She Plays Musical Instruments

08/07/2017 10:20 am ET

I had the pleasure of attending concerts as part of the Festival Mozaic in July in San Luis Obispo, California. As I listened to the musicians, I thought back on what I had learned – that for a significant part of history women couldn’t play certain instruments considered too masculine – and that even today women and minorities are often not selected for orchestra positions when the auditions are not conducted “blind” – meaning that the selection committee cannot see the musicians, just hear their musical ability. As with other fields of endeavor, it took some trailblazing women to pave the way for others to follow. Match the woman musician with her accomplishment:

_____ 1. A flutist, she became the first American woman to be awarded a principal chair at a major U.S. orchestra.

_____ 2. The first American violinist, male or female, to achieve international acclaim.

_____ 3. A jazz violinist who received a MacArthur Fellows Program grant; she is currently celebrating the legacy of jazz great Ella Fitzgerald.

_____ 4. After debuting with the Berlin Philharmonic and studying piano in Germany, she became the head of the piano faculty at Howard University.

A. Maud Powell

B. Hazel Harrison

C. Doriot Anthony Dwyer

D. Regina Carter

Although the 150th anniversary of her birth is being celebrated in 2017, violinist Maud Powell, who was born in 1867, received a Lifetime Achievement Grammy in 2014 (74 years after she died)! She was the first American violinist, male or female, to achieve international acclaim. Powell began violin and piano lessons at age seven and by age nine was recognized as a prodigy. When she was 13, she studied in Europe and then debuted with the Berlin Philharmonic, followed by the New York Philharmonic. An advocate for American composers of music – particularly that composed by women and minorities – she was one of the first instrumentalists to make recordings. Powell believed in bringing music to everyone and played in many communities that had not had the benefit of such a concert before. Fittingly, she died of a heart attack while on tour.

Like Powell, Hazel Harrison was a child prodigy. She began piano lessons at age four and by age eight was earning money to help support her family. In 1904, when she debuted with the Berlin Philharmonic, she was the first American whose music education had been conducted entirely in America to do so. After coming back to America, funds were raised for her to continue her music education in Germany. After her return to the U.S., she was able to play recitals and concerts, but did not receive any positions with major orchestras as she was African American. Harrison served as head of the piano faculty to Howard University in Washington, DC from 1937 until her retirement in 1957. At Howard, she established a piano scholarship in honor of her mother.

Flutist Doriot Anthony Dwyer was the first American woman to be awarded a principal chair at a major U.S. orchestra (1952 – the Boston Symphony). This relative of Susan B. Anthony was allowed to play the flute (which she desperately wanted to play) when she was eight years old. After winning a national solo competition, she was awarded a scholarship to study at the Eastman School of Music. When she auditioned to play with the Pittsburgh Symphony, the conductor said to her “You don’t want to play in Pittsburgh. They’re all men!” But, she did want to play and she won an audition for second chair flute with the National Symphony in 1943. Starting in 1945, she played second chair with the Los Angeles Symphony. After her audition with the Boston Symphony, she waited for two months to hear the successful results. She was the principal flute for 38 years. When she retired, the Boston Symphony commissioned composer Ellen Zwilich to write a flute concerto dedicated to her.

Jazz violinist Regina Carter began playing the piano when she was two years old. Her formal study of the Suzuki method for playing the violin began when she was four. As a teenager, Carter played with the youth division of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. She studied jazz in college, graduating in 1985. She has recorded numerous albums, played with various groups and in 2006 was awarded a MacArthur Fellows Program grant that recognized her prowess in creating “new possibilities for violin and for jazz.” Unlike Harrison, Carter has a full range of opportunities available to her – she tours regularly, serves as a mentor, and teaches the Suzuki Method to violin students. Carter is currently celebrating the legacy of jazz great Ella Fitzgerald.

Learn about more she-roes and celebrate amazing women. These talented musicians are among the more than 850 women profiled in the book Her Story: A Timeline of the Women Who Changed America. I am proud to tell women’s stories and write women back into history. I stand on their shoulders.

(Answers: 1-C, 2-A, 3-D, 4-B)

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