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Gerald Carpenter: Music Club Spotlights Emma Lou Diemer Compositions

The next free concert by the Santa Barbara Music Club will celebrate the 90th birthday of one of its most illustrious members — the composer, educator and keyboardist, Emma Lou Diemer.

For reasons that will become apparent, the event will take place, not in the Central Library's Faulkner Gallery (the club's customary venue), but in Trinity Episcopal Church, 1500 State St., at 3 p.m. Saturday, Nov, 4. As noted, admission is free.

The program includes works by Diemer for piano, organ and violin, performed by violinist Phil Ficsor, pianists Tachell Gerbert and Bradley Gregory and Diemer herself on piano and organ:

"Travels Through Sound," for piano, performed by the composer; her "Suite for Violin and Piano" (2008) and "Aria (for St.Valentine’s Day)" (Phil Ficsor and Diemer).

Also, "Variations for Piano, Four Hands (Homage to Ravel, Schoenberg, and May Aufderheide)" (1987) (Tachell Gerbert and Bradley Gregory, pianists); and three pieces for organ: "Toccata for a Joyful Day," "Morning has Broken" and "Fiesta" (performed by Diemer).

The Music Club has provided a biography of the composer:

"A native of Kansas City, Missouri, Emma Lou Diemer received her degrees in music composition from the Yale School of Music (BM, MM) and the Eastman School of Music (PhD).

"She studied in Brussels on a Fulbright Fellowship and at Tanglewood. Her music has been published since 1957 and includes works for orchestra, band, chamber ensembles, solo instruments, voices, and electronic pieces.

"She has received annual ASCAP awards since 1962 for performances and publications.

"Other recognitions include a Louisville Orchestra Student Award, a Ford Foundation Young Composers Grant for a 2-year composer-residency in the Arlington, VA schools, an NEA fellowship in electronic music, a 1992 Kennedy Center Friedheim award for her Concerto in One Movement for Piano which was written for Betty Oberacker and premiered by Dr. Oberacker with the Santa Barbara Symphony, a 'Composer of the Year' award from the American Guild of Organists, and others.

"She is Professor Emeritus at the University of California, Santa Barbara, where she taught theory and composition from 1971 to 1991. In addition, she was Composer-in-Residence with the Santa Barbara Symphony from 1990 to 1992, and organist at First Presbyterian Church in Santa Barbara from 1984 to 2000."

I have known Diemer for upwards of 30 years. I admire her music — more to the point, I like it, and I like her. She has mastered a bewildering variety of forms and harmonic systems, without ever losing her own unique voice.

She is, of course, as a woman and a human, a feminist, yet her music has always been free of gender politics, even though, when she began to compose, women composers were very thin on the ground, and have still to be accepted on par with the men of her craft.

I have long since come to the conclusion, anyway, that without words, it is impossible to determine the gender, political positions, or even religion, of the composer.

When I first met Diemer, I was writing a series of articles on women composers for a local paper. She was very co-operative, but was hesitant to accept the label woman composer: "I prefer to be known as just a composer, period," she said.

— Gerald Carpenter covers the arts as a Noozhawk contributing writer. He can be reached at [email protected]. The opinions expressed are his own.

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