Obituary: Rosalie Diane (Liebschultz) Heller
Rosalie Diane (Liebschutz) Heller, was born March 20, 1931 in Brooklyn, New York, the second child of Martin and Faye (Bernstein) Liebschutz. She learned to read at a very early age and was an avid reader, having once told her mother that she wanted to read “until her conscience broke”. Her mother became her first piano teacher when Rosalie was just four years old.
What happened at age five became a life changing experience, which she recently described in these words: ”I was just a small girl playing in my room when I heard my older brother playing Brahms First Symphony on his record player. I had previously heard other symphonies and piano concertos, but Brahms’ was so different, so emotionally strong. That was the beginning of my love for classical music.”
Already at a young age Rosalie learned about service for others when she and her mother regularly went to the Red Cross to fold bandages for the wounded in World War II. She attended public schools in Brooklyn, and at James Madison High School volunteered for the library squad and was Editor of the Spanish Magazine. As an adult, service became a vital part of her life.
In August 1945 Rosalie’s brother excitedly told the family that ‘the atom had been split’, and an atomic bomb that was made in a secret city in New Mexico had been dropped on Japan ending the war. Rosalie was fascinated by the concept of a secret city, and formed a dream of going there.
At age 16 Rosalie started giving piano lessons to younger children. As an adult, teaching, along with performing, would become equally important activities of her professional life.
In the 1940’s Brooklyn College was a small public school with about 5,000 students. BC was one of the campuses of the City University of New York with an excellent faculty and free tuition, in the middle of a borough with five million people! The competition to get in was keen, and Rosalie began her studies there in 1948.
There were no dormitories so students lived at home. One of the very few amenities at BC was a lounge with a phonograph and some records, so it was natural that a musician would gravitate there. Leon Heller was a sophomore who also spent a free hour there, and the arrival of a very attractive young woman lit a spark. When he got up courage he asked her for a date, and this was the start of their romance.
During her four years at college Rosalie majored in music, and took a total of 18 music courses! This included every aspect of music theory, analysis of scores, composition, orchestration, conducting, musical styles, etc. Performance was included, but she mainly learned this from her private lessons. Rosalie graduated in 1952 cum laude, with honors in music. The firm foundation that she received in college would be built upon for the remainder of her life.
The young couple became engaged in 1951 and were married shortly after Rosalie’s graduation. They went off to beautiful Lake George in New York State for a honeymoon, and then started their life together in Ithaca, NY where Leon was about to start his second year of graduate school at Cornell University.
After settling in to their apartment Rosalie applied to graduate school at Ithaca College, which was noted for its music department. She soon found that she already knew what they were teaching, so just used the school’s pianos for practicing.
Although Rosalie had done some cooking when she lived with her parents, she now found that it was something she really enjoyed, and especially baking. This would form one of the cornerstones of family life, almost to the very end of her life.
To earn some extra money, Rosalie took a part time job at the Ithaca Chamber of Commerce, and found that she really enjoyed meeting the people who came in for information. Once again, being of help to others gave her great satisfaction.
The entire complexion of married life changed dramatically with the birth of the couple’s first child, Peter, in September 1955. Both parents took an active part in caring for the infant, but Rosalie played the dominant role.
As Leon’s thesis was nearing completion, his advisor Phillip Morrison, who had been at Los Alamos during the Manhattan Project, suggested he apply there for a staff position, and in February 1956 he was invited to come for an interview. When the small plane ride from Albuquerque to Los Alamos approached the landing strip he saw snow capped mountains for the first time; and then stepped out to brilliant sunshine. When later that day he called Rosalie to tell her about it and the interview, she said she was ready to come. The contrast with the overcast winter skies in Ithaca lifted her spirits.
Furthermore, Rosalie’s childhood excitement when she learned about a secret city in New Mexico where the atomic bomb was made, and her dream of going there, now seemed like it might actually be realized.
Leon did indeed receive a staff offer from what was then called The Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory, and in November 1956 he drove across the country to begin working. By then another child was expected, and Rosalie and the one year old flew to Albuquerque soon after, and then on to Los Alamos.
The house they were offered, half of a duplex, seemed like a palace after the cramped apartment in Ithaca. The living room was large enough to have a piano, and Rosalie’s mother’s piano was soon shipped there. This was the first time in four years that Rosalie was able to play a piano whenever family life permitted. She began by bringing back to a satisfactory level pieces that she had played previously, and gradually enlarged her repertoire.
