Fanfare for the Uncommon Woman

screen-shot-2016-10-26-at-12-58-35-pmLast weekend I attended a concert by the Lake Union Civic Orchestra and found a First Woman in the program. But, first, about the concert.

I was attracted to the concert because they were playing two fanfares: Aaron Copland’s stately Fanfare for the Common Man and Joan Tower’s energetic Fanfare for the Uncommon Woman. The Copland I knew well, but I had never heard the Tower piece before.

Although they are scored for the same instruments (with Tower using a bit more percussion), they are a contrast in gender. Copland’s fanfare is a majestic melody, fit for royalty. It is often used for sports spectaculars, corporate promotions, commercials, and space flights. Tower’s fanfare is more frenetic, much like a woman’s life. And yet the repeated patterns exchanged between instruments felt like cooperation between disparate elements, an art women learned long ago.

One of the most entrancing parts of the concert evening was watching the percussion players. Two of the three were women and they were amazing. During the Copland fanfare, the bass drum player struck the massive drum with her whole body, not just her arm, lifting herself off her feet. During the Tower fanfare, the timpanist made sounds on the kettledrums I had never heard before. Mallets, sticks, wrists, and flickering fingers flew through the Tower piece.

Joan Tower says her fanfare honors “women who take risks and are adventurous.” Doesn’t that include most women? Aren’t most women “uncommon” in that they are capable of amazing things? Perhaps Joan Tower’s Fanfare for the Uncommon Woman should be the theme song for my First Woman Project.

First Woman: Tower dedicated her fanfare to Marin Alsop who, as music director for the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, was the First Woman conductor of a major U.S. metropolitan orchestra. Alsop is also music director of the Sao Paulo State Symphony Orchestra. She has won prizes and recognition for her conducting throughout the world. One of her first awards, the Koussevitzky Prize awarded to the outstanding student conductor at Tanglewood, was also presented to Seiji Ozawa and Michael Tilson Thomas when they were at Tanglewood as students.

You can see Marin Alsop conducting Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man at

Sutematsu Yamakawa Oyama – First Japanese Woman to Earn a Bachelor’s Degree

screen-shot-2016-10-12-at-1-19-01-pm        Sutematsu Yamakawa Oyama was the first Japanese woman to earn a bachelor’s degree. Her remarkable feat occurred in the late 1800’s at Vassar College. Sutematsu was part of a Japanese experiment that is engagingly recounted in Daughters of the Samurai by Janice P. Nimura.

After Admiral Perry’s show of force in Japan’s Edo Bay, as the era of the samurai is ending, five young girls are selected to come to the United States. Their mission is to learn American culture and return to Japan to help the isolated Japanese kingdom progress to a culture that will have credibility in the “civilized” world.

Three of the girls, Sutematsu among them, remain in the United States for ten years. What they learn is to be curious, well-bred, and independent. What Japan wants is women who can teach other Japanese women to be “cultured,” but only as intelligent partners for their husbands and role models for their children. Japanese men do not see women as independent of the family. All three of the girls struggle with the conflict between their acculturation into American ideas and the reality of Japanese culture.

In Japan the three take different paths. One, Ume Tsuda, remains unmarried, an unusual situation in Japanese culture and eventually establishes a school where English is taught as she wishes, rather than as the Japanese culture had dictated. Another, Shige Nagai Uriu, teaches the music she learned in America, marrying and struggling to balance her work life with her career.

Sutematsu marries well, to a man who becomes general of the Imperial Japanese Army. At first it appears that, in spite of the fact that she does not read or write Japanese well, she has succumbed to Japanese culture and is filling her designated role in Japanese society. However, Sutematsu quietly goes about acculturating Japanese women to Western ways, teaching them about philanthropy and public service. She also raises funds for her friend’s English school and assures that the Empress knows of their success.

Daughters of the Samurai is beautifully written. The author pulls you into the scenes with her meticulous descriptions. She uses letters written by the girls and their correspondents, but never makes the reader feel as if she is merely quoting; the quotations flow naturally from her storytelling. I highly recommend this book.

Ginny Baker – Fictional First Woman

screen-shot-2016-09-25-at-9-53-47-am       I would like to have been a fly on the wall when Rick Singer and Kevin Falls “pitched” their idea for a new television series about a woman baseball player who makes it to the major leagues. The series, aptly named Pitch, debuted last week on Fox.

Ginny Baker is the pitcher who is given a change to play in the major leagues. Her debut performance is abysmal, but she bounces back and, although she doesn’t finish her second game, pitches long enough to earn credit for a win. The story, of course, is about relationships: the relationship she has with a former teammate who is her restrained cheerleader, the complicated relationship she had with her father, and relationships with the men who see her as an intruder on their turf. I understand the relationship with her mother will be introduced later in the series.

