When I am in need of inspiration, or perhaps procrastination, I visit a wonderful website, which has been brought to us by our tax dollars. Part of the Library of Congress’s “American Memory” site (memory.loc.gov) is something called “Traveling Culture: Circuit Chautauqua in the 20th Century.” Among other artifacts, the site houses promotional fliers from various artists and acts that traveled the country in the early part of the 20th century. A search of “women violinists” brings up a number of items, both intriguing (Dorothy DeLay and her sister as 2/3‘s of the Stuyvesant Trio in the 1950‘s) and occasionally hilarious (see the Melody Belles). These violinists had performing careers, numerous glowing press clippings, and management of sorts, yet I’d wager few people would recognize the names (Miss DeLay aside). It seemed a shame, so I thought I’d see what I could find out about some of their lives and careers.
In an oddly linear Google search, a picture emerged of the short life of Estelle Gray, billed in her press kit as “The Violiniste of Inspiration.” Gray was born in California sometime in the early 1890’s (ancestry.com says “about 1892”). She began studying violin at the age of six, and gave a recital two years later at the Alhambra Theater in San Francisco, playing a memorized program to an audience of 1500 people. Her press biography from the 1920’s adds, “It was at this time she was gaining inspiration from her habit of practicing in the open, among the wonderful mountains of California.” Teddy Roosevelt said of her, “You have absorbed the message of your big West; it shows in the strength and virility of your bowing.”
The University of the Pacific gave her “the offer of a cap and gown” at age eleven, and soon afterwards she turned down a scholarship at the University of California in order to study in New York. Gray began giving concerts in New York at age 15, including a series at the Waldorf Astoria, the Plaza, the Astor, and in Aeolian Hall. Playing her way across the U.S. at age 17, Gray ended with a recital at the University of California’s Greek Theater, which seated 8,000 (though the report neglects to say how many seats were filled). A tour of Europe followed this success. More dubious compliments came her way, such as this by Henri Marteau, Joachim’s successor at the Berlin Hochschule: “ Her bow arm is truly remarkable for its freedom and strength. She has the best bowing of any woman I have ever known."
Gray was fairly unique for her time in that her training was accomplished entirely in America, though I haven't been able to find any mention of with whom she studied. This native training was frequently pointed out in her publicity, and after her European tour, Gray was “besieged” by New York newspapers for interviews on “why American training is best for our girls.” Press blurbs included on her post-European brochure reveal interesting perceptions of and attitudes towards “girl violinistes” of the time. For example:
Nuremberg, Bavaria, The Musical Zeitung: “We were amazed to find ourselves so won by the little American artist; the very walls that for centuries have been penetrated with German music , seemed to rejoice at the fresh melodies of the girl from the other world.”
London, The Times: “The young American violiniste, Estelle Gray, is quite extraordinary; her charming winsomeness won before she played a note, and she plays with the vigor of a man.”
Ostend, Belgium. Ciro Patimo, of the Grand Opera Company, said of Miss Gray’s playing: “So feminine and graceful, yet the strength and force of a man. She is the most brilliant of artists.”
San Francisco Examiner: “Miss Gray’s tones are warm and virile. Her manner on the platform instantly enchants with its simplicity and unaffected, unconscious ease... She is equally charming in a lullaby, a gypsy dance, or the heavier work.”
New Haven, Conn. Register: “It was brilliant and thrilling and almost set the audience wild. For an encore she played a sweet lullaby that made one think of home and all the sweetest babies we ever knew.”
Gray and pianist Florence Crawford, 1913
Gray’s mother, Mrs. Margaret Ludgate Gray, served as Estelle’s tour manager and promoter (stage mother, anyone?). She also, likely with little prompting, participated in the programs as a “reader.” An early brochure states, “Mrs. Margaret Ludgate Gray always travels with her daughter. Mrs. Gray has studied the art of interpretation under some of the best masters. She is a character delineator of marked ability, and has won popularity from East to West. Mrs. Gray is a great favorite with audiences, with spoken songs, readings with music and character delineations. Her numbers add greatly to the interest and charm of the program.” Or else?
Mother Gray’s role as performance partner was soon to take a back seat with the advent of a new collaborative pianist-- one Mr. Moritz Lhevinne. Stay tuned for the rest of the story...
Research is cool. There, I said it. I am firmly in the class of the tortoise-shell glasses wearing, notebook and pencil carrying, geeks that you see populating research libraries. One of my favorite places in the world is the British Library. The three stories of glassed-in books in the center of the building give me chills, the exhibits are awe-inspiring (where else can you stand six inches and a pane of glass away from Mozart's thematic catalog and Paul McCartney's scribbled words for Yesterday?), and the hushed reading rooms are my idea of paradise. I treasure my reader's card. I love the snack bar. I bought the souvenir picture book. It is hopeless.
That having been said, this post seeks to explain to you the wonders and magic of research as a hobby. Come with me to visit this enchanted land...
1. It's like shopping, without the expense.
I have always considered shopping to be a blood sport, the equivalent of football in my world. It's the thrill of the hunt, the endless possibilities in the next shoe store, the occasional pilgrimage to an outlet mall... With research, the same single-minded focus needed to find just the right dress for an event can be used in searching library catalogs. The thrill of new discoveries found tangentially when you're on the trail of something is like finding the perfect pair of jeans in a rack of polyester pants at 70% off. And you can look at the books or music all day in the library for free.
