East Wing Songs Volume 1
five songs for mezzo and piano
I. My Dear, Madam (Martha Dandridge Washington)
II. Relict (Margaret Smith Taylor)
III. Lady of the White House (Frances Folsom Cleveland)
IV. Blue Slippers (Ida Saxton McKinley)
V. Caregivers (Rosalynn Smith Carter)
- YEAR: 2022
- TEXTS: Martha Washington (from personal correspondence); Leanna Kirchoff (Margaret Taylor, Ida McKinley, Rosalynn Carter texts); E.G. Dunnell (Frances Cleveland text)
- DURATION: 25-30 minutes (entire Volume 1)
- COMMISSIONED BY: Ann Marie Wilcox-Daehn and Elizabeth Avery
- THEMES: First Ladies, Presidents of the United States, “Hail, Columbia” theme, Presidential pets, military wife, duty, grief, overcoming health limitations, faith in God, caregiving
(Kirchoff’s songs begin at 42:00)
My Dear, Madam: Martha Dandridge Washington
(Adapted from a letter
from Martha Washington to Mercy Otis Warren)
New York, December the 26th, 1789
My Dear, Madam
Your very friendly letter of the 27th of last month has afforded me much more satisfaction than all the formal compliments and empty ceremonies of mere etiquette could possably* have done. I am only fond of what comes from the heart. Under a conviction that the demonstrations of respect and affection which have been made to the President originate from that source. I can’t deny that I have taken pleasure in them. The difficulties which presented themselves to view upon his first entering upon the Presidency, seem thus to be in some measure surmounted: It is owing to this kindness of our numerous friends that my new and unwished for situation is not indeed a burden to me.
When I was much younger I should have enjoyed the inoscent* gayeties of life as much as most my age; but I had long since placed all the prospects of my future worldly happyness* in the still enjoyments of the fireside at Mt. Vernon. I little thought when the war was finished, that any circumstance could possible* have happened which would call the General into public life again. We should have been left to grow old in solitude and tranquility togather*: that was, my Dear madam, the first and dearest wish of my heart; but in that I have been disappointed* yet I cannot blame him for having acted according to his ideas of duty in obaying* the voice of his country.
With respect to myself I sometimes think the arrangement is not quite as it ought to have been that I who had much rather be at home should occupy a place with which a great many younger and gayer women would be prodigiously pleased. I do not say this because I feel dissatisfied with my present station – no, God forbid: for everybody and everything conspire to make me as contented as possable* in it; I am still determined to be cheerful and happy in whatever situation I may be, for I have learnt from experianence* that the greater part of our happiness or misary* depends upon our dispositions, and not upon our circumstances; we carry the seeds of the one, or the other about with us, in our minds, wherever we go.
The President’s health is quite reestablished by his late journey – mine is much better than it used to be. We should rejoice to see you both. I wish the best of Heavens blessings, and am my dear madam with esteem and regard your friend and
(*misspellings appear in Martha’s original letter)
Relict: Margaret Smith Taylor
(libretto by Leanna Kirchoff)
Just one photograph of me,
No letters remain.
My signature is the most rare of all First Ladies.
A single-line obituary:
August 17, 1852.
Mrs. General Taylor, relict of the late President,
died at East Pascagoula, on Saturday night.
…Teach us to number our days;
that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom.
(from the Order of the Burial of the Dead, the Book of Common Prayer, 1789 edition)
Zachary calls me, “Peggy” and
“As much of a soldier as [he].”
Lonely years as an army wife,
save for his company,
letters from the children,
feeding the chickens,
tending the gardens, and
faith in God’s infinite goodness.
I believe in one God,
The Father Almighty,
Maker of Heaven and Earth,
And of all things visible and invisible:
(from the Nicene Creed, the Order for Daily Morning Prayer, Book of Common Prayer, 1789 edition)
I vow to forsake fashion and society
in exchange for Zachary’s safety.
Would that the Presidency fall to someone else,
I pray so fervently.
It will certainly shorten his life.
July 9, 1850.
Dead at age 65.
The evening of his funeral
I leave the White House.
My calling is not to public life,
but to quiet, steadfast presence,
I have a face
I have a name:
Margaret Smith Taylor,
visible to those I love,
and in prayer,
visible to God.
Lady Of The White House: Frances Folsom Cleveland
When historians of the future write of the “Ladies of the White House” they will have a bright page for Mrs. Frances Folsom Cleveland. In not one of all the wives of Presidents have the whole people manifested more interest than they do in the present “Lady of the White House.”
At her wedding, she captivated everyone who saw her. Her youth, beauty, grace, and unaffected cordiality were irresistible. Every visitor to Washington acknowledges it: the most grievous disappointment to go away without having caught a glimpse of her.
Mrs. Cleveland when at home are receives her guests in the Red Parlor with a charming welcome, unconstrained yet dignified. She talks freely and frankly about most subjects. Touch politics, and she laughingly diverts the conversation to books, or people, or perhaps to the drama, for she confesses to a liking for the theatre so strong that she is sure she must curb it.
