Amoeblog

26 women's history fictional films

Posted by Eric Brightwell, March 10, 2009 11:06pm | Post a Comment
 
 

   

     

   

   

   

   

   


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Ruth Crawford Seeger - Modernist-cum-Folkie

Posted by Eric Brightwell, March 8, 2009 07:43pm | Post a Comment
Female composers getting the short shrift is certainly nothing new, and is by no means limited to classical music. But as an admittedly casual fan of atonality, dissonance, modernism and serialism, I was surprised in February of this year to, for the first time, stumble across Middlewestern composer Ruth Crawford Seeger's unique, innovative musical voice. She immediately became a featured artist on The Lunatic Asylum and I became interested in her story.

Ruth Porter Crawford was born on July 3, 1901 in East Liverpool, Ohio, supposedly the "World Capital of Pottery." Her father was an itinerant minister. Her mother began her musical education with piano lessons when she was 11. Upon graduation from high school, she entered Foster's School of Musical Art in Jacksonville, Florida. In 1921, when it relocated to Miami, Crawford enrolled at the American Conservatory of Music in Chicago, where she studied with Madame Valborg Collett, Polish-born Henriot Levy and Louise Robyn. By 24, with the completion of her earliest work, she already displayed a unique modernist voice.


In Chicago, she met Djane Lavoie Herz, who in turn introduced her to the music of sometime-serialist Russian composer Alexander Scriabin. Through Lavoie Herz, she met and fell in with transpersonal astrologer/composer Dane Rudhyar, theorist/composer Henry Cowell and pianist Richard Bühlig. Cowell was an early supporter of her work and arranged for performances of her compositions in New York, where her folkish take on avant-garde drew comparisons to the work of Charles Ives and Aaron Copland.

In 1927 she was employed by famed poet Carl Sandburg, teaching piano to his children. Having played a part in introducing her to American folk songs, she returned the favor by contributing to his publication The American Songbag. Two years later she set several of his compositions to music. That same year, 1929, she began studying composition with Adolf Weidig and Charles Seeger.

A partial early discography:

Kaleidoscopic Changes on an Original Theme Ending with a Fugue
(1924)
5 Preludes (1924–5)
Adventures of Tom Thumb (1925)
Music for Small Orchestra (1926)
Sonata for Violin and Piano (1926)
Suite, 5 Wind Instrument (1927) (rev. 1929)
4 Preludes (1927–8)
Nine Preludes for Piano (1928)
5 Songs to Poems by Carl Sandburg: Home Thoughts, White Moon, Joy, Loam, Sunsets (1929)
Suite No. 2, for Strings (1929)
A Piano Study in Mixed Accents (1930)
4 Diaphonic Suites (1930)
3 Chants: no.1, To an Unkind God, no.2 To an Angel, no.3, Female chorus (1930)
String Quartet (1931)


In March 1930 she became the first woman to receive the Guggenheim Fellowship and went to Berlin, where she composed String Quartet, sung in an imaginary language and based on the Bhagavad Gita. In November of 1931, Crawford married her composition teacher, Seeger. After receiving another Guggenheim award, they moved to Paris. In 1933, at the ISCM Festival in Amsterdam, her Three Songs for voice, oboe, percussion and strings was the only American piece performed.

In the 1930s, Ruth and Charles Seeger became Communists and their interest shifted from Adorno-inspired theory to populism. Her subsequent compositions reflected a philosophical shift, and the beginning of a musical one:

Rat Riddles (1932)
Two Ricercare: Sacco, Vanzetti - Chinaman, Laundryman (1932) (text by H.T. Tsiang)
Rissolty Rossolty (1939)


By 1934 Crawford Seeger, for the most part, stopped composing and started developing new methods of primary music education. She focused on raising her family (for the most part) rather than composing original works. She and her family moved to DC in 1936 when her husband received an appointment in the music division of the Resettlement Administration, charged with collecting songs for the Library of Congress. At this point she began arranging and interpreting folk music, which went hand in hand with both her husband's postion as well as her own developing trancendentalism. Crawford Seeger and her husband transcribed songs for the John and Alan Lomax book, Our Singing Country.


In 1948, she published American Folk Songs for Children. Eventually, several of her children became incredibly important in the folk music scene, Mike, Peggy and (stepson) Pete Seeger.


In 1951, composer Esther Williamson Ballou urged Crawford Seeger to join the DC chapter of the NAACC (National Association for American Composers and Conductors). After announcing a competition, Crawford Seeger put her other work on hold to work on the Suite for Wind Quintet (1952). It won and Crawford Seeger wrote to her friends Carl and Charlotte Ruggles, "I believe I'm going to work again -- more. If I live to be 99 as my grandfather did, I will have 48 more years." Unfortunately, she died of intestinal cancer in Chevy Chase, Maryland not long after, on November 18, 1953, just 52 years old.

