FSU Music Professor Details Life and Works of Composer Emma Lou Diemer in New Book
While pursuing her doctorate in musicology from the University of Missouri at Kansas City, Frostburg State University music professor Ellen Grolman Schlegel made a surprising discovery.
"I was shocked to find a large body of work that was not mentioned," she says, recalling the days of poring through textbooks as she explored the world of classical music. She soon discovered that the classical works of women composers were usually met with a deafening silence.
The cause, she surmises, is the inherently conservative nature of classical music.
Schlegel's discovery changed her life by propelling her into the study of women composers, which eventually lead to the publication of her recent book on Emma Lou Diemer, a gifted composer who resides in California. "Emma Lou Diemer: A Bio-Bibliography," is No. 84 in the highly regarded Greenwood Publishing Group series, "Bio-Bibliographies in Music."
The 304-page reference work consists of an extensive biography and detailed bibliography of Diemer's compositions with such details as date, duration, première date, performances, reviews and related writings. As Amazon.com's book description says, "This complete guide to her extensive work examines her influences and her unique musical style, reveals her philosophy of composing and offers the reader access to detailed information about her work."
Schlegel points to Diemer's impressive body of work, a total of more than 350 compositions to date, that Schlegel says span all genres except opera. Many of Diemer's works for chorus and keyboard, especially organ, have become part of the standard repertoire.
"Her goal is to communicate musically," Schlegel says. Referring to Diemer's somewhat unusual commitment to write music for different levels of ability, Schlegel adds, "It is more difficult to write accessible music for less proficient players that is good." Diemer, an excellent keyboard performer, served for about 20 years as a church organist.
Schlegel attributes Diemer's committment to her studies with contemporary composer Paul Hindemith, an advocate of Gebrauchmusik, "music for use," through which he sought to establish closer contacts between the composer and the public by creating works to be performed by school groups and amateurs. Schlegel also cites Diemer's two years during the early 1960s as a composer-in-residence in the Arlington, Va., schools, where she wrote for a variety of ensembles and interacted with students. Diemer has continued to compose for school ensembles.
According to Schlegel, Diemer's works are "motoric and driven," with a strong and vital rhythm that creates an energetic feeling. Diemer uses traditional structures but incorporates contemporary harmonies that are not always tonal.
To immerse herself in the world of Emma, Schlegel took a sabbatical in 2000. She found the Internet invaluable for contacting colleagues, exploring library holdings and unearthing a wealth of information. She also took the opportunity to visit Diemer in California, whom she describes as "unassuming, quiet, modest…a gentle soul uncomfortable tooting her own horn."
Born in 1927, Diemer, a Kansas City native, knew by about age 15 that she wanted to become a composer. She earned bachelor's and master's degrees in music at the Yale School of Music with Hindemith and a doctorate from the Eastman School of Music. After 20 years teaching at the University of California in Santa Barbara, where she now holds emerita status, Diemer remains active in the music world. Now in her 70s, she continues to compose, perform and lead workshops.
Schlegel's research and writing was a "tremendously pleasurable process." Her publisher has approached her about writing another book in its bio-bibliography series of composers.
Newly appointed chair of the FSU Department of Music, Schegel came to FSU in 1983.
Before that, she studied cello performance and music education at Ithaca College and the University of Massachusetts, taught cello for a year at a conservatory in Israel and played cello with the Wichita Symphony Orchestra. While in Wichita, she earned a master's degree in cello performance from Wichita State University. She was awarded a graduate assistantship to play in the resident string quartet as a doctoral candidate at the University of Missouri.
Locally, she is a member of the Chamberlain Trio and the Chamber Orchestra of the Alleghenies.
Now Schlegel looks forward to Diemer's upcoming visit to Frostburg State in September, when she will be on campus for an all-Diemer concert Schlegel describes as "a tribute to the composer." During the week before the concert, which is set for Sept. 22, Diemer will share her knowledge with students in music theory, composition and history classes. She will also offer a pre-concert lecture before the performance.
The concert's pièce-de-resistance is the world premiere of Diemer's "Trio for Piano, Violin and Cello," commissioned for FSU's resident ensemble, The Chamberlain Trio. Members include Schlegel on cello, Joan DeVee Dixon on piano and Laura Kobayshi on violin.
This past spring, Schlegel and DeVee Dixon premiered another work they commissioned from Diemer, entitled "Improvisations for Cello and Piano," at the Festival of Women Composers at Indiana University of Pennsylvania.
For more information on "Emma Lou Diemer: A Bio-Bibliography," contact Schlegel at (301) 687-4417. The book is available from Greenwood Press online at www.Greenwood.com or by phone at (800)-225-5800. Popular online book vendors such as Amazon.com are also accepting orders for this volume.
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