‘Battle for the Ballot’ at Cabrillo Festival Celebrates Women’s Voting Rights

Composer Stacy Garrop's world premiere 'The Battle for the Ballot' honors the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment. The work receives its world premiere as part of this year's Cabrillo Music Festival on Aug. 9. (Courtesy SnoStudios Photography)

One hundred years ago this August, after a bitter, decades-long struggle, women in the United States finally got the right to vote. (The 19th Amendment, however, only granted all women the right to vote on paper, and Black women wouldn’t fully be able to exercise it until the Voting Rights Act of 1965.)

The Cabrillo Festival, an annual event in Santa Cruz focused on live performances of new music by some of the world’s most adventurous composers, commissioned Bay Area native Stacy Garrop to write a symphonic work for orchestra and narrator to mark the occasion.

When Garrop originally conceived of The Battle for the Ballot, she planned to set only one text to music—excerpts from an 1872 speech by Susan B. Anthony arguing for women’s right to vote.

Garrop confessed that at the time she selected the text, she didn’t know about Anthony’s contentious record—how she and other white, middle- and upper-class suffragists excluded Black women from their movement and failed to extract racism from their march towards equality.

Cristian Macelaru conducts the Cabrillo Festival Orchestra. (Courtesy Cabrillo Festival)

“I knew about Susan B. Anthony's background a bit,” Garrop said in an interview with KQED. “But I hadn't dug deep enough to discover all the issues of involving her as the central figurehead for the suffragette movement.”

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After the murder of George Floyd and ensuing global protests, Garrop quickly came to the realization that she had to find other voices for her new work celebrating women’s triumph over a political system steeped in white supremacist ideology.

Now, The Battle for the Ballot features the words of seven key suffragists—four of them Black and three white—who led the national fight for the right to vote in the late 19th and early 20th centuries: Carrie Chapman Catt, Carrie W. Clifford, Jane Addams, Mary Church Terrell, Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, Adella Hunt Logan and (still) Susan B. Anthony.

“It took a while to get to this particular balance of these seven voices,” Garrop said. “But I feel like they all do have a very natural flow.”

Cabrillo Festival music director Cristian Macelaru will conduct the world premiere of The Battle for the Ballot on Sunday, Aug. 9. Things being what they are, it’ll be a virtual world premiere, with all 60 members of the Cabrillo Festival Orchestra recording their parts from their homes and sending them to be woven together into the final work.

Cabrillo Festival 2020 presents ‘The Battle for the Ballot’ on Sunday, Aug. 9. To find out how to view the free performance, go here.