2020 marks the 100th anniversary of the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment, which provided women the right to vote. In honor of this centennial year, UCSB guest blogger Jillian Fischer discusses representation of women in classical music, as well as the pivotal role women played in the earliest years of the Music Academy of the West.
– Henry Michaels, editor
A common question amongst classical music fans and forums, heard time and time again, is: Where are all the women? It really is a fair question, especially considering the lack of women composers regularly programmed by major orchestras and the embarrassingly late inclusion of women as part of a professional ensemble. While there may be many complicated reasons for their absence (hint: it’s sexism and lack of opportunity and education), women have been working to shape our modern institutions of classical music in ways many of us have probably not recognized, including and especially the Music Academy of the West.
Since the Music Academy’s inception in 1947, the prestigious summer festival and its reputation for high quality performances have been created and continue to be made possible by the hard work of women. Isabel Morse Jones, for example, who worked as a music critic for the LA Times from 1925 to 1947 was one of the Music Academy of the West’s founders. Jones believed that music enhances culture, and she was determined to create a rich and lasting artistic culture in Southern California based on musical excellence that would draw in students, performers, and listeners from around the world. Unlike many at the time, Jones also advocated for the training and recognition of American musicians and composers. While modern festivals include students from all over the world, Morse Jones’s desire to bring musical excellence to Southern California is evident in the many high-quality performances during the summer festival and guest artists throughout the year.
Yet, Isabel Morse Jones was not the only person, nor the only woman, committed to encouraging the growth of classical music in Santa Barbara. Helen Marso, the long-time personal assistant to Mary and John Jefferson, inherited their Miraflores Estate, after the Jeffersons’ deaths. Marso then used money from the will to purchase the property in order to gift it to the Music Academy. Marso’s great niece described Marso as a dedicated advocate for education and the Miraflores estate has become the Music Academy’s campus that you all know and love today.
While women like Morse Jones and Marso worked to establish and found the Music Academy, women have also created and maintained a high level of pedagogical excellence. Lotte Lehmann, a German singer whose name graces concert halls at both Music Academy and UCSB, began her very successful singing career in Berlin with the Hamburg opera and was well respected by composers such as Puccini and Richard Strauss. For the latter, Lehmann premiered lead operatic roles. In 1938, Lehmann emigrated to southern California to flee the Nazis and after her retirement from a successful performing career, she taught at the Music Academy. She became the director of the Academy’s Voice Department and attracted students such as Grace Bumbry and Marilyn Horne, the latter of whom would become the Academy’s vocal director in 1997 (and continues to teach during the summer). Lehmann’s “companion” (who was possibly her significant other), Frances Holden, also left a large property to the Music Academy after she passed, the sale from which allowed the Music Academy to endow full scholarships for its summer students in perpetuity.
Isabel Morse Jones in a photo from the Los Angeles Times (1939)
Of course, these women and their respective careers and legacies have all been important and, in many ways, groundbreaking in their own right. Yet, their careers may also give insight into answering the age-old question of “where are all the women?” As the women above, and no doubt countless others, have demonstrated, women have helped to found, shape, and ensure the continuation of some of the most well-respected institutions for classical music performance and education. This is not to say that classical music institutions do not need to continue diversifying their programming (they do, and often desperately so) or that there is no issue with relegating women’s labor to the often-invisible back-stages of performances (there is). But, what it does mean is that we need to consider music making as more than just a singular performance to fully appreciate the types of work that go into hearing our favorite ensembles, pieces, and performers. With the Music Academy as an example, a new question begins to emerge that asks us, the audience, to consider what types of work go into these performances and, subsequently, who is doing that work. Women have been part of classical music far before their compositions were recognized by professional organizations and far before their inclusion into mixed-gender and prestigious ensembles. Women have always been part of classical music and it’s time that we start to recognize their impact on our modern classical scene.
– Jillian Fischer
About the Author
About the Author
This guest post comes courtesy of the Music Academy’s partnership with the UC Santa Barbara Department of Music, a key part of our new Project Resonance initiative. To learn more about Project Resonance, read the Resonance Blog’s introductory post here.