by Gray Bulla, BU English Major
At 5:00 on Thursday, September 20th, the room was full of chatter as people found their seats. At the front of the room, six people prepared for the performance they were about to give, with instruments such as the lute and a Baroque-period flute.
The interesting choice of instruments was because the audience would be hearing music throughout history, composed and performed (mostly) by women. The symposium was called “Listening to Voices Unheard,” and it was a fitting title: women, throughout the history of music, have been denied entrance to the musical canon.
Yvonne Kendall–playing the recorder and flute–told the audience her reason for this performance. She explained that “years ago, I bought a book solely because it existed.” That book was The Historical Anthology of Music By Women. It spans the Byzantine era all the way to the mid-1980’s. Kendall said that it angered her, that she spent so much time in school and yet studied so little music by women. It wasn’t a case of women not composing music, but of the sexism that has pushed women’s voices out of the musical narrative.
This sparked a decades-long project for Kendall, who researched the women discussed in the anthology, learning more and more about their lives and the music they composed. “The cycle of canonic silence would stop,” she proclaimed.
The program was a part of her life-long commitment to those women (and the men who helped raise awareness for them), but the commitment, she said, is no longer fueled by anger, but by celebration of the strength, wisdom, talent, and determination of these women.
The program performed music by women from all different eras–the Renaissance, Byzantine, Medieval, Romantic, and so on–as well as places–France, Scotland, Prussia, and others. Commentary, before each piece began, offered the composer’s name, a brief biography, and occasionally a story relevant to the song. The music they performed ranged from slow, melodic, and remorseful, to upbeat, joyous, and celebratory. The arrangement of each piece was almost as varied, the performers switching vocals, instruments, and even who read the composer’s introduction.
The performers were Yvonne Kendall on recorder and flute, Sarah Cote on viola, Tammy Rogers King on violin, Deidre Emerson on cello, Angela Carr Forsythe as soprano vocals, and Francis Perry on two different kinds of lutes (one of which, he joked, is “what it looks like when that other grows up”), in association with the Nashville Early Music Festival.