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.

Fall 2015 Lecture Circuit

Here’s a run-down of the papers that musicology and theory faculty and students are delivering this fall:

DunbarDouglassRecital_1901Marian Wilson Kimber presented a paper, “Li’l Brown Baby: Paul Laurence Dunbar, Dialect Verse, and Musically-Accompanied Recitation by Women” at the fall meeting of the Midwest Chapter of the American Musicological Society in Chicago.  The paper explored the use of music in the spoken-word performances of the African-American poet Paul Laurence Dunbar, and role that the widespread popularity of his poetry with female elocutionists and composers played in its reception. Historical Dunbar and Douglass poster courtesy Ohio History Center, Columbus Ohio.

Cage ca. 1950

Cage ca. 1950

Jennifer Iverson presented a paper, “Preparing Electronic Music” at the national meeting of the Society for Music Theory in St. Louis. The paper explored the reception of John Cage‘s prepared piano music in West Germany between 1952-54. Before the aleatory debates of the later 1950s, Cage’s prepared piano had a profound effect on both the sound and the temporal structure of early WDR electronic music.


Kelsey McGinnis

Kelsey McGinnis

Kelsey McGinnis, a PhD student in musicology, gave a presentation titled “Intersections: Music, Human Rights, and Cultural Diplomacy in an Iowa POW Camp” at the International Symposium on Cultural Diplomacy in the United Nations. The conference was hosted at the United Nations headquarters and other UN consulates in New York, bringing together academic and political professionals. Kelsey presented her work on the musical activities of German POWs in Iowa during WWII as a case study in the history of U.S. cultural diplomacy.

Summer Produce

Produce, as in produce research! The faculty at the University of Iowa use the time away from teaching during the summer to make rapid progress on research projects, when there is more time for intensive archival research, analysis, composition, and writing. Here are some of the things the musicology, theory, and composition faculty have been working on in summer 2014:

In June, musicologist Marian Wilson Kimber presented a paper, “Hymnody, Dance, and the Sacred in the Illustrated Song” at the 18th Biennial International Conference on Nineteenth-Century Music at the University of Toronto, Canada.  The paper, regarding the pantomimic posing of American women to hymn tunes, ca. 1880-1920, is related to the book she completed this summer, tentatively titled, Feminine Entertainments: Women, Music, and the Spoken Word.

Composer Zack Stanton spent a month in Austin, Texas sketching out a new piece for narrator and wind ensemble, which memorializes legendary Texas football coach Darrell Royal (1924-2012). He has also just received a new commission from the Milliken University Percussion Ensemble for a piece to be premiered in April 2015. In October, Zack will travel to Los Angeles to hear a premiere of his work at the Christian Fellowship of Art Music Composers Conference. The work, Scenic Route, will be performed by pianist Paul Barnes, who commissioned Philip Glass’s Piano Concerto No. 2. Barnes will perform Scenic Route again in April 2015 at Symphony Space in New York.

Basel, Switzerland

Basel, Switzerland

Theorist Jennifer Iverson spent five weeks in Germany and Switzerland, undertaking archival research relating to early electronic music. She began at the archive of the Akademie der Künste in Berlin. She then visited the Stockhausen Stiftung in Kürten, Germany, making time for a trip to the rural cathedral Altenberger Dom where Stockhausen received his first communion. Here she also met with Gottfried Michael Koenig, one of the few surviving members of the so-called “Darmstadt” group of composers and an expert on early electronic music at the WDR. She spent time at the historical archives of the WDR (Westdeutsche Rundfunk, or West German Radio). Jennifer ended the trip in Basel, where she visited the Paul Sacher Stiftung for the third time, and focused on correspondence between Pousseur, Stockhausen, Boulez, and Eimert. The trip was funded via an AHI (Arts and Humanities Initiative) grant from the University of Iowa.

Marian Wilson Kimber travels doing research for book in progress

Supported by a University of Iowa Arts and Humanities Initiative grant, musicologist Marian Wilson Kimber traveled to several archives over the summer, doing research for her book in progress, Feminine Entertainments: Women, Music, and the Spoken Word.  The book explores the contributions of American women to melodrama, and the intersection of poetry and music in performance from the Progressive era to World War II.  Wilson Kimber worked with elocution books and ephemera at the Jerry Tarver Elocution, Rhetoric and Oratory Collection at Ohio State University [].   While in Columbus, she examined the programs of African American poet Paul Lawrence Dunbar, whose works were frequently performed with music, at the Ohio Historical Society [].  Wilson Kimber also traveled to the Tennessee State Library and Archives in Nashville to see the papers of Kitty Cheatham (1865-1946), a performer known for her children’s concerts and renditions of spirituals.

In July, Wilson Kimber also presented “Music on the Rappahannock: Women, Accompanied Recitation, and Sentimentality on the Battlefield,” at the Third Biennial North American Conference on Nineteenth-Century Music, held at TCU in Fort Worth, Texas.  Her paper explored female elocutionists’ addition of sentimental musical accompaniments to poetry about soldiers and battle, making these texts appropriate for women on the platform.