Discovering Women in Music
“Serendipity” is how mezzo-soprano Kathleen Shimeta describes her discovery of the 19th century composer Gena Branscombe (1881-1977). Ms. Shimeta, a professional singer and graduate trained musician, had not encountered Branscombe’s music until she needed a song based on Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s poem “How do I love thee? Let me count the ways” for a Valentine’s Day concert. It was through Ms. Shimeta’s research that she found a description of Branscombe’s setting and ordered the music.
It is not unusual that Kathleen would be unfamiliar with Gena Branscombe’s music. The composer is just one example of the many women composers whose works have been largely overlooked and underappreciated. Branscombe’s music was well received in her era and was published by G. Schirmer, WaWan Press, Arthur P Schmidt and Boosey and Hawks as well as several others. Her sheet music sold well. But it was during the depression that many women composers were dropped from publishers’ catalogues, a fate that included Gena Branscombe.
Women composers, including Miss Branscombe and Amy Beach (1867-1944), were members of the National Federation of Music Clubs, the National Association of Women Composers and Conductors, General Federation of Women’s Clubs, the Society of American Women Composers, and the National League of American Pen Women where there was support and performance opportunities for their music. It was through these organizations that women composers were able to have their music heard.
It was through her discovery of Gena Branscombe’s music that led Kathleen Shimeta to record a CD, “Ah! Love, I Shall Find Thee: Songs of Gena Branscombe” on the Albany Records label and went on to develop a one-woman show all about the composer, her life and music. Ms. Shimeta’s “Life, Love, Song! A Visit with Gena Branscombe” has been performed at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC, New York’s Hofstra University, with the Women in the Arts Festival in Elmira, New York, at Eastern Nazarene College in Quincy, Massachusetts, the Women Composers Festival of Hartford, Connecticut, Texas A&M University, Macon State College in Macon, Georgia, University of Missouri, St. Louis and at the Peninsula Public Library in Lawrence, New York. Her critically praised CD of Branscombe’s songs can be purchased on her website.
Here is a clip of Ms. Shimeta’s one-woman show
Recording for Refinersfire: Selection of Spirituals arranged by Mike Linton
Saturday April 5 Fundraiser for the Hudson Chorale in Chappaqua, NY
June 1st, Bach B minor Mass in Elmira NY
July: Americana Recital Memorial Hall Museum, Old Deerfield, MA