It's been a couple of weeks since I've been able to write about my musical experiences in the City. I've been busy finishing up my master's in Classical Voice Performance and completing my final research paper. But now that I've submitted my final projects, I want to update you on a concert that I saw on April 14th at the Church of the Transfiguration on East 29th Street.
The Professional Women Singers Association delivered a concert of music written by women, with pieces by Barbara Strozzi, Francesca Caccini, Clara Wieck Schumann, Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel, Pauline Garcia Viardot, Maria Garcia Malibran, Cécile Chaminade, Eva dell'Acqua, Liza Lehmann, Ruth Crawford Seeger, Amy Beach, Lori Laitman, Laurie Uguccioni, and Grazyna Bacewicz.
Listening to the excellent music in this program, I found myself engrossed in the beauty and clarity of the songs -- not once did I think, "Ah, this is what women's writing sounds like!" To me, it was all just great music, and if someone had told me that composers of the rank of a Felix Mendelssohn or a Strauss or a Beethoven had written those pieces, I would have thought, "Sure, that makes sense."
This experience elucidates the idea that what we take for granted as "great music" today, handed down to us from the old or more contemporary masters, happens to be music that, though indeed great, has also been promoted by systems of finance, law, academia, power, entertainment, etc., which has throughout the ages, favored men's work over women's. Any of those women composers of the past that I heard on April 14th could easily have a place in the standard repertory. This is why I think PWSA's work is important -- it's teaching people that women's creative drive and abilities have always existed -- but now it's time to discover these contributions and enjoy them just as we do the work of the Beethovens and Strausses and Mozarts.
Our present time is largely more egalitarian than the past, of course. Now, women's creative work is considered as habitual and normal as men's, and opportunities for women to become educated and work at a profession are customary -- at least in many parts of the world. This is a time for celebrating our feminine heritage in the arts, creating new works, and discovering (or rediscovering) the musical gems of the past. This concert satisfied all these purposes, even presenting contemporary pieces by 20th century and living composers like Uguccioni and Laitman.
Among the lovely voices I heard that night, I had the pleasure of hearing my friend, the enchanting French mezzo, Emma Lavandier, perform pieces by Caccini, Viardot, and Chaminade. Her strong, sumptuous voice and elegant presence made for an engaging addition to the show.
The PWSA was founded in 1982 with the mission to promote and advance the careers of women singers and their artistic excellence. As a group, they support each other's work and highlight women's contributions to music and the arts. I think it's a needed and relevant organization -- so keep it on your radar!