Of Her Soul
"Elaine entered a contest through
Copy Editor/Education Writer
the National Federation of Music
Clubs in the late 1960s Where
n 1951, Elaine Lebenbom
everyone had to use a pseudonym,"
became the first woman ever
she recalled. "Elaine chose 'Norman
admitted to the composition
Plum,' as in 'nom de plume.' Then,
program-in the music depart-
ment at the University of Michigan. when her piece won first place and
they learned she was a woman, they
It took 30 years — and a cata-
didn't want to perform it."
logue of premieres, grants and
awards that filled three
single-spaced pages --
before the university
accepted her into its
sonata. By the time
master's degree pro-
the work was
recorded, in 1997,
Three days before she
its composer had
died, Mrs. Lebenbom
gone on to many
attended a performance
of her haunting song
using her own
without words for cello
and soprano, "Echoes
"Elaine was very
in the Forest," at the
monthly meeting of the
always wrote with a
goal — for every
a musicians association.
piece, she had a
"It was the last music
Elaine Leben born
commission or a
she heard, except for
friend who would
the Bach that was
play it," said Starkman, an oboist
played nonstop in her hospital
who premiered several of her
room," said her husband of 45
friend's works for that instrument.
years, David Lebenbom.
The two also collaborated on a
Mrs. Lebenbom died Nov. 17, at
story with music, called
the age of 69, in her art-filled
Freddy the Second Fiddle, and taught
Bloomfield Township home, near
together at the Midrasha College of
her piano and her work in progress,
Jewish Studies. Their 1985 class on
a musical reflection on the
the history of Jewish music evolved
into a radio program for public
Despite a four-year struggle with
breast cancer, Mrs. Lebenbom
"What was wonderful about
remained her indomitable self,
Elaine was that she was this open,
recalled Rabbi David Nelson of
bright, warm person. She was inde-
Congregation Beth Shalom.
fatigable," said Maury Okun, execu-
In addition to creating music, she
tive director of Detroit Chamber
was an artist and a poet. And, said
Winds and Strings and the Great
Rabbi Nelson, her loving participa-
Lakes Chamber Music Festival,
tion in the lives of family and
last summer premiered Mrs.
friends was undiminished.
Lebenbom's "La Journee," for
""We all knew Elaine as the
English horn and piano.
Renaissance woman par excellence.
"She was a wonderful composer and
She faced life with an optimistic
a great addition to the arts community."
eye, savoring every moment, he
Many of Mrs. Lebenbom's works
Jewish themes. The Witch, the
"She always remained who she
Man and the Fool was based on
a story about Hershel of Ostropol,
Earning respect as a female com-
an Eastern European Jewish folk
poser was an uphill battle, said
hero. Her Sephardic Songs used texts
friend and musical collaborator
from Yehudah Halevy and Solomon
Sylvia Starkman of Bloomfield
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