2. When there are expenses, they're fun ones.
When you're serious about doing research, sometimes the only way to get to the material is by going far afield to a major library or archive. That pretty much means a big city somewhere, so if you choose your topic wisely, you can visit some fabulous places. If you're in academia like me, you might even be able to get a little grant to help with the travel costs. Yes, it may be expensive, but didn't you want to go there anyway?
3. You meet cool people.
Like librarians. Librarians are amazing people. They are, for the most part, genuinely interested in helping you, fascinated to hear about your project, well-informed, and willing to go the extra mile for you. A wonderful music librarian at the British Library once personally mailed me a photocopy of an 18th-century sonata because the box it was in couldn't be located before I left the country, and he felt bad. Remember during the Bush years when they wanted to keep tabs on the books people checked out from the library, and librarians pitched a collective fit and stopped them? Remember who stood firm when certain factions were trying to ban various books? Cool people.
4. You can do a lot of research in your jammies.
Now that we have the interwebs and all, you can lie on the couch with "Room Crashers" blaring in the background and have access to more information than could ever be imagined twenty years ago. One of my favorite search databases is WorldCat, which allows you to hunt down pieces or composers in libraries all over the world (which is very helpful in trip planning). And if you really don't want to leave home, it's truly amazing what people will publish on the web (er, case in point...) If there's an arcane interest, doubtless someone will have a website somewhere with information. If not, you could be the first.
5. Unlike practicing the violin, when you write something it will still be in the same shape tomorrow that you left it in today.
Research is forever. Playing the violin can vary greatly from day to day. While violin is my first love, it is not a forgiving love. Research material will sit patiently in its file and be exactly as you left it when you come back three weeks later. Violin, not so much. With research, I could even go back to something I wrote over a decade ago and post it in the blog! It's nice to have something stable in life, when intonation practice becomes too daunting.
I could (and would) go on, but by now I hope I've convinced you of merry delights of research. Far from tedious grunt-work, it is a splendid world of opportunity and excitement. Dig in and happy hunting!
Having been a horse-obsessed young girl, it astonishes me that I had never read one of the most famous “horse” books ever, My Friend Flicka—until now. Mary O’Hara, author of this trilogy and other books, is also Mary O’Hara, pianist and composer.
Ms. O’Hara (1885-1980) lived a varied life! Born into a family descended from William Penn, O’Hara grew up as a minister’s daughter in Brooklyn Heights, NY. She married a third cousin (against her father’s wishes) and moved with him to California at the start of the 20th century. They divorced, and she stayed on and worked as a screenwriter in Hollywood in the 1920’s. Marriage again uprooted her, and she moved to Wyoming with husband #2, a man who had worked with horses in the Army. This ranch and her experiences there form the not-so-well-disguised background and characters in the Wyoming trilogy of My Friend Flicka, Thunderhead, and Green Grass of Wyoming, which were written while living there in the 1940’s. Divorcing again in 1947, Ms. O’Hara moved back east and settled in Maryland for the rest of her life.
Wyoming looms large in O’Hara’s musical output. She wrote a musical called “Oh! Wyoming! : a folk tale of the Western plains with music” in 1959; a song “Green Grass of Wyoming” in 1946 (the words of which are quoted in the novel of the same name), and another musical, “The Catch Colt” in the 1960’s. The Sunset Dance (which is in the second volume of the anthology) was published in the 1920’s, so it seems clear that her love of nature and the wide-open spaces of the west was long a source of her musical inspiration. After finding this piece and looking into O’Hara’s background for her biography, I decided that I really needed to read her most famous books.
So recently I finished reading the trilogy. One thing that stood out to me throughout was that sunrises, sunsets, and the weather itself almost became characters themselves in the books. My Friend Flicka begins the trilogy with a sunrise:
“High up on the long hill they called the Saddle Back, behind the ranch and the county road, the boy sat his horse, facing east, his eyes dazzled by the rising sun.
It seemed like a personage come to visit; appearing all of a sudden over the dark bank of clouds in the east, coming up over the edge of it smiling; bowing right and left; lighting up the whole world so that everything smiled back.”
There are numerous descriptions of sunsets, usually helping to set the mood for the action. In Thunderhead, while Nell and Rob share a strained car ride, O’Hara describes a sunset:
"It was a sunset of blue and silver. The light had gone away from the earth, leaving a sea of darkness beneath a sky as blue as turquoise. The eyes, straining to discover at what far-distant point that dark earth me the jeweled light of the sky, were lost in mystery. That was not all. There was a mile-long, torpedo-shaped lake of quicksilver some distance above the horizon, it’s edges as finely turned as if blown in glass, and below it, thrusting up from behind the earth, the tops of thunderheads burning white, like great alabaster lamps lit from within… The sunset dawned, burned, died at the slow swing of a gigantic, omnipotent arm."
In the last book, Nell writes to her son Howard the “sermon” she was too sick to give him before he left for school. Several threads come together:
"…just one more word about the way LOVE bestows happiness. When you come to think of it, there is nothing that bestows happiness except love. Love is implicit in all praise, in admiration. You know how, in yourself, when you see some glorious thing, a sunset, or a beautiful face, or some of these exquisite scenes of nature that you now and then come upon, a great tide of praise, love and happiness rises in your heart until it seems that it will burst, and tears push up behind your eyes! Or perhaps it is the grandeur of a symphony. Or perhaps it is great courage or a noble, unselfish deed—and again that bursting love fills that heart."