Although there wasn’t much classical music in Los Alamos at that time, it was not the ‘wasteland’ that some of her instructors had predicted; for one thing classical music could be heard on a radio program run by Kaye Richardson. One day, only a few months after our arrival, a small announcement appeared in the local newspaper announcing that Paul Badura-Skoda, an up-and-coming pianist, would be giving a piano recital in Los Alamos; and to obtain tickets call a certain number, which was the home telephone of Kaye Richardson. Imagine how Rosalie was taken aback when a voice answered “Badura-Skoda speaking”. She quickly recovered and said she would like to purchase two tickets to his concert; he replied that he did not know anything about the tickets, and she should call back when his host was home. We did get to that concert.
Only a few months after, imagine her excitement, when another small announcement appeared saying that the following summer (1957) there would be an opera starting in Santa Fe. We had arrived just in time to attend the maiden season of what would become a very successful opera company.
In the spring Rosalie obtained some seeds for flowering plants and made a small garden in the backyard. Having flowers in the house and generally making the house attractive became an important part of her life. A few years later when the family went to Bandelier National Monument for a picnic Rosalie brought the food in a handsome wicker basket and set the table with an attractive table cloth, proper utensils, and a bouquet.
Rosalie was very conscious of beauty not only in these external manifestations; she possessed an inner beauty that was recognized by the people with whom she interacted, and her lovely smile added to the warmth.
When her own children began attending Play-School Rosalie brought simple musical instrument to class, like small drums and xylophone that initially had just 2 bars, to let the students discover rhythm and pitch. Additional bars were added as the students progressed.
Her family was the love of Rosalie’s life, and as a mother she was always planning for the kids’ well being and happiness. To enable herself to give piano lessons when her own children were in elementary school she learned to be very efficient, a skill that stood her well throughout life. An example, and a favorite memory of the children, was returning home from school to the smell of freshly baked cookies in the kitchen. Rosalie had arranged for one of the high school girls from a neighbor’s house to be with the children during the lessons, so they were well taken care of during her absence. Together with Leon they created a home and an atmosphere in which the three children could flourish, and learn to make good decisions on their own.
Piano lessons are an intensely personal experience, with the teacher sitting right next to the student. Rosalie combined her knowledge with a remarkable intuition to know when to let a mistake pass, and when and how to guide the pupil in the right direction. She took a personal interest in each pupil’s concerns and family problems, and in over 60 years of music instruction she touched the lives of over 300 students ranging in age from 4 to 95. After leaving Los Alamos, many students would return to tell her how much she influenced their lives, and how important music was to them.
Rosalie presented an evening series of well attended lectures about classical music at Fuller Lodge, and soon became a member of the Board of the Los Alamos Concert Association. There she was influential in choosing the artists for the concert seasons, and in recognition of her contributions the Board created the position “Artistic Director” which she held for close to 20 years. During this time several innovations were brought to the concert series including pre-concert lectures, and Rosalie occasionally interviewed one of the artists on stage before the concert. Some artists gave master classes, and they often went into some of the Los Alamos public schools. Upon retirement Rosalie was named “Artistic Director Emerita”.
During a sabbatical year 1969-70 spent in Oxford, England, Rosalie taught music in the nearby elementary school, and helped with their Christmas production of “Oliver”. The entire family remembers that year with great pleasure.
In 1979 Rosalie, together with a small group of local musicians including violinist Kay Newnam, violist Patty Broxton, cellist Laurel Rodgers, and clarinetist Bob Wingert started a series called “Coffeehouse Concerts”, which became enormously popular and were almost always sold out. From two to four times a year on Friday and Saturday evenings tables would be set up at Fuller Lodge for four to six people, with table cloths and candles. Drinks and pastries were available for purchase (often made by the musicians themselves) and were enjoyed by the audience for half an hour. Then the service stopped and the first half of the chamber music program began with different combinations of the instruments. If any selection included a piano part, Rosalie performed it, and this is where her great gift shone.
Over the years, sometimes including guest artists from other parts of the country, many of the great compositions of the chamber music literature were heard at these concerts, and still today people talk about what wonderful evenings those were.
