance of her “Festival March” at the MacDowell Festival in Peterborough, New Hampshire would be a possibility.  And, indeed, in 1914 she arranged the orchestral score to fit the smaller group of instruments the Festival employed.  The work was performed in Peterborough with conductor Arthur Bergh leading the musicians. 

In her October 27, 1914 letter to Mr. Schmidt, Gena expressed her joy of hearing her “March” in live rehearsal and performance.

“I should like to tell you about Peterborough.  I feel that it was one of the biggest events of my life insomuch as it opened an entirely new world to me – The listening to the men rehearse at close range was most instructive.  I went over the score most minutely with Mr. Bergh, who was kindness itself.”

“I had never heard the “March” of course – and if you can imagine my nervousness before the first rehearsal!  Was afraid there would be so many mistakes in the score - and that I wouldn’t be able to tell what instrument was playing wrong notes - and that I might tangle up in some way and I wouldn’t know how to straighten things.”

“Well – it went like clockwork – and I was certainly happy.”

 “The day of the performance it simply poured rain.  The tympani had to be covered – and little snare drum used – and of course some important effects were lost.  On the whole however it went very well – and I think the people liked it.  It was unpretentious but I didn’t feel at all ashamed of it.”

“It went exceedingly well when Arthur Bergh did it in Central Park in September much better than at Peterborough.”

For several years Gena went on to correct, change and arrange her “Festival Prelude.”  She met with Russian conductor Modest Altschuler who promised to perform the piece in Pittsburgh.  She had the score sent to Mr. Polacco, a conductor at the Metropolitan Opera and Chicago Civic Opera.  She indicates people in California were to perform it as well. 

And, Miss Branscombe made an arrangement of the “Festival Prelude” for piano, organ and violin.  With only a ten minute rehearsal and trusting they would end together, the work was performed on February 13, 1917. 

Why all this information about the “Festival March”/”Festival Prelude”?  The Gena Branscombe Project was contacted by Dominick Ferrara, Professor of Music at Berklee College of Music and his conducting student Damali Willingham.  They were interested in transcribing the “Festival Prelude” for wind ensemble.  With a quick trip to the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts where the only known original manuscript is held, a scan of the score, unfortunately with missing pages, and, the organ, piano and violin arrangement were sent to Damali.  The new arrangement is being created as I type. 

Miss Branscombe transcribed and arranged her music for whatever voices, instruments and ensembles that would perform her music. She would be overjoyed to hear her “Festival Prelude”/"Festival March” performed by wind ensemble.

This Spring a 21st century performance of “Festival Prelude” will take place at the Berklee College of Music.  The Branscombe family and we at The Gena Branscombe Project are thrilled. 

Gena and her colleagues at the MacDowell Festival in Peterborough, NH - 1914

Damali Willingham photo by Kelly Davidson