The Joyce Mekeel Collection of Musical Scores and Recordings, 1961-1996, which came to the Library by the composer in 1997, contains manuscript scores, compositional materials and incomplete works, correspondence, reviews, theory notebooks, biographical ephemera, and audio materials. From this collection we’ve chosen two pieces to highlight. One for its interesting instructional layout, another for its glowing reviews.
Mekeel’s 1973-74 site-specific work Moveable Feast describes how the three groups in the piece, Jazz Group, Old C, and Feast, are to play music and move their bodies. The collection contains a 1992 letter to an editor at Oxford University Press as a response to numerous questions, a cue sheet from a November 1973 performance at “Mass College” and a March 7, 1974 performance at New England Conservatory, of which NEC holds a recording.
The following year Mekeel completed a commission by Harvard’s Fromm Music Foundation of Serena, a piece for mezzo-soprano, speaker, and chamber ensemble. It premiered at Tanglewood during the annual Festival of Contemporary Music, which still continues to this day.
The work was positively reviewed by Donal Henahan, a candid opinion writer for the New York Times. He snarkily writes, “It doesn’t often happen that the newest piece on a concert program is also the best, but that is how it was last night at Tanglewood…”
He must have been truly impressed given he also states, “Otherwise, the concert offered the usual assortment of contemporary commonplaces and experimental failures, with an elderly additive to leaven the lump.” Extra kudos to Mekeel, given that Henahan also wrote a provocative piece for the New York Times titled “Let’s Hear It For Composer Persons,” where the first sentence reads, “Everyone knows women can’t compose.”
In the same article he writes of Serena, “…Mekeel was powerful and simple in effect though intricately designed.”
A later review of a 1977 performance held at the Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church in New York City was just as positive, stating “the most arresting item of the evening was Joyce Mekeel’s “Serena,” the sung and spoken duo.” The concert was titled “Hear America First,” and was a premiere for several new works by several composers.
In the spring of 2019, the Loeb Music Library held an exhibit, Toward the Source: Joyce Mekeel, curated by the Keeper of the Isham Memorial Library, Christina Linklater. We also have another Mekeel collection, The Joyce Mekeel Collection of Musical Scores in Graphic Notation, 1952-1969. The Mekeel Collections will be available for research by request in the Isham Memorial Library, which is located on the second floor of the Loeb Music Library, when the Library opens again post-pandemic.
Henahan, Donal. “Music: ‘Serena’ Catches the Imagination.” New York Times, Aug. 13, 1975.
Henahan, Donal. “Let’s Hear It For Composer Persons.” New York Times, Aug. 31, 1975.
Hughes, Allen. “Hear America.” New York Times, Apr. 14, 1977.