Culture, Feminism, and the Sacred:
Sophie Drinker's Musical Activism
Ruth A. Solie
In our civilization women are so far devitalized by the long suppression of their real inner life and its voice in music that they do not even know why they are still not in the right relation to music.
SOPHIE DRINKER , MUSIC AND WOMEN
In 1965, near the end of her life, Sophie Hutchinson Drinker wrote a memoir for her children and their descendants. The final chapter describes her busy schedule, even in her seventies, as a writer and popular lecturer. Of these activities she says, "My theme is ever the same: the repression of women by the patriarchal culture pattern." This view, from the Olympian perspective of her last years, sums up a life's work that would, I think, have surprised a younger Sophie. The intellectual course that her life took, and the work that she did, seem startling for someone of her particular background and upbringing, so they pose interesting questions for students of the vagaries of culture.
What would have been more likely for her, a woman of high social standing and comfortable means with a particular devotion to music, was a career dedicated to the familiar sort of artistic patronage. The direct sponsorship of some musical institution or one or more individual composers, or the explicit commissioning of musical compositions, would have given her, as it gave Elizabeth Coolidge and Isabella Gardner, an active role in the production of new music and in the tending of the high-culture mainstream. But Sophie Drinker took a different route. Her patronage—or "matronage," as she would surely have preferred us to say—encouraged ordinary people, especially women, to participate in music making; she underwrote a lifelong campaign to inform the wider world about women's roles in the history of culture and to persuade modern women to reclaim those roles.
Many of her projects originated in partnership with her husband Henry, also a dedicated musical amateur; I shall shortly describe the family's extensive involvement in and sponsorship of musical activities. But Sophie also branched out on her own; with the research she did for her best-known book, Music and Women , she was launched into a more radical trajectory than typical bourgeois amateur music making would have led anyone to expect. It eventually took her beyond the field of music into religion, history, and politics; she ended with a strongly feminist vi-
I wish to express my particular gratitude to Sophie Drinker's daughters, Cecilia Drinker Saltonstall and Ernesta Drinker Ballard, for their gracious assistance with this and two other writing projects concerning their mother. They and their husbands offered me warm hospitality and wonderful conversation, and freely shared photographs, home movies, manuscripts, and family reminiscences. Special words of thanks must go to Judith Tick for the determination with which she persuaded me to conduct these interviews; both she and Lawrence W. Levine read an earlier version of this essay and offered the helpful suggestions of experts in the field, for all of which it is much the better. I am also grateful for the assistance of the staff members of the Sophia Smith Collection (Smith College) and the Schlesinger Library (Radcliffe College), the two major repositories of Sophie Drinker's papers.
Sophie Hutchinson Drinker is cited in these notes as SHD, and Henry Sandwith Drinker as HSD.
sion and a well-developed theory of patriarchal culture—an extraordinary achievement for any woman in 1948, but an astonishing one for someone situated as she was.
Sophie Hutchinson was born in 1888, into a condition as near to hereditary aristocracy as is possible in the United States; her forebears had, as she remarks in her memoir, "played a conspicuous part in the life of Philadelphia" since the seventeenth century, and when in later life she joined the Colonial Dames, she found that she "could fill the admission requirements many times." Her family was not remarkably wealthy, but Sophie and her siblings had a thoroughly genteel upbringing, with nursemaids, finishing schools, and coming-out parties; her sister-in-law Catherine Drinker Bowen later described her as "cousin to half of well-bred Philadelphia."
Sophie notes that she had piano lessons as a child, could sight-read well, and practiced on "Mamma's upright piano . . . by the hour." But she nonetheless disparages her own early musical education, assessing it from the later perspective of the Drinkers' full-blown philosophy of music training: "At that time, group singing in school was unheard of and the idea that one's ear and sense of rhythm could be developed by singing had not yet influenced music education."
After graduating from St. Timothy's School in Maryland, Sophie decided against college, although she had been admitted to Bryn Mawr: a sure mark of the distance between her adolescent and mature selves. No bluestocking, she maintained that neither she nor her parents ever thought of her going to college, although the 77-year-old author of the memoir observed later that it "would have suited me far better than the attempt [at] being a debutante." But this recognition was a long time coming, and for many years her references to her missed college education have just a tinge of the sour grape. In 1927, at the age of thirty-nine, she wrote in her diary that she sometimes wondered "whether it is not the refinement of cruelty to send poor innocent girls to college & train them to believe that they can have careers & 'express themselves'—& then marry them to some nice unsuspecting man who is trying to do the same thing himself, and expect the girl to completely re-orientate herself."
One of the preoccupying questions for anyone who studies Sophie Drinker is her ambiguous understanding of social class: as the remainder of this essay will reveal, attempts to match her published writing to her private life bring to light a persistent tension between egalitarian assertions and the assumption of privilege. Nor does she seem to have thought very deeply about the complex interactions of class and gender even as she herself experienced them. Drinker's description of this period in her life is perfectly characteristic:
I cannot condemn too harshly the customs for girls of my set at the time I grew up. The idea that a girl's place was in the home helping her mother was too limiting, since there was nothing to do at home. Manufacturing had long since gone to factories out of the home and servants did the household chores. I had no training in any-
thing at home or outside in the business world, such as girls have now. All I could do was to play tennis very feebly and the piano very poorly.
While she clearly identifies her entrapment as a daughter, she makes no comment about the leisure time provided for her by those servants. In any event, for five years after her graduation from finishing school, she endured the stifling life of a "young lady" at home with her mother, a life enlivened only by parties and by participation in the expected round of volunteer social service activities, before she met and married Harry Drinker (fig. 30).
