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Celebrating the 100th anniversary of women's suffrage

Suffragists_Parade_Down_Fifth_Avenue_1917

 In March of 2017, I had a delightful experience that I thought I'd share with you, and as a result, introduce you to some exciting and marvelous music you may wish to explore further.

In 1917, women were given the right to vote in New York State. Three years later, on August 18, 1920, the Nineteenth Amendment granting women the right to vote was ratified—seventy-two years after the struggle for women's suffrage had begun in Waterloo, New York. Susan B. Anthony, a leader in the Suffragette movement, devoted her life to achieving equality for women. Before she died in Rochester, New York, on March 13, 1906, Anthony made many significant strides for women, such as leading the battle for women's suffrage, promoting equal pay for equal work, and successfully lobbying for more liberal divorce laws. The Susan B. Anthony Center at the University of Rochester presented many events throughout 2017, including lectures and musical programs.

One such event involved my students: we called it "Celebrating 100 Years of Women in Music." This hour-long concert featured a variety of music in solo piano, duet, and two-piano settings. I researched many pieces, composers, musical styles, and levels, starting with compositions published in 1917. I then encouraged two of my female students—who are composition majors—to compose something for the occasion, thus starting the program in 1917 and ending it in 2017. Here are the pieces that made up our program:

Rooster Rag (1917) Muriel Pollock (1895-1971)

I arranged this for two pianos, twelve hands, and we had a riot putting this together; it was a silly but effective way to start the festivities.

My Silent Love (1931) Dana Suesse (1909-1987)

Known as the "Girl Gershwin," Suesse was famous for such songs as My Silent Love (a vocal version of Jazz Nocturne), You Oughta Be in Pictures, and The Night Is Young (and You're So Beautiful).

Improvisations, Op. 148 (1938) Amy Beach (1867-1944)

These Improvisations, particularly the first, were the most advanced pieces harmonically that Beach ever wrote. They are both lyrical and dissonant, incorporating a musical language all her own.

Dances in the Canebrakes (1953) Florence Price (1887-1953)

Price was the first African-American woman to be recognized as a symphonic composer. The three pieces in this set are a terrific representation of the spirited rhythms of the black experience.

Troubled Water (1967) Margaret Bonds (1913-1972)

Bonds was an African-American composer, pianist, and musical director. Maya Angelou describes Troubled Water as one of Margaret Bonds' "masterpieces."

Snazzy Sonata (1972) Judith Lang Zaimont (b. 1945)

Regarding this piano duet, Ms. Zaimont wrote:

"The piece was written during the year I lived in Paris. Its two inspirations were: being homesick for America; and wishing to write a piece for my sister and me to play at home—just for fun—that our Dad would like to hear."

Suite (1995) Margaret Garwood (1927-2015)

Although primarily known for her vocal writing, this piano duet (especially the movement "March") is wonderfully pianistic, perky, and rhythmically compelling.

Gavel Patter (2004) Libby Larsen (b. 1950)

When asked about this stunning (and advanced level) duet, Ms. Larsen responded: "This duet results from an investigation I have been making into musical form in American language traditions. Finding unusually strong rhythm and flow in American auctioneering patter, it occurred to me to compose music which uses auctioneering patter as its musical material. Gavel Patter uses auctioneers' styles, pitches, timing, and complex rhythms to propel it."

Tenement Rhapsody (2005) Amanda Harberg (b. 1973)

When I consulted the composer about the background of this amazing two-piano work, she explained: "Tenement Rhapsody attempts to evoke pictures of my experiences while living in New York City. 'At Home' suggests the city on a warm and breezy spring day. It is gently lyrical and harmonically lush. The final movement, 'At Play,' takes a simple repeating diatonic line and places all sorts of humorous and contrasting material over it. The spirit of this movement was inspired by life behind my apartment door, as I watched my fourteen-month-old baby exploring his universe with eager eyes and the swagger of a drunken sailor."

The Maverick (2017) Jon Lin Chua (b. 1986)

1. March

2. Dance

3. Scherzo

This was the first of two compositions written especially for my students by one of their classmates. The composer Jon Lin Chua describes this remarkable work: "I decided to write a piece for two pianos and eight hands (two players at each piano), comprising three short movements, thereby being able to involve all members of the studio by having different people assigned to the different movements. Though quirky and silly in character, the piece was carefully constructed from a tone row of eleven of the twelve pitch classes used in Western classical music, omitting the B-natural right until the very end of the piece.

The title The Maverick may be understood on various levels: on the surface, the "maverick" refers to the resounding B-natural right at the end of the piece, but could also allude to the piece itself, for its rare two-piano-eight-hands instrumentation. Furthermore, it is dedicated to all the mavericks of our lovely studio, ranging from our somewhat nonconformist teacher Mr. Caramia (affectionately known to us as "Mr. C") to all my amazing studio mates who are similarly quirky in their own unique ways."

A recording of the world premier can be found here, and Ms. Chua would be delighted to send you a score for this very intriguing piece.

The finale of the program featured the World Premier of Revolutionary Attitude by Ching-Shan (Jessie) Chang. I had asked her to compose a piece that would allow the three males in our studio to perform at two pianos, while the remaining eight females stood in front of the pianos, reciting various quotes, excerpts, and sayings she had found from the Suffragette Movement. The result brought the audience to their feet.


All in all this was a meaningful way to celebrate the accomplishments of many people: the women (and men) who marched to bring about much needed awareness to their status in America; to my students who worked so hard to learn a lot of music and who performed it so vivaciously and energetically; and to the wonderful women composers, whose musical efforts deserve much wider awareness.

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