She was an amateur music composer that lived in Wooster, Ohio from the time she married Professor J. Milton Vance in 1906 until her death on June 14, 1940. Thanks to donor, Pauline Browne, the compositions of Elizabeth W. Vance were preserved when she donated a copy of the Musical Compositions of Elizabeth Wood Vance, a 60-page song book published by her husband in 1942 as a tribute to his wife after her death. According to her husband,
“she wrote nothing pretentious, but rather chose to compose simple melodies and songs for her own pleasure and the enjoyment of her friends.”
To label her as an “amateur” may not be a fair assessment of her skill as a musician and composer during her time period as she devoted the majority of her life to the study and performance of music. Born in Marshall, Michigan in 1874 to Reverend Francis Wood and his wife Martha, Elizabeth’s musical talents became apparent as child. She was given private lessons on the organ and piano and was performing piano recitals by an early age. She graduated from Public School in Fargo, North Dakota and went on to graduate from Lake Forest College in Illinois in 1899. At Lake Forest she organized, directed, and sang in the College Girls Sextette.The seven years following college she spent studying and teaching music both in the United States and abroad. She studied vocal music under Dr. Bartlett in Des Moines, Iowa from 1899 to 1901. Then traveled to Wellington, South Africa with her parents to visit her brother who was teaching in the Missionary Training Institute. During her stay in South Africa she was hired to teach vocal music at Huguenot College where she remained until 1904. After which she travelled to Germany to study in Munich under Karl Drecshel and spent months attending song recitals and observing the program techniques of the leading singers of that time period. Early in 1905 she went to Paris, France for training under Emil Bourgeois, who was coach of the Opera Comique. In the summer of 1905 she returned to the United States to teach music at Brunot Hall, a Protestant School for Girls, in Spokane, Washington where she remained until accepting the marriage proposal of J. Milton Vance and moved to Wooster, Ohio in 1906 after their marriage. Furthermore, during 1917-1918 she studied harmony and counterpoint at Columbia University in New York.
The majority of Elizabeth Vance’s musical compositions were written for singers, as vocal music and training singers was her specialty. However, she did write a handful of instrumental compositions meant to be played on a piano. These instrumental compositions, as published in the song book, were given to area pianist, Tom Gregory, who graciously agreed to play the music and have his performance recorded so this music, which has not been heard for at least 75 years, could be heard and enjoyed again. Click the “play” button below and hear some Wayne County songs of yesteryear.
While the majority of the instrumental compositions she wrote had no date as to when they were written, one piece entitled, “On the Boozi River”, was noted in the Appendix as having been written in her cabin on the boat, S.S. City of York, immediately after Mrs. Vance heard a native African playing the melody on a native instrument in April or May of 1918 at the mouth of the Boozi (Buzi) river, which is in the modern day Republic of Mozambique. She and her husband were traveling from America via South Africa to Palestine as members of the American Red Cross Commission to help with relief work during World War 1 in Jerusalem, Beirut, and Aleppo and traveled around Africa because the Mediterranean was too unsafe to cross during the War.
Special thanks to the First Presbyterian Church in Wooster, Ohio for allowing us to use their grand piano to showcase this music. Below, you might also like to view the YouTube video the historical society created about the Musical Compositions of Elizabeth Wood Vance.