The Drinker family was similar to Sophie's own in terms of its history--the memoir traces connections between them dating to a time before the Revolution—although it was understood to be somewhat lower on the social scale, having originally been Quaker. Although Harry and Sophie began their married life in 1911 on the proverbial newlyweds' shoestring, they were living extremely well by the time their five children were growing up, with several live-in servants and a brand-new, large, and well-appointed house on the "Main Line" in Merion. But a feature of their backgrounds just as important as wealth, it seems to me, is the striking sense of entitlement , no doubt a product of what used to be called "breeding," that marked all their activities. It was this almost inexhaustible self-possession that permitted both of them to assume commanding roles in a musical world in which, after all, neither of them had anything approaching serious training.
Harry brought with him into the marriage the Drinker family temperament—boisterous, emotional, and hyperactive—and his own passionate, almost excessive, love of music. By all accounts he was equally passionate about his professional calling, the law, but various family documents portray him, from a very young age, as nearly always at the keyboard when he was at home. He loved to play chamber music, first with his youngest sister, Catherine, then with Sophie and their children; at various times in their lives, both Sophie and Harry were known to hire musicians, from the Curtis Institute or from the Philadelphia Orchestra, to play with them. Once, living away from home during an extended court case, Harry had a rented piano brought to his hotel room. One of the many curiosities about them as a couple is the unusual position Harry Drinker seems to have negotiated vis-à-vis the vivid gender-typing of this just post-Victorian generation. He was unperturbed by the feminine associations that music then carried in American culture, sharing his emotional response to it with all who would listen; like all the Drinker men, he was known to weep under the influence of strong emotion (Sophie, made of sterner stuff, detested "sentimentality"). Perhaps in compensation, Harry also devoted considerable amounts of time to hunting, shark fishing, log splitting, and a general frenzy of masculine physical activity redolent of the "strenuous life" that had been prescribed in Teddy Roosevelt's famous 1899 speech.
The Drinkers' household was musical from the start; indeed, four-hand piano playing had formed a significant part of their courtship and continued for many
years afterward. All of their children were given daily music lessons by their father and participated regularly in family singing. Harry and Sophie were regular subscribers to the Philadelphia Orchestra concerts for twenty-five years, and they often attended the opera and a variety of other concerts, much as would be expected of a couple in "their set," but their commitment to music went far beyond what might be discounted as routine social activity. They went to Washington for the Coolidge Festival, and kept up with the musical offerings on all the area college and university campuses. Sophie's diaries, which she kept in 1913 and from 1923 to 1934, detail many performances they attended and record her reactions, illuminating for us her musical growth as well as contemporary social attitudes. "How we wish Salomé would be given here! Now that we are safely married nothing could prevent our going," she wrote in March 1913—challenging, if cautiously, the prevalent attitude that no virtuous American woman could witness Strauss's scandalous opera; and ten years later, "My conversion to Brahms is certainly complete. It is probably maturity" (late March 1923).
Although my focus is not on Harry Drinker, a brief recounting of his independent musical activities seems appropriate here in order to complete the picture and to indicate the full extent of the family absorption with music. In his early adulthood he did some composing, including a trio and several songs; he became rather well known in the musicological world for his extensive series of singing translations of cantata and Lied texts, for his index of Bach chorale tunes with a solfège finding system, and later for the huge Drinker Library of Choral Music—multiple reproductions with his English translations inserted—circulated at minimal cost among college choral groups. He organized concert and recital series in Philadelphia as a member of the Musical Fund Society; he took an activist role—how welcome is not always clear—in the design of music curricula at both the University of Pennsylvania and Haverford College, and on the board of trustees of the Juilliard School. Whenever he and Sophie traveled in Europe, they went armed with the names and addresses of prominent musicologists they wished to meet; they visited the Benedictine abbey at Solesmes to hear Gregorian chant sung "authentically," and on one trip Harry tracked down and purchased a set of partbooks that had been used by the women's chorus Brahms had conducted in Hamburg. These activities remained intensely meaningful to Harry throughout his life, notwithstanding the awkwardness of their fit into his life as a successful corporate lawyer; in one heartfelt letter he complained to a friend, "Nobody seems to be able to take my music work as seriously as I do."
More prophetic than their concertgoing and other public activities, however was the music making that increasingly went on in their home. Ironically, as it later turned out, the first visitors were a long line of professional performers. Apparently, some of these were paid for their services as ensemble players or accompanists, but it is impossible in family documents to distinguish such hired musicians from the equally prominent ones who were sometimes received as guests in the house. This confusion, hinted at occasionally in Sophie's diaries, seems to me
symptomatic of the somewhat ambiguous social relations of an American patronage class and the largely European remnants of what Nancy Reich has called an "artist-musician" class. As we shall see, the development of the Drinkers' personal philosophy of music-making" was indelibly marked by this characteristic uncertainty as to whether professional musicians should be considered esteemed guests or hired help.
Gradually the musical activity sharpened its focus on amateur participation, as the Drinkers developed together what they came to call their "philosophy of music" and turned their attention very particularly to large-scale participatory music making. Sophie describes the philosophy this way, in a 1933 diary entry:
In fact, our ideas about music have diverged considerably from the accepted point of view. Most people regard it as an ART , something held apart, sacred for professionals who perform with varying ability to a more or less critical audience. Musical education concentrates on two phases, ability to perform & ability to create. Whereas we regard music as a language, as a means of self-expression to be enjoyed by the amateur & to be an integral part of life.
In the same vein, she later wrote in Music and Women that "the glorification of performing artists out of all proportion to their real service to society leads us to a secondhand and vicarious participation in music," one of the principal themes of her feminist analysis.
The Drinkers' new house, built in 1928, had been inspired largely by one abiding wish, for a music room; this, I think, symbolized for both of them the opportunity to translate their philosophy into audible form. When completed, the room measured forty-five by twenty-three feet and contained two grand pianos, a Hammond organ, and space for as many as 150 musicians. Then began the thirty-year tradition of "singing parties," readings of Bach cantatas and other choral literature, for which Harry and Sophie ultimately became so widely celebrated (fig. 31).
