'Voices In The Wilderness' Revives The Music Of First Female Composers In U.S. : Deceptive Cadence Women rarely received credit for their creative work in Colonial America. But with a new album, one scholar is reviving the works of the women who lived and composed at the Ephrata Cloister.
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A New Album Re-Creates The Work Of The 1st Known Female Composers In America

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A New Album Re-Creates The Work Of The 1st Known Female Composers In America

A New Album Re-Creates The Work Of The 1st Known Female Composers In America

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(SOUNDBITE OF UNIDENTIFIED SISTER FOBEN SONG)

UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS: (Singing in non-English language).

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The music you're hearing was written by one of the first known women composers in America. She was known as Sister Foben, and she lived at the Ephrata Cloister in Pennsylvania in the mid-1700s.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

This cloister was home to a radical religious commune that encouraged celibacy and creativity.

CHRISTOPHER HERBERT: These celibate orders of brothers and sisters, they don't have the responsibilities of working with children or having children. It opens up so much more time.

MARTIN: Christopher Herbert is an assistant professor of music at William Paterson University, and he has studied the cloister for years.

GREENE: He says the members were encouraged to create hymnals and to write music manuscripts as devotional tools. Herbert was digitizing these manuscripts when he made an exciting discovery.

HERBERT: I realized that there are names of different brothers and sisters, and they're written next to specific musical compositions.

MARTIN: He had found the names of the composers, and among them was Sister Foben along with two others, Sister Ketura and Sister Hanna.

HERBERT: So these three women are all in their 20s, writing music and they're receiving some sort of credit for their work. This is a complete anomaly in the colonies for women to be artistically credited for anything they did.

GREENE: After doing some more research, Herbert came to an even more thrilling conclusion. There is no way to prove this definitively, but he could not find any earlier compositions credited to American women.

HERBERT: These three women are most likely the first female composers in America.

MARTIN: Now Herbert is bringing their compositions to life on a new album.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS: (Singing in non-English language).

GREENE: The music you're hearing here was performed and recorded recently in the meeting house at the Ephrata Cloister, where Herbert says it would have been performed years ago.

HERBERT: To bring that music to life in the original space, that's an intangible excitement.

MARTIN: Herbert says the process of putting together this album was utterly inspiring.

HERBERT: There's nothing particularly complicated, but at the same time, that's why it is beautiful.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS: (Singing in non-English language).

MARTIN: The music of some of America's earliest known women composers brought to life after nearly 300 years.

GREENE: And it is going to be on an album, "Voices In The Wilderness," that is due out early next year.

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