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 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZdqjcMmjeaA

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.”

Viola Davis – Emmy Winner

     “The only thing that separates women of color from anyone else is opportunity. You cannot win an Emmy for roles that are simply not there.” [Viola Davis]

Screen Shot 2015-09-23 at 2.44.45 PM     Viola Davis won the Emmy this week for Lead Actress in a Drama Series for playing Annalise Keating in How to Get Away with Murder. For a graduate of Juilliard, winning an acting award is not surprising. However, Davis’ distinction is remarkable because she is the First African-American Woman to win an Emmy as a Lead Actress. Davis reminds us that she is also “of a certain age and a certain hue,” making her award even more exceptional.

Juilliard is not an opportunity one might have expected for Viola Davisd. Born on a former plantation in South Carolina, Davis’ father was a horse groomer and trainer and her mother a maid and factory worker. She was raised in Rhode Island, a minority in her community, taunted with racist insults. Poverty was constant. She stole and scavenged food when she was hungry, tied her braids with the clips from loaves of bread, and moisturized with lard.

Davis has a long list of credits in film, television and theatre. When she won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress in the movie Doubt, she demonstrated the depth of her talent; the Oscar was awarded for a total of nine minutes of screen time. She has also won two Tony awards, one as Best Featured Actress in a play and one as Best Actress in a play. For the most part, however, she has played supporting, not starring roles, from a crack-addicted mother to a rape counselor. Her dedication to the craft, however, is evident. “Even when I get the fried-chicken special of the day,” she says, referring to her smaller roles, “I have to dig into it like it’s filet mignon.”

When Shonda Rimes was ready to cast Annalise Keating for “ How to Get Away with Murder” her first choice was Viola Davis. An absorbing story for audience members, with its twists and turns, passion and complexity, the most memorable scene for many of us “of a certain age” is the one where we watch this powerful, calculating woman remove her makeup and wig. She tells it like it is, in her acting and when she receives awards. Not surprising for a woman whose mother was also a civil rights activist.

Emma Edwards Green – Flag Designer

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Emma Edwards Green was the first woman to design a state flag. She was, in fact, the only woman to design a state flag. Emma visited friends in Boise Idaho in 1890 and decided to stay. She taught art classes and was later invited to submit a design for the state flag of Idaho. Her design was selected and she received $100 prize money. The natural resources of Idaho are displayed in her design, including a miner and a woman. Her original art rests in the Idaho Historical Society.

Misty Copeland – Principal Dancer

MISTY COPELANDWhen Misty Copeland was named principal dancer for the American Ballet Theatre this week, her achievement was noted because she is the First African-American Woman to hold this position. Of course she was already known in the ballet world as she worked her way up to this recognition, but her fame has extended beyond the sphere of classical dance.

Misty Copeland did not begin dancing until she was a young teenager. In spite of being told that it was too late for her to become a ballerina, she trained and progressed rapidly. She was en pointe within a few months and within two years she placed first in the Los Angeles Music Center Spotlight Awards. That award provided offers from the Joffrey Ballet, American Ballet Theatre, Dance Theater of Harlem and Pacific Northwest Ballet for places in their summer workshops. She selected San Francisco Ballet, but would later study in the Summer Intensive Program at American Ballet Theatre. ABT then offered her (and five others out of 150) a place in their junior dance troupe.

In the last decade Misty Copeland has been visible internationally and in mass media. In 2009 she appeared in a performance at the National Center for the Performing Arts in Beijing. The ABT engagement was the first by an American ballet company at the new Chinese arts center. In 2011 Misty was selected as one of 37 Boundary-breaking black women in entertainment by Essence magazine. By 2015 she was named one of Time magazine’s 100 Most Influential People (in the world). She was also profiled within the last year on “60 Minutes.”

She has brought new audience members to ballet, perhaps because she dances across the gaps between classical and popular tastes. The same year she danced in Beijing, she danced on a piano top for a Prince video. Although she idolized the Argentine principal ballerina Paloma Herrera after seeing her dance, she did not abandon her earlier admiration for the music of Mariah Carey.

Her influence might be likened to Brandi Chastain. Not many people paid attention to women’s soccer until the 1999 World Cup. Few forget the moment after USA won the cup and Brandi Chastain removed her shirt as if saying, “Here I am world. This is the power of a woman’s body.” Misty Underwood conveyed the same message last year when she danced in her Under Armour for a commercial as part of their “I Will What I Want” campaign. The ad had four million views within one week.

During the ad a young girl reads the rejection letter received by Misty Copeland when she started dancing. We can admire the strong body she developed but also the persistence that marks her character. She provides inspiration to women of all ages.