Although the producers say that they didn’t have a particular race in mind for the part, they cast the black actress Kylie Bunbury, and now the writers are free to introduce thematic material around her color. In the first episode much is made of the fact that the number on her uniform is 43, one off from Jackie Robinson (who, by the way, has the only number in baseball retired by the entire league).

The possibility that some television executives thought this might make good television is certainly a sign of the times. That the Major Baseball League (MLB) is a partner in the venture, allowing the producers to use their stadiums and logos, is even more remarkable. On the show Ginny plays on the San Diego Padres.

The real San Diego Padres aired the show on their video board the day before the series ran nationally. Their advertising for the game encouraged fans to bring their “girls and families” to the park for this event. Perhaps this is all a marketing ploy to get more girls to major league baseball games, but I can’t forget one image from the show. Ginny Baker arrives at Petco Park and a mob awaits her. As she is rushed through the crowd she sees a small, blonde, white girl in her daddy’s arms holding a sign that says, “I’m next.”

Carla Hayden – First Woman Librarian of Congress

screen-shot-2016-09-18-at-5-17-51-pmTo be the head of an institution that’s associated with knowledge and reading and scholarship when slaves were forbidden to learn how to read on punishment of losing limbs, that’s kind of something.” [Carla Hayden]

In the United States 83% of librarians are women, but a woman has never served as Librarian of Congress—until now! Carla Hayden, sworn in on September 14, is the First Woman to head the Library of Congress. She is not only the first woman, but also the first African-American and, surprisingly, the first professional librarian to hold this position.

You might have heard her name before. She was Baltimore’s chief librarian during the 2015 riots in Baltimore and she chose to keep libraries open so that people would have a safe place to go. Young men from the community stood outside the library to secure its safety while buildings across the street went up in flames.

The particulars of her background and appointment seem to me to hold many similarities with the appointments of other women. Perhaps it was accidental, but it seems likely that women must meet different standards than men, even today.

  1. Carla Hayden has full credentials for the position. – Among the fourteen Librarians of Congress there have been politicians, businessmen, authors, poets and lawyers. Hayden, however, is credentialed in her field. Not only is she a librarian, but she was President of the American Library Association. I’m sure it didn’t hurt her application to Congress that Fortune magazine ranked her one of the World’s 50 Greatest Leaders earlier this year.
  2. She had done the job before. – Research shows that men are often hired for their potential, but women are more likely to be hired if they have already held the same position elsewhere. Hayden ran a failing library system in Baltimore with 22 branches. She upgraded the technological capacity of the libraries and opened the first new library in Baltimore in 35 years.
  3. She knows how to clean up messes. – I have said for years that women make great managers because their domestic duties give them practice at multi-tasking. Women also have learned to straighten up other people’s messes. The Library of Congress is struggling, a lumbering beast being drug into the technological age. Hayden is determined to see that records are digitized and accessible to all.
  4. She knows the job from the bottom up. – It is not unusual for men to either start near the top or work their way up the ladder quickly. Too many of them don’t know how to perform the simpler tasks of their professions. Hayden began as a children’s librarian and this focus makes her committed to assuring that children and teachers can use the Library of Congress to teach the wonders of our nation’s history.
  5. The appointment of a woman gave the organization an excuse to change the rules. – Amazingly, in over two centuries there have been only fourteen Librarians of Congress because the position was held for life. The law has changed with Hayden’s appointment: she will serve for only ten years.

I will be so surprised if Hayden does not do a bang-up job. She has all the credentials; she’s done the job before; she can clean up messes; and she understands that the Library of Congress is not just for Congress and the powerbrokers. Her tenure should lead to a vital, community organization–provided the guys get out of her way.

Navy Honors Grace Hopper

GRACE HOPPERThere has never been a building at any of the major military academies named after a woman—until now! The First Woman to have this honor is Grace Hopper whose name will grace the U.S. Naval Academy’s new cyber facility. Grace Hopper was a pioneer in computer programming and a U.S. Navy Rear Admiral.

Hopper holds the title of First Woman in several other instances as well:

–She was the First Woman director at Ecker-Mauchly Computer Corporation where she worked on compiler-based programming languages for UNIVAC. Back in the days before many others realized that someday we would all have computers, Grace Hopper was working to make computers accessible.

–She was the first recipient (not just woman) of the (catch the name) Science Man-of-the-Year award presented by the Data Processing Management Association in 1969.

–She was named a Distinguished Fellow of the British Computer Society in 1973. Not only was she the First Woman in the world to receive this honor, she was also the first person from the United States who was recognized.

Prior to the Naval Academy’s decision to name a building for her, Grace Hopper also had a guided missile destroyer christened in her name. I can’t help but wonder is she wasn’t a guided missile herself, aimed directly at destroying stereotypes about women.

(For more information about Grace Hopper, read my earlier blog from 2013)