Amy Beach in Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1918
Dr. Julia Randel, Music
The influential American composer Amy Beach wrote in 1915, “Our composers owe an immense debt of gratitude to the merry women’s clubs scattered far and wide over the whole land, which have done an enormous amount of work in popularizing the compositions of American musicians. They have cultivated the study and appreciation of the works of their countrymen in a most praiseworthy manner, giving them a chance for hearing alongside the works of European composers.” Among the many clubs she visited across the country was the St. Cecilia Society of Grand Rapids, Michigan where she gave a program of her compositions in January of 1918. The St. Cecilia Music Society was one of many women’s organizations in the city which played a vital role in the rich music culture of Grand Rapids, in the decades around 1900, featuring a variety of activities including musical performances, speeches, and poetry recitations. My project is an attempt to capture the essence of that concert. Through research in the Grand Rapids Public Library, which houses the St. Cecilia Society archives, I have pieced together the lives of those who were involved in many perspectives of the event: the club members who organized it, the performers, audience members, and a music critic. The story of the St. Cecilia Music Society and the life of Amy Beach cross paths on this occasion which now reveals to us how influential the work of Amy Beach was on the members of the Society and vice versa. This snapshot of one event offers a glimpse into a moment in time, revealing the important contributions that women have made to the arts and their communities.
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