  Ruth Crawfod Seeger Chamber Works CD

Crawford Seeger, according to her peer Henry Cowell, broke the stereotypical notion of female composers with her serious, adventurous and unsentimental compositions. On the other hand, she continued in the tradition of talented female composers like Clara Schumann and Alma Mahler, who sacraficed their own considerable musical talents for their families whilst their husbands soaked in the glory. Although highly regarded by her peers, some of her works, such as the first and third chants in Three Chants, weren't recorded until 1996. Yet there's no reason Crawford Seeger shouldn't be held in the same esteem as similar but more widely known composers like Schoenberg or Webern.

World of Ruth Crawford Seeger CD  Ruth Crawfod Seeger: Portrait CD
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Billie Maxwell - The Cow Girl Singer

Posted by Eric Brightwell, March 5, 2009 09:00pm | Post a Comment

The 1920s and ‘30s were full of cowgirl singers like the Girls of the Golden West (Millie and Dolly Good), Patsy Montana and Texas Ruby, most of whom were just as inauthentic as their better known male counterparts like Gene Autry and the Sons of the Pioneers. However, one western performer was the real deal: Billie Maxwell.

                     
One of the two known photos of Billie Maxwell (left), Springerville, Arizona in the 1920s (right).

Billie Maxwell was born in 1906 and raised near Springerville, Arizona, same place where Ike Clanton, one of the Missourian players in the Gunfight at the OK Corral, was shot dead by a detective not 20 years earlier. Her father, E. Curtis Maxwell, was locally renowned as a fiddler who'd amassed a massive repertoire of songs learnt from his father, William Beatty Maxwell, an Illinoisan who’d moved first to Nevada and then Arizona in the 1800s. Curtis Maxwell formed a string band called the White Mountain Orchestra who toured (on horseback) the ranches in the area, playing dances. Not only did Maxwell know many traditional songs, but he composed his own work too, including “Escudilla Waltz” and “Frolic of the Mice.” In her teenage years, Billie joined her father’s band, where she played guitar alongside her brother, Marion, who played mandolin. Eventually she occasionally struck out on her own, performing solo shows in the backcountry.


In 1929, at the age of 23, she married a local schoolteacher, Alvin Chester Warner, and settled down to raise a family. A few months later, in June, her uncle Frank Maxwell (a lawman over in Silver City) noticed a classified in the local paper advertising an upcoming field recording session for Victor over in El Paso. At an audition, the White Mountain Orchestra were deemed worthy and two weeks later Chester Warner drove his wife, Marion, Curtis and Frank to a recording session where they met Ralph Peer.

Jack Thorp (left), John Lomax (center) and Ralph Peer (right)

Back in the 1910s, N. Howard “Jack” Thorp and John Lomax were (separately) traveling the west, compiling books of western songs. By the 1920s, when radio began to proliferate, western audiences were by and large more interested in hearing locally popular music rather than the urbane ditties of Tin Pan Alley. Ralph Peer was a famed talent scout from Missouri who was a pioneer in field recording and, often working as a talent scout, traveled the country recording blues, gospel, hillbilly, jazz and western performers outside studio settings.


Peer listened to the White Mountain Orchestra cut four numbers, “Escudilla Waltz,” “Gooson Quadrille,” “Leather Britches” and “Maxwell’s Old Rye Waltz.” After they finished, Peer singled out Maxwell and asked if she could sing. She sang “Billy Venero” and, suitably impressed, he asked her to record solo. She obliged with “Arizona Girl I Left Behind,” “Billy Venero, pt I,” “Billy Venero, pt II,” “Cowboy's Wife,” “Haunted Hunter” and “Where Your Sweetheart Waits For You.” Although she may not have realized it, in doing so, she was the first woman to record western music.


After the session, Billie continued playing with her dad’s band and they all moved over to New Mexico, where they primarily played in a joint called The Smokehouse. After the birth of her first of ultimately two children, Billie Maxwell retired from music. She died February 18, 1954. Although she never received much recognition nor money for her role as western’s first female to record, her six songs are now part of history. Currently, her tiny but important musical output isn't collected on any one recording. Rather, her songs appear on Let 'Er Buck! - 25 Authentic Cowboy Songs, Hillbilly Honeymoon, When I Was A Cowboy Vol. 1 & 2 and "Where Your Sweetheart Waits For You" is still only available on the original Victor 78. Hopefully, someday she'll be recognized as the pioneer she was.

 


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