The Maud Powell Society for Music and Education
68 Grandview Ave., Brevard, NC 28712 USA
www.maudpowell.org 828-884-8500 firstname.lastname@example.org
For Immediate Release Contact: Pamela Blevins
Worldwide Celebration of Legendary American Violinist
Maud Powell’s 150th Anniversary
All Invited to Participate
To mark the 150th anniversary of American violinist Maud Powell’s birth in 1867, the Maud Powell Society for Music and Education has launched plans for worldwide celebrations throughout 2017 and 2018.
“Powell was a dynamic trailblazer and visionary woman who defied convention and went on to become one of the most revered performers and personalities of her day. Her road to success was often littered with obstacles but she never let them block her path,” said Karen A. Shaffer, founder and president of the Maud Powell Society.
Born in Peru, Illinois on the edge of the western frontier, Maud Powell was the child of a pioneering family of risk takers, including her uncle John Wesley Powell, the first white man to explore the Grand Canyon, director of the U.S. Geological Survey and the founder-director of the Bureau of Ethnology. Her father Bramwell Powell was an innovative educator who, with his brother John Wesley, was a founder of the National Geographic Society.
Maud Powell’s mother, Wilhelmina (“Minnie”) (née Bengelstraeter), counted Susan B. Anthony among her friends. Like many women of her day, Minnie Paul Powell dreamed of pursuing a career as a composer, but her adoptive Calvinist parents (surnamed “Paul”) forbade her from doing so. That did not stop her. Secretly she submitted her compositions to publishers in Chicago and some were published after her marriage under the pseudonym “Paul Powell.”
Mrs. Powell was determined that her first-born child would be given all the advantages denied to her if he or she had musical talent worth nurturing and developing. Her first child, Maud, was born on August 22 in a house on a knoll above the Illinois River. Three years later the family moved to Aurora, Illinois. There Minnie Powell gave Maud her first piano lessons and discovered that her daughter had both talent and a passion for music. Before long, Maud discovered the violin. She made such rapid progress with a local violin teacher that by the age of nine she was traveling alone once a week for advanced studies with William Lewis in Chicago.
The seeds for what would be a brilliant career had been planted. There would be no looking back, no giving in to convention that kept women from the stage. Maud’s progress was so rapid that by the age of 13, she was studying in Europe, first in Leipzig (Schradieck), then in Paris (Dancla) and later in Berlin with Joseph Joachim. She made her first professional appearance in London at the age of 15, and her American debut in 1885 with Theodore Thomas and his orchestra in Chicago. At the time there were only five professional orchestras in the United States. Later that year, she made her New York debut with Thomas and the New York Philharmonic.
From then on, Powell was on a track to success. Critics praised her. Audiences loved her. But her success was not focused solely on her own career. Always a risk taker, Powell championed music by black composers, women and her contemporaries when others were reluctant to perform them. She traveled hundreds of thousands of miles, often in deplorable conditions in smoke-filled trains, horse-drawn wagons, blistering prairie heat and train-stopping blizzards to bring classical music to people who had never heard it before. She stayed in hotels along the way in rooms that were either frigid or tropically hot and where the food was often inedible.
In addition to North America, Powell toured Britain and Europe with the Sousa Band, performed as a recitalist and soloist across the British Isles and Europe, in Russia, South Africa and Hawaii.
Powell developed personal relationships with many composers including Sibelius, Dvořák, Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, Amy Beach and many others. She premiered the Sibelius, Tchaikovsky, Dvořák, and Samuel Coleridge-Taylor violin concertos, among many others, in America. Sibelius held her in such high regard that long after her death, he still treasured the train timetable she had given him for his 1914 visit to America. Powell’s belief in Sibelius’s concerto was rock solid. She was not daunted when bewildered critics labeled it “bitter as gall,” “savage as wilderness,” and wondered why she bothered to put her “magnificent art into this sour and crabbed concerto.” Powell kept on playing it until it gained acceptance into the repertoire.
Powell formed her own trios and quartets and toured extensively with them. She made her pianists equal partners in their recitals. Never one to hold fast to the old ways, she welcomed the new recording technology and became the first instrumentalist to record for the Victor Red Seal label in 1904. Her recordings became bestsellers. In 2014, she was honored for this pioneering legacy with The Recording Academy’s GRAMMY Lifetime Achievement Award, the only woman instrumentalist so honored. She had the largest repertoire of any violinist of her era, including her own transcriptions and her cadenza for the Brahms concerto, one of the first.
Although Maud Powell never realized her dream of being a conductor, she encouraged other women to found and conduct their own orchestras. She advocated the inclusion of women musicians in professional orchestras from which they had been barred. She understood the importance of music in the lives of children and initiated and performed outreach concerts for school children in many small communities scattered across America.
She set a standard for violin playing that is still held in high regard today, and was a significant influence on violinists of future generations, among them Jascha Heifetz, Sherry Kloss, Yehudi Menuhin, Christine Dethier, Jonathan Carney, Rachel Barton Pine, and Louis Kaufmann (who rediscovered Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons”).
“The list of her achievements is staggering in its scope, impact and relevance,” said Karen Shaffer, who is Powell’s biographer and the force behind the preservation of her recordings that have enabled modern audiences to experience just how fine a violinist Powell was.
Unfortunately, Powell’s career was cut short when she died of a heart attack in a Uniontown, Pennsylvania, while on tour in January 1920. She was 52 years old. The music world and the public mourned.
“Five years after Maud’s death, we saw the advent of the electronic age of recording,” Shaffer observed. “As a result, she began to fade from the public consciousness although her legacy was never forgotten by subsequent generations of violinists. Even today, some violinists still carry her ten practice rules in their violin cases.”
Without Shaffer, Maud Powell might have remained little more than a footnote in music history. Inspired by her own violin teacher Neva Greenwood for whom Powell was a role model, Shaffer began to continue her teacher’s research and then to write Powell’s life and collect her 78 rpm recordings. In 1988, she published her critically acclaimed biography. The following year, she released a three-volume set of Powell’s recordings that have since been reissued by Naxos with the addition of a fourth volume. Shaffer and Rachel Barton Pine collaborated on a four-volume edition of Powell’s own transcriptions and music written for her that was published in 2009.
Peru, Illinois, the city of Powell’s birth, holds an annual arts celebration in her name and is the only city in the U.S. to have an 8-foot statue of a woman musician in the city center.
“Now as we approach the 150th anniversary of Maud’s birth on August 22, 1867, we are planning a series of commemorative events throughout the world,” Shaffer explained. “Anyone can participate – musicians, artists, writers, poets, students, teachers. We are asking people throughout the world to engage in ‘150 Bows for Maud’ --- 150 ‘events’ (can include anything) occurring around the world in her honor in 2017 and 2018. Participants can sign up and register their ‘event’ on our web site.
“Our theme is ‘Music is a Bridge that Spans the Universe,’ Shaffer explained. It is the principle to which Maud Powell dedicated herself and her music and the ideal for which she sacrificed her life. Serving humanity was the motivating spirit of her life. No path was too daunting, no audience too small, no obstacle too difficult to overcome for her to fulfill her mission to uplift humanity with her art.
“It is important that we celebrate Powell, particularly at a time when our world is going through many challenges,” continued Shaffer. “Her influence as a supreme artist and humanitarian left an indelible mark on all who heard her play. And today, her enduring legacy continues to inspire musicians and music lovers throughout the world.”
For more information on how you can participate in the Maud Powell Sesquicentennial Celebrations, visit: www.maudpowell.org