PEORIA – Composer Stephanie Ann Boyd knows she is lucky to have been born in an age when women have more choices.
Not so long ago, the socially acceptable path for women was much narrower – leading mainly to marriage and motherhood. When composing “HerStory: A Musical Tribute to Betty Friedan,” a piece that will premiere at a Peoria Symphony Orchestra concert on November 20, Boyd began to think about how the work of the feminist has affected her own life.
“My grandmother was the first songwriter I knew,” Boyd said. “Not many people have heard his music. After going to music school, she married my grandfather and raised three amazing children. She composed music for herself during the summer.
Boyd, 31, has managed to introduce this family talent to a much wider audience. His compositions have been performed by symphonies across the United States and around the world. Two years ago, PSO’s musical director George Stelluto asked him to compose a piece to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the birth of Friedan, from Peoria.
“We met at the Ravinia Festival in Chicago two years ago,” Boyd said. “He asked me what kind of music I was writing, and I told him I was writing about women’s memories and the natural world.”
Stelluto was looking for a composer to write a piece for the 2020-21 season, as Friedan was born on February 4, 1921. This concert was canceled due to the pandemic and postponed until this year.
Inspired by “The feminine mystique”
Peoria High School graduate Betty Friedan was one of the early leaders of the feminist movement of the 1960s and 1970s. She wrote a bestselling book called “The Feminine Mystique” which has spoken to millions. of American women frustrated by the limits imposed on their gender. The book helped spark a new wave of public activism that has led to greater gender equality, according to the National Women’s History Museum.
Like many people with revolutionary ideas, Friedan was a controversial figure. She was not well celebrated in her hometown – or nationwide, for that matter. Many women who are able today to chart a life course once reserved for men have Friedan, in part, to thank for this opportunity, but many are not well informed about his work.
“When I started doing research for this project, I was pretty horrified that I didn’t read about his work until George said, ‘Do you want to do this? “,” Boyd said. “So immediately a part of me is extremely motivated by the fact that I just want to make a work of art that is going to be a good and effective vehicle, a cathartic vehicle, for his message and his life.”
Boyd wrote music based on the text of “The Feminine Mystique”. Friedan’s lyrics will be sung by mezzo-soprano Michelle DeYoung. Deborah Rutter, president of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, DC, will narrate the work.
“She’s coming this far because of this project,” OSP conductor Stelluto said. And Michelle DeYoung, world famous mezzo-soprano, when I told her about this project, she said, ‘I want to be part of it. “So across the country, Friedan has great appreciation.”
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Few of the existing pieces honor historical women
“HerStory: A Musical Tribute to Betty Friedan” lasts about 30 minutes. When planning the evening’s program, Stelluto thought it would be appropriate to perform other pieces honoring historical women as well. He was shocked to find that there isn’t.
“We haven’t found anything written about historical women, like Susan B. Anthony or other historical American women,” Stelluto said. so these are the accompanying pieces that I will be using. Her writing is so beautiful and the content of what she writes was so poignant for this particular concert.
Two more Boyd works will be performed on November 20: “Sybil,” a violin concerto the composer started when she was just 19, and “Sheltering Voices,” a piece written to raise awareness of the problem of music. domestic violence. It was originally performed with a female choir from a women’s shelter in Boston.
Boyd is thrilled to have a program completely filled with his work. For a modern composer, this is unheard of. While there is a push these days to include the work of new composers in symphonic programs, it is the old, familiar titles that tend to sell concert tickets. When a symphony includes the work of a new composer, it’s usually a short piece, Boyd said.
“So the fact that the Peoria Symphony commissioned this new piece, which is quite important, and then decided to complement the rest of the program with my work, is revolutionary,” she said.
The decision came from a desire to both educate and celebrate, said Stelluto, who was surprised at how many young women have never heard of Betty Friedan.
“I was talking to a pretty successful young woman from Peoria who was going to an Ivy League school after graduating from high school here in Peoria. When she came home recently I told her about this project, she said, “I can’t believe it took me going to an Ivy League school to find out Betty Friedan had gone. in my high school.” Somehow, he’s just been lost in a certain generation, ”Stelluto said. “So I think it’s a really good occasion to celebrate Betty, to celebrate women and to celebrate Stephanie.”
Leslie Renken can be reached at (309) 370-5087 or [email protected] Follow her on Facebook.com/leslie.renken.