The parties originated, so the story goes, in a visit by Augustus Zanzig, a prominent music educator and promoter of amateur participation in music. Listening one day to Harry's frustration at his own inability to play a piano piece well, Zanzig observed that an amateur choral group would produce more satisfactory musical results. Pleased by the idea, the Drinkers began to invite singers—and, later, orchestral players as well—for Sunday evenings of singing and buffet suppers. In keeping with the principles of a nonprofessional, participatory activity, none of the repertory was rehearsed with the group or "performed" before any audience. Although many professional musicians—from the Curtis, from the Philadelphia Orchestra, and from other local institutions—and musicologists came regularly to the parties, most came to sing rather than to provide their own professional expertise (although a few were apparently hired as "ringers" to support the efforts of the amateurs in the orchestra). Over the years, the family calculated, probably three thousand people took part.
Early on, Sophie Drinker began to articulate the philosophy underpinning these events in the particular ways that would influence her later work so strongly:
That this idea fulfills an actual need is demonstrated by the success of our singing parties. We now have over 100 people, amateurs & professionals together about five times in the winter. They are heart & soul interested & the result is amazing.
We never give a concert, but we meet music directly for its benefit upon us. Weeks of talking could not show you our philosophy about music in life as well as three hours of participation in an activity of this kind.
There are clues here about the sources of her musical philosophy: her references to fulfilling a "need," to the participants' "heart and soul" interest, and to the benefit of the music upon the singers supply those sources, and at the same time point toward Drinker's own later, much more radical, feminist beliefs.
It is impossible to trace this family commitment to amateurism to any specific source; Catherine Bowen reports that even in her childhood her brother Harry supervised her violin lessons in a way compatible with the amateur ideal (rather to the irritation of successive violin teachers). The idea was freely circulating in bourgeois American culture at the time, championed especially for school music programs by a number of pedagogues including Thomas Whitney Surette, who was later a close friend and frequent house guest of the Drinkers. In his own writing, Surette promoted musical participation in order to exercise the "higher functions of the soul." He scorned "music by proxy," music that is "bought and paid for"—a recurring phrase—and he, too, focused upon what seemed to him a real need whose fulfillment was thwarted partially by gender ideology: "Men, in particular,—all potential singers, and very much needing to sing ,—look upon it as a slightly effeminate or scarcely natural and manly thing to do. Music is, in short, too much our diversion, and too little our salvation."
In 1932, Augustus Zanzig was commissioned by the National Recreation Association to survey the state of musical activities in the United States, and three years later Eric Thacher Clarke undertook a similar task on behalf of the Carnegie Corporation. Daniel Gregory Mason's foreword to Zanzig's book sets the zealous tone for the whole effort:
How can such steadily diminishing individual initiative in the production of music be compensated? Obviously only through the means Mr. Zanzig studies: through amateur groups—in schools, colleges, settlements, playgrounds, art museums summer camps, public libraries, and above all in homes. Only through the activities of such groups can music, atrophied and mummified as it tends to be by exclusive professionalism, remain a living art among us.
Indeed, amateur music was a national campaign at the time. A contemporary observer—who, however, made the galling observation that "the amateur standing of many [participants in the Drinkers' singing parties] would be difficult to establish"—shared the reigning philosophy, although he diagnosed the situation more positively: "It is the conviction of many leading sociologists and psychologists that such multitudinous clubs and choruses exert a potent influence for public good. . . . Let us advance the thought that the musical leaven of many choral groups works in the loaf itself, and does not serve to decorate its upper crust."
But I would observe, at the same time, that neither the rhetoric nor the energy expended on developing amateur performance in the United States carried any invitation to amateur or vernacular composition; on the contrary, all the hundreds of pages exhorting Americans to moral uplift by means of choral singing or ensemble playing ring with invocations of "the best" music and "the great" composers of the tradition. As Harry himself wrote, "the musical understanding attainable by the participants in a reverent and enthusiastic, though technically inferior, performance of a masterpiece of music is far greater than that resulting from listening to a technically perfect rendering by others." Suspicion arises that much of the effort was intended to shore up the channel of the musical main-stream against encroachment by other kinds of music in which people's participation was more spontaneous. Thus was handed on from the last Victorian generation what Judith Tick has called "the covenant between the European past and the [American] upper classes."
In any event, at least as concerns the Drinkers' contribution to this campaign, its effectiveness was undoubtedly great; there exist dozens of tributes, recollections, and celebrations of the singing parties by those who attended. By mutual agreement the parties continued through World War II, for the sake of the solace they provided, and there is an especially moving account of the impact one party had on the journalist Nora Waln immediately after her return from reporting on the Korean War. I want to stress the aspect of these activities that is particularly important in understanding the development of Sophie Drinker's own work: she and Harry thought of music first and foremost as a matter of spiritual sustenance. It was that conviction that prompted their intense interest in music as an activity for everyone and kept the parties going through times of national turbulence, and it was the same belief that led Sophie to demand wholly new religious and societal structures on behalf of the well-being of women.
It must be said, however, that the high-mindedness of this contribution to musical life had its dark side: their commitment to general participation was somewhat compromised, perhaps, by their determination to maintain rigid controls over the proceedings; furthermore, the warmly pro-amateur sentiment could sometimes reveal itself as a slightly rancorous anti-professionalism. Nothing captures the Drinkers' paradoxical musical politics better than the organization of the singing parties. On the one hand, their quasi-populist dedication to general participation led them to devote the gatherings purely to sight-reading, to invite anyone with a genuine love of music (regardless of talent), and to disdain performances before nonparticipating spectators. Catherine Bowen tells the story of an unfamiliar gentleman who arrived one Sunday to participate in the reading of the Ralph Vaughan Williams Mass in G Minor, and was identified only over supper afterward as the composer himself.
