A new work by composer Samantha Boshnack – inspired by the life of daredevil, feminist, journalist & iconoclast Nellie Bly (1864 – 1922).
Listen to live recordings of three movements from the premiere below.
Expositions – This movement is about looking at Nellie’s fiery and spirited, yet persistent and intelligent personality. I have incorporated Bly quotes as lyrics here – “Energy rightly applied can accomplish anything.” At the age of 20 she responded to an extremely misogynistic article entitled ‘What Girls Are Good For’ in the Pittsburgh Dispatch. This letter impressed the editor and he requested in his column for the writer to come forward. The next day she showed up in person at the newspaper’s office and managed to push her way into a career in journalism. Her only education had been one term of boarding school. Bly went to on to be regarded by her contemporaries as “the best reporter in America.” In one of her stories Bly defined a “true woman” as- “Innocent, unaffected and frank.” These were definitely three virtues she liked to project- she committed her life to causes she believed were important even though those around her were constantly trying to “put her in her place” and make her cover topics deemed more suitable for her gender.
After One is In Trouble – this movement is about Nellie Bly’s Madhouse exposé. In 1887, Bly had talked her way into the office of Joseph Pulitzer’s newspaper, The New York World, and took an undercover assignment for which she feigned insanity and investigated reports of brutality and neglect at the Women’s Lunatic Asylum on Blackwell’s Island. She was committed there for 10 days, experiencing atrocious conditions and putting herself in grave danger. Her reports (which were later published in book form) brought her lasting fame and caused major changes in how the City of New York cared for and diagnosed insanity. When she described her attempts to get committed she said – “It is only after one is in trouble that one realizes how little sympathy and kindness there are in the world.” She began her “lunatic” role-playing at a working class boarding house. Only one woman cared about her and tried to help her. After just one night, the police were summoned to take her away to the courthouse. The judge had her examined by several doctors, who all declared her to be insane.
72 Days – is based on Nellie Bly’s book Around the World in Seventy-Two Days, in which she set out on a race around the world to beat Jules Verne’s fictional record, while the whole world watched and cheered her on. The idea for this story was hers, but she had to fight hard to make it happen because her editors did not believe it could be done. The two telling quotes I extracted from her book are – “It’s only a matter of 28,000 miles… I shall be back again” and “I would rather go in dead and successful than alive and behind time.” Once again we see Nellie being unaffected by the immense task before her and with an absolute conviction that she would succeed. The two methods of transport available to her were railroad and steamship – I have incorporated the rhythmic elements of these modes into the music as well.
All pieces performed by The Sam Boshnack Quintet featuring Samantha Boshnack (trumpet/voice), Beth Fleenor (clarinets/voice), Dawn Clement (piano/keyboard/voice), Isaac Castillo (bass/voice) and Max Wood (drums)
> Words from the Press on the Nellie Bly Project
Recording by Robb Kunz
Quintet photo by Bruce Tom