O'Hara delves more into her feelings about music in Green Grass of Wyoming. For me, one of the most striking scenes in the whole trilogy, and some of the most beautiful writing, describes Nell’s reaction to Rob’s gift of a piano:
"She did not know he was there. Her face was rapt. She sat with one elbow on the rack, her head leaning on her hand, the other hand playing that low fifth with a deep, gentle touch, over and over.
At last he couldn’t help asking her why she kept playing just those two notes, and why there were tears in her eyes…She explained hesitatingly, as if she were feeling her way through the thoughts. ‘I learned to do this when I was a child. By the hour. It is as if we know so small a part of life and of the universe and all that is. The world, all worlds, heaven, hell—whatever there is in the way of worlds and universes and life! How little we knew! We cannot know more. We’re not constituted to know more, and yet we can’t help wishing we could. Well, music hints at all we cannot know but just dream of. If I sit playing one chord over and over, listening with an absolutely blank mind, it does something to me. Deep down. I don’t know what, but it is a marvelous emotion. Everything falls away. And I begin to be aware of the depths of things—I don’t know what to call them. Perhaps beauty. Perhaps love. Perhaps an immensurable longing. Of the final deep and dreadful and marvelous things that would be too much for human beings to bear if they did know of them. Yes—that’s it, through these two notes, I get a message, a promise, a terrible enticement...‘"
Children's books? On some levels, yes. But in addition to the gripping stories of horses, adventure and growing up, O'Hara explores depths of feeling and relationship issues that surprised me as an adult. Reading them, The Sunset Dance became more to me than a cute tune that explores first and third position and is a really great opportunity for left hand octave frame work. It is all that, yes, but in the same way that these are much more than YA books, her awe of nature and love of music are going to stay with me when I play it.
The books explored in this segment are really the reason I chose this topic in the first place! They are some of my favorite works for children, and it is a toss-up as to which wins the award for most adorable illustrations.
The first (chronologically) is Sally O'Reilly's Fiddle Rhythms (originally String Rhythms). For anyone unacquainted with Ms. O'Reilly, her official biography reads as follows: "Sally O'Reilly is known throughout the music world as a soloist, chamber musician, and pedagogue. Professor of Violin at the University of Minnesota School of Music in Minneapolis, she studied with Ivan Galamian at Curtis Institute and with Josef Gingold at Indiana University, where she was his assistant. Later she studied with Andre Gertler and Carlo Van Neste in Brussels, where she was a Fulbright Scholar. Her chamber music coaches included Janos Starker, Gyorgy Sebok, Artur Balsam, William Primrose, and Felix Galimir." (https://music.umn.edu/people/faculty-staff/profile?UID=oreil004)
While Ms. O'Reilly doesn't use specific lyrics throughout the book, she equates each rhythm with a mouth-watering pie filling as a clever mnemonic device. For example, "apple" (as in apple pie) represents two eighth-notes. Each rhythm has a page devoted to its exploration. First, the rhythm is used by itself to play "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star," and next reappears in a variation of this tune called "I Like _____ Pie." Then two or three short familiar tunes which use the rhythm put the cap on the lesson.
Ms. O'Reilly's pie fillings are often ingenious. "Orange" represents a sixteenth and dotted eighth (she is from Texas-- give it two syllables!), "banana" = 16th-8th-16th, "chocolate" is an eighth-note triplet, and so on. "Mixed fruit pies" are pages with tunes that combine the rhythms, and "Lopsided pies" use asymmetrical meters. A final page has a quiz on the different rhythm types, with the opportunity to compose a little. I love this book, even though it makes me want to head for the nearest diner for coffee and pie.
Next up are two of my all-time favorite books. They make me want to run out and lasso children to teach so I can have the joy of using them. Both are by British violinist and teacher Caroline Lumsden, author of the "Musicland" series, widely used in the UK. Ms. Lumsden studied at the Guildhall School of Music, and has spent much of her career specializing in teaching children. She is the director of the Beauchamp Music Group (named after her house), which is a registered charity that has taught hundreds of young people in Britain. Ms. Lumsden imbues her teaching with a great sense of fun, which is readily apparent in these two books.
The first, Witches' Brew, is a collection of pieces for open strings and first finger. Yawn, you say? Not with the collection of rhythms, bowings, special effects, jazzy accompaniments, and hilarious words (were you wondering when I'd get to that?) that comprise the music. Put out in 2002, the books got to ride in on the Harry Potter wave, but stand the test of time now that he's all grown up.
Each piece uses words to reinforce the rhythms, and the words all lie in that range of grossness that delights children so. The first of the tunes, "Witches' Brew" (pictured here; I don't know who stretta music is, but I can't think that they have any copyright claim to this), has the following lyrics:
Witches' brew, witches' brew
do not drink the witches' brew
Tail of rat, eyeballs too
toes of toad and nose of shrew.
Witches' brew, witches' brew
do not drink the witches' brew
Rotten eggs, lumpy goo
nasty odor, smells like stew.
Witches' brew, witches' brew
drink drink drink
Practice suggestions at the top read:
Whisper and sing along; Clap with time names; Clap and sing note names; Practice the final noise.
