2009 Catawba Music Alumnus Helps Recreate Performing Edition of "Lost" Choral Drama
March 21, 2019
A choral drama, "Pilgrims of Destiny," by the late Canadian/American composer Gena Branscombe, will debut on April 27 at Clark University in Worcester, Mass., thanks in part to the work and enthusiasm of Catawba College alumnus Dan Ryan '09, the director of choral activities at Clark.
Ryan collaborated with Kathleen Shimeta, a New York-based singer and expert on the late Canadian/American composer Gena Branscombe, to create a performing edition of the choral drama. The two spent the last 18 months creating the work from the Branscombe's handwritten scores housed at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts and the Library of Congress.
Ryan will conduct 90 young vocalists who make up the Clark University choirs in the debut that Branscombe created nearly a century ago. "Pilgrims of Destiny" is based on the Pilgrims' arrival to America aboard the Mayflower. Branscombe's composition and text deal with the trials, fears, and loves of people on board the ship as they search for a new, free, safe land.
Ryan says the choral drama was "extraordinary in its time." The work premiered in 1929 at a convention of the National Federation of Music Clubs in Plymouth, Massachusetts, and was last performed in 1940.
"The work was lost, like nearly all music composed by women throughout history," said Ryan. "Music stays alive through our experience of it, so it's both invigorating and crucial we revive this historic piece in order to fight the unfortunate tradition of gender inequality in classical music."
In August 2017, Shimeta, a New York-based singer and expert on Branscombe, traveled to the Library of Congress and spent days accessing the original orchestral score and parts. Ryan stumbled upon her CD and was so moved by her passion for Branscombe, he sought her out and proposed the two collaborate on a piece his students could perform before a present-day audience.
"Beyond expanding the canon, we are challenging the historical imbalance of representation in classical music," he said.
Now that word has spread that the music and score will be made available after the April concert, Ryan has been contacted by other performing organizations who have expressed an interest in performing the work after the April 27th premiere which is free and open to the public.