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Suffrage song gets new life through technology

By Daniel Black
TFO Associate Conductor

We are in the midst of a major milestone in U.S. history. Spread over this year and last is the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, which gave women the right to vote (various stages of the process happened in 1919 and 1920). Although it has received some attention, I felt a lot more could be done to commemorate this important event. While programming concerts for this summer, I set out to find music that would honor the long struggle of the women’s suffrage movement.

I was surprised how little music I found — virtually nothing for orchestra. That’s when I decided to make my own arrangement and orchestration of Daughters of Freedom, which had been a prominent anthem in the early 20th century during suffrage marches. The music was written by the obscure American composer Edwin Christie, to lyrics by George Cooper, and was first published in 1871, almost 50 years before the passage of the 19th Amendment.

Just as I started on the project, the coronavirus pandemic struck and canceled the rest of The Florida Orchestra’s concerts for the season. We musicians were suddenly unable to rehearse together or perform for audiences. Although very discouraging, this new reality gave me the impulse to turn Daughters of Freedom into a musical response to the quarantine. Obviously, there are a lot of differences between a 50-year struggle for the cause of women’s suffrage and the current pandemic, but one thing I find in common is the need for resilience and perseverance. This music speaks powerfully to that need.

I was also influenced by my family connection to the suffrage movement. My great-grandmother, Emma Palmer, was a prominent suffragette in Wisconsin in the early 20th century. By sheer coincidence, my mother, Janet Black, who is a collage artist, had just finished a piece celebrating Emma Palmer while I was working on the orchestration for Daughters of Freedom.  I’ve used this collage in the video. The image of my great-grandmother, who was so formidable and determined, fills me with emotion. Though I never met her (she died almost 40 years before I was born), I can imagine what she must have been like, what her voice must have sounded like. I imagine her marching proudly, chin held high, perhaps singing Daughters of Freedom as she went.  If she could be strong then, we can be strong now.

Not satisfied with merely creating a new orchestration, I set out to make a video recording of the piece, even though orchestra musicians and singers from The Master Chorale of Tampa Bay would be isolated in their homes. Musicians would record their own separate parts individually on a cell phone or other device, and I would combine all the tracks to create a balanced, mixed audio and a video that would show all the performers at once. I wanted to go deeper into the history, so I included archival images from the early 20th century suffrage movement as well.

I hope that listeners and viewers will find it uplifting and hopeful. I think the long struggle of the suffrage movement and its eventual triumph is a tremendous inspiration. It’s an example of what is possible with perseverance, patience and strength — all qualities that will serve us well in the current crisis.

We don’t know how long it will be before The Florida Orchestra and The Master Chorale of Tampa Bay are able to perform live again for the Tampa Bay community.  But we do know that we will be back. We will overcome this and get back to making beautiful, inspiring music for Tampa Bay.  In the meantime, I hope this video will show Tampa Bay that our premier performing arts organizations are still here.  We are still making music, and we are still a part of the community.  With courage and determination, together we will get through this.

This Post Has One Comment

  1. Sharon Hutchison

    This is an amazing production! It is absolutely perfect for sharing in a Zoom meeting for the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR). The gorgeous music, the excellent performances, the way the lyrics are displayed, the images from the marches of the Suffragettes — all this combines for a splendid experience. THANK YOU FOR ALLOWING US TO USE IT! This needs to be shared all across America. Though some of the Suffragettes were beaten and imprisoned, I still see their struggle as having much more class and dignity than much of what we see today. (I speak for myself only in saying that, as the DAR is a non-political organization.) Thank you especially, Daniel Black, for your work which clearly came from your heritage and your heart.

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