Money and Woman's Role
The story, or big parts of it, can be told, as it can be and is now being told also in artistic fields other than music. That it has not been told is the result, in part, of twin biases prevailing within the discipline of musicology and, more generally, within Western academic and "high-culture" circles.
In the first place, what philosophers might call the "idealist" conception of the work of art leads us to focus primarily on a small number of canonical masterpieces, to view them as, in some degree, transcendent, and to isolate them from the material—human and societal—contexts in which they were and are produced and diffused. Secondly, to the extent that we do try to place a given musical work in its social context, a deeply rooted "individualism"—a belief that artistic creativity is primarily a matter of individual genius—leads us to seek this context within the career and creative output of one person, the composer. A Mozart piano sonata, Mendelssohn's string octet, Ives's The Unanswered Question , Ruth Crawford Seeger's string quartet, Arvo Pärt's Fratres —each is viewed mainly or even solely as the manifestation of one individual's exceptional musical gifts, expressive drive, and personality. Less often, in contrast, are we encouraged to think in some detail about the different ways in which other members of the social body—the professional or amateur performer, the patron, the music educator, the critic, and the audience member or compact-disc purchaser—experience and influence music. All these individuals play essential roles in the musical life of a given place and time, enabling as they do the creation—and the continued, meaningful existence, in performance and interpretation—of those great musical works that we are taught to admire and love. Indeed, they could be said to "make music," in the sense that they make music possible, whether or not they actually set notes on paper, or strike bow against string.
Why then does the very existence of these various music makers sometimes go unremarked? In the case of the patron, at least, one reason is surely that this music "maker" tends to be a woman. A sadly reliable pair of feminist truisms holds that any work that is socially undervalued (e.g., childrearing, primary education, housework, patient care) will be assigned to women and that, conversely, any work that women do will be socially undervalued (scorned, underpaid, taken for granted) and, in the historical record, rendered to some extent invisible. Work in libraries, kitchens, and hospitals tends to garner acclaim, and decent pay, only when carried out by high-ranking men (e.g., famous chefs); music patronage, similarly, gets reported and discussed much more when the patron is a Henry (Lee Higginson), Otto (Kahn), or Paul (Fromm) rather than a Jeannette (Thurber), Elizabeth (Sprague Coolidge), or Minnie (S. Guggenheimer).
But, even in recent writings sympathetic to the variety of roles that women can play in music, the woman patron is rarely mentioned. Here the explanation may be that the woman patron does not match certain current feminist ideals, based as they are on the (laudable) goal of achieving public recognition and financial and professional parity with men. The Musical Woman , that fascinating, yearbooklike
compendium of lists and essays documenting women's work in music (primarily today and in the recent past), has been rightly praised for its "earnest eclecticism," which one reviewer admitted to finding "moving." Upon closer examination, though, one realizes that the editors of The Musical Woman do not offer all "musical women" an embracing welcome. The focus is almost entirely on women who have achieved, or are still striving to achieve, high status and visibility, preferably as full-time professionals: composers, conductors, performers, and college professors. Public-school music teachers do not get much attention in the series, an unfortunate omission. After all, the band, orchestra, Orff-instrument, chorus, and musical-theater programs that these teachers lead provide many Americans with a rare opportunity to be involved in (as children) and to witness (as parents) "live," participatory music making. In addition, such programs often offer people their only direct contact with even a stripped-down version of the Western art-music repertoire. Similarly, these schoolteachers' "general music" classes offer the only exposure that many will ever get to what is for better or worse called "music appreciation."
Even less noted in The Musical Woman are other groups of music teachers: those who earn "part-time" incomes running after-school piano or voice studios in their homes, and those who train vocal and handbell choirs or lead children's singing groups in churches and synagogues (often for low pay or none at all). As for patrons and other musical activists, there has been little beside an article on Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge in the massive first three volumes of The Musical Woman . Coolidge is, of course, safely dead, and in any case, she was clearly a "musical woman," since she played the piano before audiences and took her composing seriously. One wonders whether we have reached the point where a woman cannot be called "musical" if she has never learned to play an instrument or read a score, however much she may help, say, to keep a chamber-music series afloat, or even to steer its policies and repertoire.
One way or the other, then, the woman patron of Western art music in America tends to get ignored (or—as we shall repeatedly see—condescended to or smartly reproached) on account of her gender, whether because she is a woman doing "woman's work" or because she does not fit the profile of the "new" or professional woman. In most writings on musical life, though, she gets neglected for a reason even simpler and sometimes more powerful than gender: her connection with money. Patronage, whether by women or men, often involves handing over cash to musicians, directly or indirectly, and many people who hold a somewhat worshipful attitude toward the works of the "classical" canon—an attitude that tends to result from the idealism mentioned earlier—feel that any mention of money distracts (or even detracts) from the cherished qualities of the object of their veneration. What they may not realize (perhaps because the issue is not often raised by music journalists, college music-appreciation teachers, and others in a good position to educate the public) is that any art that is highly professional and technically refined requires a solid financial base and a well-organized system of
dissemination, whether the artistic "product," as Schiff calls it, be a concerto, a play, or a book of short stories. Indeed, the way in which a performing art, especially, is funded affects the repertoire that gets performed and the way that that repertoire is marketed to the public, a point illustrated repeatedly in this book.
Exactly how patronage operates is, as has recently been said of American philanthropy generally, difficult to describe, because the interests of the various participating parties and constituencies are so various and their interrelationships at times idiosyncratic. But there can be no doubt about the centrality of economic issues to the healthy existence of such institutions as symphony orchestras, opera companies, or professional and community music schools. Many of the women described in the following chapters knew this. They shared today's veneration of Bach's or Mozart's or Wagner's or Copland's music, yet they dealt frankly—more frankly, indeed, than scholars have tended to do!—with such hard-nosed financial tasks as improving the composer's and performer's earning power or building for the community a well-constructed concert hall with comfortable seats and good acoustics.
In any case, money is only one ingredient—and, as our studies show, not always the most important or the hardest to attain—in the recipe that leads to effective and inspired music patronage. The same can be said of patronage of the other arts, especially modern art and dance. (This similarity is not surprising, given that patrons have often been active in several artistic areas; we might mention Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney and Betty Freeman, both treated in the present book, but also a major male patron, Lincoln Kirstein.) Precisely because the stigmas of money, privilege, and condescension tend to hang over such words as "patronage" and "patron" (and even more over "patroness"), several of the contributors to this book speak instead, at times, of "musical activism," by analogy to the social and community activism that has engaged the creative energies of so many American women of means, from Jane Addams of Hull House to Brooke Astor. Money, privilege, and even the snobbishness of certain "patronesses" do play a part in some of the stories we tell, but so do such things as hard work, clear thinking, networking, self-sacrifice, and a devotion to making life rich in ways that bank accounts may assist but cannot measure.