In The Shining Place, I explored music and poetry by twentieth- and twenty-first-century women artists, including composers Eve Beglarian (b. 1958), Missy Mazzoli (b. 1980), Judith Weir (b. 1954), Lori Laitman (b. 1955), Margaret Bonds (1913-1972), and poets Emily Dickinson (1830-1886), Mary Oliver (1935-2019), and Edna St. Vincent Millay (1892-1950) in collaboration with pianist Michael Sheppard and audio/video engineer Andrew Bohman. As I navigated the continual isolation of the COVID-19 pandemic, I was most drawn to music and texts that spoke of a desire to expand the self, either through mining the interiority of one’s life or seeking new adventures in the larger world.
Regarded as a towering figure in English literature, Emily Dickinson (1830-1886), who wrote over 1,800 poems, spent most of her life at her family’s property in Amherst, Massachusetts. Although Dickinson’s circle of family and friends were aware of her writing, the true extent of her poetry was not discovered until after her death. I kept returning to Dickinson’s imagining of a “shining place,” in which she imagines her entrance into paradise. In awe of such otherworldly surroundings, the poet describes her joy as the saints speak her name for the first time.
Me — come! My dazzled face In such a shining place! Me — hear! My foreign Ear The sounds of Welcome — there!
The Saints forget Our bashful feet —
My Holiday, shall be That They — remember me — My Paradise — the fame That They — pronounce my name — (431)
While Dickinson’s poem engages with religious themes, I also interpreted her “shining place” as a paradise within oneself. By February 2022, like all of us, I continued to grapple with the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic, including filming this recital in an empty hall with no audience permitted. As I prepared to perform for no one, I took inspiration from Dickinson’s ability to plumb the depths of her own imagination from the desk in her bedroom, nourishing her creativity in solitude.
In searching for an image to encapsulate my version of Dickinson’s “shining place,” I kept returning to the vivid paintings of Washington DC-based artist Alma Thomas (1891-1978), which I had seen in pre-pandemic trips to the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Thomas, who was the first Black woman artist to have a solo exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art in 1972, experimented with color theory and abstraction throughout her long career as an artist and educator. Thomas’ aesthetic became synonymous with her colorful, mosaic-like images, such as A Fantastic Sunset (1970). With its saturated, red sun surrounded by rings of multi-colored light, Thomas’ sunset is a brilliant visual incarnation of what I imagine my “shining place” could look like. For more information on Thomas and her incredible artwork, check out the National Museum of Women in the Arts and the Smithsonian American Art Museum.
The Heart wants what it wants – or else it does not care… Not to see what we love, is very terrible – and talking – doesn’t ease it – and nothing does – but just itself.
Emily Dickinson, Letter to a friend (Spring, 1862)
In Head, Heart,works by Élisabeth Jacquet de La Guerre, Kaija Saariaho, Kate Soper, and John Harbison all share a common theme: the struggle between the head and the heart. While the severity of this struggle and its consequences vary, its underlying tension lingers. As the musical protagonists of these works experience love, loss, death, violence, and ecstatic bliss, they must continually examine what they are willing to sacrifice to achieve their aims.
For de la Guerre’s Esther of the Old Testament, it is a question of ultimate survival: should she risk her own life to save the Jewish people of Persia from annihilation at the hands of Haman? For Harbison’s Mirabai, should she abandon her family, her possessions, her noble status, and everything she has ever known to devote her life to the Hindu deity Krishna? For both Soper and Saariaho, the heart becomes disembodied altogether, adopting its own voice to teach the head about life, counseling the self to be released from its painful burdens, but at what cost?
Ultimately, the inter-play between these parts of ourselves, not the dominance of one over another, truly defines our actions. By exploring these characters, no matter how divided they seem by time, place, and musical style, we encounter a glimpse of our own fragile selves, as we too navigate the ever-complex binary of the head and the heart.
