Tag Archives: Women’s studies

In Praise of a Virtuous Woman – Louise Talma

This is a guest post from Kendra Leonard, author of Louise Talma: A Life in Composition

Louise TalmaAmerican composer Louise Talma (c.1906–1996), herself a strong-willed and independent woman, often celebrated those qualities in others, dedicating many of her pieces to the women who had made a difference in her life and in the lives of other artists. Recipients of such dedications included music pedagogue Nadia Boulanger, MacDowell Colony co-founder Marian MacDowell, and singer Geraldine Marwick. One of Talma’s last works was a setting for female voices and piano of Proverbs 31:10–30, “In Praise of a Virtuous Woman,” which was composed in the autumn of 1990 at the MacDowell Colony. While the piece is dedicated to Virginia Davidson and  the Treble Singers, it celebrates all women.

“Who can find a virtuous woman?” asks the text. “Her price is above rubies.” Beginning with simple melodic lines  in the two vocal parts—a soprano and alto—and a spare and elegant counterpoint in the piano, Talma’s music becomes increasingly more complex and densely textured as the four-minute piece progresses. The two voices sometimes declaim together, in unison, and sometimes engage in dialogue, mirroring one another’s lines, or offering supporting harmonies to each other. As the soprano sings of the word women do—“She layeth her hands to the spindle…she layeth her hands to the needy…she worketh willingly with her hands,”—the alto recites the names of hard-working and strong women from the Bible: Martha, Ann, Mary, and Elizabeth.

At the end of the piece, Talma sets the text “she shall rejoice in time to come” at the very top of the soprano’s singing range, an exultation bolstered by the altos, who for the first time split from singing together as a single voice as if to show that two melodic lines aren’t enough for all of the praise a virtuous woman is due, and sing in parallel fourths, creating the sound of an organ. As the singers call for the praise of the virtuous woman, Talma gives the piano a fast and chromatic passage that suggests that while women should and will be praised, their work and lives are more difficult and complicated than the words would have the listener believe. Talma’s setting of “In Praise of a Virtuous Woman” is itself a challenging work, apt praise for the women of Talma’s life who met and exceeded the boundaries and roadblocks presented to them because of their sex.

Kendra Preston LeonardAbout the Author: Kendra Preston Leonard is a musicologist whose work focuses on women and music in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries; music and screen history; and music and disability. She is the author of The Conservatoire Américain: a History and received the inaugural Judith Tick Fellowship from the Society for American Music for her work on Louise Talma

Pioneering women in Post-War Architecture and Planning

Posted by Fiona Dunford, Marketing Executive

In marking the celebration of International Working Women’s Day on March 8th this year, it is good to look back and recognise the achievements of pioneering women who made their mark in society and broke new ground in their chosen professions, during the critical post-war years. Two such women are Mary Beaumont Medd, a public-sector school buildings architect, and Jacqueline Tyrwhitt, architect, landscape designer/city planner, journalist and educator.

A life in education and architectureMary Beamont Medd (Née Crowley) began architectural practice at the height of the depression. It was Elizabeth Denby, who introduced her to a user-centred approach to design and this concept of planning around the occupants’ needs would become the hallmark of her school buildings programme.

Hired by Hertfordshire’s education department in 1941 and the first architect to be employed by the county, she initially supervised huts erected for the wartime school meals service, but soon moved on to plan for post-war school building within the education department.

When Hertfordshire acquired an architect’s department in 1946 and a schools team was created, Mary joined them. She designed the first school, Burleigh infants, at Cheshunt – it was just three square prefabricated classrooms, separated by intimate courts for play, but the whole of Hertfordshire’s school-building programme developed from that modest prototype.

She made contacts with the best teachers, learned what they were trying to do and watched children in and out of classes. By bringing this direct and – far rarer among architects – systematic observation of habits and needs to bear on designing schools, she acquired unique authority in primary school planning. It was enhanced when she teamed up with David Medd, the ablest practical designer among the Hertfordshire architects.

In 1949, David and Mary married. The Medds were revered for superlatively tailoring their schools to child-centred education. Beyond what they designed themselves, their advice and thoughtfulness saturated Britain’s post-war schools and helped win them an international reputation.

Mary died in 2005 leaving an architectural legacy which displayed her exhaustive attention to children’s and teachers’ needs and their human expression in subtle, modulated spaces, neither completely open nor closed. Working with invariable anonymity, she was contemptuous of fame.

A Life in Education and Architecture: Mary Beaumont Medd, by Catherine Burke, University of Cambridge, UK provides more than a biography of Mary Medd (née Crowley), one of the foremost Modernist architects in the UK. This book critically examines her innovative designs for school buildings in post-war Britain. In doing so, it provides a detailed exploration of the relationships between architects, educators, artists and designers in shaping a new approach to designing for education.

