Original Score composed, performed and recorded for React (Indianapolis, IN) filmed production of “Before the 19th” written and directed by Georgeanna Smith Wade.
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From Georgeanna (playwright & director),
“Before the 19th” began in a room of 15-ish high school students who had gathered to create a mystery about . .. something. That was all we knew. In the end, we created a fictional piece set in 1904 where a group of society young women debate the issue of equal voting rights. It originally premiered in January of 2017, right after the 2016 presidential election. One of the actresses stood on the stage with tears in her eyes and said that she had voted for the first time that previous November while archival footage played of women voting throughout history. That moment cemented what I have always loved about storytelling: it’s an honor to give voice to someone’s story. I’ve voted in every election I could since directing this show. I trust the cast members will do the same. I’m forever grateful to the people who worked for women’s rights to vote, and may we all ensure that access to all our citizens.”
Notes on the Score
When I started working on this project, I knew that I wanted to include a composition by a female composer and hopefully one who had ties to equal rights in voting. Naturally, I turned to a good friend Dr. Emma Cifrino, DMA (UW-Madison) who has specialized in researching a number British women composers who were in their prime during the late 1800s through the early 1900s. Dr. Cifrino suggested that I look into Ethel Smyth, an English composer who could have been straight out of Before the 19th‘s “Ladies League of Arts and Culture”. Not only was Ethel well studied as a composer, a member of these sorts of Women’s Arts Societies, and the first woman to have an Opera staged at the MET (in 1903), she was also a suffragette! Lo and behold, Smyth even had a piece called “The March of the Women” that she composed to celebrate the release of suffragettes from jail (and conducted it once from a jail cell)!
The first half of Track 26 “Epilogue” is an arrangement of this suffragette anthem, “The March of the Women” (1910) composed by Ethel Smyth (with lyrics by Cicely Hamilton). In the second half of the arrangement, I meld the March of the Women theme with the La Folia chord progression and it’s triple meter, which is in contrast to the march’s big two feel. This La Folia material appears throughout the score representing the Ladies League Theme, progress, and hope for the future. As the arrangement shifts, it becomes a sort of “La Folia variations on a theme of March of the Women”, crescendoing to the end with the conviction of progress made but with the understanding and determination that there’s work yet to be done.
To contact Dr. Cifrino about her research, email: cifrino[at]wisc.edu
Other writeups and info about “the March of the Women”:
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Our Democracy is on the line. We’re in an unprecedented time of out of control political conspiracy theories, violence, lies and election denial – because of this, I urge you all to vote!! Before the 19th had its premiere around the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment being passed into law. Now a century later women’s rights have been rolled back, it’s more important than ever to show up to the polls and vote for your local representatives who support women! Generations of women fought long and hard for the right to vote and we owe it to them to exercise our democratic action; especially for those who have a voice (like the youth participating in React) but cannot yet express their views at the polls. Their future depends our our decisions today! May they be sound, sane decisions, rooted in reality. Stand up for truth & vote in support of women rights!
*The views expressed on this site are my own and do not represent or speak on behalf of React *
Some other tidbits about the Score
The original stage production was scored with music from DJ Spooky’s “Rebirth of a Nation” featuring the Kronos Quartet. That visual arts project & album was really unique especially for the mid 2000s. Remixologist DJ Spooky was taking the silent KKK propaganda film, Birth of a Nation and flipping it on its head 100 years later. DJ Spooky remixed the visuals from that silent film live accompanied by both pre-recorded and remixed compositions for Kronos Quartet mixed with them also playing live to help score this re-envisioned tableau. So when Georgeanna asked me to compose a replacement score for the filmed version, there was one caveat: they’d already filmed the choreographed movement sequences to the DJ Spooky soundtrack… So I had to stay in the same tempo, same orchestration style and same musical key in order for it all to match up with the dancing & movement on film and of course to stay true to the original vibe that everyone was used to. At minimum I needed to be a string quartet, at maximum I needed to be an orchestra. I spent some time studying the raw musical elements behind Rebirth of a Nation (ex. key of C minor, certain note patterns, the rhythmic intensity, the tempo, etc) and ended up re-mixing that material. The trick was to compose something similar enough to replace it while also sounding enough like me that I didn’t feel like I was simply biting someone’s material or infringing on copyrights… I treated it as sort of a theme and variations on the basic concepts and continued to spin the web further and further as the project developed. It tickled me that I was remixing a remix – something I feel that DJ Spooky would approve of!
I also wanted to source something from the Classical Music world to match the atmosphere of The Ladies League of Art and Culture, so I set my sights on the La Folia chord progression. This has been a long lived musical playground for Western composers over the last 400 years. Being in this “remix mindset” I knew I could leverage the flexibility of the La Folia theme and variations to round out the voice of these compositions and infuse it with some other source material. The result is a heavy Baroque style throughout the score. I am using both my standard cello (sometimes with steel, sometimes with gut) and my sarangicello (with gut) to get a big ensemble blend. The sarangicello has the same top two strings as the bass viol da gamba, although it sounds a little more like a tenor viol and it sits within in that range. Those impressions of viola da gamba further helped in exploring the Baroque La Folia flavors.
I also wanted to include an instrument that showed the Ladies League of Art and Culture dedication to preservation of American Cultural Heritage. The instrument I chose to help represent the leagues historical arts interest was the Glass Harmonica invented by Benjamin Franklin in 1761. It has a dreamy quality, but when you listen closely to the texture it can be a little harsh sounding too, that complexity drew me in. Incredibly difficult to play, requiring a delicate technique – it’s the type of instrument which requires absolute dedication and perseverance in order to create beauty. Qualities I thought would resonate with such an arts league.
It was a lot of multi-tracking, but I had a blast making this soundtrack and I hope you enjoy the end result. → now go vote!!!
Violoncello, Sarangicello, Guqin zither & Production by Brian Grimm
Composed, Performed, Recorded, Mixed, & Mastered by Brian Grimm
(c) 2022 Brian Charles Grimm
(p) GrimmusiK Records
Track 26 includes an arrangement of “March of the Women” composed by Ethel Smyth in 1910
Play Written and Directed by Georgeanna Smith Wade
Film Directed by Glenn Pratt
Film Edited by Jaytel Provence
Costumes Designed by Beck Jones
Produced by Justin Wade and React