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Finally Heard

Music professor shines light on forgotten women composers of WWII


This summer, Dr. Deborah Nemko will try and reintroduce the world to some historic sheet music that has long been hidden in archives in the Netherlands. 

Using a grant from the Musicians Club of Women, Nemko looks to record the piano music created by suppressed and forgotten women composers of WWII.

“I hope people become more aware of these women composers and what was going on in the world at that time,” Nemko said.  “The goal is to promote the music and have people, hopefully, learn about and appreciate something they have never heard before.”

During WWII, female Jewish composers were not allowed to perform or publish their works. Sadly, many of these women were captured by the Nazis and taken to concentration camps where they were murdered.

Which is why today most of their music exists only in manuscript and few, if any, recordings have been made, Nemko said, adding the composers she is recording, fortunately survived the war. 

“I see this project as another opportunity to preserve and promote music many people have forgotten…it’s the right thing to do,” she said.

The BSU music professor has always been passionate about music’s role in society, a topic often discussed in her classes.

Music can bring about recognition and change, Nemko said.

“And at a time where we are seeing antisemitism on the rise, where there is so much hostility against differences...I worry that we are heading toward a similar time,” she said.

Which is why this project is important to her.

“When I lose momentum, I realize it’s so important to keep working on this, it’s so connected to what’s going on in the present,” she said.

This fall, the Bridgewater State community will get the chance to hear the results of Nemko’s project as she plans to host a concert on campus.

She will also share her research and perform for her BSU students. Beyond that, she is planning a sabbatical to extend the project.

“I plan to research music (created) in transit camps. These were camps that were on the way to concentration camps in the Netherlands,” Nemko said.

She hopes the project sparks an interest within the BSU community and that people continue to recognize the importance of music and the role it plays in society and education.

“Music is a very human experience and it’s our nature as human beings to want to express ourselves,” Nemko said.

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