The book comes with a cd which includes both performance and accompaniment tracks for each piece. Here is "Witches' Brew":
The second volume, Wizard's Potion, continues the fun with "16 spooky pieces to play and sing." Like the first, it includes a cd, adorable illustrations, and a summary of teaching points for each piece in the piano part. This time the player's range is extended to first and second finger patterns, and chromatic alterations are common. Children are weaned away from the reliance on words to learn rhythms, with only the first five pieces including lyrics. However, the "rhythm" of the title is generally found in the first measure or two of the violin part. One of my favorites, "Melted Mouse & Roasted Rat in Choc'late Sauce," comes off as a delightfully dirty blues. Just to imagine a little cherub getting down and swinging away on this makes me start looking around for younger students again...
I am a huge fan of Ms. Lumsden, if you couldn't tell. Both books are published by Peters, and are also available in a version for cello. Word use is certainly more fun in her hands than it was a century ago!
One final note (and chance to show you another adorable illustration from Wizard's Potion): The covers and illustrations were found online and are used without permission. Ditto with the sound files, which are from the cd's that come with the book. I use them all only with the intent to introduce this wonderful material to others and to sell lots of copies for Ms. O'Reilly and Ms. Lumsden. Hopefully that will keep me out of trouble!
Long before “Mississippi Hot Dog” became cemented in the violin vocabulary, using words as an aid to teaching music was a common technique. As I gathered material for the anthology, it was interesting to note how the types of language, and how it was used, changed over time. Here are some entirely unscientific observations from my by no means exhaustive study of the topic.
In the early 20th century, Edith Lynwood Winn (1867-1933), that tireless pedagogue with her many How to Study... books (for Kreutzer, Fiorillo, Rode, and Gavinies) used poems as prefaces to the pieces in her compositions for violin and piano. For instance, the three pieces from From the Carolina Hills included in volume one of the anthology have the following poems:
My summer’s gone—where did it go?
The land is covered o’er with snow,
The air is sharp upon the hill,
My hands are cold—I feel the chill
Of wintry winds that blow.
And yet I sit and think, and lo!
The pine within the grate doth glow,
While down the misty, snow-clad hill, I catch a song of sweet good-will,
And though the summer’s gone I know
‘Twill come again.
"The Sunshine Lad"
The Sunshine Lad has a morning song,
For all the world like a robin’s note,
Clear and true, joyous and free,
Though the rents are many in cap and coat.
The Sunshine Lad has a basket of pine,
The long-leaved pine of the Old North State,
The song it sings is a sunshine song,
As it sputters and sparkles in the grate.
"Buy My Pine"
“Buy my pine! Buy my pine!
The long-leaved pine—the emerald pine,
The scrubby pine full of turpentine,
For the pine of the hills is mine—all mine.”
A child cried out in the early morn,
A child all dirty and ragged and torn,
And the pine she bore cried back in turn,
“I am thine—all thine, let me quickly burn.”
I haven’t found any attribution for the poems, so my assumption is that they were written by Winn herself. Her use of poems in these pieces, as well as in two other collections (Five Playtime Pieces and Six Shadow Pictures), seem to be to set the mood, or perhaps inspire the mind to loftier considerations. I tried singing the words along to the music, and in every case it was a dismal failure.
Jumping ahead to the 1930’s, one of the works that gave me many laughs (but didn’t make it into the anthology) was One String Solos for Violin Beginners, by Kate La Rue Harper. Now, before you La Rue Harper fans get upset with me, there is nothing wrong with the music or the pedagogy here. This set of pieces limits each tune to one string, to better learn the notes and the feel of tone production there. The words do correspond with the rhythms, and are printed as lyrics. But what words! In my mind, I nicknamed these “Songs of Pain and Death.” If more research were to show a shift in society and education from uplifting young minds to moralizing and fear-mongering, it would be in full bloom here. For example, this solo on the A string:
"Kitty Needs a Pill"
Go and call a doctor, Kitty’s very ill.
Ask him if he’ll hurry, Oh I hope he will!
Kitty’s had a spill, Now she’s very ill;
Go and call a doctor, Kitty needs a pill.
"Lazy Little Bug" (D string Solo)
Lazy, lazy, little bug, Lying there asleep
Warm and snug beneath the rug, Wrapped in slumber deep.
When your little nap is o’er, And you stretch your legs once more,
You may find your dream was true, Someone really stepped on you!
Humans also receive their share of trouble (“Bobby cries in bitter woe/Just because he stubbed his toe”). In fairness, not every tune focuses on sickness, pain or death, but enough do that the thought of having a child memorize the words in order to learn the rhythms of the song gives me the heeby-jeebies.
The only other work by La Rue Harper that I've found listed is a one-act juvenile opera called Tomboy Jo’. Tomboy Jo’ is a poor orphan girl who is ostracized by both girls and boys for her gender-inappropriate looks and behavior. Here are the stage directions for her first entrance: “Tomboy Jo’ comes in turning cartwheels, or some other boyish trick. She has short hair and is boyish and unkempt. The boys and girls in chorus exclaim: ’O, here comes Josephine!’ They look at each other as if she were not welcome in either group.” It all comes right in the end when a tramp arrives and turns out to be her long-lost father, who has been stricken with amnesia (and her mother died of a broken heart after he wandered away). Somehow his return allows the others to accept her… I haven’t been able to find any biographical information on La Rue Harper, but I hope her life was more pleasant than all this suggests.
Next, some far happier contributions from contemporary female teachers!
