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Celebrating Three Boston Women


The bronze statues of Abigail Adams, Lucy Stone, and Phillis Wheatley have come down from their Commonwealth Avenue plinths; the women appear to be using their granite pedestals as a writing desk, something to dream on, or something to lean against. They are actively participating in their own memorials. Their words, remarkable for their timelessness, still need to be said and heard.

On May 7th at Emmanuel Church in Boston, Cappella Clausura will debut three pieces commissioned from female composers of differing cultural backgrounds, all with strong ties to the Boston area: Inès Velasco, Melika M. Fitzhugh, and Emily Lau.

Cappella Clausura has partnered with the artist, Meredith Bergmann, Susan Wilson, Omni Parker House Historian, Suffrage100MA, Fredie Kay, founding director, and the Boston Women’s Heritage Trail, Mary Smoyer, board member. Wilson and Bergmann will give presentations, and there will be talks by selected members of our remarkably female leadership.

Born in 1744 in Weymouth, MA, Abigail Adams married the second president of the United States and mothered six. Her letters establish her as a perceptive social and political commentator and a strong voice for women’s advancement.

A composer, arranger, producer and drummer born in Guadalajara, México, Inès Velasco graduated from Berklee College of Music graduate with a dual degree in Jazz Composition and Performance. She has worked as an arranger and orchestrator for Snarky Puppy with the Metropole Orkest, New York Philharmonic (String quartet), Alina Engirbayan, José Mercé and the National Jazz Orchestra of Mexico.

Velasco penned Remember the Ladies for four voices a cappella based on Adams’s words.  Velasco uses vocal sounds, hums and oohs, repeating the powerful word “remember”, and inserting “all men would be tyrants…” The broken text, like Adams’ husband’s broken promise, builds towards the final plea, “Remember Us”. Velasco tells readers:

I wrote this piece trying to imagine Abigail’s state of mind as she wrote her famous plea to John, urging him to ‘Remember the Ladies’. There are a lot of wordless moments in this piece. . .  I tried to capture feeling of trying to find the correct words to express oneself, and the quiet hope that those words would have enough power to influence a meaningful change in women’s lives.

Melika M. Fitzhugh based Imagination – Fancy on the words of Phillis Wheatley, who was born about 1753 in West Africa, and sold to the Wheatley family as a slave from the ship “Phillis” in colonial Boston. She became a literary prodigy whose 1773 volume “Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral” was the first book of poems published by an African writer in America.

Fitzhugh hails from Stafford, Virginia (BA Harvard-Radcliffe, MM Longy School of Music of Bard College). Brouwer Trio, Sarah Jeffery, and Aldo Abreu have performed her work. Fitzhugh belongs to world/early music ensembles Urban Myth, Balkan Fields, and the Quilisma Consort.

She set her work for four voices, bass recorder, Baroque flute, theorbo, viola da gamba, and percussion.  Subtitled “A Quasi-motet for Voices and Instruments,” it took inspiration from medieval isorhythm, a style that repeats a rhythmic pattern. Wheatley employed iambic pentameter, in which a strong beat followed by a weak beat 5 times per line or 10 syllables (a favorite of Shakespeare). By writing in a meter of 11/8 rather than 10/8, essentially adding an extra syllable, Fitzhugh gives each line a small breath. She piles the two stanzas upon one another, evoking the duality of Wheatley’s languages and cultures. According to Fitzhugh:

This piece sets excerpts from Phillis Wheatley (Peters)’s poem “On Imagination” with two simultaneous texts. The bass part has a pseudo-repeated line that carries the final stanza about Winter keeping Fancy (and the poet) bound to earth. Meanwhile, the upper voices express the fourth stanza about Imagination as an entity freely moving throughout the universe.

Lucy Stone, born in 1818 in Brookfield, MA, was one of the first Massachusetts women to graduate from college. She was an ardent abolitionist, a renowned orator, and the founder of the Woman’s Journal, the foremost women’s suffrage publication of its era. Her texts inspired Emily Lau (Portland, OR), a composer, singer, and performance artist (MM Early Music Performance from Longy School of Music of Bard College). Emily is a first-generation Chinese immigrant, and a devout maker of intersectional communities. She has created over 40 new projects in the last decade with artists at Big Mouth Society, The Broken Consort, Reed College, and various universities and ensembles using the “Lau Method”, and tours nationally and internationally as a composer, singer, conductor, tea master, and teacher. She has had a love affair with Boston ever since attending graduate school here.

Hi, I am Lucy Stone for four voices, baroque flute, harp and viola da gamba, using text inspired by the speeches and letters of Lucy Stone. The style is lyrical, essentially a melody over a harp accompaniment, occasionally punctuated by consonants alone: the consonant “n” is repeated like a stutter, evoking an unfinished question, which at the end is answered aloud as Stone’s final credo: “I believe in the eternal order…there is a movement toward what is right and what is true.” Lau summarizes:

Lucy Stone lived with unwavering integrity and personal sacrifice. I want to bring a more personal and lyrical touch by writing new texts interwoven with her original speeches and writing. As you listen, you will find that the a cappella sections directly quote her, and the accompanied sections champion the underlying tale. I hope you will find solace and inspiration as you hear the words from both of our hearts.

Cappella Clausura’s “Three Women”
A Celebration of the 20th Anniversary of the Boston Women’s Memorial
4 pm Sunday, May 7th, 2023
Emmanuel Church of Boston (15 Newbury St)

Register for free tickets HERE.

The author is Cappella Clausura director and a resident scholar at Brandeis’s Women’s Studies Research Center.

Top L-R: Inès Velasco, Melika Fitzhugh, Emily Lau
Bottom L-R: Adams, Wheatley, Stone

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