On the other hand, their personal conservatism and aristocratic assumptions assured that attendance was by invitation only, and their financial underwriting of the entire operation was intended, according to Sophie's memoir, to assure
their total control over the repertoire and operation of the group. She writes, "the point was to make the evening's music a success. To this end, we spared no trouble or expense. Professional instrumentalists and vocalists received adequate compensation for their services. They liked to come to our house and cooperated with us on our terms"; and "during the first few years of the chorus, members of it used to ask [for] particular pieces. Also, impromptu male quartets sang close harmony at supper time. As we established control, this ceased entirely and our guests came to trust us to construct the evenings' programmes"; and again, "we made it very clear that no one was a 'member' but that everyone was our guest. We bore the entire expense of the entertainment. There was, therefore, no doubt about the control over the proceedings."
By the same token, distaste for professional soloistic display sometimes ran at cross-purposes to the music itself and seems ultimately incompatible with claims of reverence for the works—for example, in Harry's habit of "omitting the florid solos and having the others done by all the altos, all the tenors, etc." Catherine Bowen's experience—like her niece Cecilia's years later—bears witness to Harry's assertion: "I have advised each of my musically ambitious young friends not to become a professional if they can possibly help it ." Reading between the lines of these stories and discussing them with family members, it is impossible to ignore the sense of unease about the social status of professional musicians—the same unease that made decisions about whom to pay so awkward. It is a mental and aesthetic sleight-of-hand, surely, that positions the amateur performer above the professional—apparently because of superior class status—while at the same time professing reverence for the work of composers who, after all, also belonged to artisanal classes.
Let me be clear that I do not raise these issues in order to cast aspersions on the Drinkers' musical work. On the contrary, it seems always to have been marked by deep commitment, seriousness of purpose, and genuine thirst for musical knowledge, and to have been warmly respected by all who knew the couple; their achievements were considerable. Rather, I want to mark the traces here of a number of curious contradictions that seem rooted in the cultural psyche of Americans at that moment in history, and of which the ambiguities in the Drinkers' philosophy are only symptomatic. How, in a presumptively democratic culture, could the claims of gifted individuals and those of "ordinary people" be arbitrated? How justify and promote an elite high-culture art form, as against vernacular manifestations, in a country whose official ideology was egalitarian? How explain the extraordinary artistic gifts of some members of lower classes, practitioners of distasteful religions like Judaism and Roman Catholicism—and immigrants, at that—whom the American bourgeoisie were accustomed to regard as inferior and even suspect? How could women and men, so recently (and so tentatively) released from the bondage of Victorian "separate spheres," negotiate appropriate interactions in the cultural realm? All of these questions resonate not only in Drinker family musical activities, but also in the activities, and ultimately the scholarship, of Sophie Drinker on her own.
After the singing parties were established, Sophie began to sing with a much smaller group as well, a women's chorus called the Montgomery Singers. She joined it in 1930, in search, she says, of the spiritual enrichment the music could provide, but almost immediately the need for control asserted itself. She recruited Thomas Surette to speak to the chorus about performing only "the best music," and "after that, the women seemed willing to accept my leadership. I moved the club to our house and held the meetings there for the next fifteen years." This group provided the final catalyst for Drinker's career as a feminist and amateur scholar. Having taken charge of the repertory and programming, she set to work searching out music for the chorus. By her lights it had to meet two criteria: first, it had to be musically authentic—that is, written originally for treble chorus and not arranged from some other format; second, both music and words had to express what she thought of as genuinely female sentiments. This latter demand proved especially problematic, since much of what little there was for treble voices turned out to be music for children or liturgical music that would originally have been sung by boys' choirs. She also noticed what will not astonish today: that none of what she found had been composed by women. Drinker reacted first with surprised frustration and finally with rage where were the authentic musical expressions of women's artistry and spirituality? What had happened to women in modern Western culture that they were so bereft of artistic life?
Note particularly that the questions as Drinker articulated them bear the traces of the family amateur philosophy: the belief that musical expression was an intimate part of spiritual life, and that it must therefore be accessible to everyone and not entrusted to a handful of cultural superstars. Her search for repertory for the Montgomery Singers gradually led Drinker to suspect that half of all humankind had systematically been deprived of this crucial means of expression. With this observation, the die was cast for the next decades of her life, as she set about the work of answering the questions that nagged her. Her massive collection of data about women's musical activities culminated in her book, Music and Women , the achievement for which she is best known now (see fig. 32). Like many products of obsession, the book is both rich and strange. "Strange" because, unschooled and angry as she was, Drinker used methods wholly unmodulated by the customary practices of disciplinary musicology or by traditional academic commitments to objectivity and personal distance. But "rich," even more, because she collected material about women's musical lives that is to this day unavailable in any other source, and because in the process of writing the book Drinker formulated powerful theories about the effects of patriarchy and about the cultural construction of gender.
In Music and Women Drinker examines a wide variety of cultural patterns, past and present. Her work is archaeological, anthropological, and historical all at once: a method that forced her to see the arbitrariness of sex-role assignments. What she learned in researching the book is that women will behave according to the expectations their societies have for them. This does not seem surprising today, since feminist scholarship has resoundingly taught us that gender—for both males
and females—is constructed by culture; but in the 1930s and 1940s people still thought largely in terms of "naturally" gendered behavior and capacities. Drinker also found that her multicultural study confirmed her assumptions about the intimate link between musical and spiritual practice. She concluded that women had lost musical power when they lost religious power—that is, when the great monotheistic world religions were established. How, she asked, could women be expected to exercise artistic creativity in cultures where the only god—the only transcendent source of creation—was male?