Whether you are frantically searching for a new holiday piece for gigs, or calmly planning next year's festivities, the good people at Prairie Dawg Press have just the right thing for you. They have recently published (for the first time ever) Clarke's Combined Carols
in both string quartet and string orchestra versions. The work's subtitle is "Get 'em all over at once," and in it she combines three popular carols contrapuntally: "God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen," "Oh Come, All Ye Faithful," and "Silent Night." Originally written in 1942 for family members to play as a quartet, Clarke later added a bass part to create the string orchestra version. According to Clarke's musical executor, Christopher Johnson, the piece also became a yearly staple at the Oxford University Press holiday party. Head on over to www.prairiedawgpress.com
to order your copy!
If the name Rebecca Clarke is unknown to you, this tells me that 1) you are not a violist and 2) you have some glorious musical discoveries ahead of you. Christopher Johnson has been kind enough to supply the following biographical sketch:
"Born to a musical family in Harrow, England, in 1886, Rebecca Clarke learned the violin at an early age, and then went to the Royal Academy of Music, London, for further study. In 1908, she was accepted as Sir
Charles Stanford’s first female composition student, and entered the Royal College of Music. Stanford urged her to shift over to the viola because then she would be “right in the middle of the sound, and can
tell how it’s all done.”
Two years later, when family turmoil forced her to leave the College, she began to support herself as a violist, and soon became a much-sought-after supply player in orchestras and ensembles around London. In 1912, Sir Henry Wood hired her to play in his Queen’s Hall Orchestra, making her one of the first women to become regular members of a professional orchestra in London. She played chamber music with many of the greatest artists of the twentieth century, including Schnabel, Casals, Thibaud, Suggia, Rubinstein, Grainger, Hess, and Szell.
Billing herself “Rebecca Clarke, viola player and composer,” she became a fixture of recital halls in England and the United States, gave a concert of her own works at the Wigmore Hall, London, and made an
around-the-world tour. In 1919, she wrote one of the greatest extended works for viola: her Sonata, which tied with the Bloch Suite in an anonymous competition sponsored by the American patroness Elizabeth
Sprague Coolidge. The Sonata was published in 1921 and rapidly became a cornerstone of the viola literature. Many of Clarke’s finest songs and chamber works, including her now-classic Piano Trio, were in print by 1930.
Clarke’s output was numerically small—about eighty pieces, excluding early amateur efforts—but its power, brilliance, and poetic depth were widely acknowledged, and as early as 1920 Clarke's name and compositions began to appear in British, American, and European reference-works. As a performer, she remained a familiar presence in concert halls and recording studios, both in London and in New York, but her composing was disrupted by a painful love-affair in the 1930s, and again by World War II. With the postwar triumph of serialism, her essentially tonal idiom began to seem "old hat," as she put it, and her published works gradually went out of print.
By the 1970s, however, with tonality making a comeback and the women’s movement stirring up new interest in female composers, Clarke was ideally positioned for a revival. She allowed her works to be cataloged, and set about revising many of them. By the time she died in 1979, she had had several major New York performances and had taken part in an extended radio broadcast honoring her ninetieth birthday. The following year saw the first in what became a spate of commercial recordings. Virtually all of her mature compositions have now been either published, or recorded, or both, and many have become mainstays
of the concert and recital repertoires."
You can find the slow movement of Clarke's violin sonata, written when she was studying with Stanford, in the fourth volume of the anthology. The sonata, as well as some other works by Clarke, has been recorded by Lorraine McAslan. The full piece will be published by Prairie Dawg Press in the near future.
The conductor Raymond Paige wrote an article entitled, “Why Not Women in Orchestras?” which appeared in the January 1952 issue of Etude
. He is supportive and forward-looking, in a 1950's sort of way– meaning that modesty and attractiveness continue to rear their heads throughout his arguments:
“The girl instrumentalist who looks forward to employment in a ranking symphonic organization today, will find that the decisive factors are musicianship and character, and not at all the fact of her being a girl... character is of equal value with musicianship, and auditions are calculated to probe the candidate’s self as well as her playing. The girl who is out for a gay time won’t get very far-- neither will the one with a pugnacious determination to ‘put men in their place.’ The right type is neither too vivacious nor too austere, but a balanced, responsible, right- thinking, right-acting human being with her eyes and her mind on the job... Ideally, the girl who wants orchestral work should be told to play whichever instrument she likes best. In some cases, however, the ideal must be tempered with the practical. This means that instruments requiring physical force are a dubious choice, partly because women lack the strength for them, partly because the spectacle of a girl engaging in such physical exertions is not attractive. There are women who play the heavier brasses, the contra-bass, the big drum, but their employment chances are slimmer. The orchestral manager, thinking in terms of full audience enjoyment, is reluctant to hire a player whose appearance gives off a feeling of forcing or of incongruity.”
So where are we today? Certainly, looking at the experiences of women like Abby Conant (http://www.osborne-conant.org/ladies.htm
), and reading comments made by members of the Vienna Philharmonic in 1996 that Herr Rudorff would have endorsed in 1881, it seems like nothing has changed. In reality, though, women are actively accepted in most major orchestras and certainly as soloists. And that brings me back to the start of this talk, flipping through cd’s in the record store. So let's compare some images of contemporary men and women soloists.
Two recent recordings of Vivaldi's "Four Seasons":
And solo Bach:
And no, it's not just string players:
But violinists may be leading the pack...
