Virginia Brisac Moore was a member of the School’s first graduating class

By Adrienne Lotto

In December of 1783, Yale President Ezra Stiles met Lucinda Foote, a 12-year-old prodigy and University applicant. “Were it not for her sex,” Stiles wrote, reflecting on their interview, “she would be considered fit to be admitted.”

While it would take until 1969 for Yale College to open its doors to women, the tides of gender equality began to turn at Yale’s graduate and professional schools in the mid-19thcentury—and it was the art schools that led the way. The Yale School of Fine Arts became Yale’s first co-educational school when it opened in 1869. And when the newly established Yale School of Music conferred its first Bachelor of Music degrees in 1894, one of those four degrees was awarded to a woman.

That woman was Stratford, Conn., resident Virginia Brisac Moore. While the details of her life are largely unknown, certain clues point to an upbringing in the world of arts and music.

Virginia was born on May 17, 1859, and was among the youngest of nine children. Her father, Charles Moore, was a lace merchant who at various points in his life kept shops in Philadelphia, San Francisco, and New York City. His was a job that required artistic taste, something he clearly passed on to his children. Two of Virginia’s older brothers, Charles Herbert Moore and Howard Berndtson Moore, became successful painters— Charles Herbert is known even today for his landscape paintings.

Virginia’s maternal grandfather, Elof Berndtson (later Anglicized to Benson), was a sea captain who emigrated from Sweden to the United States in the early 19thcentury, and her mother was a devout member of the Swedenborgian church. It is known that Virginia, too, was a member of the Swedenborgian Church of New Jerusalem. Perhaps this was one outlet for music making in her early life.

At some point before Virginia was born, the Moore family relocated from Manhattan to Stratford, where Virginia grew up. She attended the Guy B. Day School in Bridgeport, Conn., a small, co-educational college preparatory “classical school.” There, Virginia would have taken classes with subjects in the trivium (grammar, rhetoric, and dialectic) and the quadrivium (arithmetic, astronomy, geometry, and music). Several alumni of the Guy B. Day School went on to study at Yale. So, too, did Virginia; curiously, after a long break in her schooling.

Virginia entered the School of Music as a 35-year-old. It is not known what she studied at the School of Music or what she did in the years after receiving her degree, but one thing seems certain: Virginia embodied a life of independence that was unorthodox for a woman of her time. She remained unmarried and died at age 73 of appendicitis.

Virginia Brisac Moore, unlike Lucinda Foote before her, was fortunate to have been born in an era in which co-education was increasingly becoming the norm.

Soprano Adrienne Lotto ’20MM is a student in the early music, oratorio, and chamber ensemble program at the Yale School of Music and Yale Institute of Sacred Music. 

Published November 26, 2019
Share This Comments

Nancy Marx Better, on her relationship with the School of Music

Nancy Marx Better

In addition to her service to the University, for which she will receive the Yale Medal today, Nancy Marx Better ’84BA has long been committed to furthering the specific interests of the School of Music. Better has served on the School’s Board of Advisors since 2012.

“Our family’s dedication to music at Yale really comes from my mother,” Better said, explaining that through her mother, pianist and philanthropist Sylvia Marx, her family developed a relationship with the School.

Better’s family has had a decades-long relationship with the University. Four generations of Better’s family have studied at Yale, including her three children. The only member of her family who did not study at Yale is Marx, who has served on the School’s Board of Advisors since 2002. “If Yale had been co-ed in the early 1950s, I’m sure they would’ve wanted her,” Better said of her mother, who studied at and graduated from Connecticut College.

Better’s service to the School is of a practical nature. “While I’m not a music expert, I think that I have some good institutional knowledge about Yale,” she said. Better, who has worked as a journalist, chairs the Yale University Library Council, and, as the University has pointed out, “has participated on the Yale Development Council dating back to its establishment in 2012, has been an Alumni Schools Committee interviewer since 1990, and served on the Yale Tomorrow Campaign Committee from 2005 through the close of the campaign,” among other areas of service. Better takes a holistic view of her work for the University.

