As a young teen growing up on the east coast, I was fortunate to be able to spend two summers at the Peabody Conservatory Junior music camp in northern Vermont. This was a 7-week adventure with 29 other teens in the rambling home on the grounds of the Lyndon State Teachers College. My days were filled with musicianship training, creative musical composition and lots of modern dance inspired by the great Martha Graham, since the founder’s two daughters both worked and studied with Graham in New York City.
Each Saturday, we would climb one of the beautiful mountains of northern New England, starting with something modest and, weather-permitting, hike to the top of Mt. Washington on our final weekend!
I credit those music-filled summers with my inspiration to study choral music in college and graduate school. American composer Ron Nelson was our composer-in-residence, and I still remember singing his Three Mountain Ballads under his direction. Many years later in 2010, Jill and I programmed two of them on our premiere concert, joining our voices with the girls of the Central Coast Youth Chorus directed by Melody Svennungsen. It was a joy for me to share those pieces that I had loved as a teenager.
As Canzona prepares to begin our 14th season, I view the summer months as my opportunity to dive into repertoire and once again become an adventurer! I try to discover something new each day, and revel in the abundance of resources available now, with women’s choirs from all over the world posting their musical selections online. I have my stack of index cards already piling up on my desk and can’t wait to share my ideas with Jill, recognizing that we might have enough set aside for the next 10 years of concerts! Rest assured that I do get outside, although mountain-climbing is not something I do regularly. I hope to see you at our fall concert on November 6th, and wish you a summer filled with your own adventures.
~Cricket Handler, Co-Artistic Director
American composer Emma Lou Diemer was born in Kansas City, MO and showed a great interest in composing music from a young age. She majored in composition at the Yale Music School and the Eastman School of Music, obtaining her Ph.D. in 1960. She was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship to study in Brussels, Belgium and spent two summers of composition study at the Berkshire Music Center. Throughout her career she has taught at several colleges, concertized extensively as a keyboard performer, received numerous awards and commissions, and published works for orchestra, chamber ensemble, keyboard, choir and solo voice.
In 1971, she moved from the east coast to teach composition and theory at the University of California, Santa Barbara where she was instrumental in founding the electronic-computer music program. In 1991 she became Professor Emeritus from USCB while she was service as composer-in-residence for the Santa Barbara Symphony.
We will be performing Hope is the thing with feathers by Emma Lou Diemer at our upcoming concert on May 15th!
Elizabeth Alexander spent her early years in the Carolinas, “where my mom taught me to play the piano and my dad taught me the beauty of a well-told story”. She attended The College of Wooster, and later received her doctorate in music composition from Cornell University. While her many commissions have included works for orchestras, chamber ensembles, and solo voices, she is best known for her choral pieces which have been performed by thousands of choruses worldwide. She has received numerous grants, awards and fellowships during her career.
Her acclaimed text settings of both original lyrics and the words of others prompted Choral Director Magazine to write that “her mastery of prosody and declamation results in a marriage between music and text that is dynamic and indelible.
A special feature of Elizabeth’s website is the section titled “Composerly Thoughts” – a title that grew out of a conversation with her composition professor Steven Stucky at Cornell. Reading her postings are a wonderful way to glimpse her creative process – here’s the link! https://www.elizabethalexander.com/category/all/ Her current project is a music theater work entitled Split Hickory reflecting the past hundred years of folk, country and Americana music.
It is not possible to highlight just one woman from the Eto family, as it is a story of collective contribution with a strong commitment to culture, family, education and community.
The story begins in 1908 when Take Yanagihara first stepped onto US soil and married family friend, Tameji Eto. The couple eventually settled in the Los Osos Valley where they worked side-by-side to create a successful farming business and raise eight children.
Take was fiercely dedicated to her family and, like many immigrant parents, was prepared to make whatever sacrifices were necessary to put her children on a path to success. She worked in the fields, keeping her young children close by her side. She cooked for the farm staff, helped new arrivals settle into the community, and was active in the Buddhist church. Although there were laws that kept them from becoming citizens or owning land in California, the Eto family stayed focused on its dreams.
Six of the children attended Sunnyside Elementary School in Los Osos. Daughters Kozy and Suzy studied music and performed recitals at the San Luis Obispo Conservatory of Music and Art. Daughter Toshiko graduated from the Stanford University nursing school. Four daughters attended Mills College in Oakland, including Grace, who achieved her life-long dream, and graduated at the age of 74.
Their lives changed dramatically on December 7, 1941. As a community leader, father Tameji, was interned without charge and separated from the family for two years. Family members were forcibly removed from their homes, incarcerated, and exiled to other remote parts of the country. Toshiko volunteered to serve with the medical team at the Manzanar incarceration camp in the California Owens Valley. Her mother, brother and his family, and two younger sisters later joined her there. Following the war, however, all rebuilt their lives, drawing upon the resilience and determination Take and Tameji exemplified.
The family has been honored and documented in many ways. A remarkable children’s book, Music for Alice, by award-winning author and illustrator, Alan Say, has been written about Alice Eto Sumida and her husband. Toshiko’s son, Samuel Nakamura, published his mother’s memoirs titled Nurse of Manzanar. Susy Eto Bauman was featured in the documentary, Lives Well Lived, in which forty seniors share their philosophies on life. In her fascinating book, Bend with the Wind, Naomi Shibata describes the life and family of her mother, Grace Eto Shibata. The entire Eto family was also honored in the dedication of Eto Park, 170 Brook Street (once named Eto Street) in San Luis Obispo.
