Interview with Dr. Wilson Kimber

By Student Contributor Anastasia Scholze

Anastasia Scholze is an MA student in Musicology. She holds a BA with an emphasis in Voice Performance from the University of Iowa. Her research interests include film music, women in music, and surrealism. Recently, she has worked as an ICRU Fellow with Dr. Nathan Platte on the film music podcast Sounding Cinema, and as the Classical Music Intern for Interlochen Public Radio, where she helped research and produce The Interlochen Collection. Outside of the classroom, Anastasia enjoys hiking, listening to podcasts, and playing guitar and piano.

On Sunday, October 24, Dr. Marian Wilson Kimber gave a recital in the Stark Opera Studio titled In a Woman’s Voice: Musical Readings by Women Composers. She was accompanied by her musical partner, Dr. Natalie Landowski, a University of Iowa DMA Piano alum and Western Illinois University instructor of piano. Together, the duo, known as Red Vespa, performs “musical readings,” a form of spoken word performance that gained popularity with American women in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries. Most often, these musical recitations were written and performed by women for women. In this recital, Red Vespa performed works by Frieda Peycke (1884-1964), Phyllis Fergus (1887-1964), Lalla Ryckoff (b. 1891), Nettie Arthur Brown (1864-1914), and premiered pieces by another University of Iowa alum, Lisa Neher.

I was able to talk with Dr. Wilson Kimber a bit about here recital; here’s what she had to say.

Anastasia: Your group is called Red Vespa. Where did the name come from, and can you give some background on the group?

Dr. Wilson Kimber: Natalie was a student in some of my classes while doing her DMA here at Iowa, and I was on her dissertation committee. I asked her to be part of this project when I was working as a fellow at the Obermann Center for Advanced Studies. We started in 2017 and had our first performance here in Musicology Colloquium, as an experiment. We went on to perform for the National League of American Pen Women at their meetings in Washington, DC and in Des Moines, for a Society of American Music meeting and an American Musicological Society meeting, and at Ohio State University.

As for the name, Vespas are little and sporty, and the pieces we perform are also short and sporty. Vespa also means wasp in Italian, and the pieces have some sting to them!

A: When was the last time you performed before COVID?

MWK: For a class at Western Illinois University, where Natalie teaches, in February 2020. We were scheduled to perform at a big women in music conference at Ball State University, but this got cancelled right as COVID was beginning.

A: What do you perform? Do the pieces change every concert?

MWK: Since we’ve mostly been seeing different audiences for each performance, we do a lot of the same pieces. But we’ve experimented with converting short songs by Carrie Jacobs-Bond into recitations, and for this concert, we premiered some pieces that we commissioned. (The pieces by Lisa Neher.) We program our pieces in groups by related topics, because that is what composers Phyllis Fergus and Frieda Peycke used to do on their programs in the 1920s and 1930s.

A: Can you tell me a bit about performance practice issues and practicing?

MWK: The voice part of the pieces is un-notated (when it comes to rhythm and pitch.) When you first see the text laid out on the page with the piano accompaniment, sometimes it looks like it should be heard right with the piano. But often, you have to recite around chords, especially at the ends of pieces. Natalie and I do a lot of practicing endings; each piece tends to end with a punchline, so I deliver the ending punchline, and Natalie waits to play the final chords after that. Otherwise, it would get drowned out. There’s also a lot of practicing pacing and timing.

A: What was your favorite part about being able to perform these pieces, especially because it’s been a while?

MWK: Hearing people laugh. Also, there’s something that happens when you perform these pieces for a live audience instead of just in a practice session. It’s fun to see how each audience reacts differently to the pieces. These works were originally written by women for women, so when we take these pieces to women’s groups, they love them. Musical readings, with their punchlines, are an art form that’s meant to communicate with the audience.

Dr. Wilson Kimber also mentioned that in the writing of these comical works, humor was a form of power for women. They were pushing back against established social norms and constructions for women, with humor, in a less threatening way.

You can read more about Dr. Wilson Kimber’s research on musical reading performances and elocution in her book, The Elocutionists: Women, Music, and the Spoken Word.

This Weekend: Red Vespa Performs Musical Readings by Women Composers

Professor Marian Wilson Kimber Pianist Natalie Landowski (Western Illinois University)

Sunday, October 24, 2021 – 7:30pm
Stark Opera Studio, Voxman Music Building University of Iowa School of Music

Livestream: https://music.uiowa.edu/about/live-stream-concert-schedule

The duo Red Vespa, consisting of musicology professor Marian Wilson Kimber and pianist Natalie Landowski of Western Illinois University will return to the concert stage this week to present a recital of musical readings by American women composers. Wilson Kimber explored the brief, comic spoken-word pieces in her 2017 book, The Elocutionists: Women, Music, and the Spoken Word. Red Vespa has appeared in Boston, Kansas City, Chicago, Washington, DC, and at Ohio State University.

