Grace Winchell (Hitt)

In comparison to Hattie Green (moved to, and then away from, Colorado) and Mary Boysen (never lived in Colorado), another of the composers whose work was published by the Tolbert Ingram Music Company was a woman who emigrated from Colorado to California.


The Longmont Ledger, August 29 1902

There are not many surviving records of Grace Ida Winchell's (1878?-1938) upbringing and education. Born in Pennsylvania, Winchell was the third of four children. Her father was a carpenter by trade. The family likely moved to Colorado between 1880 and 1900.

There are no known records of her siblings' musical training, nor of their respective careers. However, Winchell seems to have trained as a music teacher and found employment in her mid-twenties, as indicated by this newspaper announcement from the Longmont Ledger.

City directory records show that Winchell lived and worked in Denver between 1900 and 1909. Winchell was lauded in Fort Collins' Weekly Courier in 1901 for her piano composition, "Cupids' Frolic Waltzes," a suite of short dances.

It was also during this time that she published with the Tolbert Ingram Music Company. In 1907, Winchell sold Tolbert Ingram Music Company the rights to "Cupids' Frolic Waltzes," and the piece was promptly reprinted for its third edition.

While they are a bit of a tongue twister, the plural nouns in "Cupids' Frolic Waltzes" are not accidental. This composition is actually more like a short collection of dance music comprised of a series of styles and melodies set in triple time. Two historically intertwined genres are at play here: the dance suite, and the piano suite.

(In Baroque music, the dance suite was a sequence of dances that would have been performed in middle- and upper-class society; because this music was instrumental rather than vocal, it was a key part of the development of instrumental repertoire. Later, such works became a separate genre of music that retained dance meters and sequences, even as the dances themselves became antiquated and seldom performed. Cello suites, keyboard suites, and so on are the established ways to refer to pieces in this genre, although they are not used for dancing.)

Cupids' Frolic Waltzes 1, extract

Cupids' Frolic Waltzes, introduction and no. 1 (extract)

Cupids' Frolic Waltzes 2, extract

Cupids' Frolic Waltzes, no. 2 (extract)

In this series, a martial introduction leads into the first waltz, a quintessential dance with a simple melody and typical split-chord accompaniment that emphasizes the first beat of every measure by setting it in a significantly lower range. This style of left-hand accompaniment is retained throughout the entire suite, but the second waltz has a right-hand part that is more forward and showy. Starting with thicker texture and a higher range, this dance quickly develops into octave-permeated gestures, requiring good technique and accuracy for confident execution at the keyboard.

In contrast, the third waltz starts with a short and mild-mannered passage in a smaller range and an intermediate difficulty level. This is preparation for the untitled song that appears next. Using both a soloistic melody and a duet texture, the right-hand part carries the song text and might have guided a singer through this tune. This is the only texted passage in the whole composition.

Cupids' Frolic Waltzes 3, extract

Cupids' Frolic Waltzes, no. 3 (middle passage, extract)

Cupids' Frolic Waltzes 4, extract

Cupids' Frolic Waltzes, no. 4 (extract)

The fourth and last waltz is reminiscent of passages from the first waltz, with a little more virtuosity and showmanship. However, the coda incorporates gestures and textures from all the waltzes, hinting that, whether or not they were frequently danced to, these pieces were likely intended to be played in their sequential totality. This closing passage includes a dramatic ending that ascends to a peak, then tumbles nimbly to a low register before the final chords are sounded.

None of these waltzes is particularly difficult on its own, but in a cumulative progression, they add up to a composition that would have been challenging for intermediate pianists. Winchell's writing shows her knowledge of historical forms and instrumental genres, but also a keen ear for melody and a willingness to mix popular genres by including a song in the middle of this collection. In this sense, these waltzes are a culmination of popular music that contribute to the realm of private music-making.

Hitt-Winchell marriage certificate

State of Colorado marriage report, 1909

In 1909, Grace Winchell married Glenn Hitt, manager of a general store in Longmont. It seems that she gave up her job as a teacher that year, after teaching in Denver-area schools since 1902. (This would have been a normal enough progression for a woman marrying a businessman.) At some point in the 1910s, the Hitts moved to San Francisco, California. They occasionally returned to visit family in Colorado.

Extract- 1910 Census Denver CO

Colorado state census, Denver, 1910

Extract- 1920 Census San Francisco CA

California state census, San Francisco, 1920

Besides a publication from 1904, "Fascination," Winchell does not have any other publications with the Tolbert Ingram Music Company. While in California, she became a member of the National League of Pen Women and participated in its social and musical events; it is mentioned that she sometimes wrote music for performance, so we do know that Winchell continued to compose (likely under her married name as Mrs. Glenn Hitt). But just as the later works of Mary Boysen and Hattie Green are unknown to us without further research into the places that they later lived in, more research into California's music publishing industry is needed to learn about her work.

After Glenn Hitt's death in 1932, Winchell continued to be active as a branch president of the Society of Pen Women. Grace Winchell Hitt passed away on January 14th, 1938. An important figure for the musical and artistic society of women in California during the early twentieth century, she was remembered for her music and writing--work that she had started as a music teacher in Colorado.

The careers of women educators like Grace Winchell, Hattie Green, and Mary Boysen can illuminate a lot about the development of the music industry and the role of women in music education and American society at large. The Tolbert Ingram Music Company was one of many music publishers at this time, serving mostly the local communities in Colorado's growing towns.

Nonetheless, it fulfilled a different purpose with each of these women: for Boysen, it was a publishing opportunity far from New York; for Green, an immigrant to Colorado, it was a supplement to her experience as a teacher and performer before she left for other cities; for Winchell, this local publishing company supported her professional development before she became an active proponent for women in the performing arts.

But what is perhaps even more intriguing is the interstate travel and migration that is apparent from these three women's published works alone. There is much we can still learn about the routes, reasons, and opportunities that drew women like these to travel, settle, and move on as the United States became increasingly connected and developed during the eventful early twentieth century.

Grace Winchell