This is what I further discovered when I began to compare the life of Amy Beach with my own life. It was easier to get at some of those universal truths once I laid our lives out side by side. For instance, in reflecting on the “powerful” music that Amy Beach wrote and was at once lauded and criticized for, I found myself also reflecting on the pressure to be powerful that I experienced in art school. The comparison and contrasting of our lives allowed me to open this book to an expanded potential for addressing larger issues of feminism, the social construction of art and artists’ lives and work, the experiences of artists and writers, and the social and cultural roles of art and music.

As historian Edward Carr once wrote: “Great history is written precisely when the historian’s vision of the past is illuminated by insights into the problems of the present.” Nation writer Richard White added, “The trick, of course, is not simply to impose the present onto the past but to use the problems of the present to explain and create sympathy and understanding for people in the past." I would add that by seeing the past honestly through the eyes of our present, we can also explain, and create sympathy for and understanding of, our present day selves and our contemporaries.I have held a mirror to Amy Beach and gained insights into myself and my world. Likewise, the mirror that this writing has compelled me to hold up to myself has allowed me to see and understand Amy Beach and her world in a more human light than the facts that her biographical timeline or the accolades afforded her by other admirers would ever have allowed. I pulled Amy Beach, first noted American woman composer, from her pedestal and I found her to be a real life role model, not a superwoman, but a heroine capable of being understood and emulated for all her achievements – and for her ability to persevere despite her human flaws and the flaws of her world.

Last month one of my college “Message Making” students brought to class a role model message poster on which he was working. He was struggling with a decision as to which famous movie star or athlete he should use to inspire the teen poster viewers he was targeting with his message, using a persuasive method I had taught him called “transfer.” I wondered aloud if his transfer hero had to be a famous star? The next week he decided to use the image of his algebra teacher – a man he admires who does volunteer work and mentors young men. Once we accept that our heroes can be flawed, and human, we are only a step away from seeing that heroes are plentiful walking amongst us. Amy Beach taught me that. I hope I am able to pass the message along.