It seems to me that the notion of the "sacralization of culture," as recently expounded by Lawrence Levine, helps to explain some of the more egregious paradoxes of belief and behavior evident in the Drinkers' crusade for amateur music making and later in Sophie Drinker's particular brand of feminism. If the principal period of their activity—1930 to 1960—seems a bit late for this quasi-religious ideology to hold sway over them, it is at the same time true that the couple were personally conservative in a number of respects and rather stringently isolated from broad cultural currents—almost entirely so from popular culture in any form.
Levine argues that, during the nineteenth century, a split gradually appeared between "high" and "popular" culture in the United States; a gulf formed between "cultural worlds moving farther and farther apart; worlds with less and less tolerance for or understanding of each other." From a vigorous common culture that was comfortable familiar with the European artistic heritage without taking it overseriously—and without abdicating its own right to critical judgment—the country moved toward the emergence of an acutely self-conscious "cultured" class, and then finally to the assumption by that class of responsibility for cultural missionary work among the masses. A prominent aspect of this new attitude was the increasing tendency to perceive and describe artistic experiences as quasi-religious ones, as uplifting" and as a necessary part of moral development.
Thus by the early decades of this century the changes that had either begun or gained velocity in the last third of the nineteenth century were in place: the master-works of the classic composers were to performed in their entirety by highly trained musicians on programs free from the contamination of lesser works or lesser genres, free from the interference of audience or performer free from the distractions of the mundane; audiences were to approach the masters and their works with proper respect and proper seriousness, for aesthetic and spiritual elevation rather than mere entertainment was the goal.
Only the stipulation of "highly trained musicians" distinguishes this program from the Drinkers' and those of the music pedagogues who, as we have seen, shared their goals. In that one respect the gospel of amateurism might be seen as a "reaction to the reaction" to nineteenth-century cultural democracy. Once the period that Joseph A. Mussulman describes as the "Cultured generation"—the generation born during and just after the Civil War, that of Harry and Sophie's parents—succeeded in establishing the European high art forms, with profession-
ally accomplished performers, as the standard toward which the aspirations of cultural mobility should reach, how were the privileged classes to fulfill their obligations of cultural citizenship? Impossible to return to the kind of classless situation Levine describes in the earlier nineteenth century, merely allowing the marketplace to give audiences what they wanted. Instead, conceiving the arts as a sacred experience, a mode of spiritual expression of which all human beings had a deep need (whether or not they realized it), suggested a new form of social action in which the people were to be raised to the level of the art.
Let me attempt to tease out four ideas that seem to be entailed by this notion of sacralization, and that shaped Sophie Drinker's scholarship in important ways.
First, it is abundantly clear that to the Drinkers the purpose of art was spiritual uplift, but no orthodox or institutionalized form of religion was necessarily implied; rather, their sense of the sacred partook of what Jackson Lears has called the "therapeutic world view." After reading an array of new psychology books (she does not name them), Sophie mused in her diary about "what kind of religion people will want when all this teaching shall have been absorbed by the next generation." Her historical work suggested to her that music itself might appropriately play this role; on the first page of her research notebook labeled "20th century," Drinker has written that since organized religion had lost its hold over contemporary society, "music is now as free as the air." By this she did not mean free from spiritual imperative, but rather free of extraneous institutional demands on its expressive capabilities, free to contain within itself the means for fulfilling that imperative: music had itself become religious practice.
Indeed, this was always the implication of Harry's incessant campaign against the ancient suspicion of musical enjoyment that still haunted Philadelphia. In 1916, when the Presbyterian Ministers' Association tried to halt Sunday performances by the Philadelphia Orchestra, Harry wrote in protest to the Public Ledger that on Sundays "the spirit should be fed by beautiful thoughts":
How any one can think that there is anything unholy in either making or listening to beautiful music I am unable to imagine.
There are, of course, some unfortunate people to whom music makes no appeal, but one would think that even these could understand that to many others a sermon of eloquence and spiritual uplift may be preached by Mr. Stokowski and his fellow-artist[s] equal to any preached from the pulpit.
The presuppositions underlying Sophie's argument in Music and Women —and thus the form her feminism took—are grounded in this same creed. Women, she thought, were closer to "the life force," and, in a civilization correctly arranged according to natural principles, would have special uses for musical expression: "Everywhere in the world simple, unlettered women who live more under the open sky than under roofs, without men's books, without men's churches and universities, feel their being as women peculiarly linked to the celestial being of the moon." The generalization she brought to bear on her study of all civilizations
was that "healing, religion, and music are the three fields in which woman is preeminently fitted by nature and by experience to express herself and to serve her fellows," but it is clearly from the rhetoric of sacralization in the culture around her that she learned to conflate the three. Apart from amateur music making, the most hopeful sign of female ascendancy that Drinker noted during the 1940s, when she was writing, was the development of therapeutic uses for music.
Second, the sacred is not notably a democratic category. It suggests the need for some form of priesthood—at the very least, for procedures of initiation and of interpretation—and, in the Western context at any rate, invites the establishment of canons. (Both Sophie and Harry believed in organizing repertory thematically, around the works of one composer at a time—a season on Bach, a season on Brahms—thus setting the masters in prepared reverential niches.) Under this rubric it seems to me that the Drinkers' controlling behaviors can be understood as the felt necessity for the already-enlightened to supervise the performance of ritual and the transmission of dogma, and they were frank about the role their financial underwriting played in legitimating the transaction.
