By Francine Trester
Could we make an event honoring Women’s History Month come together in just a month’s time? With a pandemic putting a serious dent in any live performance possibilities?
These questions ran through my mind as I saw an email called “Music for March” in my inbox back in February. The email was from Michelle Jenney, President of the Boston Women’s Heritage Trail, and she was asking me if I had any performances lined up in honor of Women’s History Month this March.
“No,” I replied, “I don’t, but maybe we can make something happen?” Perhaps I could write a new piece—one that could be sung at the Boston Women’s Memorial. It would be outdoors, socially distanced—possible despite COVID restrictions. I contacted singers Carrie Cheron and Brianna Robinson. Carrie suggested the music be a cappella—sung without accompaniment and easier to put together given distancing restrictions.
With that a cappella sound in mind, I researched the Memorial and the singular voices of the three women featured there: Abigail Adams, Lucy Stone, and Phillis Wheatley. From their words I weaved together a text that would speak to their experience and some measure of womankind’s universal experience. I then composed a violin solo that I could perform as an interlude, connecting Carrie and Brianna’s solos.
We wanted to spread the word. Michelle contacted Boston Neighborhood Network, who came that bright and sunny Sunday in March to film the event for their television program, “Around Town.” Thanks to Berklee’s Michael Borgida and Cristian Avila, we had wonderful pictures from the event as well.
Alexandra Valdez, from the Mayor’s Office of Women’s Advancement was also in attendance to issue citations to the musicians, BWHT, and me, thanking us for our work in “celebrating the important contributions of the women of the Boston Women’s Memorial.”
Among the words I set to music was Abigail Adam’s charge that we should “Remember the Ladies!” Throughout this project, her urgent entreaty echoed loud and clear in my mind. Hearing those words and the words of Lucy Stone and Phillis Wheatley that shining Sunday, I felt we had indeed “remembered” these women. Through music we honored their story and the stories of countless women—narratives acknowledged by Women’s History Month, songs to be sung every month of the year.
Francine Trester, professor in the Composition Department, has had works commissioned and premiered throughout the U.S. and abroad. Her chamber opera about composer Florence Price was recently commissioned by Shelter Music Boston. The Bach, Beethoven, and Brahms Society premiered her orchestral version of “Street Views” at Faneuil Hall. Trester has written “A Walk in Her Shoes” for the Boston Landmarks Orchestra. This piece commemorates the centennial of the 19th Amendment and, pandemic permitting, will be premiered by Landmarks at the Hatch Shell this summer. www.francinetrester.com