The video that will be made of their recital has been awarded the Sight and Sound Subvention from the Society for American Music.

Red Vespa will also premiere a new work created for them by Portland composer and University of Iowa alumna Lisa Neher, Upon a Broken World. 

You can read more about the new piece in Wilson Kimber’s essay on the Women’s Song Forum: https://www.womensongforum.org/2021/10/19/musical-readings-on-a-broken-world/.

Dr. Suhadolnik’s collaborative research published in Sounding Together

Sarah Suhadolnik’s work with colleague Monica Hershberger is featured in the new, open-access collection Sounding Together: Collaborative Perspectives on U.S. Music in the 21st Century (eds. Charles Hiroshi Garrett and Carol Oja). Digital access to the entire book is free, and you can check out Sarah and Monica’s chapter, “Music, Travel, and Circuitous Reflections of Community,” here.

Late Spring Conference Highlights

Iowa’s spring semester concluded in mid-May, just in time for students and faculty to share recent projects at three different conferences.

Iowa Musicology Day (May 22) brought together a coalition of Iowa students from several disciplines. John Tappen (MA, American Studies) presented a paper titled “The US Army’s Sonic Campaign for Neoliberal Militainment.” Anastasia Scholze (BA, Voice, incoming MA in Musicology) shared her research on the art and ethics of vocal dubbing in West Side Story (1961). Rebekah Erdman (PhD, Musicology) spoke on Rutland Boughton’s opera The Immortal Hour and the legacy of the English Choral Drama. Michael Pekel (DMA, Choral Conducting) introduced audiences to the spiritual philosophies underpinning Jonathan Harvey’s choral works. Cody Norling (PhD, Musicology) and Dr. Nathan Platte participated in a pedagogy session, where they shared course projects that gave students opportunities to engage with historical musical practices through archives and composition.

The IASPM-US Conference was a 5-day program for almost 200 participants that ran from 5/18-5/22. As acting secretary for the organization, Dr. Sarah Suhadolnik helped to organize and host the event. She also participated as panel chair and presenter. Entitled “WHO DAT? Music, Media and the (Re)defined Spirit Nation,” Dr. Suhadolnik’s paper was drawn from her overlapping research on popular music, place, fandom, and digital media.

Finally, at the Midwestern History Conference (May 26-27), Cody Norling presented “Opera Evangelism: Creating a Musical Metropole in 1920s Chicago.”

Whew. I think we’re ready for a little summer rest and recreation now. Congratulations to all of the presenters!

Marian Wilson Kimber reflects on women’s song for Thomas Hampson’s “Song and Beyond”

Dr. Wilson Kimber recently joined Stephen Rodgers (University of Oregon) and Christopher Reynolds (UC Davis) for a conversation on American women’s song of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The discussion draws from Dr. Wilson Kimber’s recent work on Women’s Song Forum and her book (and related performances) from The Elocutionists: Women, Music, and the Spoken Word. Thanks to IDAGIO and the Hampsong Foundation for hosting the gathering and posting the discussion!

April 10-11, Joint Meeting of the Midwest Chapters of the Society for Ethnomusicology and American Musicological Society



We are thrilled that Iowa is hosting the first joint meeting of the Midwest Chapters of the American Musicological Society and Society for Ethnomusicology (April 10-11).

The conference keynote (Saturday, 3:30) features a presentation from Dwandalyn Reece, music curator of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture. 

To learn more about Iowa City’s indie music scene, be sure to check out Ross Clowser’s presentation on Karen Meat at 11:00 on Saturday.


All events are hosted over Zoom and are free. We invite you to check out the full schedule and register here: https://sites.google.com/site/amsmidwest/chapter-meetings/past-meetings/spring-2021-meeting

Marian Wilson Kimber’s contributions to Women’s Song Forum (and beyond)

Pose for “Nearer My God to Thee” (1917) 

Marian Wilson Kimber’s “Hymnody, Dance and the Sacred in the Illustrated Song” has recently appeared in the volume Musicology and Dance: Historical and Critical Perspectives published by Cambridge University Press. Wilson Kimber’s chapter delves into women’s practice of posing to hymn tunes, an offshoot of the Delsarte movement in the early twentieth century. It draws on pedagogical materials, press reports of women’s performances, and contemporary understandings of hymnody to explain how musical accompaniments in the “illustrated song” helped to mediate its potentially precarious position within American culture, given its deep suspicion of dance. 

