JMC Assistant Professor Leads Audio Production for Women’s Suffrage Documentary

From working as a touring and studio musician for artists like Donna Summer to recording and editing audio for a variety of broadcasts, assistant professor Scott Hallgren has led a wide-ranging musical career. Most recently, he was the musical composer and audio supervisor for a documentary about women’s suffrage that will air on more than 120 PBS News stations in March 2017.

The documentary, “Perfect 36: When Women Won the Vote,” will be broadcast in Ohio on various dates and times throughout March. It will air locally on WNEO on March 20 at 8:30 p.m. Check your local listing for more details. The 30-minute documentary shares the story of women’s suffrage and Tennessee’s crucial role in the passage of the 19th Amendment. Tennessee was the last state to vote either for or against women’s suffrage. Its vote that would determine the ratification of the amendment.

“The vote was decided, if it could be any more melodramatic, by one vote,” Hallgren said. “It was cast by a 20-something young man from a small town in Tennessee who was new to the legislature. His mother had given him a note to stick in his jacket pocket and because of his mother, he cast his vote ‘aye.’”

Hallgren began working on the documentary in the summer of 2016 after his colleague, Yoshie Lewis, whom he met while working on the 2013 Nashville Japanese Film Festival, invited him to produce the audio for the documentary.

“We thought this would timely because a woman was running for president,” Hallgren said. “And it’s still a timely issue with the right to vote and representation in America.”

Hallgren was responsible for arranging interviews, gathering an audio crew and composing music for the documentary.

“When we talked about the music, we talked about doing a lot of old material and the more we played with it, the less sense it made,” Hallgren said. “I ended up writing almost 20 minutes of music for this 24-minute documentary.”

Hallgren’s 20 minutes included two themes, one for the suffragists and one for the anti-suffragists, and a cakewalk song. Cakewalk is a style of music that preceded ragtime and Hallgren’s piece sounds “a little old and a little sloppy” but works well with the show. Listen to a medly of the three songs here.

For the suffragists’ theme, Hallgren wanted to musically communicate that women would earn the right to vote but such an accomplishment was not easy.

“I wanted to create something that was positive and sounded like it was for a cause but didn’t automatically come off as triumphant,” Hallgren said. “It’s not like we’re surprising anybody that women got the right to vote, but I wanted to musically say that this was a good and noble struggle but it was clearly a struggle.”

For the anti-suffragists, which Hallgren said included a surprising number of women, Hallgren created a theme that wasn’t dark or negative, but instead communicated the anti-suffragists’ fear.

“They didn’t want things to change,” Hallgren said. “Change is a scary thing and there were people who thought this was the wrong way to go; kind of like how people feel right now in American society.”

Hallgren and Lewis wrapped up production in October 2016 and said they look forward to “Perfect 36’s” premiere in March. 

POSTED: Tuesday, February 21, 2017 - 4:11pm
UPDATED: Friday, August 25, 2017 - 2:37pm
Haley Keding, '17