Rosalie enjoyed going to the Sombrillo Nursing Home to play piano for the residents. At one visit she described a man who was sitting in a chair with head bowed down, chin against chest. As soon as music started he sat upright and was clearly enjoying the music.
On numerous occasions Rosalie was asked to accompany a student, who played a different instrument, at a competition. Their rehearsal generally became a coaching session for the student.
Not all the music was serious. At home, the family wrote and enacted some musicals which were spoofs of things going on in the world. They would take music from popular songs and alter the lyrics. During Watergate they took a song that had the line “Those wedding bells are breaking up that old gang of mine”, and had the person playing the part of Richard Nixon sing that line, changing the word “wedding” to “prison”.
In recognition of Rosalie’s many contributions to music, she was named a “Living Treasure of Santa Fe” in 1989, and here are some remarks she made at that time. “Through teaching music I hope that I have given my students … a curiosity, a joy [about] an art form which has shaped my life.”
From this experience Rosalie decided that Los Alamos should have such an organization. She discussed it with Karen Brandt and they began the very long process of creating a “Living Treasures of Los Alamos” organization. Each year, starting in 1999, the Board selects three people who have made important contributions to the life and heart of Los Alamos; and the annual gathering at which they are named is a very popular event. Rosalie served on the Board in a number of capacities almost to the end of her life. Although she was asked a number of times to become a Living Treasure of Los Alamos herself, she felt that as an organizer it was not proper. Rosalie also volunteered for other organizations including the League of Women Voters, Phi Beta Kappa, and the Los Alamos Retired and Senior Organization.
Rosalie and Leon got great pleasure from several trips to other countries, as well as a number of cruises. On one of the latter they witnessed a total eclipse of the sun, an extremely exciting and unforgettable event.
In 1995 Rosalie received a terrible blow when she was diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis, a debilitating disease that affected her joints and started to deform her hands and feet. She fought it at first by re-fingering the scores to accommodate her misshapen hands. This worked for a while, but it soon became hopeless. Although she never complained, it was a terrible psychological blow. Coming to terms with the loss of her glorious gift, which brought so much pleasure to herself and to so many people, took a couple of years. When she could no longer illustrate passages for her pupils she used CDs.
In 2006 Rosalie spoke to the Suttons at radio station KRSN, who welcomed her idea of a weekly radio program devoted to classical music. There had not been such a program for many years, since the one Kaye Richardson ran. Each week Rosalie picked a topic, and chose recordings to illustrate it, with introductory remarks before each selection, and always playing complete works. Creating a new script each week and piecing together the text and the recordings for a two hour program was a great outlet for her creativity. Two of these programs were selected by the New Mexico Broadcasters Association as the best radio programs of their respective years. She continued creating new programs almost to the end of her life.
Rosalie was a strong supporter of women musicians — composers, conductors, and performers — and often featured them in her programs. She also gave encouragement to girls to pursue interesting careers, and contributed generously to women’s causes.
At home there is a soap dish with the following words printed on it: “Music is the Passion of My Life”. Indeed it was, as can be seen from the variety of ways in which she contributed to the musical life of Los Alamos: teaching, performing, and Artistic Director of the Los Alamos Concert Association.
When Rosalie’s own mother died she was faced with the daunting task of disposing of a vast amount of material, mostly worthless, that had accumulated over the years. From that experience she determined that her own children should be spared the same bother as much as possible, and in recent years she began getting rid of things. Through actions such as this she cleverly and quietly prepared us for her departure.
In late November 2016 Rosalie had an accident at home that left her in great pain with broken ribs. Having lived through four major illnesses and as many surgeries, her body did not have the strength to fight this latest onslaught, and she decided not to continue. After four days in the hospital she came home, and died peacefully on December 2 with husband, one son, and one granddaughter at her side.
Rosalie never complained about her health problems, nor hardly anything else for that matter, and always had a positive outlook on life. She had a big heart, and that, possibly as much as the music, touched the lives of so many people. The dining room table at home is overflowing with messages of condolence. One common theme is how much she will be missed, and a couple refer to her as a second mother.
Rosalie leaves behind brother Arthur, husband Leon of 64 years, three children, Peter, daughter-in-law Barbara, Anthony, and Jean, and grandchildren Nicole, Gregory, Dmitri, Alexander, David, Mia, and Maxwell.