From XIX to ’19 Symposium Celebrates Women’s Rights through Performances and Lectures

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By Phoebe Doscher, News Editor

The year 2020 marks the centennial of the 19th Amendment, which granted women the right to vote in the United States. Students and faculty worked together in the Sunderman Conservatory of Music on Sunday, Nov. 17 for the From XIX to ‘19 Symposium to commemorate the 100-year mark of the amendment being passed and ratified in a series of lectures, performances, and compositions to showcase women shaping social movements and events since 1920.

The first of the day’s event began at 9:30 a.m. with a welcome and opening performance by Audeamus, Gettysburg’s treble voice choir. Professor of Music and coordinator of the symposium Adam Paul Cordle addressed the audience, speaking about the importance of an event like this, “The road toward equality is long,” he said, “clearly we need to do better.” He followed up these remarks with statistics about women who have made strides in music, politics, and other professions.

Choir Director and Professor of Music Robert Natter introduced Audeamus before they performed three songs by contemporary female composers on themes of empowerment. He quoted lyrics from the first of their songs, “Faith is the Bird that Feels the Light,” by composer Elizabeth Alexander, inspired by the Rabindranath Tagore quote that continues from the title that the bird “sings when the dawn is still dark.”

Audeamus member Austin Nikirk ‘20 presented and conducted Gwyneth Walker’s “Let the Life I’ve Lived.” “This is a beautiful and honest expression of a feeling that we all feel,” she said, “living a life worth living.”

Nikirk expressed her joy for being a part of the treble voice group: “I’ve really enjoyed working with this group this semester and am really excited to perform this piece with you,” she said.

The choir concluded their set with Sarah Quartel’s “Voice on the Wind,” which Natter prefaced by noting, “the voice that is strong is our own voice.”

University of Pittsburgh Professor of Music Amy Williams next gave her joint lecture and recital. The conductor and pianist discussed being a woman in the music industry when both performing and composing music was formerly unprecedented.

“I feel very lucky that I started composing at a time when there were women composers that I could model myself after,” she said. 

She continued, elaborating on the rising advocacy about families and parents being involved in music, “There was this thing that having children made you less serious about music. There should be some systemic changes so that the world of music embraces all kinds of families.”

Williams performed five pieces, each written from the perspective of a woman. The pieces she composes, she noted, have external influences, like poems, or otherwise. The texts that inspired her work were projected on a screen during the performance. 

She performed “Brigid’s Flame,” a 2012 composition called “Falling,” and Rose Martus ‘19 accompanied Williams on the flute for “First Lines,” an eleven-piece song composed in 2005. Of “First Lines,” the shortest of the eleven pieces is twelve seconds long and the longest is three minutes. The second to last piece was Guggenheim Fellowship-awarded Ruth Crawford’s “Fireside Fancies,” and Williams described Crawford’s criticism, early death, and success before performing one of her nine preludes. Lastly, she performed “Cineshape,” which was accompanied by a video and inspired by the structure of the German film Run Lola Run.

Williams was followed by student performers with group and solo songs composed by women and a chamber recital by violist Hillary Herndon and pianist Bernadette Lo whose recital was based on Herndon’s research about female composers in the 20th century.

In the afternoon, Bethany Frankel ‘20 gave an interactive presentation about the history and influence of protest music titled: “Raise Your Voice: Protest Music and the Suffrage Movement.” Her presentation was followed by another related talk by Martus.

Frankel discussed the beginning of the women’s suffrage movement in 1848 in Seneca Falls and discussed other conventions of the nineteenth century. Then, she read from the 19th Amendment and played British suffragette Ethel Smith’s “The March of Women,” which declares “strong, strong we stand at last.” 

Smith’s song gave Frankel an opportunity to discuss the difference between 1940s and ‘50s protest music as it contoured with the women’s suffrage movement. Songs in this category transitioned into hymns, she said, intended for demonstrations, rallies, and parlor songs, and adapted from popular songs.

As an example of the changing times, Frankel mentioned “November” by Ella H. Lowe, “Give Us the Ballot,” and “Suffrage Marching Song,” most of which were dedicated to women and organizations involved in the women’s suffrage movement.

She also acknowledged women of color during this movement and the tie of Civil War abolitionists to suffragists, playing Sojourner Truth’s “Ain’t I A Woman” speech as an example.

The end of the presentation related the protest music’s history to its current influence on modern-day pop music. “Music gives a voice to the soul [and] for activism,” Frankel said. “Protest music and social change go hand in hand.” She also noted that there is a level of intersectionality and interdisciplinarity to protest music as a tool for societal change.

The next event of the day was a concert of women’s compositions by the Sunderman Wind Quintet, featuring faculty members Aaron Scott on clarinet, Kenneth Bell on horn, Ben Grenaya on Bassoon, Teresa Bowers on flute, and Edward Stanley on oboe.

The final performance of the day was a performance of art songs by women composers from the classical era by soprano Professor of Music Susan Hochmiller and pianist Professor of Music Jocelyn Swigger. Hochmiller performed music she’d been researching and recording for a pre-tenure sabbatical CD album.

The Sunderman Conservatory of Music spent the day celebrating the passage of the 19th Amendment and engaging in lectures and performances to honor and inform about women’s rights.

Staff Writer Katie Oglesby and Features Editor Cameron D’Amica contributed to this article.

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Author: Phoebe Doscher

Phoebe Doscher ’22 is the News Editor for The Gettysburgian. She previously served as a staff writer, features section copy editor, and Assistant News Editor. Originally from Sandy Hook, CT, she is an English with a Writing Concentration and Theatre Arts double major. Aside from writing and editing, she studies voice at the Sunderman Conservatory of Music and can often be seen working on and offstage in the theatre department.

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