If Mrs. Cleveland has opportunity she reads. She gets from three to five new volumes a day. Much to her regret, for she finds that her German is slipping away from her, and she makes no headway with her French.
The morning brings to her a mountain of letters that has been constantly growing, more than she can take time to open; most of them contain requests for scraps of her wedding dress; or from distressed women anxious for a loan. Of applications for autographs and photographs there is no end.
Lady of the White House
Eager curiosity draws crowds to see her. When she goes shopping she passes from her carriage to a shop door between two lines of scrutinizing eyes. For the freedom of the thing she walks with one of her visiting friends, and a great brown-and-white St. Bernard…called Kay.
She gives a little time each day to her pets—for she has others besides Kay. Hector, the French poodle, a canary, a pretty Angora cat, and a parrot have learned to expect her caresses.
The after-dinner hours are usually quiet and restful, and occasionally a little good tobacco smoke from the President’s cigar hangs in the air.
When other generations shall come to look at the portraits of the wives of other Presidents, they will dwell with peculiar interest upon the life of Mrs. Cleveland, and to speak of her as the youngest of women to occupy the place. They may see her portrait, but they will miss the gleam of the eye, the animated smile, that make her fascinating, and which no camera or brush can faithfully transmit.
Lady of the White House.
(adapted from Elbridge Dunnell’s article in the Epoch. Washington, December 20, 1887.)
Blue Slippers: Ida Saxson McKinley
“I am waiting, and my hands must have something to do.”
white for the pure,
blue for the loyal,
grey for the wise,
black for the pessimistic
yellow for those I scorn.
“…a day we will all remember…
…an excursion up Montanvert, 6,302 feet…
…we did it in six hours and a half
…I walked, hanging on to the mule’s tail…”
This picture of the Major I keep in my knitting basket.
“I am never idle and this is a great incentive to work.”
“I always forget that I cannot walk until someone reminds me of
My husband’s right arm has so taken the place of my foot
that I have never been deprived of any enjoyment in life because
of my lameness.” 
Two black steeds carry me to the cemetery everyday.
My heart is there with my angels,
and now, the Major.
I insist that there are always fresh blooms on their graves.
Never yellow ones.
If anyone wishes to have a pair of slippers, tell me soon.
“My supply has almost run out…”
(text adaptation by Leanna Kirchoff)
 from Murat Halstead, interview
published in the Ladies Home Journal, September 1902
 (adapted from I Would Live It Again, Julia Foraker, p. 261)
 (from a letter written from Pauline Robinson to Anna Foster
Robinson, May 8, 1899)
 Ida McKinley : The Turn-of-the-Century First Lady Through
War, Assassination, and Secret Disability, Carl Sferrazza Anthony,
chapter 3 Birth and Death, p. 26)
 (from an letter to Caro Dawes, April 27, 1907)
Caregivers: Rosalynn Carter
(libretto by Leanna Kirchoff)
Every one of us.
or in past days,
or in the days ahead?
behind closed doors,
behind the scenes of life,
There are times
when the burden
when duty turns
as courageous as
as devoted as
the fans that watch football
on Saturday afternoon,
as humble as
saying a prayer.
Your hearts and hands
Your strength must come
in often unspoken
a deep expression
of your love.
People who care for other people
What we all are called to be.
I am grateful
for all of those
who are caregivers
(by Ann Marie Wilcox-Daehn)
Classical song literature has often presented women as they relate to men. This is not an issue exclusive to music, but has been discussed energetically in theatre, cinema, and literature as well. The same may be said of the First Ladies of our nation. East Wing Songs seeks to humanize the first ladies of the United States through song and to use music to share their stories and memorialize their achievements and challenges as women.
We were inspired by Jake Heggie and Gene Scheer’s Iconic Legacies: First Ladies at the Smithsonian and began the project to provide song for the other amazing women often overlooked historically. In our first volume of songs, we’ve asked composer Leanna Kirchoff to select women that span time, age, political party, and approach to their role within the White House. Texts have been adapted from primary sources when possible, including letters, speeches, biographies, interviews, and diaries. For women who were more reclusive, or destroyed their correspondence and personal effects, we have created a “historical fiction” dialogue as the text based on what we know from first-hand accounts of the women as witnessed by their families, friends, president spouses, and the staff of the White House.
Volume I will include songs for Martha Dandridge Washington, Margaret Smith Taylor, Frances Folsom Cleveland, Ida Saxton McKinley, and Rosalynn Smith Carter and have its world premiere in collaboration with the First Ladies National Historic Site and Library in Canton Ohio. Our lecture recital for 2022 will include the Heggie set as well as a lecture recital format in the presentation of the East Wing Songs. The performers, Ann Marie Wilcox-Daehn and Elizabeth Avery are long-time collaborators committed to sharing interesting art song, collaborating with living composers, and creating art that educates and inspires. Volume II will be composed by Linda Lister and will premier in the Spring of 2023.
October 14, 2022
Ann Marie Wilcox-Daehn, mezzo and Elizabeth Avery, piano
In collaboration with the First Ladies National Historic Site and Library