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Life Arts

Uppity Women in History/Herstory: Interview with Author Vicki Leon

By   Follow Me on Twitter     Message Meryl Ann Butler     Permalink
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Fast forward twenty years: it's now 1998, and I'm doing research for my third Uppity Women book on the Renaissance period. Busy, hunting for women in the arts, in a reference on Ren composers, I run across an enigmatic sentence or two about Vivaldi and some female pupils of his.

As I dig deeper, I get more astonished; Vivaldi spent 30 years in Venice, composing, conducting and teaching. Nothing unusual there -- but! many of the works he composed -- including "The Four Seasons" -- were written for young girls.

I'm baffled; and dig further. As the facts unfold, it touches me to learn that in the 1600s and 1700s, Venice had big-city problems, the same kind our world has: unwanted pregnancies and even more unwanted children, mostly girls.

At some point, the bigwigs that ran Venice thought of a visionary solution. They built four huge ospedali or orphanages. These weren't bleak, Dickensian workhouses, either. They were training grounds, with classical music programs run by musicians the caliber of"Vivaldi! He worked at the Ospedali de la Pieta, teaching violin, flute, guitar, and voice lessons to girls from nursery-school age on up. (Girls who couldn't carry a tune in a bucket were taught other useful skills, as were orphan boys.)

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Each of the Ospedali put on regular programs for the public, the revenues going to support the orphanages. These spectacular performances became famous around Europe -- and visitors fought to get tickets.

Now, each time I hear or play Vivaldi, his music gains depth and poignancy, realizing that much of it was written for the tender voices and young fingers of talented girls, who were given a chance in a harsh world.

A writer's life is strange and interesting, isn't it? I write a travel book to the strains of "Four Seasons" -- and two decades later, I find that the music that gave me inspiration was played by girls, 300 years ago. Knowing the story behind the story now lets me "return the favor." I can bring these talented youngsters into the spotlight again -- through my books.

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Catherine the Great by Fyodor Rokotov (det. 1763) col. Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow
(Image by Public domain via wiki)
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MAB: Wow, what a great story, Vicki! And you might say you are not a prizewinning author, but you certainly get a prize from me for inspiring me for almost two decades! The fun part about interviewing a storyteller is that the responses are always so fascinating, and yours are stunning! I also love listening to Vivaldi's "Four Seasons" specifically to enhance creativity, and of course it is well known for producing the Mozart Effect (although I can imagine his chagrin since it was not labeled the Vivaldi Effect!)

I love the problem-solving aspect of the Ospedali story that you shared - poiticians today could learn a lot from that example of a "win-win" model!

To close, can you share one of the stories of an "uppity woman" from your new book so our readers can get a delicious taste of what to expect?

Self -portrait, Sofonisba Anguissola, 1556. Col. Lancut Palace, Poland.
(Image by Public domain via wiki)
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VL: Sure, here's one:

England's First Avon Lady

A career woman with calves of iron, Joan Dant pioneered the door-to-door sales pitch in 17th Century England. Her peddler prowess became famous in London and environs, where working conditions included grouchy dogs, no sidewalks, filthy cobble-stones, and flying chamberpots."

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Meryl Ann Butler is an artist, author, educator and OpedNews Managing Editor who has been actively engaged in utilizing the arts as stepping-stones toward joy-filled wellbeing since she was a hippie. She began writing for OpEdNews in Feb, 2004. She became a Senior Editor in August 2012 and Managing Editor in January, (more...)

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