Elsie M. Bennett passed away quietly the evening of September 3, 2005 having dedicated much of her very productive lifetime to the instrument she had chosen to champion - the accordion.

She started formal music studies at seven, attracted first to the piano, and three years later, to the accordion.

She began to teach accordion in her early teens and had already established a school by the time she reached 18. At this point, she decided to continue formal pursuit of her music education, attending the prestigious Ganapal Conservatory of Music in her native Detroit, followed by further study at Wayne University where she pursued a Bachelor's Degree in Music with Theory as her major.

In 1945, the newly wed college girl from Detroit, Elsie Bennett (nee Blum), arrived in Brooklyn, New York with her groom, Mortimer Bennett, to live in his family's home. She took courses in orchestration and composition at Columbia University where she finished her degree. At Columbia, she studied with contemporary composer Otto Luening who became a friend.

When Ms. Bennett decided to pursue her Master's Degree at the Columbia Teachers' College, she chose Accordion to be her major and was required to find a teacher of high musical standards. Charles Magnante was approached, but he had little interest in teaching and recommended his brother-in-law, Joseph Biviano, who accepted.

Consequently, Biviano was appointed the official accordion instructor at Columbia. (It is interesting to note that a Music Degree with Accordion as its major was offered at Columbia through Elsie Bennett's efforts, at about the same time the instrument was accepted as a fully accredited applied major at the University of Houston, in Texas, where the Accordion Department, which Bill Palmer and Bill Hughes initiated, was said to offer the first such program in the US, in 1946.)

Elsie's degree recital required that all major musical style periods be represented, including the twentieth century. Literature from Baroque, Classical and Romantic periods were readily available because accordionists had already transcribed and performed such works by Bach, Mozart, Mendelssohn and others.

In an interview with Ms. Bennett, Robert Young McMahan (who later succeeded her as Chair of the AAA's Composers Commissioning Committee) reported "Deiro's accordion concertos were also firmly representative of Romantic era music, though they were composed during this century. But the twentieth century was virtually devoid of any significant solo works by acclaimed, non-accordionist composers." Elsie Bennett discovered a number of ensemble works which included accordion, such as Hindemith's Kammermusik Nr. 1 and Virgil Thomson's curious opera Four Saints in Three Acts, as well as a brief moment in Berg's opera Wozzeck."

Nevertheless, Elsie had relatively few titles to choose from when she gave her recital and received her Master of Arts degree in 1946.

With her husband as business manager, she opened the Bennett Music Studios in Brooklyn that year and continued to operate the school up until her death, 59 years later. Accordion and piano study were emphasized, but most other instruments were also taught. Her abilities and achievements were noted by the local school systems which invited her to teach at several public and parochial schools in New York City and her native Detroit. She offered classes in theory, ear training, sight singing, harmony and music appreciation.

By doing so, Elsie's efforts helped persuade the NYC Board of Education to recognize music teachers who used the accordion, either as a major or minor instrument, for the performance requirement component of their city licenses.

It was her teacher at Columbia, Otto Luening, who recommended to Elsie that composers must be commissioned and paid to write for the accordion so that eventually a prestigious original repertoire would be developed. This was a task beyond the abilities of an individual. However, when she joined the AAA Board in 1953, Ms. Bennett recognized the opportunity to enlist this significant accordion organization and its following, in the quest for new and expanded accordion literature.

Thus, she helped to launch the AAA's Composers Commissioning Committee, which she chaired from its inception until retiring from the post in 2004. She was immediately voted Chairman Emeritus of "her" committee.

The American Accordionists' Association under her guidance funded and commissioned more than 50 works in a body of noteworthy literature. The prestigious array of composers Elsie enlisted reads like a "Who's Who" of contemporary giants of the twentieth century. Among the AAA commissions were works by (alphabetically) Robert Russell Bennett, Joseph Biviano, Henry Brant, Joel Brickman, Henry Cowell, Paul Creston, David Diamond, Nicholas Flagello, Lukas Foss, John Franceschino, Karen Fremar, Louis Gordon, Jose Halac, Ernst Krenek, Normand Lockwood, Otto Luening, Robert Young McMahan, Paul Pisk, Riegger Wallingford, William Schimmel, Elie Seigmeister, Jose Serebrier, William Grant Still, David Soldier, Carlos Surinach, Alexander Tcherepnin, Timothy Thompson, and Virgil Thomson. Full information at: http://www.ameraccord.com/aaacommissions.php

Elsie Bennett served as president of the American Accordionists' Association from 1973 to 1974. Among her other professional affiliations, she was a longtime member of A.S.C.A.P., as well as The Brooklyn Music Teachers' Guild, The Affiliated Accordionists of New York State, The Long Island Music Teachers Association and the Accordion Teachers Guild. For a number of years she edited the AAA Newsletter and archived the organization's publications.

A substantial number of songs, instrumental works and music books were written by Elsie during her long, productive career. Pietro Deiro Publications in New York City published her material and Pietro (Lee) Deiro, Jr. became a lifelong friend. She had a significant array of accordion memorabilia, painstakingly collected over the years, much of which she donated to A World of Accordions Museum, 1401 Belknap St., Superior, WI 54880. The museum is affiliated with the AAA and all donations --both money and collectibles -- are tax deductible.

She was a devotee of the theatre and attended Broadway or off-Broadway shows every week of the season. Often, she went back stage to personally meet the stars, obtain autographs and take photographs. Her Christmas letters to colleagues, friends and family were always chockfull of such pictures recording her celebrity encounters of the past year.

Elsie was an avid photographer, always shooting film at AAA functions and festivals which she attended religiously. She often sent copies of pictures with a note to those whom she photographed and asked them to return an enclosed card acknowledging receipt. Her photo records fill the archives of the organization.

In 2004, the Board of the American Accordionists' Association decided to honor Elsie Bennett by commissioning John Franceschina to write a piece titled "for Elsie." Virtuoso accordionist Peter Soave premiered the piece at AAA's 2005 festival in her hometown. Unfortunately, after years of attending every AAA festival, Elsie was too frail to be present at this special one. She died less than two months later. Surviving Elsie Bennett are her two sons, Ronald and Kenneth, their wives, children and grandchildren.

Memorial donations for Elsie Bennett should be sent to the AAA, earmarked for the Composers Commissioning Committee to sustain and enhance the very important work she initiated so many years ago. Donations are tax-deductible. Information at: http://www.ameraccord.com/aaacommissions1.php
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