Kerry Ginger’s “Voice of Woman” needed more chairs

Kerry Ginger. Photo courtesy of Ginger.

By Erin Elliott
Staff Writer

On February 12, assistant professor of voice Kerry Ginger—along with accompanying pianist Zachary Zwahlen—performed “Voice of Woman” in Guerry Hall as a nod to the commemoration of 50 years of women attending the University of the South.  

The performance was so well-attended that it was delayed for a few minutes, as work-study students had to pull more and more chairs onto the Guerry stage in order to accommodate an unexpectedly large crowd of students, vocalists, professors, and community members.  It featured a humorous and emotional repertoire, written almost entirely by female composers— including Annie Bowers (C’20), a student composer and music major.

Bowers’ interest in composition came from a love of music theory, which she became interested in at around age 16.  She hadn’t considered herself a composer, however, until halfway through her college career when her passion turned into a serious and regular activity, and when her ambitions for a career in composition developed. “The River,” a piece she had been working on since the summer of 2019, was a featured piece in Voice of Woman.

“I started working on The River last summer,” wrote Bowers, “and it was always going to be a song for soprano voice and piano.  When I began taking composition lessons with Dr. Rosenberg after the summer ended, he had the idea to ask Dr. Ginger if she would be willing to program the piece.  She enthusiastically agreed, and she performed it in the fall Gallery Walk as well as agreed to program it in her Voice of Woman recital.”

Bowers’ composition was inspired by a scene out of Aldous Huxley’s novel, Island, and the lyrics are derived from text spoken by one of Huxley’s main characters, Susila MacPhail, as she recounts a nostalgic childhood experience.  

Ginger performed the piece by slowly walking around her audience while calmly delivering the lyrics, as the piano part pushed back against this sense of calm with intentional dissonance and what Bowers describes as “chaos” in order to “[create] a larger metaphor for the forces of calm and chaos in our everyday lives.”  

Bowers stated that she was “very pleased with Dr. Ginger and Zach Zwahlen’s performance.” She continued, “For me, the two of them have become so closely associated with the work itself, since they have been so central in bringing it to life.  I have plans for this piece to eventually be the first song in a three-movement song cycle, each movement being about a different aspect of Huxley’s Island. Hopefully the entire work will be shared with the Sewanee community sometime in the future!”

Ginger was likewise pleased with the performance, stating, “[I had] already aspired to program all women creators in my recital before I had even taken the job at Sewanee. So it was a very happy circumstance that there was celebration of coeducation and bringing women into the Sewanee world, and the fact that I had already picked out some of the keystone pieces of the recital only confirmed my decision that it was a good way to go with the program when I got here.” 

Ginger started at Sewanee for the Advent 2019 semester after moving to Sewanee from Durango, Colorado, where she taught at Fort Lewis College.  She was drawn to Sewanee due to the previous impact of liberal arts on her own life, as well as how similar it was to Whitman College, which she herself attended.

As far as her repertoire, Ginger is particularly fond of Judith Cloud’s work, which is based on both mythology and personal experience.  “They’re so accessible because they use very contemporary language,” said Ginger. “It feels like just talking to the audience, not just singing at them.  And they’re funny … you know, they deal with some big issues in kind of a lighthearted manner, maybe with some grim humor.

Stylistically, Ginger is drawn to the music of turn-of-the-century Vienna.  “It’s a time I’m really interested in and have done music research on in the past, and I’m just starting now to get back into researching more in the direction of digging up more women who were active at that time, cause all of the male composers who I mentioned who were active at that time, they all had female students,” stated Ginger. ” I know they did, because I know where they taught – sometimes they taught at all-girls’ schools, for example, and yet there are very few women who I know of who were putting out music at that time. It’s a time that’s famous for misogyny in terms of subject matter – a lot of fear around women and their new place because things were modernizing at that time … it’s very much a borderland in terms of social changes as well as musical changes … and so the music is so interesting.”

Ginger’s performance was well-received and met with a standing ovation, and wonderfully showcased Sewanee talent in voice, piano, and composition.