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February 8, 2002

Glass Panels Are Capstone to Renovation of Pratt Hall

Music and dance students seeking inspiration to face spring semester's courseload need look no further than the Eleanor Pierce Stevens Library of Music and Dance in Mount Holyoke's newly renovated Pratt Hall. There, suspended over the library's two rows of computer terminals and listening stations, twelve glass panels bearing the names and portraits of women artists remind MHC's musicians and dancers of the extraordinary accomplishments of the pioneering women who preceded them in their fields. The panels honoring great women of music and dance were installed in October—the capstone to extensive renovations that joined and upgraded Pratt and Hammond halls to give Mount Holyoke a state-of-the-art music facility.

"For me these dreamy, translucent images give a palpable, spectral presence to the artistic legacies of these great women artists," said Jim Coleman, arts coordinator and professor and chair of dance. "I would imagine they provide visible inspiration for students passing through and working in the library. Certainly in the case of modern dance, whose founders were mostly women, these images are a telling reminder of a unique twentieth-century artistic legacy. I also like the way the setting and translucency of the images allows you to see a number of figures at once, in depth, capturing the rich heritage of music and dance collaborations."

Rachel Rapperport of the architectural firm Miller Dyer Spears found inspiration for the panels at Williston Memorial Library, where she saw wall-mounted plaques about notable MHC women of many different disciplines. "This simple act of publicly celebrating achievements of specific women is important and uplifting," said Rapperport, who hoped that panels in Pratt Hall would be another visible testimony to women's important contributions, both celebrating women in the past and encouraging creativity in the future.

Whether they come to the library to check email, search the Internet, type papers, listen to an assignment or leisure recording, or read periodicals like Ballet Alert! and Journal of Music Theory, students can't help but notice the panels, especially when they are illumined by the morning light streaming through the library's east windows. Many will no doubt draw closer to decipher signatures and admire portraits, even to read the corresponding biographies that were researched, written, and compiled during the fall semester by students of Larry Schipull, College organist and associate professor of music.

"The panels have turned a beautiful place into an intellectually stimulating and aesthetically interesting space," said Associate Professor of Music Linda Laderach, who led Coleman, Schipull, and other faculty members in selecting the twelve artists depicted.

Panel Subjects

Agnes DeMille, 1909—1993

An American dancer and choreographer, DeMille incorporated American folk idiom in popular narrative fusions of ballet and modern dance, as in Rodeo (1942) and Fall River Legend (1948). Her choreography in Broadway musicals was preeminent in the integration of dance, song, and action, as in Oklahoma (1943), and Carousel (1945).
Adapted from Oxford Paperback Encyclopedia; image by Maurice Seymour

Clara Schumann, 1819—1896

A German pianist, composer, and teacher, Schumann was one of the foremost European pianists of the nineteenth century, the wife and champion of the music of Robert Schumann, and a respected composer and influential teacher.
Adapted from The New Grove Dictionary

Isabella d'Este, 1474—1539

Known as the "First Lady of the Renaissance," d'Este patronized and promoted the arts as Duchess of Mantua after the death of her husband, Francesco Gonzaga. She was herself a keen musician, and her support of stringed instruments may have contributed to the development of the viol ensemble in accompanying the frottola, a type of song that evolved as a written counterpart to the Italian improvisatory tradition.

Amy Beach, 1867—1944

American composer and pianist, Beach was celebrated during her lifetime as the foremost woman composer of the United States. A member of the Second New England School of composers, she wrote and published more than 300 works in a wide variety of genres.
Adapted from The New Grove Dictionary

Hildegard of Bingen, 1098—1179

A German Benedictine abbess, visionary, writer, and composer, she is known for her literary, musical, and scientific works, and for her religious and diplomatic activities. Her oeuvre includes recorded visions, medical and scientific works, hagiography, letters, and lyrical and dramatic poetry.
Adapted from The New Grove Dictionary

Pearl Primus, 1919–1994

Primus was born in Trinidad and raised in New York, where she made her professional debut as a dancer in 1943. She later founded her own dance company. Her work as a choreographer and teacher brought to the stage and studio the reality of life in black America and the richness of Caribbean and African dance forms. Her work grew out of the early modern dance ethos in its search for American dance forms not based on borrowed European models. It developed to embrace dance forms of African people as she sought to discover her own artistic and spiritual heritage. Primus's work had a profound impact on many black artists including, Alvin Ailey, Donald McKayle, Judith Jamison, and countless others.

Marian Anderson, 1899–1993

Contralto Marian Anderson made musical history as the first African American to perform (in 1955) with the Metropolitian Opera Company. Her voice was large and striking, and she was above all admired for her artistic integrity.
Adapted from The New Grove Dictionary

Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel, 1805–1847

A German composer, pianist, conductor, and sister of the composer Felix Mendelssohn, Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel learned the piano from her mother, who is reputed to have noted her daughter's "Bach fingers" at birth. Beginning in the early 1830s, she became the central figure in a flourishing salon, favoring composers who were then unfashionable, including Mozart, Handel, and Bach. She also produced her own lieder and piano pieces, an output of about 500 compositions.
Adapted from The New Grove Dictionary

Nadia Boulanger, 1887–1979

A French teacher, conductor, and composer, Boulanger first came to public attention in 1908, when she created a scandal by writing an instrumental fugue in the preliminary round of the Prix de Rome, rather than the vocal fugue required. Promoted as a concert pianist and organist by the virtuoso pianist Raoul Pugno, she also composed more than thirty songs, chamber music, and a Fantaisie variee (1912) for piano and orchestra. Boulanger is remembered as one of the foremost composition teachers of the twentieth century and one of the first professional female conductors.
Adapted from The New Grove Dictionary

Martha Graham, 1894–1991

Dancer Martha Graham is known for revolutionizing dance, lighting, stage designing, costuming, and music. Her pieces often dealt with social and political problems, such as imperialism and civil war. In 1938, Eleanor Roosevelt invited Graham to the White House, where she performed American Document. Graham would dance at the White House for seven other presidents.

Ruth Crawford Seeger, 1901–1953

An American pianist and composer, Seeger was an outstanding figure among early American modernists in the 1920s and early 1930s and a specialist in American traditional music. She transcribed, edited, and arranged important anthologies in the 1940s and early 1950s and contributed folk-song arrangements to Chicago poet Carl Sandburg's landmark anthology The American Songbag.

Bessie Smith, 1894–1937

An American blues, jazz, and vaudeville singer, Smith began her professional career in 1912 by singing in the same show as Ma Rainey. After performing in various touring shows and cabarets, as well as at the 81 Theatre in Atlanta, she was sought out by the jazz pianist Clarence Williams to record in New York. Her first recording, "Downhearted Blues" (1923), established her as the most successful black performing artist of her time; she recorded regularly until 1928, performed throughout the South and North, and in 1929 appeared in the film St. Louis Blues. Her death after a car accident was the subject of Edward Albee's play The Death of Bessie Smith (1959).
Adapted from The New Grove Dictionary

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