“The History of the Ladies Musical Club is Like the Biography of a Great Man”: Women, Place, Repertory, Race, and the Ladies Musical Club of Seattle, 1891-1950
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The Ladies Musical Club of Seattle (LMC) was formed in 1891 by an all-female group of classically-trained musicians with two stated aims: to provide music of a high standard to the still-burgeoning town of Seattle, and to maintain their own substantial performance skills. Beginning in 1900, the LMC cemented the fulfillment of its first aim by bringing hundreds of diverse, world-famous artists in its annual Artist Concert Series to the initially remote Seattle stage. These artists include Sergei Rachmaninoff, Marian Anderson, Percy Grainger, Igor Stravinsky, Jose Iturbi, Winifred Christie, Pablo Casals, Amelita Galli-Curci, Nelson Eddy, Dorothy Maynor, Walter Damrosch and the New York Symphony Orchestra, Todd Duncan, Marilyn Horne, Bidu Sayão, Teresa Carreño, Artur Rubenstein, and many, many others. In addition to the Artist Concert Series, the LMC enriched Seattle’s concert life through regular public performances by LMC members. The LMC also fostered original compositions by local composers, and to this day continues to premiere works of members. Mindful of its meticulous bookkeeping and perhaps aware of its historical and regional importance, the LMC preserved its original records and memorabilia, and in 1981, the LMC donated hundreds of items to Seattle’s Museum of History and Industry (MOHAI). The vibrant, well-documented history of the club; the contributions of its members; the impact on the community; and the public’s response—all have been generally overlooked by musicologists. This is an oversight not just in terms of documenting the music scene in Seattle, or of putting the frequently-ignored Pacific Northwest musical landscape on the map. What has been overlooked can also reveal the distinctive local attitudes about race, gender, and regional identity—issues that were and are contentious during this formative period in American history. This study aims to begin to bridge this gap by examining a rich period in the LMC’s—and Seattle’s—history, from the LMC’s founding in 1891 to 1950, the 50th anniversary of the Artist Concert Series. This period included two World Wars, the struggle for women’s suffrage, the Great Depression, and racial strife, all of which touched the Pacific Northwest region in meaningful ways despite its geographical remoteness. During this time, the LMC was shaping the musical scene in Seattle while fulfilling its self-defined course of civic duty. The historical significance of the LMC was quickly recognized by regional publications, and as the LMC reached important milestones, a narrative was formed. The way the LMC is portrayed in these publications is compelling, and the resulting “biography of a great man”—as the Club’s history is characterized in one article—reveals more than just the LMC’s activities and accomplishments but also attitudes about women. The first chapter provides a survey of the existing (and missing) scholarship relevant to this study. The histories (or the “biography”) of the LMC are examined and expanded upon in Chapter Two. The LMC’s affinity for the Indianist movement (in Chapter Three) and the LMC’s enthusiasm for African American performers during a period in the Artist Concert Series (Chapter Four) are both important markers of musical tastes and attitudes toward other broad issues such as place and race in Seattle. While sometimes overlapping, the chapters generally unfold in chronological order, and collectively they cover the early history of the LMC through 1950. Musicologists have cited in recent years the importance of women’s roles in American music, of trends such as the Indianist movement as a distinctly “American” stream of art music, and of African American contributions to American music. Yet few, if any, have asked the questions: how did Seattle and the surrounding Pacific Northwest region handle these major issues in American music in the early twentieth century; and, what can this tell us more broadly about the experience of American music during this time across the country? Overall, this study documents the LMC’s indispensable influence on Seattle’s musical scene; demonstrates the regionally-distinctive reactions of Pacific Northwest audiences, presenters, and musicians to important musicological issues; and helps to answer the questions posed above. Music was an important part of life in Seattle, the LMC was an important part of music in Seattle, and the study of music in Seattle is an important and underrepresented part of American music history.
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