Author: eaberndtmorris (page 3 of 6)

Two Works by Joyce Mekeel

Headshot of Mekeel

Mekeel, Harvard University, Radcliffe Archives, W367379.1

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.

Moveable Feast stage work instructions

Merritt Room, Ms. Coll. 104, Box 18

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.

Serena speaker and singer instructions

Merritt Room, Ms. Coll. 104, Box 2

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…”

Newspaper clipping with quote.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.”

Newspaper clipping stating women can't compose.

In the same article he writes of Serena, “…Mekeel was powerful and simple in effect though intricately designed.”

newspaper clipping with praise quote

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.

Newspaper clipping withe previous quote

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.

Two exhibit cases containing Mekeel materials.

Exhibit cases from the 2019 exhibition from the Joyce Mekeel collection.


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.

Harvard Honors Jessye Norman

For this post we would like to celebrate honors received by Jessye Norman, who passed away in September 2019, starting with the honorary doctorate she received from Harvard in June, 1988. This was one of many honorary doctorates she received during her lifetime. At this time in Harvard-Radcliffe history, Radcliffe College was still awarding degrees to female students, as it was the female coordinate institution for the all-male Harvard College. Although an agreement was signed to combine admissions offices in 1977, a full absorption of Radcliffe College into Harvard University did not happen until 1999.

This photograph of Jessye Norman was taken during the convocation events.

Jessye Norman looking at the camera during convocation

Standing in the center of the following photograph is Oscar Arias Sánchez, President of Costa Rica, the recipient of the other honorary doctorate given that year.

Eight people psing for picture, including Jessye Norman

In 1997, Norman received the Radcliffe Medal, given annually to individuals whose lives and work have had a transformative impact on society. It was given to Norman at the Radcliffe Annual Alumnae Association Luncheon. An audiocassette of the luncheon is available by appointment only in the Schlesinger Library. Also bestowed the honor was musician Lena Horne, a recipient in 1987.  

Harvard wasn’t finished giving Norman awards. In 2016, she was awarded the W.E.B Dubois Medal honoring those who have made significant contributions to African and African American History and Culture. The award was presented at the Hutchins Center for African and African American Research W.E.B. Du Bois Medal Ceremony at Harvard University, available on YouTube. As part of the ceremony, Ingrid Monson, Quincy Jones Professor of African-American Music at Harvard, read a passage about the power and necessity of music, from W.E.B. Du Bois “The Sorrow Songs” from his seminal work The Souls of Black Folk. Lana MC Lyte’ Moorer, an acclaimed female hip-hop musician, was also presented the award in the same year for her contribution to music.

These photos, along with photos of the luncheon, are held at the Radcliffe College Archives at the Schlesinger Library and are available upon request. Photographs used with permission from the Schlesinger Library.

Radcliffe Medal Recipients

Harvard Honorary Degree Recipients

W.E.B. Du Bois Medal Recipients

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