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Remembering Mordy


Mordecai Bauman
by Irma Bauman

MORDECAI BAUMAN was born in New York City on March 2, 1912 . He was encouraged to sing at James Monroe High School in Gilbert and Sullivan operas. In 1930 he won the Gold Medal in the baritone class in the New York Music Week competition, which convinced him to make music his vocation. He won a Fellowship at The Juilliard Graduate School of Music when he was a freshman at Columbia College . Although Juilliard did not permit a student to attend another school while enrolled, Bauman arranged with the Columbia Dean to continue his college career. He was soloist with the College Glee Club and had leading roles in annual varsity shows. He studied with Francis Rogers at Juilliard, and sang principal roles in George Antheil's "Helen Retires," Louis Gruenberg's "Jack and the Beanstalk," and Malipiero's "The False Harlequin." He played Amonasro in Handel's "Xerxes, and Figaro in Mozart's "Marriage of Figaro." He graduated from Juilliard in 1934 and from Columbia in 1935.

In 1934 while he was still a student Bauman appeared in Sean O'Casey's "Within the Gates" on Broadway. It starred Lillian Gish and was directed by Melvyn Douglas. This was the first of many Broadway shows in which he played principal parts. He toured with Anna Sokolow as soloist for the ballet choreographed to Elie Siegmeister's "Strange Funeral in Braddock , Pennsylvania ," which he later recorded. He also sang Mahler's "Kindertodtenlieder" for Anthony Tudor's ballet "Dark Elegies" with the Ballet Theater.

In later years he returned to Columbia where he had leading roles in productions of the Morningside Players: Macheath in John Gay's "The Beggar's Opera"; Mr. Pepys in Martin Shaw's "Mr. Pepys"; the Impresario in Pergolesi's "The Music Master"; and in 1941 the Narrator in the premiere of Benjamin Britten's first opera, "Paul Bunyan," lyrics by W. H. Auden. In that production he met his future wife, Irma Commanday.

When Hanns Eisler came to the U. S. in 1935 he asked Bauman to introduce his songs in a concert tour under the auspices of the Anti-Nazi Federation. Eisler accompanied him; he recorded those songs and Labor and Union songs for Timely Records. They have been digitized by a German producer, the Bear Family, in a collection of ten CDs: "Songs for Political Action, 1926 - 1952," released in 1996.

Bauman's first recording for Columbia Records is "An Album of Shakespearean Songs." When James Cagney's film "Yankee Doodle Dandy" was released, he recorded the songs of George M. Cohan, also for Columbia . Because of his authentic interpretation of contemporary music, Bauman was chosen to record the first album of songs of Charles Ives in 1939. That recording was re-issued by Composers Recordings, Inc. (CRI) in 1979. Numerous recordings followed: "The Music Master" of Pergolesi; an Album of Songs of Handel and Scarlatti; Mozart's "The Impresario" and "Songs of American Sailormen." In the Broadway musical "Let Freedom Sing" he introduced Earl Robinson's "The House I Live In." He sang the solo role in Robinson's "Ballad for Americans" many times.

From 1943 to 1945 Bauman served in the US Army in the European Theater of Operations. In 1946 he was offered the position as Director of the Opera Department at the Cleveland Institute of Music. He taught voice there until 1951, when he resigned to develop Indian Hill, a summer workshop in the arts for teen-agers in Stockbridge, Massachusetts .

While in Cleveland he produced a series of concerts at Severance Hall, "Popular Concert Attractions." It included Louis Armstrong and his orchestra; an evening of folk music hosted by Louis Untermeyer, the poet: featuring Pete Seeger, Sonny Terry and Brownie McGee, Lead Belly and others; the first full concert of Marc Blitzstein's music; and a program presenting two local artists: Seymour Lipkin, pianist, and Sidney Harth, violinist.

He directed works for the Peninsula Playhouse: Jerome Moross's "Ballet Ballads" and Haydn's "Apothecary." He also directed "Traviata,"the first opera for television, which was recorded on Kinescope.

Mordecai Bauman and his wife Irma Commanday directed Indian Hill from 1952 to 1976, when they donated the property to Brooklyn College . Indian Hill alumni have achieved brilliant careers. Among them are Julie Taymor, theater director; Frank Rich, columnist for the New York Times; Meg Wolitzer, writer; Ruth Laredo, pianist; Steven Hartke, Elliot Goldenthal, David Behrman, Richard Teitelbaum, and Steven Gerber, composers; Arlo Guthrie, folk singer. Many alumni are members of leading orchestras: Jerome Ashby and Leonard Hindel in the New York Philharmonic, Desimont Allston in the National Symphony, Booker Washington in the Philadelphia Symphony and many others in the field of arts and related activities.

Faculty at Indian Hill was distinguished: Seymour Lipkin, pianist-conductor; Sidney Harth, violinist; Robert Commanday, music critic joined. Marjorie Guthrie was Associate Director and taught dance for many summers; James Waring, choreographer and Mary Van Dyke, theater director, taught at Indian Hill. Carly Simon, singer, was on the staff for two summers. Henry Cowell and Wallingford Riegger taught composition in the early years.

During winters from 1960 to 1970 Bauman was Education Director for the Jewish Community Centers of Essex County, New Jersey. From 1969 to 1971 he was manager of Symphony Hall in Newark , New Jersey , where he presented major attractions including Arthur Rubinstein, Margot Fonteyn, Dame Judith Anderson, and others. In those same ten years he was Cantor at Temple Anshe Amunim in Pittsfield , Mass. From 1977 to 1980 he developed and administered "Bread and Roses," a cultural program for the Hospital Workers' Union , Local 1199, in New York .

In 1978 he was invited to a symposium in Berlin , in memory of Hanns Eisler, on the occasion of his 80 th birthday anniversary. While in Germany the Baumans visited the St. Thomas Church in Leipzig . Walking in Bach's footsteps led Bauman to celebrate the upcoming 300 th anniversary of Bach's birth with a film about his life and work. Supported by a large grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the ninety-minute program: "The Stations of Bach" was broadcast on PBS stations nationwide, May 25, 1990

Bauman has appeared in several documentaries about Bertolt Brecht, Hanns Eisler and Kurt Weill. His remembrance of working and living with Hanns Eisler in the thirties was published in the Brecht Yearbook, #26, in January 2002. At ninety-two, he was a consultant for several artistic projects, including an opera about the young German painter, Charlotte Salomon, with composer Michelle Di Bucci.

In January 2003 two of Mr. Bauman's early recordings were selected from public submissions and internal recommendations to be included in the National Recording Registry in the Library of Congress. The two records are "Six Songs of Charles Ives" and "Strange Funeral" by Elie Siegmeister. In February 2004, the Juilliard Journal published an article honoring Mordecai's 92 nd birthday, March 2, 2004 .

He died May 16, 2007 , at the age of 95, after a short illness. Surviving him are his wife of 63 years, Irma Commanday, his sons Joshua Bauman of Brooklyn , NY ; Marc Bauman of Wilton , CT ; step-children Charles Israels of Bellingham, WA, and Elisabeth Israels Perry, of St. Louis , MO ; seven grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.


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