Now, I have to admit to stacking the deck here. At this writing (2012), things have changed quite a bit from when I originally wrote the essay in 1999. I see many fully-clothed women on their cd covers now, and quite a bit more simpering from the men (check out http://www.myplaydirect.com/joshua-bell/items/album
, for example). But I have yet to see a classical cd cover of a man selling his body in the same way that these, and many others, do for women. While the above pictures are the blatant extreme, there is often a more subtle language at play as well, that can be seen in the next two:
These are two comparable cd’s, each exploiting a more "popular" approach to classical music. Look at the difference in the presentation of the two cellists. The female is passive, gazing into the camera, asking to be noticed. She is not actively engaged in music-making. The male is playing and not beseeching his audience for attention; the indirect look shows his focus on the task at hand. In all these (admittedly carefully selected) images, the females use their instruments as props to highlight their sexuality/vulnerability (or in the case of Vanessa Mae, the instrument isn't even shown). The men use them as tools of the trade, demonstrating their mastery and seriousness of intent. They show the music as the most important element, not the physical appeal of the performer.
All the artists shown have reached a high level of achievement in their careers. In closing, I ask you to consider: Is this true progress? Or is it the fulfillment of Rousseau's dream?
Frederique Petrides, conductor of the Orchestrette Classique (a New York women’s orchestra), published many examples of the hostility women faced in her 1930's newsletter, Women in Music. According to the September 1938 newsletter:
“A feud between Parisian men and women musicians was reported a few weeks ago by Transradio Press in one of its daily Women Make the News broadcasts... According to this source, the discord is “all due to the fact that women’s orchestras are now so popular (in the French capital) that some of the men musicians are having a tough time getting work in night clubs and cafes. The feud reached such a height recently that 16 police guards had to be called out to quell a riot. They found a young woman violinist holding a crowd of men, and using her violin case as a weapon of defense. The violinist, Estelle Francen, had just arrived at an assembly hall in Montmartre where hopeful musicians gather for bookings. A group of men musicians spied her and an angry shout rang out: ‘There is one of them!’ The men looked so threatening that Miss Francen turned and ran. They pursued her until she sought refuge in a subway entrance. For 20 minutes, she kept the men musicians back as she slashed vigorously with her violin case. The 16 gendarmes arrived just in time to save the girl musician from the angry mob of jobless men musicians.”
The issue of physical appearance, this time with a twist, is used in conjunction with economics in this quote from the December 1938 newsletter:
“Quoted from Musical Leader is an article concerning discrimination against women orchestral players by leading conductors who cannot throw tradition to the winds. But there is something more than tradition that prevents major orchestras from employing women. Lady patrons of symphony concerts are in the large majority. They go to symphony concerts to see an orchestra of men. There would be a big slump in attendance if the orchestra became a mixed affair. A woman’s symphony orchestra is a specific organization. A man’s orchestra should be manned by men, because this is the only way it can be maintained.”
Some of Petrides’s reports show that the prejudice against women in orchestras stemmed from a rather misguided form of chivalry. For example, these two excerpts from July 1937 and January 1938:
[from Wm. J. Henderson, NY music critic] “There is no good reason why women should not be employed in orchestras. The chief question to be asked is whether they can play as well as men. After that, other considerations may be taken up. Can a conductor enforce discipline among the women as well as he can among the men, or will they have recourse to tears when the hard-hearted one addresses the instrumental body in merciless rebuke? Can women endure the severe strain of long and repeated rehearsals?”
[Richard Czerwonky, Musical Observer] “Women orchestra players are not popular with conductors, mainly because the conductors do not feel at liberty to swear as occasion demands before them, as they do before a lot of men. A conductor, in the stress of rehearsal, cannot stop and delete his favorite remarks when things are not going so well, just because there are ladies present... No man who is a gentleman can [swear] without the instinct of apology when there are women around– and that is the main reason why women are not popular as members of symphony orchestras.”
Nevertheless, professional women musicians continued to increase in numbers, though even where accepted, they had a treacherous path to tread. The regard for modesty and beauty had never completely vanished, but presented new pitfalls in the modern era. Again from the Women in Music newsletter, April 1939:
[Paul Denis, Billboard NY editor] “Many are the problems confronting girl musicians in the popular music field. Girl dance band musicians must not smile at patrons, because they, the girls, may be misunderstood. They must not engage in friendly banter with male patrons near the bandstand because the women patrons may suspect that the girl musicians are trying to steal their men. The girl musicians must be dressed attractively but not flashily – so that they will impress as musicians and not as flirts. The leader of the girl band must be careful, too. She must be genial, and more attractive than the rest of the orchestra – but she, too, must be careful not to appear to be flirting with male patrons. Because of this situation, many high class hotels are afraid to book girl dance bands...”
Many articles appeared in the 1940's and 50's that, while appearing to be supportive of women instrumentalists, still reinforced many clichés and placed a disproportionate emphasis on appearance. This image, from the May 1946 issue of Etude Magazine, illustrates this well:
The first sentence reads, "Lots of girls would like to play the cello but the thought of how they would look doing it often makes them go no further than the original wish." Isn't it nice that this man can fix it for these women? I particularly like the caption for the second picture on the left: "'Maryjane Thomas is sticking her foot out too much,' says Mr. Schuster. Nothing is more distracting than to have a foot peeping out from under a beautiful bouffant skirt." And the last paragraph of the article is telling: "In musical circles there is still this famous joke going the rounds. It has to do with a lady who enters into a store looking for a gown with the widest possible skirt. Every time she tries one on, she sits down, pretends she is taking something bulky between her knees, and then says, 'No, I'm sorry, I don't think this will do. Haven't you got anything wider?' Finally, the manager of the store is exasperated and says, 'I'm sorry madame, but we sell only to ladies.' 'Well, I'm a lady cellist,' replied the startled customer, walking out in a huff."
