“Vox Femina” – Behind the Music (Part 2)

2013 February 22
by Phoenix Chorale

Vox Femina” is a presentation of “the women’s voice,” therefore a portion of the pieces the Phoenix Chorale will perform are compositions by revolutionary female composers from the past and present.  Let’s take a look at who these women are and delve into some of the history behind their pieces.

Harriet_quimbyNight Flight by Cecilia McDowall – This song is about giving credit where credit is deserved.  It is about Harriet Quimby, “America’s First Lady of the Air”, the first person to successfully fly (and land) an airplane across the English Channel in 1912 (over 100 years ago)! Never heard of her?  Neither had I.  That’s because the day before Quimby was scheduled to take flight, the Titanic hit an iceberg and the “unsinkable ship” went down, completely stealing all of the news coverage for the next few weeks.  Quimby’s amazing feat went largely unrecognized and the news was overshadowed by her own deadly crash at a Boston aviation event less than three months later.  This song captures the jerking, swaying wonder of Quimby’s daring 59 minute flight from Dover, England to Calais, France, which award-winning, British composer Cecilia McDowall wrote to honor this brave woman. Read about Quimby’s flight in her own words here.  Here is a great “silent film” about Quimby’s flight:

Todo o Meu Ser by Joan Szymko – Known for her rhythmic integrity, inspirational text selections and significant contribution to the body of literature for women’s voices (over 60 songs published and sung nationally and internationally), Szymko works to provide opportunities for women’s choruses to stretch beyond the ordinary.  This song was inspired by a quote from an Inuit shaman, leader, and oral poet named Orpingalik, who provided anthropological information to Danish explorer Knud Rasmussen during a 1920’s expedition. “How many songs I have I cannot tell you. All my being is a song, and I sing as I draw breath.” For more information on this interesting shaman visit here.

Despertar al Amor by Joan Szymko – This piece, which title means “Awaken to Love,” was commissioned as part of a musical tribute to Spanish culture.  It is drawn from three distinct sources of text, translated into Spanish, which speak of “the path.”  The first is a quote from Buddha, “You cannot travel the path until you have become the path itself,” the second is a quote from Teresa of Avila, “The important thing is not to think much, but to love much; and so, do that which best stirs you to love,” and the third comes from the traditional greeting of the Camino de Santiago, an ancient pilgrimage path that leads from various departure points in Europe to the Dantiago de Compostela on the northwest coast of Spain; a walk which pilgrims have taken for centuries to pay homage to the magnificent shrine of Saint James.  Here is a video about the Camino de Santiago walk:

Canyon_de_Chelly1Soft Footfalls, Song of the Anasazi by Anne Kilstofte – Anne Kilstofte is many things: a composer,  an educator, an Arizona native, and a strong advocate of the work of women in music.  She has received numerous national and international awards for her music, including being named winner of the Special Judge’s Citation from The American Prize for Unique Artistic Achievement for this piece, which uses the text of a poem called “Anasazi Women” by award-winning poet Kevin Crossley-Holland.  It is about the lives of the Anasazi people who lived among the rocks of Northeastern Arizona long ago, and their transition from a nomadic tribe to a stationary society.  The history of the Anasazi is not only interesting but also very relevant, as Arizona is home to some of the most incredible and well preserved cliff dwellings  left behind by these prehistoric people.  Many of these ancient ruins are open to the public and make for an awesome road trip destination, to learn more click here!

410px-HildegardSequentia sancto Maximo by Hildegard von Bingen – Also known as Saint Hildegard of Bingen, she was born in Germany in the 11th century.  This impressive woman, known for her musical, literary, and scientific writings, has become a particular interest to feminist scholars for finding a way to be heard at a time when few women were permitted a voice in society.  Handed over to the church by her family to become a nun, she began experiencing mystical visions at a young age, which she began documenting later in life. In her writings, she somewhat advantageously referred to herself as a member of “the weaker sex” and attributed her knowledge to visions from God, giving her an authority to speak without being condemned, and a legacy that has lasted decades.  Click here for info about Hildegard’s music.

- Alaina Hasenmiller, Marketing & Communications Intern

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