May 2019 Baltimore, MD
French Canadian flutist Christian Paquette is the Principal Flute of the York Symphony Orchestra and newly appointed Principal Flute of the Baltimore Chamber Orchestra. In September of 2022 he will hold the position of Principal Flute of the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony Orchestra in Canada. He is a doctoral candidate at the Peabody Institute of Johns Hopkins University under the tutelage of Marina Piccinini. He has also worked in flute repairs with Adam Workman, founder of Flutistry Boston. He has frequently performed back in his hometown of Ottawa, Canada with the Ottawa Symphony Orchestra, the National Arts Centre Orchestra and the Thirteen Strings Ensemble. He was also the President of the Ottawa Flute Association from 2015 to 2017.
Christian has performed in the Shriver Hall Concert Series, Music and Beyond Festival, recitals at the National Arts Centre Fourth Stage, Concerto performances with the Peabody Symphony Orchestra (Nielsen) under the baton of Miguel Harth-Bedoya, the University of Ottawa Symphony Orchestra (Ibert and Nielsen), and with the Ottawa Chamber Orchestra (Rodrigo). He is greatly looking forward to his performance of the Reinecke Flute Concerto with the Farnborough Symphony Orchestra in England later in 2022. He is the recipient of numerous competition awards, such as the MPIMC (Marina Piccinini International Master Classes) Concerto Competition, first prize at the Yale Gordon Competition, Canadian Music Competition, the National Music Festival, the NACO Bursary Competition and many others. This past summer he was a fellow in the Aspen Contemporary Ensemble and has been reinvited for the 2022 summer season. Past teachers include Paula Robison, Denis Bluteau, and Camille Churchfield.
Christian is extremely grateful to the Fondation Baxter et Alma Ricard as well as the Sylva Gelber Music Foundation for their generous support in his doctoral studies at the Peabody Institute.
Head, Heart is in partial fulfilment of the Graduate Performance Diploma in Vocal Performance at Peabody Institute of Johns Hopkins University.
As a performer, I have long been fascinated by the song recital as a medium for questioning notions of “canon,” as well as giving voice to those who have been marginalized in classical music. In doing so, I discover voices that I have never heard before, voices of historic women that are completely unknown to me. In communing with these composers and their music, I pay homage to a tradition of female creation that I wish to claim my place amongst. Through the works of Francesca Caccini, Germaine Tailleferre, Maddalena Casulana, Vittoria Aleotti, Leonora Orsini, and Agathe Backer-Grøndahl, I acknowledge that I exist partly because they existed; in some small way, I stand on their shoulders.
September 2017 Baltimore, MD
To the queen of my heart is in partial fulfilment of the Doctorate in Musical Arts Degree in Vocal Performance at Peabody Institute of Johns Hopkins University.
Sisters of the world, let’s gather our power, and shock the men who belittle us by saying, ‘What can women do’?
Komako Kimura (1887-1980), from “The New Real Woman’s Society”
Photo: Unknown Author (1917)
In our November 2021 staged readings of A Women’s Suffrage Splendiferous Extravaganza!, Maestra Impresaria and her dynamic vaudeville troupe present the stories of the trail-blazing leaders and watershed moments of the women’s suffrage movement in the United States. Through unique adaptations of suffrage propaganda, popular music from the Library of Congress Songs of Suffrage Archive, and new songs from NYC-based composers Lacy Rose and November Christine, we endeavor to display the breadth and diversity within this eight-decade long struggle, including the pivotal contributions of suffragists of color, who have been continually marginalized and erased from our collective re-telling of the history of the women’s suffrage movement.
Join us on an exhilarating jaunt to celebrate, explore, and problematize this historic fight to win women the vote! By examining the intersection of the voices of American women of the past and women of today, we ask ourselves and our audience to consider how the fight for equality continues in this quest for the enfranchisement of all citizens in our democracy.
Introducing… our Suffragists!
Led by our daring Maestra Impresaria, the “Great Women of History” will go head-to-head in a fight for the right to vote! The show starts with a bang as “The Sharpshootin’ Suff,” Susan B. Anthony (1820-1906) duels with legendary abolitionist Frederick Douglass (1818-1895) over the 15th Amendment. Anthony’s quick on the draw—but her racist rhetoric misses the bullseye.