Ha. Ha. Ha.
last installment to come!
Returning to the more specific issue of the role physical appeal has played in the lives of women musicians, let’s revisit those ospedali students of two hundred years ago. In his Confessions, Jean-Jacques Rousseau gave an unwitting testimonial to this association of feminine beauty and musical talent. He wrote of his experience attending concerts at Venice’s I Mendicanti:
“What grieved me was those accursed grills, which allowed only tones to go through and concealed the angels of loveliness of whom they were worthy. I talked of nothing else. One day I was speaking of it at M. le Blond’s. ‘If you are so curious,’ he said to me, ‘to see these little girls, I can easily satisfy you. I am one of the administrators of the house, and I invite you to take a snack with them.’ I did not leave him in peace until he had kept his promise. When going into the room that contained these coveted beauties, I felt a tremor of love such as I had never experienced before. M. le Blond introduced me to one after another of those famous singers whose voices and names were all that were known to me. ‘Come, Sophie’-- she was horrible. ‘Come, Cattina’-- she was blind in one eye. ‘Come, Bettina’-- the smallpox had disfigured her, Scarcely one was without some considerable blemish. The inhuman wretch le Blond laughed at my bitter surprise. Two or three, however, looked tolerable; they sang only in the choruses. I was desolate...”
Clearly Rousseau anticipated a high level of physical beauty to correspond with the higher level of musicianship found in the soloists. To be fair, he does end this passage with a slight change of heart: “Ugliness does not exclude charms, and I found some in them. I said to myself that one cannot sing thus without soul; they have that. Finally, my way of looking at them changed so much that I left nearly in love with all these ugly girls.”
The students of the ospedali were, for the most part, orphans or illegitimate children. Being of a lower social class excused them from the prohibition against playing instruments considered disfiguring (such as the violin) or immodest (such as the cello). To quote again from Unsung: “the accepted instruments for girls were those that could be played in a demure seated position, that is, the keyboard instruments (not including the organ, whose pedals required an ungainly posture)... Efforts to learn the violin or flute were frowned on as unsuitable, as late as the 1870's...” While modesty was often given as the reason to keep women from these instruments, the effect on their appearance was sure to draw comment. For example, an 1878 Worchester Evening Gazette reviewer of a concert by the Eichberg Violin Quartet said, “A violin seems an awkward instrument for a woman, whose well-formed chin was designed by nature for other purposes than to pinch down this instrument into position. Nevertheless, we cheerfully bear witness that four bright damsels in a row, all a-bowing with tuneful precision, is an interesting and even a pretty sight.”
As the damage to our chins became less of a distraction and public performance less of a stigma, new issues arose. The late 19th and early 20th centuries seem to have been a time of transition in the reasons used against women in music. “Appearance,” previously defined as “looks,” could now be defined as “existence.” The central issue became the effect of female musicians on the men around them. They were thought to lower the quality of music-making, as well as distract the men. This was (and sadly still can be) part of the prejudice against women orchestral musicians. Ernst Rudorff, the deputy director of the Berlin Hochschule made his case to his superior, Joseph Joachim, in 1881:
“I would like to ask you to consider seriously whether it is right for us to allow women to take part in orchestra classes and performances. They add nothing to the performances; indeed, I am more and more convinced by the last few rehearsals that the weak and uncertain playing of the young girls not only does no good at all but actually makes the sound indistinct and out of tune... It is bad enough that women are meddling in every possible place where they don’t belong; they have already taken over in almost every area of music. At the very least, we have to make sure that orchestras will not have men and women playing together in the future. It is possible that the general currents are heading in that direction and in the coming decades we may see the last bit of disciplined behavior and artistic seriousness driven out of public productions of pure instrumental music. In any case, I would not like it to be said that an institution like the Royal Hochschule has taken the lead in entering upon this path towards immorality. Thus I propose that in the new year... the participation of women in orchestra classes and performances come to an end, once and for all. If I had to add anything to this, I would go one step further and exclude the women from auditing the orchestra classes as well. With only a very few exceptions, they do nothing but exchange looks with the men and chatter.”
More Catch-22's. While Herr Rudorff complained about the level of ability among the women students, he strove to deny them the opportunity to improve their skills! Two developments in the late 19th century helped to circumvent this particular argument. First, exceptional violin soloists of the time, such as Camilla Urso and Maud Powell, disproved the notion that women were incapable of great artistic achievement. Second, the all-female orchestras such as the Boston Fadette Lady’s Orchestra, led by Caroline B. Nichols, began to provide necessary training, and career opportunities as well. Interviewed by the Pittsburgh Gazette Times in 1908, Ms. Nichols commented, “The field for women musicians is growing... Why, when the Fadettes began to appear for professional engagements, people looked askance, and the men musicians smiled and said wait until the public hears them. Well, the public did hear them, and the public liked them so much that we’ve never had an open week from that day to this that was not of our own making.”
Uh oh. Now women were definitely having an effect on the male musicians around them, and it was one that really hurt. They became an economic threat.
more to come...
The next few posts will be a serialization of a paper I wrote back in the dim recesses of memory (meaning 1999), and presented at the Feminist Music and Theory V conference in London, England. It seems to me the main changes since then are the increasing "babe-ification" of men (google Charlie Siem, for an example)... I suppose that's a kind of progress?
