Amy Beach’s “Ghost” joins Lexington’s Pamela Marshall and VT’s Dr. Gwyneth Walker in lively pre-concert “Meet the Composers” revelation of their similar philosophies
By Bob Paulson, Bedazzled Male Admirer
A knock on the stage door interrupted Assabet Valley Mastersingers’ Artistic Director Dr. Robert P. Eaton’s sober-miened introductions of two living American composers seated on the stage for the pre-concert briefing session. He had just mentioned that Bostonian Amy Beach would probably not appear, because at 139 years old she didn’t get around that much any more. As he opened the door, however, Mrs. Beach’s elegantly clad “ghost” flounced in, taking umbrage at Dr. Eaton’s apologia: “I may not have a good memory any more, but that’s because I’ve been dead for so long!” (The “ghost” was really veteran soprano Alene Cole from Hudson, a quick-witted version of Ms. Beach.)
She set the tone for a mirth-filled and informative give-and-take among the three composers. Dr. Eaton interrupted occasionally to ask questions, which when answered further enlightened the captivated pre-concert audience. The ladies’ responses delineated the strong commonality of their separately conceived approaches to finding satisfaction for their goals of being unique creators of works of art for American choruses, choirs and orchestras, and smaller mixed ensembles. Especially laugh-provoking was an interchange in which 11th-generation Quaker Dr. Walker misunderstood Mrs. Beach’s description of American women as “the weaker sex.” She declaimed: “American women composers are not the weaker sex! It might even be male American composers!” The audience applauded in agreement.
Dr. Eaton’s selection of works of three female American composers, each with generational roots in Massachusetts, made the program much more than a performance of choral works written by women. The composers’ recollections of familial support of their musical composition career interests undergirded a commonality—that they were each encouraged to follow their heart’s desires in musical creative activities dominated by men.
The two 20th century “baby boomers” did not identify any instances of male-inspired obstacles or creative constraints to development of their individual compositional styles and use of enhancing instrumental melodies and tonalities. The opposite was true for Mrs. Beach. Prior to the opening day premiere of her Festival Jubilateat the Chicago Columbian World’s Fair in 1892, traditional males had…called it “lacking in majesty and breadth,” containing too many “quartets and ruffles,” and characterized her as “one with ordinary merit as compared to men but good for a woman.” To his chagrin, her principal male detractor was the Exposition Musical Director, forced to debut the work performed by a 300-voice Chicago chorus and full symphony orchestra!
In their works Ms. Marshall and Ms. Walker had both written parts for at least a dozen different harmonious noise-making instruments. They kept Brent Ferguson and Dan Hann twirling and tapping throughout the three sections of each work. Ms. Marshall also wrote a gorgeous part for oboist Ron Kaye in Weaving the World, adding meaning to the real world’s sounds associated with birth and natural death, as differentiated from the percussive sounds associated with violent death in war.
Accompanist Judith Yauckoes, now in her 15th year as AVM accompanist after a long career in public school music education, as usual was warmly applauded for sensitively playing extraordinarily challenging accompaniment in all three works.