𝐅𝐚𝐧𝐧𝐲 𝐌𝐞𝐧𝐝𝐞𝐥𝐬𝐬𝐨𝐡𝐧 𝐇𝐞𝐧𝐬𝐞𝐥 (1805-1847), a prolific composer, shared a great love and talent for music with her brother, Felix Mendelssohn. At twelve years old, Fanny demonstrated the remarkable accomplishment of performing twenty-four preludes from J. S. Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier from memory before a private audience. Eventually her expertise at the piano surpassed even her brother's talent, however social limitations did not allow her to share her talents openly with the world.
Because of her gender, Fanny was afforded very little recognition for her work at the time. Many of her works were published after her death, some of which were published under her brother's name.
Now we are thrilled to recognize and celebrate this notable woman. 𝐅𝐚𝐧𝐧𝐲 composed the song Wandl’ ich in dem Wald des Abends, a piece we will perform at our Women of Note concert on May 15th!
Let's get to know 𝐉𝐨𝐲 𝐇𝐚𝐫𝐣𝐨, internationally renowned performer and writer of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation. Joy is the first Native American named Poet Laureate of the United States.
Joy focuses on First Nation storytelling and histories, as well as feminist and social justice poetic traditions, and frequently incorporates indigenous myths, symbols, and values into her writing. Her work is also deeply concerned with politics, tradition, remembrance, and the transformational aspects of poetry.
In February 2022, Joy was named the Bob Dylan Center’s first artist-in-residence and will spend six years presenting educational programs and live performances at the new center in Tulsa.
Joy wrote “Eagle Poem” which serves as the text for Joan Szymko’s Eagle Rounding Out the Morning, a piece we are delighted to perform for you in May!
Rosario Cooper is recognized as the last speaker of the tiłhini language, the language of the Northern Chumash people who lived for thousands of years in the general region now referred to as San Luis Obispo County.
Working with linguist and ethnographer John P. Harrington between the years of 1912 to 1917, Rosario Cooper revealed rich details about her family, extended kinships, events, places, daily activities and memories from her long life. These efforts saved her tribal language from almost certain extinction. Her contributions to Harrington’s studies are memorialized in more than ten thousand notes, now archived at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.
Recorded on wax cylinders, she sang beautiful traditional songs. Thanks to Rosario, the tiłhini language and songs are being spoken and sung by yak tityu tityu yak tiłhini Northern Chumash Tribe of San Luis Obispo County and Region, where many are direct descendants and relatives of Rosario Cooper.
They are bringing new life to the monumental work of their grandmother Rosario.
Though most people are familiar with the name of E.G. Lewis, founder of Atascadero, not as many know about his wife, Mabel Lewis.
Strong supporters of the women's right to vote, E.G. and Mabel Lewis owned and operated multiple publications suitable for women. Prior to moving to California, Mabel formed the American Women’s League, a way to unite multiple women's organizations to promote subscriptions to popular periodicals of that era. She was president of the League around the time they moved to Atascadero.
Recognized for her love of animals and gardening, Lewis devoted her time to the artistic side of planning and developing Atascadero in 1913.
According to Lon Allan’s book Atascadero: The vision of one – The work of many, she started her own zoo, housing deer, sheep, owls, raccoons and more behind her private residence, located where the Vons shopping center is today. “She had a petting zoo behind headquarters. Whatever the workers found as they were working in the Colony. They would find [the animals] and bring them to her to give them a home.”
"One of her crowning achievements," her obituary said, "was her founding the Atascadero Music Club, which had music lovers all over the county in membership."
With her love of beauty and community, Mabel Lewis left a treasured legacy of progress and advocacy for women's rights.
Follow our page to read more about inspirational women as we build up to our "Women of Note" concert on May 1, 2022!
Source: Mabel Lewis: Founder’s Wife Was a Lover of Animals & Gardening. Atascadero News. (2019, July 1). Retrieved February 1, 2022, from https://atascaderonews.com/atascadero-news-magazine/colony-people/mrs-e-g/
Did you know the homeless shelter on Orcutt Road in San Luis Obispo, CA was named after a resilient lady named Maxine Lewis?
Arriving in SLO county in 1959 with her husband and eight children, she went to work helping the elderly, infirm, and homeless in the community. In a Nov. 25, 1971, story, Lewis said: “As far back as I remember, I always wanted to work with people, to help people — especially children and old people.”
After a car accident rendered her unable to maintain her job as a nurse, Maxine overcame hurdles that would test the grit of a weaker person. One of her attempts to help an elderly woman with housework resulted in terrible racial slurs that cut deep. Despite the challenge, however, she was determined that there were people who would accept her offers of help.
In 1968, Maxine founded Grass Roots II, an assistance organization specializing educating people on their rights regarding better housing for lower-income people & housing for the poor. Child care centers, adult literacy classes and educational programs soon followed.
Maxine was named Citizen of the Year by Phi Delta Kappa for her outstanding service to schools and citizen of the month by the San Luis Obispo Chamber of Commerce for “humanistic and dynamic services to people in need.”
Her care and compassion for the community is summed up in this quote:
“We’re just trying to bring a little sunshine into someone’s life. Or just to let them know we care,” she said.
Follow our page to read more about inspirational women as we build up to our "Women of Note" concert on May 1, 2022!
Middlecamp, David. “The Story of Maxine Lewis, Who Strived ... - San Luis Obispo.” San Luis Obispo Tribune, 11 Dec. 2014,
𝐀𝐧𝐧𝐨𝐮𝐧𝐜𝐢𝐧𝐠 𝐨𝐮𝐫 𝐧𝐞𝐱𝐭 𝐜𝐨𝐧𝐜𝐞𝐫𝐭: 𝐌𝐚𝐲 𝟏, 𝟐𝟎𝟐𝟐
Women of Note is guaranteed to inspire and uplift our audience as Canzona weaves together stories of noteworthy and courageous women from near and far through music, poetry, and song. Join us for an evening concert commemorating and encouraging the study, observance and celebration of the vital role of women in history!