Levine has identified this emphasis on order and hierarchy as part of a class-based "quest for cultural authority" around the turn of the century. His description of the increasingly authoritarian behavior of orchestral conductors—Toscanini, Stock, Damrosch, Stokowski, and their fellows around the country—could serve (reading "participants" for "audiences") as the recipe for Harry Drinker's management of the Merion singing parties: "The thrust of the conductors' efforts was to render audiences docile, willing to accept what the experts deemed appropriate rather than play a role themselves in determining either the repertory or the manner of presentation." And Mary Beard, Sophie's friend and colleague in the writing of women's history, understood well that the financial privilege of upper-class status could purchase the same cultural authority in the preparation of "her amazingly rich book on Women in Music," as "she has been able to buy precious books costing $50 and pay for expert help by musicologists, among other assets."
Third, the spiritually uplifting qualities of music may not be evident to everyone; indeed, one might surmise that—as with religion itself—those most in need of its benefits may be the last to recognize and rectify the deficiency in their lives. "How hard it is," Sophie lamented in her diary, "to convince the average person that good music is pleasant & enjoyable." This conviction had also informed all of Harry's work with the various institutions he proselytized on behalf of music; in a 1942 statement of his hopes for the music curriculum at Haverford, he urged the college to hire "a musical ball of fire who believes, with unquenchable faith both in the power of great music to influence conduct and in the certainty that if only it be given to college boys and girls with discrimination and conviction, they will prefer it to any other kind." Sophie's efforts of the same kind were further complicated by what she considered the deadly interaction of professionalism and current gender ideology. In the 1950s she served as an advisor to a chapter of Delta Omicron, the national music sorority, but she was not happy with the outcome:
In truth, it was a case of incompatibility, since I am not interested in professional musicians or in trying to secure engagements for them. After several years, I resigned but I still occasionally write for their magazine The Wheel , trying (in vain) to impress upon the sorority leaders the value of following up the girls who do not become professionals but marry, and "give up" music, instead of using their talents to enrich their lives.
Ironically, sometimes even the beloved compositions themselves might be compromised in the effort to bring them closer to those who needed them: Harry Drinker labored for years over his English singing translations because he valued the singers' access to the feeling-content of the texts over any sound-properties they might have brought to the pieces.
Fourth, if the spiritual function of art is expressive as well as edifying, and if the modern sense of the "spiritual" partakes of the psychological, it is crucial in a healthy society that all people have access to it. Drinker's experience with the Montgomery Singers had already awakened in her mind the recognition that American women—indeed, she gradually realized, all Western women in modern times—had either been deprived of this expressive medium or had through some monstrous coincidence collectively eschewed it. She could not, naturally, believe the latter explanation, and instead went in search of the causes of women's spiritual silencing and disempowerment.
Like most people of her time, Drinker believed that masculinity and femininity were to some extent universally given categories. She argued that both musical and spiritual power were well within the natural domain of women in cultures that permitted their exercise, and in fact, anthropologically speaking, belonged more naturally to women than to men. In making this assertion, Drinker wrote in the mainstream tradition of American cultural feminism. That tradition argued that peculiarly female inclinations and capacities had been excluded from public culture to its detriment, and must be restored if social ills were ever to be corrected. Its rhetoric, grounded in essentialist beliefs held by the majority of Americans at the time, had fueled the suffrage movement and was still very much in the general discourse. The special spiritual character and needs of women, Drinker asserted, demanded special musical expression. This belief serves as a benchmark for assessment throughout her book; of an early-Christian precursor of the "Wachet auf" text, she writes: "This hymn was written by Methodius to be sung by girls—an early example of the now prevalent custom for men to formulate what women think and feel about their most intimate personal lives, and women, parrot-like, to repeat the words in song."
It will already have become apparent that some important tensions lurk between and among these four principles. I believe that these tensions—contradictions that seem indeed to be part and parcel of the aesthetic faith—help to explain many of the paradoxes and curiosities we have noticed in the playing out of the Drinkers' musical agendas. First, there is the inevitable clash between the belief
that individuals must have access to musical sustenance, must experience it and participate in it on their own behalf, and the priestly claims of the initiated. Levine remarks that "sacralization increased the distance between amateur and professional. The blurring of that distinction had been one of the characteristics of music in America for much of the nineteenth century. But by the end of the century the gap had widened." In the Drinkers' activities, the assignment of the clerical role to composers rather than to virtuoso performers was a strategy that helped to bridge this gap.
Closely related to the awkward relationship between professional and amateur is an unresolvable tension between the belief that everyone wanted and needed to participate in uplifting cultural activities, and the necessity to persuade, perhaps even to impose upon, those unfortunates who could not recognize their need. In the classic American meliorist tradition, both Harry and Sophie remained perpetually astonished whenever they encountered resistance to their program of spiritual betterment.
Finally, for Sophie Drinker's feminist scholarly work, yet a third painful contradiction is inherent in this complex belief system: the great masterpieces of the canonic tradition, the very works whose transcendent freedom and meaning were to provide aesthetic salvation for the many, were precisely the characteristic products of the "patriarchal culture pattern" that prevented women from exercising their own creative powers. That Drinker herself never fully appreciated this contradiction is evident in her description (years after the fact) of the repertory she sought for the Montgomery Singers—"My idea was to find music that had been written by the foremost composers and that also had been originally written for women's voices and that furthermore had some meaning to the inner life of women" —she never recognized the contradiction, and yet it pervades the book. In her discussions of nonliterate cultures, and indeed of virtually all the non-Western cultures she describes, Drinker takes it for granted that women's spirituality, their intimate connection to "the life force" and its expression in distinctly feminine emotional experience, must and naturally would be articulated in musical compositions made by women themselves; indeed, the linkage between composition and female religious ritual that she found in so many cultural situations was the principal goad to her assertion that modern women needed to institute their own goddesses and forms of worship. But when her historical account moves into the era of the European common practice, she takes as simple fact that no women composers of stature existed in the tradition, and shifts her focus to women's development as amateur performers or "camillae." The implication lingers that, despite her argumentation, Bach, Beethoven, and her beloved Brahms could indeed capture the "inner life of women" in musical forms useful for women performers. Somehow, it seems, the composers of the sacralized repertory could not be found deficient in their ability to fulfill modern spiritual needs, even those of women.