The next act is Victoria Woodhull (1838-1927) as “The Magician.” A true visionary, Woodhull is a medium, a newspaper editor and the first female presidential candidate. Her power to see the future has the audience mesmerized—until “The Anti Suffrage Sisters” burst on stage. Staunchly against women’s suffrage, The Antis threaten to steal the show with their catchy anti-suffrage tunes. But have no fear, Ida B. Wells (1862-1931) “The Tallest Woman in the World” is here! A world-famous anti lynching activist and leading Black suffragist, Wells truly towers above the rest.
Not to be outshone, enter Mabel Ping-Hua Lee (1896-1966), the “Teen Tamer of Fire.” Her magical lanterns illuminate the struggles of Chinese immigrant women who aren’t allowed US citizenship, let alone the right to vote. It’s a tough act to follow, but Rose Schneiderman (1882-1972), “Star of the Yiddish Stage,” is up for the challenge. A prominent Jewish American women’s trade union organizer, Schneiderman uses Yiddish song—and a bit of humor—to represent working women in the suffrage movement. Next up is Carrie Chapman Catt (1859-1947) as “The Ventriloquist.” Catt attempts to manipulate her dummy Woody (President Woodrow Wilson) into passing the 19th Amendment—but who’s pulling whose strings?
Impatient for the spotlight, Alice Paul (1885-1977) storms the stage as “The Strongwoman.” She flexes and grandstands, but can’t outmuscle the political system. The final act is Maria Guadalupe Evangelina de Lopez (1881-1977) as “The Spanish Rose.” Preferring unity over divisiveness, Lopez is a bridge between two worlds, using her gift of translation to ignite the suffrage movement in the Spanish-speaking community.
The moment of truth has arrived—will women win the right to vote? The Maestra employs the Vote-O-Meter to determine the verdict. Heavy hitter Susan B. Anthony strikes the mallet and…DING! They’ve won! But their victory is short lived…
To find out how it all ends for the ladies of A Women’s Suffrage Splendiferous Extravaganza!, stay tuned for updates on the development of our show and new performances!
Cast & Creative Team
Press & Media
Read my blog at Peabody Institute’s Creative Wire about the process of creating AWSSE!.
November Christine(she/her/hers) holds a degree in Cellular Biology and Molecular Genetics from the University of Maryland, as well as a BM in Musical Theatre from the East Carolina University School of Music. She produced her award-winning musical MIRROR, MIRROR at the 2015 Hollywood Fringe Festival, followed by a 3-week run in Los Angeles, CA. November’s historical hip-hop drama, LEGACY THE MUSICAL was showcased in London in 2017 and won “Best of Fest” at the 2018 New York Musical Festival.
Her other works include her play IDA, about the anti-lynching activist Ida B. Wells, and A WOMEN’S SUFFRAGE SPLENDIFEROUS EXTRAVAGANZA! a vaudeville revue written in collaboration with The Pleiades Project. November is a BMI Lehman Engel Musical Theatre Workshop Lyricist, 2021 Billie Burke Ziegfeld Award Winner, and Co-chair of the NYCLU Artist Ambassador Program.
Caroline Miller is Co-Founder & Artistic Director of The Pleiades Project, a non-profit organization dedicated to championing women’s stories through opera, film, and original music-theater projects. With The Pleiades Project, Caroline has expanded her artistic talents outside of performance, embracing her interdisciplinary skills as a director, writer, programmer, and producer. She produced and starred in the short-film Così, excerpted from W.A. Mozart’s Così fan tutte, which was named an official selection of the NY Indie Theatre Film Festival. Caroline directed the entirety of the 24 Series, a collection of videos based on the 17th and 18th-century song collection, Twenty-Four Italian Songs & Arias.
For the 2020-2021 season, Caroline directed the premiere A Women’s Suffrage Splendiferous Extravaganza!, a vaudevillian revue celebrating and problematizing the US women’s suffrage movement, through a generous grant from the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council.
A Women’s Suffrage Splendiferous Extravaganza! is made possible in part with public funds from Creative Engagement, supported by the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council and the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Kathy Hochul and administered by LMCC.