Wilson Kimber has also recently joined a team of musicologists writing for the Women’s Song Forum, a new blog devoted to women’s songs and women’s voices. Her first essay explores the American Song Composers’ Festival founded by composer Grace Porterfield Polk in Greenwood, Indiana, in the 1920s in order to encourage American songwriters. Her most recent post considers the reception of Mary Turner Salter’s song, “The Cry of Rachel,” and the songs of peace activist Elisabeth Johnson.

New media essays explore music in games and film

Using media to share research is not new here. Trevor Harvey’s podcast, Ethnomusicology Today, has been doing just that since 2015. Since then, more students and faculty are exploring different formats to study and share work on a range of musical topics. Here are some recent highlights…

Watch Jon’s video essay on Death Stranding here.

Jon Eldridge II (MA in Jazz Studies) has released expansive video essays on scoring, songs, and sound design in the games Death Stranding and Doom Eternal. In addition to scripting and editing the films, Jon also provided original music and cover art. The project was developed in one of Sarah Suhadolnik’s fall 2020 courses.

Watch Jon’s video on Doom Eternal here.
Dr. Emaeyak Sylvanus

Dr. Trevor Harvey has recently released a new episode of Ethnomusicology Today that features a discussion with Dr. Emaeyak Sylvanus (University of Nigeria) about songs in Nollywood film. A pioneering researcher on Nollywood film music, Emaeyak explores localized musical concepts that dominate Nigerian film narratives. Grounded in his understanding of a narrative technique he terms “prefiguring,” Emaeyak discusses the 2014 film “Ekaette Goes to School” as a case study for exploring how indigenous meanings are negotiated within the global cinema landscape from which the contemporary Nigerian film industry has emerged.

Dr. Nathan Platte and Anastasia Scholze (BA Music) have released the trailer and first episode of Sounding Cinema, a new podcast that explores how music, dialogue, and sound effects shape our relationship with film. Their first episode surveys the career of sound editor/director Robert Wise and dives deeply into the extraordinary sounds of West Side Story. Visit soundingcinema.com to listen and follow on Instagram at @soundingcinema.

Sharing research and supporting community during an extraordinary semester

In bidding 2020 adieu, we take a moment to celebrate a smattering of the work we’ve shared during a very unusual fall term.

Dr. Christine Getz’s chapter “Milan: Imperial City and Theater of the World,” was published in A Companion to Music at the Hapsburg Courts in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries (ed. Andrew Weaver).

Ph.D. candidate Cody Norling’s chapter, “’To improve the musical taste, capacity and voices of our people’: The Rise of Public Art-Music Interests Amidst the Rise and Fall of the Iowa State Normal Academy of Music, 1867–1871,” appears in The Making of the Midwest: Essays on the Formation of Midwestern Identity, 1787-1900 (ed. Jon Lauck).

Dr. Anabel Maler presented a paper titled “The Signing Voice” at the Society for Ethnomusicology, Drs. Maler and Robert Komaniecki presented “Rhythmic Techniques in Signed Rap” for the American Musicological Society, and Dr. Getz presented on Fabrizio Dentice’s Lamentations at the Convegno Annuale della Società Italiana di Musicologia.

FilmScene, Iowa City’s independent cinema,  recognized Dr. Nathan Platte as its 2020 Visionary Advocate for cohosting and producing FilmCastPodScene. The podcast, which includes interviews with filmmakers and conversations with local moviegoers, is a local partnership that seeks to sustain community among film enthusiasts while theaters remain mostly closed.

Colloquium thrived over Zoom throughout the fall term, and we were especially thrilled to host guest scholar Matthew Mugmon (University of Arizona) and an alt-academic career panel featuring Leslie Finer (U of Iowa, Office of Community Engagement), Hang Nguyen (Iowa State Historical Society), and Amanda Sewell (Interlochen Public Radio). Drs. Matthew Arndt, Marian Wilson Kimber, Trevor Harvey, Robert Komaniecki, and Nathan Platte also led discussions on professional development topics and hosted weekly social hours where students and faculty met remotely to share experiences and connect.

As we prepare for spring term, please check out our Spring colloquium schedule and save the weekend of April 10-11, when Iowa will host a virtual joint conference between AMS Midwest and MIDSEM! For those interested in submitting proposals for the conference, more information is available here.