“The School of Music is part of the fabric of Yale,” she said. “Music is everywhere at Yale,” from University President Peter Salovey’s interest in bluegrass to the countless students who have relationships with music. “There’s this broader sense that the arts spark creativity and innovation in other areas. It’s sort of osmosis. I like to think that the tremendous breadth and depth of what’s available at Yale benefits everybody.” Better is interested in connecting the dots.

“The stuff I really like is strategy,” Better said. “I really enjoy talking with (School of Music Dean Robert Blocker) and my colleagues about the strategies for the School of Music. I love to look forward.” She sees the future in the students whose performances she hears. She’s “dazzled” by their artistic potential.

Better is also encouraged by the School’s Music in Schools Initiative, a partnership with the New Haven Public Schools in which teaching artists from the School support the work of music teachers in the public schools. The Declaration on Equity in Music for City Students, which the School published in 2017, and the work that Yale does in the community is “extraordinary,” she said. “It’s classic Yale.”

Nancy Marx Better will receive the Yale Medal on Thursday, November 21, during the Yale Alumni Association Assembly and Yale Alumni Fund Convocation

Published November 21, 2019
Share This Comments

Faculty tubist Carol Jantsch, on exploration and perpetual study

Carol Jantsch

In 2006, Carol Jantsch was named Principal Tubist of the Philadelphia Orchestra. She further explains on her website that “she won the position during her senior year at the University of Michigan, becoming the first female tuba player in a major symphony orchestra.” We reached out to Jantsch, who joined the Yale School of Music faculty in 2012, to talk about teaching, arranging music for her instrument, and musical pursuits beyond her work with the Philadelphia Orchestra.

Q: When, where, and how did you choose the tuba—or did the instrument choose you? I know your family is quite musical. Were you encouraged to pursue music as a field of study and a profession?

A: My mom forced me to start piano lessons when I was 6, and she sent me and my brother to Interlochen Arts Camp a few years later. That first summer at Interlochen I took a class called “Instrument Exploration,” where we were introduced to all the instruments and chose one to learn. I wanted something weird and different, so the euphonium fit the bill perfectly. I made the switch to tuba a few years later, when I was around 12 years old.

Q: To what extent have you learned through teaching? In other words, to what degree has working with students informed your approach to the instrument? In what ways have you grown as a musician since 2006?

A: Teaching forces you to put your values and techniques into words, and this process has been hugely educational for me. I always had strong opinions about how I wanted to sound, but now my ideas have more clarity and refinement. I’m also much more conscious of how I’m doing what I’m doing from having to explain it to others.

I feel very fortunate to have come of age as a member of the Philadelphia Orchestra. I’m constantly drawing inspiration from my amazing colleagues, and I absolutely believe that I’m a much better musician for getting to hear them for the past 13 years.

Q: I’m always curious to learn about an artist’s routines. How do you juggle individual practice, arranging, rehearsing with the orchestra and other groups, teaching, recording, and other aspects of your life?

A: I get a lot of emails and arranging done on the train to Yale!

The orchestra is and always will be my primary focus; I’m very grateful to have such a wonderful job, and it’s also the thing that enables me to do everything else. I’ll definitely get more practice time when the orchestra is playing “New World” Symphony than I will in a Mahler week, and the time for other projects ebbs and flows with my Philadelphia Orchestra responsibilities. While it can be hectic to have so many side projects, I think it’s important to make the time for them because they keep me growing as a musician and person.

Q: With limited repertoire composed specifically for tuba, you necessarily perform a good number of arrangements. How do you go about choosing which pieces to arrange for your instrument—what are the important considerations beyond a desire to play a particular piece? How much do you and your students discuss and work on arranging?

A: Just like teaching, arranging has had a profound influence on my musicianship. Arranging a piece of music is like solving a puzzle: How do you fundamentally change the nature of something while still capturing the essence of the original? What specifically makes Beethoven sound like Beethoven, or Led Zeppelin sound like Led Zeppelin—and then how do I preserve that when I write for tubas?! They’re fun questions to tackle, and I think having that sense of the big picture is really helpful as a performer. I find it so helpful in fact that I’ve started requiring my students to create at least one transcription or arrangement for their graduation recital.

Q: Is Tubular currently active? If so, what’s your set list like?