Like so many of us, Sophie Drinker found it impossible to make that last leap
from theory to practice, from what seemed inevitable on the page to what would be undeniably painful in life. But the effort to make private and public life blend seamlessly has always been made extraordinarily difficult for women in modern Western cultures, and, despite logical tensions perhaps clearly visible only forty years later, Drinker's research for Music and Women enabled and empowered her future writing projects. From music her scope broadened to questions of creativity in general, and from there to observations about the impact of cultural formations on the expressive behavior of individuals and groups. In a 1960 talk on "the dilemma of the woman artist," Drinker enumerated the cultural forces in contemporary U.S. life that were inhibiting women's artistic expression—patriarchal religion, language with its conflation of the masculine and the generic, psychological systems in which anatomy is destiny, the teaching of history and the organization of museums in ways that obliterated women—in short, a feminist scholar of the 1990s could hardly produce a more canny and thoroughgoing critique. Summing up, Drinker says:
I will now reiterate that a culture dominated by patriarchal values does not allow a woman to be proud of womanhood or to adopt an affirmative attitude toward her sex or to develop all of her native powers. We are faced to-day with the predicament that if a woman adjusts herself to a patriarchal religion, or way of life, or to a patriarchal marriage, she is forfeiting her natural right to develop her brain and her creative imagination.
She apparently did not feel the need to address the other horn of the dilemma—what happens to the woman who does not so adjust herself.
Thus, what began as a history of women's musical activities ended as an interrogation of the very foundations of patriarchal society; this much larger issue continued to occupy her for the rest of her life, as her publication and lecturing turned from music to American colonial history and an array of larger topics. Projects left uncompleted at her death in 1967 included a study of St. Cecilia, a projected book for teenage girls about goddesses from many religions, and studies of laws on witchcraft, rape, and abortion.
In recent years, Sophie Drinker has been taken to task by some feminist musicians for not practicing her patronage in a more conventional manner: would it not, they say, have been more consistent with her own beliefs to have used her financial resources for the support of women musicians? Indeed, she seems to have been almost unaware of the existence of contemporary women composers, and this willful ignorance is certainly disconcerting to anyone who has spent time reading her wonderfully polemical speeches. But, in the last analysis, such criticisms do not take into account the historical forces and class assumptions at work within the Drinker family circle that shaped Sophie's thought so definitively. Her personal spiritual commitment to the great music that had meant so much in her life, her
distrust of professional music careers, a confused but conspicuous populist strain that caused her to privilege communal over individual activity, her dislike of the modern —all conspired to blind her to the struggles as well as the accomplishments of women who actually were creating music even as she was lamenting their absence.
Finally, Sophie Drinker's was not a patronly but a scholarly activism. Such a career, such an intellectual pilgrimage, was not readily to be expected from a woman of Drinker's background, conventional and comfortable as it was. She confessed some surprise at it herself, noting that she had not been raised up in feminism or even exposed to it in her family or social circle. Neither, of course, had she been in any way prepared for a life of research and publication. Instead, she did what must speak in a particularly poignant way to academics and teachers: she radicalized herself through scholarship.
But that scholarship was undertaken in a particular social and historical environment. I want to stress especially my argument that, in Sophie Drinker's intellectual career, a somewhat old-fashioned belief in the sacredness of art led directly to the discovery of feminism. The naive view that "healing, art, and religion" are all one—an aspect of sacralized culture that informed her study of women—gradually unfolded itself to reveal a much more sophisticated understanding of cultural structures at work: that patriarchy as a system is all-pervasive, and that the aspects of it we see at work in religious practice will turn out also to prevail in the artistic arena as in all aspects of social life. It was her intense awareness, by the end of her life, of the mutual imbrications of these facets of culture that allowed her, finally, to characterize all of her work as one large project: "My theme is ever the same; the repression of women by the patriarchal culture pattern and the necessity for women to develop a religion in which they are recognized as creative in their own right and as adult individuals with all the attributes of humanity."
Music at the Drinkers':
Claribel Thomson and Alfred Mann Recollect
Annotated by Ralph P. Locke
Behind man a great woman stands a man who is not easily threatened. Such were, clearly, Jack Gardner, Francis Thurber, and several other spouses who must remain but shadowy presences in the present book. Although they did not themselves engage in much musical patronage or activism, they supported their wives' efforts, whether by signing checks or, no less important, by adjusting respectfully, even admiringly, to their wives' increased level of out-of-home activity and public visibility.
In contrast, Henry Drinker was a major patron of music himself. He and Sophie formed something of a patronage team, engaging in many-pronged efforts in music, the arts, and education generally. Sometimes they worked together; more often, though, one or the other took the lead in a given project.
Two musical colleagues, the organist Claribel Thomson (in remarks assembled from recent telephone interviews) and the musicologist and conductor Alfred Mann (in a memoir written expressly for this volume), here recall the couple and their various undertakings, especially three singing groups: the Trapp Family Singers whom the couple helped to promote, the all-female Montgomery Singers, and—Henry's pride and joy—the Sunday-evening "singing parties," which were devoted to masterpieces of the mixed-choral repertoire, and which he sometimes called the "Accademia dei dilettanti di musica," a somewhat grand appellation that meant to stress, however, that the amateur singers came together to sing for pure pleasure (diletto) not performance.
A View from the Hammond Organ
The Montgomery Singers met every Wednesday morning at Sophie Drinker's house. I played piano for that, and Sophie sang in it. She didn't conduct—that was Lela Vauclain—but she chose the repertoire, together with the conductor. She was a very affable hostess, genial, cordial. She would take care of the seating arrangements, greet people, and would serve at intermission. I can only remember one time that the Montgomery Singers performed in public. It was at Second Presbyterian Church, Dr. McCurdy's church. (They weren't that great, either!)
