Diemer, Emma Lou (1927—)

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Diemer, Emma Lou (1927—)

American musician, composer of over 150 pieces, especially known for her church music. Born in Kansas City, Missouri, on November 24, 1927; daughter of George Willis and Myrtle (Casebolt) Diemer; studied with Paul Hindemith, Howard Hanson, Roger Sessions, and Ernst Toch; studied at the Kansas City Conservatory; awarded a Fulbright Fellowship to study composition and piano at the Royal Conservatory in Brussels, Belgium; received her bachelor and masters degrees from Yale University; received Doctor of Philosophy in composition from the Eastman School of Music.

While in high school, Emma Lou Diemer began to compose music. "During that time I decided to write music that avoided tonality," she wrote, "although I was not familiar with twelve tone music. So, I wrote my first piece and didn't repeat notes and it sounded very dissonant." Her musical abilities gained her admittance to Yale where she studied with Paul Hindemith and was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship to study composition. From 1959 to 1961, after receiving her Ph.D., Diemer was composer-in-residence for the Arlington, Virginia, secondary schools. She resumed this role in the Baltimore Public Schools from 1964 to 1965 while continuing to produce a steady stream of works for choral groups, orchestras, bands, solo instruments, and chamber groups.

Diemer felt that writing for non-professional musical groups was a sound discipline that helped her style. Her Three Anniversary Choruses performed by the South Carolina All-State Chorus in 1970 reflects this philosophy. She also maintained that the development of choruses in secondary schools throughout America was crucial to the development of musical life in the country. Her style has been described as simple and practical, singable and playable. At the same time, she was never afraid to develop new horizons. She was frequently commissioned to write compositions for many schools, churches, and special occasions. Throughout her career, Emma Lou Diemer supported herself through composition, a rare feat for composers in the 20th century.


Cohen, Aaron I. International Encyclopedia of Women Composers. 2 vols. NY: Books & Music (USA), 1987.

Morton, Brian, and Collins, Pamela. Contemporary Composers. Chicago: St. James Press, 1981.

John Haag , Athens, Georgia