A: Yes we are! For the uninitiated, Tubular is my cover band comprised of two euphoniums, two tubas, drums, and all of us do vocals. In September, we performed the entire Beatles album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band—that was a pretty epic night. But normally our shows span a lot of eras and styles—Queen, Beyoncé, the Jackson 5, Bruno Mars, the Eagles, Kesha, Flight of the Conchords, really anything we think will be awesome and/or hilarious. I’m currently working on a ’70s rock medley that will include Styx, Heart, AC/DC, and more …

What have you been listening to and reading lately?

I’ve been on a classic rock kick because of my current arranging project! Spotify makes some pretty great playlists, and the one called “Classic Rock Workout” is pretty much solid gold; exercise or not, I highly recommend it.

Faculty tubist Carol Jantsch will perform a free Faculty Artist Series recital on Sunday, Oct. 13, at 3 p.m., in Morse Recital Hall. 

DETAILS

Published October 9, 2019
Share This Comments

Irene Battell Larned, champion of music at Yale

Irene Battell Larned

By Adrienne Lotto

Anyone familiar with Yale and its surroundings will have heard the name Battell, the family whose donations bolstered the college’s arts and humanities in the late 19th century. Perhaps the most familiar name from that family is Joseph Battell, for whom Battell Chapel is named. But the distinction of the most influential Battell, when it comes to Yale’s musical life, should perhaps go to Irene Battell Larned. As the instigator of (or inspiration behind) the first endowment for music at Yale College, Irene began the legacy of supporting music at Yale.

Much of what is known about Irene Battell Larned as a person comes from Memories of an Elect Lady, a book of letters and recollections compiled by her family and published upon her death. Irene was born on November 14, 1811, in Norfolk, Conn., where her family’s influence on the town’s musical culture is still felt today through the annual Yale Summer School of Music/Norfolk Chamber Music Festival. Her grandfather was the first minister of Norfolk, and Irene’s upbringing in the church gave her a musical outlet as she began to play the village church’s pipe organ at age 11.

In Memories, Irene’s sister Urania recalled the joy that music brought the Battell family, writing, “Music became our pastime. At every gathering in-doors and out, party, sleighride or picnic, we sang.” As a teenager, Irene began to use her musical skills to teach, reportedly spending hours each evening drilling villagers on choral parts for ordinary church services as well as for occasional concerts, which she organized. One contributor to Memories wrote, “She threw her whole soul into these concerts, imparting courage to the timid, correcting and assisting every one who had a part to perform, and always doing this kindly that every one felt it a privilege to be under her criticism.”

Irene moved to New Haven when she married Yale professor William Larned. In New Haven, she continued to encourage the spread of high-quality music-making. In the late 1840s, Irene helped found the New Haven County Musical Association and the Mendelssohn Society of New Haven, organizations through which the public were treated to performances of oratorios by Handel, Haydn, and Mendelssohn. Irene performed the soprano solos in these works to great acclaim. One listener likened her to Jenny Lind, the famous Swedish soprano of the day. Dr. Gustave Stoeckel, Yale’s first music professor, was a prominent contributor to Memories, in which he wrote about finding a champion in Irene upon arriving in New Haven from Germany in 1848. “By her assurance of help and support,” Stoeckel wrote, “I gained confidence in myself and hope of success in my profession.”

In 1862, Irene, feeling that music had been neglected as an area of study at Yale College, contributed generously to the musical fund she had encouraged her brother Joseph to establish in 1854. She also donated large sums for the acquisition of scholarly music books and for the care of the organ in Battell Chapel.

After Irene died, on May 5, 1877, a funeral service was held in Battell Chapel. Stoeckel led a choir of Yale students and alumni who had come to appreciate Irene’s gifts to and presence in Yale’s musical community.

At a time when exceptional classical music in America was still a fledgling pursuit and hardly a focus in the country’s universities, Irene Battell Larned’s passion for the discipline inspired many to recognize its importance and ensured a place for it in Yale’s future.

Read more about the Battell family’s contributions to the School of Music in the Spring-Summer 2019 issue of Music at Yale.

Soprano Adrienne Lotto ’20MM is a student in the early music, oratorio, and chamber ensemble program at the Yale School of Music and Yale Institute of Sacred Music. 

Published September 25, 2019
Share This Comments