Jaqueline TyrwhittMary Jaqueline Tyrwhitt (Jacky) attended St Paul’s Girls School in Hammersmith and hoped to work for a history scholarship to Oxford, but her father did not allow her to pursue that course. Instead she studied at the Royal Horticultural School obtaining a General Horticultural Diploma, followed by a course at the Architectural Association School in London where she was greatly influenced by Patrick Geddes’ view of town planning, as organic growth responding to the needs of society rather than as a pattern to be imposed on society.

After various jobs and study periods in gardening, agriculture, architecture, town planning and industry, she was, during the war, made Director of Research at the School of Planning and Regional Reconstruction as well as Director of Studies at the School of Planning and Research for Regional Development, positions that she held for seven years, during which time she was much involved in the reconstruction of a devastated post-war Britain.

It was in 1947 that she met the Swiss art historian Siegfried Giedion and subsequently became one of his fervent admirers, translating and editing all his major works. Subsequently her links with thinkers in the international architectural world became stronger and in 1951 she left England for Canada.

The next fourteen years were spent mainly in North America, working for the School of Graduate Studies in Toronto, for the United Nations, and then at Harvard University, all in the field of town and regional planning. While she was working for the UN in India in 1953 she met the Greek architect and visionary, Constantine Doxiades, who became the third major influence on her thinking.

In 1969 she retired from her professorship at Harvard and came to live permanently in Greece. In addition to creating her garden there and giving hospitality to a constant stream of family, friends, students and colleagues from all over the world, she continued to work as an editor, teacher and consultant. The night that she died, 21 February 1983, she was working on the final details of her gardening book.

Jaqueline Tyrwhitt: A Transnational Life in Urban Planning and Design, by Ellen Shoshkes, Portland State University, USA, is an intellectual biography which, not only details the landmark contributions of Jacqueline Tyrwhitt, working alongside Geddes, Sert, Giedion and Doxiadis, but also indicates their relevance for contemporary scholars and practitioners, particularly those concerned with ‘healthy’ community design and sustainability.

Women, Ageing, Popular Music, and Madonna – a guest post from Abigail Gardner

Abigail GardnerIn celebration of International Women’s Day, we are taking the time to acknowledge the women who ‘made it happen’ in music. Dr. Abigail Gardner, co-editor of ‘Rock On’: Women, Ageing and Popular Music, responds to the current media debate circulating Madonna and her significance in today’s music industry…

The Queen is dead. Long live the Queen

It’s odd because Britain usually loves an old Queen. But Madonna, ‘Her Madgesty’, the ‘pop empress’ herself has been spurned by Britain’s Public Service broadcaster, the BBC. Its premiere youth station; Radio 1 has banned her latest single ‘Living for Love’ from its playlist on the grounds that it is irrelevant; it just doesn’t reach out to the 15—29 year olds that constitute its audience. They also say it’s not that good, citing ‘musical merit’ as their defense for ditching it. It has though, been played on BBC Radio 2, home to those over 35. Meanwhile, in pop and dance charts across Europe and Japan, the single has charted, coming in at No.12 in Hungary. But the BBC seems to have fallen out of love with this particular Rock Royal.

And so the social media storm erupts. On Facebook and Twitter, fans from all over the world rage against the ageism of the BBC, claiming her as icon and innovator. Madonna detractors call her tired and past her sell by date, irrelevant now. But in moving Madonna away from the Radio 1 playlist, the BBC has inadvertently highlighted exactly how relevant she is. Age matters now. It’s where feminism is focused and The Material Girl can’t help it but be caught up in this debate. The album, Rebel Heart has tracks like ’Unapologetic Bitch’, ‘Joan of Arc’, ‘Iconic’, ‘Holy Water’ and ‘S.E.X’ on it. Religion and sex, power and control remain part of her shtick. That these be housed within a 56-year-old body that refuses to fade gently into the night is what causes BBC brows to furrow. Emily Judd of The Independent (17/2/15) likens her Grammy performance to ‘a demented grandma at a school disco’, whilst noting that her ‘sculpted behind [means that] she’s fit enough to put on a spectacular show’ for the upcoming tour. Madonna is both a figure of embarrassment (the mad granny) and aspiration (the sculpted bottom). Her continuing relevance is that she confuses and upsets. Her presence within the pop arena, that space configured by and predominantly for, youth is problematic. But we don’t expect Keith Richards to stop being Keith Richards, Paul McCartney to disappear gracefully behind the mixing desk. So let’s not expect Madonna to be anything but Madonna and stop commenting on her old hands, her old arms, her old age. Let’s make that part of her irrelevant.

Rock On Women ageing and pop musicRead more about ‘Rock On’: Women, Ageing and Popular Music, including reviews and excerpts on the Ashgate Website. Details of more titles focusing on women and gender in music can be found on our Women and Gender in Music page.