Dick and I always went to the Sunday-evening singing parties. Henry greeted people at the door, not Sophie. There were usually some string instruments, sometimes a bassoon. Their daughter Cecilia played. I filled in what was missing on the organ—flutes, oboes—and Bill Reese (chairman of the music department at Haverford College) supported everything on piano. I was already organist at First Presbyterian then in Ardmore when I started playing for the Drinkers. I played from full score. Once I played a line from the Bach Gesamt -
ausgabe [the scholarly complete edition] that was written in alto clef; Henry was amazed that somebody could do that. Sometimes he'd ask me to play a pertinent Bach chorale prelude before they sang. The singers included a lot of middle-aged people, housewives, business people. For a while Thomas Matthews played the organ instead of me (I was away for a year during the war); sometimes he played piano, too.
Sophie was very much of a feminist. She said she wouldn't go to a male obstetrician. She helped out her daughter Ernesta with the kids when they were little and moved in with them when Henry died. Her views rubbed off on Ernesta, who is involved in women's things, Planned Parenthood. Sophie liked to garden and gave us wonderful bouquets of flowers all the time.
I sort of had the feeling that she was the boss around the house. Henry had no mechanical ability whatsoever. If the organ wasn't working properly, he would get my husband to come over. Sometimes all Dick had to do was plug it in. Henry didn't even know what kind of car they had. When I asked him, he said he thought it was a Dusenberg; but that hadn't been made for years! Sophie drove the car more, I think, than Henry did. They didn't live extravagantly, weren't part of the social crowd or jet set. Sophie told me she hated cocktail parties and wouldn't go to them.
One time they invited my husband and myself to dinner. When they were done eating, they got up and went into the study, without saying a word. They were both like that on the telephone, too. They would hang up when they had finished saying what they had to say. They were down to earth, matter of fact.
Sophie was very unemotional: Henry's sister Catherine said she simply didn't cry. Henry had his favorite pieces, like Bach's Christ lag in Todesbanden . We did Honegger's King David [an oratorio with narration (1921)] a number of times, and Henry was the reader as well as conductor. Whenever we got to David's last words, he started to cry. ["And while Nathan crowned Solomon, (David) went up to look upon the temple for the last time . . . 'Ah, how good it was to be alive! I bless Thee who gave me life.'"]
Recollections of a Singing Party and of the von Trapp Family
I was introduced to Henry and Sophie Drinker by the composer Randall Thompson. When I arrived in the United States, shortly before World War II, Thompson, then newly appointed as director of the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, had taken an interest in my work and called me to the Institute as a research assistant in musicology and the performance of early music. The Drinkers had invited Thompson to one of the Sunday musicales at what Sam Rosenbaum has nicely described as their "chateau-styled manor house" in Merion, Pennsylvania, and the invitation included Thompson's new assistant as well.
The performers of the Accademia, who also constituted their own audience (though a few listeners had gathered around them), included an orchestra of Curtis students and capable amateurs that, in easy-going enthusiasm, was nevertheless totally professional about its assignment. The choral ensemble was not. Its members, from the haute volée of Philadelphia, nudged one another, pointing out with smiles and raised eyebrows an occasional high a as the parts were given out; and very few of them had likely ever vocalized. Drinker himself presided, wielding his small baton with a rather heavy hand. When the last chord of the wonderfully rich concerted sound had died away, I saw the radiant glow in the fine features of his strong face, and he exclaimed one word—"Boy!"
I was curiously offended by the total impression. A Bach cantata in the living room? Rendered merely as an object of aesthetic pleasure, without any concern for its spiritual message? Why had our hosts not hired one of the Institute's young conductors who knew their business?
How utterly rigid was the perspective of the young immigrant! Of course, I was honored and delighted to be a guest in this cultivated home; its friendliness and devotion to the beautiful chosen task were heartwarming. The occasion reminded me of my high-school years' many evenings of string-quartet playing, which had been guided by a similar sporting spirit ("Auf Wiedersehen bei der Fermate!"), and, though the music had been just as sublime, this spirit had never seemed inappropriate. But it was foreign to the Bach performances (and attitudes toward Bach) that I knew.
Later I understood the lesson of history. Unlike Bach's church music, classical chamber music (e.g., by Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven) was written for just such gatherings in European society; and in Europe neither genre had essentially relinquished its original environment. And I realized the Drinkers' altogether admirable achievement. While purely instrumental music had easily found new homes in the New World, it took a heroic initiative to introduce Bach's cantatas to a wider group of American performers and listeners.
Henry Drinker, I should add, had an imposing, handsome appearance, as earnest as it was genial, which seemed to recall the world of the gentlemen farmers that his colonial ancestors had been. His wife, to whom he was totally devoted, gave a more modest and reserved impression; but it became immediately apparent what an interesting woman she was.
I remember one occasion when I was at the von Trapp family and Sophie Drinker phoned to say that she was going to pay a call. (Henry Drinker had given "Old Mrs. Drinker's House"—across the street from his own—to the newly arrived immigrants, and I was soon enlisted to teach recorder to the members of the family.) "Oh, we've got to spruce up," was the immediate reaction of the Baroness, which seemed funny coming from her. It was clear you'd have respect for Sophie Drinker.
The great personal interest that the Drinkers had taken in the Trapp Family Singers—the first traveling madrigal group in the country—was characteristic of the benefactors' artistic orientation. The Trapps had a good musical director, Dr. Franz Wasner, the young family priest, who lived with them. He was a sensitive conductor, well versed in the revival
of Renaissance music, and under his guidance the group had become the ideal model for such amateur organizations as the Accademia and Sophie Drinker's Montgomery Singers.