From Behind Closed Doors is a program featuring a surprising collection of musical treasures that have been held back in some way from finding their audience. These pieces fall into two categories: pieces by well-known people that were suppressed by their composer or society for a period of time; or pieces by lesser-known people whose social situation prevented their music from being released widely.
We realize that music often has trouble getting recognized, even music by established composers. Works only find their audience through people who believe in them. Our hope is that by shining a light on lesser-known works (completely unknown in the case of our three HerVoice program world premieres), you will also advocate for them and encourage others to approach new or unfamiliar music with an open mind.
Many of these pieces have fascinating backstories about why they were suppressed. For example, William Byrd was a Catholic writing during the religious wars in England when it wasn’t safe (or even legal) to practice Catholicism. The Florence Price piece wasn’t actively suppressed overtly, but even though she was the first Black woman to have a piece performed by a major American orchestra, Price didn’t find that same interest in all of her music and had a hard time getting the recognition she was due. The music of Sulpitia Cesis, which was written in a convent, wasn’t suppressed in the expected sense, as she was allowed to study and write music, but because she wasn’t allowed to take her music outside the convent. Howell’s Requiem is interesting because he suppressed the piece himself.
Through these stories, we’re able to identify multiple hurdles that need to be cleared for composers to succeed: access to education to develop writing skills, resources to have music published and distributed, the ability to have music performed publicly, access to an audience, ability to have music receive high-quality performance, and to then be championed by others and performed again. Chicago a cappella’s HerVoice program addresses a lot of these barriers, and although our HerVoice composers aren’t suppressed in the same way as the other composers on the program, there is still a need to create spaces and workshops to encourage women to compose seriously. While we reflect on the past 400 years, we will be planting seeds now and giving them space to grow as they’re meant to.
You’re going to be delighted, moved, and fascinated by how recognizable these pieces will feel, even if it’s the first time you’re hearing them. You’ll get a sense of revisiting a piece of history that could have easily been overlooked. And, you’ll experience all of this at a very high level of musical quality. Don’t miss out this time around!