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
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
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
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
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"
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.
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
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
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 and should be mailed to the American Accordionists'
Association, 580 Kearny Ave., Kearny, NJ 07032.