Pianist, Teacher, Mentor.
Ninety-five years later she still vividly remembered the “dark, beautiful, heavenly-blue, gorgeous velvet sky” that kissed her eyes as her ship, the Susquehanna, slipped by the Statue of Liberty into New York Harbor.
With her father Meyer, mother Rachella (Bach) Singer, and two brothers, Bronja had left her birthplace of Przemysl Poland for America, its safety and its promise. She would never forget the lush, sweet fragrance of fresh oranges that greeted her as the family disembarked at Ellis Island.
Just one year after arriving in America, Bronja lost her father to meningitis. He had been a cantor in Poland, and a lifetime later she could still feel his gentle hand frequently lifting her young head from his piano keyboard, where she liked to rest it while he practiced for his weekly services.
Her oldest brother soon went to work to help support the family, plucking chickens, then selling shoes, eventually working his way through medical school. Her other brother, a violin prodigy first taught by their father, debuted at Town Hall in New York City at the age of fourteen, and later played in the Philadelphia Orchestra under Leopold Stokowski, who would recommend him to become conductor of the Dallas Symphony, which began his conducting career.
Musical talent graced all three siblings. The oldest brother played the bass and produced musical events while in medical school. Bronja, an extraordinarily gifted young pianist, studied with David Saperton at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, where a classmate, pianist Sidney Foster, would be her future husband. Though several of her fellow students later became successful concert pianists, she was declared one of the best of the lot by one of her colleagues, the composer Vincent Persighetti.
But she had little ambition for the world of professional performing musician; despite the accolades that came with her formidable accomplishment, she chose, initially, to be wife and mother. Perhaps part of her decision was distaste for intense pre-concert nervousness. (After one of her Curtis recitals, renowned pianist Josef Hoffman took her aside and declared “My dear child, for me playing here is harder on the nerves than playing in Carnegie Hall, and you were fine.”)
A year before Bronja graduated Curtis, her mother died suddenly from an embolism. “You would have loved her so,” Bronja would later tell her children. A year after graduating, in 1939, she married and moved to New York City with Sidney, as he embarked on his concert career. Over the next years their Manhattan apartment was always open; musicians, artists, writers and scientists would come and go at all hours, with Bronja up early morning with her young children and, when he was not touring, up late night with husband and company.
In 1952, Sidney joined the Indiana University School of Music in Bloomington, where Dean Wilfred Bain, with the support of I.U. President Herman B. Wells, was undertaking a singular enterprise: to build a world-class music school, away from the traditional metropolitan cultural centers of the country, by bringing active concert artists to teach, as residential faculty--creating an academic structure that permitted them to continue their concert careers while teaching, and encouraging them to present free concerts on the I.U. campus for the benefit of students and the local community.
After a few years in Bloomington, Bronja began to teach piano privately to mostly young children. Later, she joined the I.U. School of Music faculty as part-time instructor, a position she held for over fifteen years, until her retirement at age 70, a decade after the untimely death of her husband at age 59.
She was an exacting, demanding teacher, with a keen ear, eye, and a thorough understanding of physical mechanics that allowed her to liberate the most rigid technique. In every note, measure, phrase and composition, through her intelligent and impassioned musicality she strove to awaken her students to the possibilities of musical expression.
You couldn’t walk or drive with Bronja without her joyously exalting over the beauty of something that caught her eye–a flower, tree, blossom, shapely hill, cloud formation, a vista, a play of light on the ocean–something another’s eye might pass over or just take for granted.
She was a great cook who took pleasure in offering a satisfying meal and warm hearth for her guests, providing almost a second home for some students.
With her warmth, empathy, humor, interest in others, twinkling eyes, easy genuine smile, love of a good laugh, and surprising rich portrayal of characters when relating a funny or telling story, she revealed no evidence of her painful family losses.
She was a self-effacing, generous, modest picture of true goodness and human kindness. Modest, yes, but able and willing, with unique insight, to lend counsel and support, instill confidence and provide perspective--valued throughout the lives of those many young and older students, relatives, friends, and colleagues who were lucky enough to know her.
Bronja put other people first, had almost a painful sensitivity for the plight and frustration of others, and lived a life of devotion to her husband, and to her two sons, who survive her: Lincoln of La Jolla, California, and Justin of Bloomington. She was preceded in death by her brothers, Jacques Singer and Dr. Sina Singer, and is also survived by nephews and nieces–grand and great grand–in New York, New Jersey, Colorado, and California.
Bronja passed away at I.U. Health Hospice House in Bloomington, to which contributions can be made in her memory. No memorial is planned at this time.
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