Two hundred years ago, the female musicians of the Venetian ospedali could be heard but not seen, sheltered from view as they performed. Today it seems that the music industry has decided that women musicians must be seen– and often a great deal of the woman’s body must be seen– before she will be heard; that is, before her recording will be marketed or purchased. Why is it that a woman’s appearance, whether judged as suitable or unsuitable, continually captures the attention of the musical establishment? Have we really progressed so far beyond the attitudes towards those ospedali students, or is this merely the other side of the same coin?
This paper had its genesis about five years ago, from what at first seemed to me an innocuous observation. While browsing through violin recordings (my particular interest), I began noticing an increasing number of “cheesecake” photos on cd covers. Delighted as I am to note the upsurge of talented young women violinists, it did strike my middle-aged and chubby self that perhaps the already tough criteria for success as a Classical musician was getting tougher– if you were female, you’d better be a “babe.”
What a mystery! A recording is an aural, not a visual experience– if the musician is accomplished, why should we care about his or her form? As I began to look at the perception of women musicians it became clear that, in one way or another, their appearance has always been as significant as their skill in the public’s eye and mind.
Perception-- what we appear to be and what others wish we would appear to be. The perception of proper feminine roles has always been a major issue for women in music. Those roles have perhaps been debated with the greatest heat in regard to women as composers. While these women were not actively in the limelight like performers, their “womanliness” (which, of course, would be reflected in their appearance) was nonetheless of great interest to the public. To quote Christine Ammer in her book Unsung: “If... a woman should produce a respectable composition, it was argued that she could do so only at the expense of her ‘womanhood.’ For example, one writer pointed out that, even if matrimony and lack of strength and endurance did not deter a woman composer, it still took a considerable amount of ‘fight’ to make one’s way. Even many men found themselves temperamentally ill equipped for such battle. And if a woman should be suited for it, it would diminish her ‘womanly qualities,’ and then what would become of her power of writing ‘womanly music?’”
So many Catch-22's! Writers often worked hard to assure their readers that these risqué women composers had not lost this mysterious “womanliness” by virtue of their musical pursuits. Here, for example, the introduction to an article from the February 1904 issue of Etude Magazine interviewing Amy Beach:
“When Mr. George Whitfield Chadwick first heard Mrs. Beach’s symphony, he is said to have exclaimed, ‘Why was I not born a woman?’ It was the delicacy of thought and finish in her musical expression that had struck him, an expression of true womanliness, absolute in its sincerity... She is a woman of charmingly simple manners, and, as foregone conclusion, of high, innate refinement. She is of medium height. Her eyes are of a grayish blue, large, and smiling. Her complexion is fresh and brilliant... Her straightforwardness is like her personality– gentle, direct, convincing... If you should put direct questions to her as I did you would learn that she composes when she feels the inclination move her to it; that she studies the piano when she is not writing; that one time of day is as good to work in as another, and that her housekeeping is of a very earnest interest to her. This last, however, was an admission, not an answer; but there was such ample proof of it that it must be put down. So many great ladies in art have told me what good housekeepers they were, and, after leaving them, I have had to stop, on turning the first shielding corner, to brush from my overcoat the veneer of dust it had acquired on their hall bench. Mrs. Beach’s domestic regime is not of this type. It fills you with chagrin, indeed, not at the prospect of dust carried out, but at the fearful possibilities of dust carried in.”
The double standard becomes so clear when we turn the tables and apply the same treatment to men! The brilliant mystery writer Dorothy L. Sayers does just that in a collection of essays from the 1930's, entitled Are Women Human?
“Probably no man has ever troubled to imagine how strange his life would appear to himself if it were unrelentingly assessed in terms of his maleness; if everything he wore, said or did had to be justified by reference to female approval; if he were compelled to regard himself, day in and day out, not as a member of society, but merely as a virile member of society... If he were vexed by continual advice how to add a rough male tough to his typing, how to be learned without losing his masculine appeal, how to combine chemical research with seduction, how to play bridge without incurring the suspicion of impotence... He would be edified by solemn discussions about ‘Should Men Serve in Drapery Establishments?’ and acrimonious ones about ‘Tea-Drinking Men’; by cross-shots of public affairs ‘from the masculine angle,’ and by irritable correspondence about men who expose their anatomy on beaches (so masculine of them), conceal it in dressing-gowns (so feminine of them), think about nothing but women, pretend an unnatural indifference to women, exploit their sex to get jobs, lower the tone of the office by their sexless appearance, and generally fail to please a public opinion which demands the incompatible... If he gave an interview to a reporter, or performed any unusual exploit, he would find it recorded in such terms as these: ‘Professor Bract, although a distinguished botanist, is not in any way an unmanly man. He has, in fact, a wife and seven children. Tall and burly, the hands with which he handles his delicate specimens are as gnarled and powerful as those of a Canadian lumberjack, and when I swilled beer with him in his laboratory, he bawled his conclusions at me in a voice that implemented the promise of his swaggering moustache.’”
A recurring theme in Ms. Sayers 1936 novel, Gaudy Night, is the importance of finding one’s “job” in life, and remaining faithful to it, no matter the outside opinion. Interesting to hear this sentiment echoed two years later by Nadia Boulanger, when asked by a reporter how it felt to be the first woman to ever conduct the Boston Symphony: “I’ve been a woman for a little over fifty years, and have gotten over my initial astonishment. As for conducting an orchestra, that’s a job. I don’t think sex plays much part.”
Alas, this clarity of vision seems all too rare.
stay tuned for more...