Benedictus and Baudelaire Come Together for an “Examination of Conscience at Midnight” in Jean-François Charles’s Music

Written in 2011 and recorded this year by Ligament—Anika Kildegaard (voice) and Will Yager (bass)—University of Iowa Assistant Professor Jean-François Charles’s Benedictus is a fitting song to listen to at a time when we are nearing the midnight of the year, to say nothing of midnight on the Doomsday Clock, which has been on the verge of twelve o’clock for so long that crisis seems to be a permanent state of affairs. Perpetual night seems like day, the forever war is the closest thing we have to peace, and constant gaslighting supplants truth. A fitting song, and a welcome song at a time when so much is coming into 20/20 focus that obliges us as individuals and as communities to examine our conscience.

I have certain thing for dark nights of the soul, and of the mind. I have been reviving evening viewings of Twin Peaks with my beautiful wife and discussing how it is a dark soap opera, a sort of cinematic mashup of film noir and soap opera. Charles’s song is similarly a mashup, and it is similarly almost cinematic in its cutting between a setting of text from the Roman Sanctus and a spliced-together setting of Charles Baudelaire’s “L’examen de minuit” from Les fleurs du mal—or, as rendered in William Aggeler’s translation, “Examination of Conscience at Midnight” from Flowers of Evil.

Benedictus begins with a single-second sample of a clock, which is referenced in the first line of the poem—an allusion perhaps to Pink Floyd’s “Time” (1973), which begins with a quiet ticking sound, and which is wrapped up in another sort of dark cinematic mashup (i.e., The Dark Side of Oz, about which I have written). Charles’s song further proceeds with a Pink-Floyd-like block of space music to clear the air and set the dark tone. The space is colored with an electric string bass, electroacoustic instruments being Charles’s specialty. The bass sounds intermittently through the song, as a kind of Greek chorus taking in the ironic display (irony is referenced in the second line of the poem). I will say a word about both display and irony.

Both songs (“Benedictus” and “Time”) put wasted, defiled time on display in a way that can shock the listener awake (the ticking in “Time” is followed by an alarm clock going off). The same, incidentally, is true of Swoope’s “Schizo / Hollow Dreams Interlude,” from the album Wake Up (2012). For exposure, hopefully, is what can overcome vice, within and without. As the poet acknowledges at the end of Baudelaire’s poem, in the voice of a conspirator, “Quickly let us snuff out the lamp, / So we may hide in the darkness!” (Vite soufflons la lampe, afin / De nous cacher dans les ténèbres).

The irony consists in the juxtapositions of the mashup in Charles’s song. The text from the Sanctus is a blessing of he who comes in the name of the Lord (benedictus qui venit in nomine domini)—i.e., Jesus, as the second stanza of Baudelaire’s poem explains. The first sounding of the benedictus music concludes not with the expected note but with a note just adjacent, which segues into Baudelaire’s poet’s confession of sins—sins that prevent as it were a complete sounding of the benedictus music with a clear conscience.

There is more to confession than just words, though, for even the demons name the “Son of the Most High God.” Confession is repentance, turning toward compunction instead of cynicism. Appropriately, then, the poem is set schizophrenically with two voices, so to speak, the one harsh and the other mournful, even wailing. And confession is recurrent, because there is always another layer to expose in the soul. Appropriately, then, the two voices alternate. And it is the mournful, repentant voice that is able, as it were, to lead back to the benedictus music, through the word “light” (lumière). These two voices together with that of the benedictus music may be likened to the proverbial devil and angel on our shoulders as we pray to God in our heads in between, or they may be likened to the foolish thief and the wise thief, who give contrasting responses to Jesus crucified between them.

Through their juxtaposition, these two voices draw sharp almost visual lines between the bright light of repentance and the “wan light of putrefaction” (de la putrefaction… la blafarde lumière). The latter phrase is reminiscent of Emanuel Swedenborg’s discussion of people who think they are wise and good from themselves, rather than the opposite, being themselves from wisdom and goodness. He describes this mistake as that the people “close the higher regions of their mind…. Since the higher regions of their mind are closed, where the true light of life makes its home, a lower region of their mind opens up that is attuned only to the glimmer of the world. That glimmer, devoid of light from the higher regions, is faint and deceptive.” This attunement focuses purely on, as the poem says, “stupid and unfeeling Matter” (la stupide Matière).

The song brings out this material focus especially through its highlighting of two words: “baisé” and “l’ivresse.” “Baisé,” delicately translated by Aggeler as “kissed,” reveals its double entendre through its harsh, mechanistic repetition. “L’ivresse” (drunkenness) receives a similar treatment. The bass joins this mechanistic groove, now much more agitated, and this groove is then mashed up with the opening space music, leaving its meaning open.

Every listener will take something different from the song, depending as they may identify in different ways at different moments with the three voices or the bass. It is a remarkable statement, and I look forward to hearing more songs from Charles.