Passing on

My mom passed away Saturday morning. I’m posting about her because I think many younger musicians probably don’t know about her. This is her bio from the Groves Dictionary of Music.

“Ludmila Ulehla: b Flushing, NY, 20 May 1923). American composer, pianist and teacher of Czech descent. She began writing music at the age of five and later studied at the Manhattan School of Music (BMus 1946, MMus 1947), where her composition teacher was Vittorio Giannini. She became a professor at the Manhattan School in 1947 and was chairperson of the composition department there from 1970 to 1989; she received the President’s Medal for Distinguished Faculty Service from the school in 1998. Additionally she taught at the Hoff-Barthelson Music School, Scarsdale, New York (1968–91), and acted as chairperson of the American Society of University Composers (1972–3) and programme chairperson for the National Association for American Composers and Conductors (1967–74). She has received awards and grants from ASCAP and Meet the Composer. Although Ulehla’s musical language is contemporary, the legacy of the classical canon as well as Slav influences have clearly contributed to its evolution. Her works are tonal, but are not organized by key; emphasis is given to the function of phrases rather than bar-lines, and the balance of contrast and unity helps to articulate formal structures. Her writings include Contemporary Harmony: Romanticism through the Twelve-Tone Row (New York, 1966/R).”

In addition to the Groves bio, Manhattan School of Music also includes this information:

“Ludmila Ulehla’s commissions include a work for the Stony Brook Contemporary Chamber Players that was premiered in 1998, as well as such past works as Gargoyles for Hindell; Michelangelo for Orchestral Society of Westchester; Remembrances for Heifetz; and Unrolling a Chinese Scroll for Schefflien. Ms. Ulehla has been named Outstanding Educator in Who’s Who of American Women, named in the New Grove Dictionary of Women Composers, and has received ASCAP awards. Her chamber opera, Sybil of the American Revolution, was premiered in 1993; and in 1999, Undersea Fantasy for Orchestra was premiered by the Manhattan School of Music Philharmonia under the direction of David Gilbert. Her publications, printed by Advance Music, include the books Contemporary Harmony and Sonata for Improvisation for clarinet, soprano saxophone, and piano. Ludmila Ulehla has been honored for her valuable half-century devotion and contribution to Manhattan School of Music through the awarding of the School’s first Presidential Award for Distinguished Service in 1998.”

There will be a celebration of her life at the Manhattan School of Music this spring. We are also establishing a scholarship for composition students in her name.

Downs and ups –>

10 thoughts on “Passing on

  1. Tina,
    How are you doing? This has been such a difficult time and many of us understand the trauma of losing a parent. A person really never understands until they go through this.
    My heart goes out to you. Let’s talk on the phone over the Holidays.


    • It’s very hard as it should be. What gets me the most are the little things like not having her yell downstairs that my ‘F’ is sharp. Or hearing her tell me how much better I’m playing. Right now I can’t play Strauss 1 without tearing up and the book of horn and piano music we played together probably won’t get opened up for a long time. She was very happy that I started playing the horn again and I’m glad that she actually heard me play fairly decently. Thanks to everyone for writing to me.


  2. Osaka, Japan
    18 December 2009

    Dear Tina Barkan:
    I was privileged to study with your Mom at the Manhattan School, 1988 – 90, in a wonderful class she gave called “Composition for non-Composition majors” (I am a pianist). It is probably the most indelible memory I have of my student days there. How I looked forward to that class each week. So did my classmates — Roland Vazquez (a jazz drummer), David Saliamonas (a pianist now based in Paris), and Susan Botti, who later sang the lead in your Mother’s opera. It was a popular class, and there were many other superb musicians who attended, whose names I can’t recall now.

    I learned as much about teaching itself as about the process of composing in that class. Your mother’s unfailing patience with us all, and steady guidance, was just amazing. She knew that, as performers, we were somewhat limited in our ability to create our own individual sound world (our ears echoed too much Mozart, Chopin and Rachmaninoff, which we practiced all the time!). But she focused on getting us to master form, writing for a variety of instruments, and coherent emotional expression in the works we created. The end-of-the-year class concerts were really impressive — a testament to her unfailingly concise critique of our work.

    I was so saddened to learn of her passing. And as the news gets out, there will be many many more like myself, all around the world, musicians who were touched by Ludmila Ulehla in countless ways. Our best tribute to her is to continue in her spirit, of good gentle grace, integrity and commitment to excellence. I was so very fortunate to have known her. My condolences and love to you and her family.


    • Sara – Thank you so much for writing to me! I am receiving so many wonderful stories about her. MSM has a website up where you can write comments about her if you wish. Many more people will have an opportunity to read your wonderful comments there than on my small horn blog. The web link is: Click on the “READ MORE” link at the bottom of her bio. Again thanks so much for sharing your experiences about my mom.


  3. As someone who has just discovered your site, I send my condolences regarding your mother. She probably knew my uncle, Arthur Berv, who taught horn at Manhattan for many years. He died in the early 1990’s, my father Jack, in 1994, and their brother Harry, a few years ago. They were the mainstays of the NBC Symphony horn section. Before that Arthur played principal in Philadelphia under Stokowski. When Toscanini retired, they were studio musicians in New York. Among other things, they played in the original Steve Allen Tonight Show band, the original Star Trek TV theme was written for them, and they played for Victory at Sea, numerous films, etc.

    It is quite a loss to lose someone so accomplished in the arts, such as your mom. However, it sounds as though she had quite a full life and the rich legacy of her music will provide a kind of immortality.

    I myself have just resumed horn after a five year hiatus (much longer in actuality as I haven’t played seriously in many years,as I only played semi-professionally in college, 40 years ago) and much appreciate your website, as I am struggling with the daily vagaries of getting some semblance of facility and consistency.


    • Thanks for your comments! That’s quite a musical legacy you have. My mom most likely did know your uncle. She knew almost everyone there. What years did he teach there? I remember being introduced to ‘the’ horn teacher in 1968. This was when I first started playing horn so I wouldn’t have picked up on a big name.

      I appreciate what you said about my mom’s music providing some kind of immortality. I hadn’t thought of that and it is very comforting.

      Please keep in touch and let me know how the return to the horn is going.



  4. Your mother was one of my favorite teachers. I studied theory and composition with her at the Manhattan School of Music. I will never forget her- as well as being a great teacher she was an amazing human being, kind, sincere, inspiring and encouraging to every student in a firm but nurturing manner. Thank God I got to know her and study with her. I send you all best wishes and hope you know how much your mom meant to so many people.


    • Richard – I have received notes from people who knew her who have said similar things to what you said. It’s wonderful to hear such nice things about her. Thank you so very much for taking the time to write. It means a great deal to me to read about how much she meant to her students and others.


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