by Anna Hamre
Following the precedent set by earlier valued choral publications, such as Choral Symposium (edited by Harold A. Decker and Julius Herford), this book carries the reader through a wide gamut of loosely related topics. Editorial choices were made because the authors were female and they had something substantially unique to add to the public discussion on topics that concern many choral conductors. For example, the section “Our Teaching” includes “Women Conductors as Leaders and Mentors” (Hilary Apfelstadt), “Women, Conductors, and the Tenure Process: What’s up With the Academy?” (Sharon Hansen), “Feminine Perspectives on Conducting and Teaching Choral Music” (Doreen Rao), “Teaching Graduate Conductors” (Marguerite Brooks), and “Artistry Through Improvisation in the Choral Rehearsal” (Sue Williamson). Women have a long and noble history as teachers, and the instructional chapters by Sue Williamson and Marguerite Brooks show their pedagogical prowess.
The section “Our Music” is rife with valuable information about score study and rehearsal preparation. Brimming with practical procedures and guidance, “Analyzing the Choral-Orchestral Score” by Ann Howard Jones (with Sarah Deveau and Timothy Westerhaus) and “Conducting the Choral-Orchestral Work” by Beverly Taylor may well become required reading in graduate programs. These instructional chapters are complete yet concise, the quality of the content matched by clarity of expression.
Melinda O’Neal’s “Passion and Authenticity: A Conversation with Marin Alsop” reveals the philosophies and attitudes that have propelled Alsop to prominence in orchestral conducting. Kathy Saltzman Romey (with Emilie Sweet and Shekela M. Wanyama) outline intriguing new visions for creative programming and outreach. Romey’s Minnesota Chorale stands as a superb model for integrating arts organizations into community projects such as Habitat for Humanity.
Conlon is a highly regarded academic, her credentials further burnished in 2001 with the publication of her noteworthy book Performing Monteverdi: A Conductor’s Guide (Hinshaw). In this latest tome, she turns her analytical eye and linguistic gifts toward misogynistic texts, encouraging each conductor to evaluate lyrics closely before programming. Conlon feels that women will need to set a new standard that eschews (or at least explains cultural context for) works that show gender bias or that describe violence toward women. The reader is aided by Conlon’s translations and explanations of subtext and will also be intrigued by women’s Renaissance poetry that Conlon unearthed.
At her retirement reception at the 2009 ACDA National Conference in Oklahoma City in March, Conlon mentioned that she became committed to this project when she discovered that one of her graduate students had not heard of Margaret Hillis. The legacies of Hillis and other women have shaped the profession in profound ways, and their stories need to be told. Joan Whittemore and Lori Wiest include biographies of Charlene Archibeque, Tamara Brooks, Elaine Brown, Fiora Contino, Margaret Hawkins, Iva Dee Hiatt, Margaret Hillis, Eva Jessye, Colleen Kirk, Alice Parker, Lorna Cooke deVaron, and Jane Hardester. The reader alternately aches and rejoices with Harriet Simon in her tales of studying with legendary Nadia Boulanger.
How women have managed to succeed in a male-dominated profession is raised several times and in various ways in the book. In “Women, Conductors, and the Tenure Process: What’s up in the Academy?” Sharon Hansen presents the data demon- strating the inequality that still exists today. Her useful advice for women looking to become tenured in academia is augmented by Hilary Apfelstadt’s revealing and practi- cal essay, “Finding Balance: Professional and Personal.” Apfelstadt’s two splendid articles and Hansen’s important contributions may be focused on the female experience, but their sage advice will also be useful to men, who are finding their own challenges with careers in contemporary society.
The book will give readers a broader awareness of history and increased insights into some of the accomplishments of women in choral music. Trail blazers need to be recognized; women conductors need the spotlight; the public needs to be educated. In addition, some argue that women are enriching the profession in entirely new ways. Along those lines, the reader will want to devote substantial reflection time to Doreen Rao’s novel chapter, “Feminine Perspectives.”
While this stellar book has highlighted the formidable intellect, creativity, and fortitude that have sustained women in the field, this title ironically illuminates our “otherness.” Another giant step is needed to erase the sometimes subtle barriers that cause the public to refer to “women conductors” instead of simply “conductors.” One wonders how few changes in the content of this book would allow for a new title: Wisdom, Wit, and Will: Choral Conductors on Their Art. Still ranking as an essential component to all choral libraries, this compendium—written by women as so many earlier wonderful books were written by men—would appear to be more universal. However, this book serves its purpose well by admirably filling a current need. Hopefully these magnificent articles won’t go unnoticed by the members of the choral profession who overlook this publication with the thought, “It’s just a woman’s book.”