Long Island librarian an accomplished composer

lehrman 011When CSEA member Leonard Lehrman isn’t working with books, he is feeling the music.
Lehrman, a reference librarian at the Oyster Bay/East Norwich Library for the past 20 years, does a great job directing patrons to specific titles or information as requested, or suggesting different books, articles, or recordings.
But off the job, Lehrman’s world revolves around music. He has composed more than 200 works of music, including 10 operas and six musicals.
Lehrman is a Harvard College graduate with a doctorate in music from Cornell University. His first opera, a completion of Marc Blitzstein’s “Idiots First,” based on the story of the same name by Bernard Malamud, won the first off-Broadway Opera Award for “most important event of the season” in 1978.
His nine other operas include “Karla,” “Sima,” “Hannah” (which received its United States premiere last December in Malverne and at Hebrew Union College in Manhattan), “The Family Man,” “The Birthday of the Bank,” “New World: A Columbus Opera,” “Suppose a Wedding,” “Sacco and Vanzetti” (another Blitzstein completion), and “The Wooing.”
Lehrman has also composed six musicals through the years, including “The Comic Tragedy of San Po Jo,” “Growing up Woman,” “Let’s Change the Woild!,” “E.G.: A Musical Portrait of Emma Goldman,” “Superspy!: the S-e-c-r-e-t Musical,” and “The Booby Trap or Off Our Chests.”
He was in attendance at the National Mall in Washington, D.C. for The Rev. Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech in 1963. The event had a profound impact on the then young man and influenced the direction of his life’s work. In 1988, he founded The Metropolitan Philharmonic Chorus and conducted the group in the Jan. 15, 1989 Manhattan premiere of Elie Siegmeister’s cantata based on King’s “I Have a Dream” speech.
Lehrman has written articles for numerous publications, including American Music, Andante.com, Aufbau, The Forward, Harvard Crimson, Jewish Affairs, Jewish Currents, Jewish Week, MLA Notes, New Music Box, New Music Connoisseur, Opera Journal, Opera Monthly, Opera Today, Outlook and Sonneck Society Newsletter.
In February 1995, a month before he came to Oyster Bay, Wilson Library Bulletin published part of his Long Island University M.S.L.S. thesis under the title: “Hear the Music: Concerts in Libraries.” A framed copy of the score of his solo piano composition, “For oyStEr BAy-EAst norwiCH puBliC liBrAry,” written for and performed at the June 8, 1997, dedication of the piano donated to the library by Billy Joel, is posted on the wall by the piano, in the library’s Community Room.
Lehrman also plays the piano, organ, harpsichord, synthesizer, guitar, ukelele, and oboe. He teams with his wife, Helene Williams, a talented actress and soprano, to form a dynamic piano-vocal duo who perform Broadway tunes, Jewish music, classical piano and voice recitals, and both serious and satirical political and social commentary pieces.
“Music can make people feel or do things they would not otherwise feel or do,” said Lehrman.
Lehrman and Williams have put together an impressive performance schedule this year that includes a seminar series on Jewish opera, recitals at the Naturist Festivals in Florida and New York as well as concerts at Queens College, the Cradle of Aviation Museum in Garden City and the Bethpage Public Library.
Another special project will involve Lehrman’s mother, Emily, who recently passed away at age 91.
Emily, who had worked in the library at Long Island University, had what Lehrman describes as an extraordinary ability to proficiently translate words and meanings from Russian to English and was fluent in both languages.
She used that skill to expertly translate many volumes of Russian literature into English and donate those works to the campus library at Queens College. The faculty there will dedicate a plaque to her memory and generosity on Nov. 22.
On the same day as the dedication, the opera “Rusalka” by Dargomyzhsky after Pushkin, in a translation that Lehrman and his mother Emily wrote, will be sung in its first U.S. concert performance by soloists and The Metropolitan Philharmonic Chorus, in her memory.
‘My mother came to America from Russia in 1935 at the age of 12 and did not speak a word of English.” added Lehrman. “She picked up the language quickly and was able to flow seamlessly from her native and adopted languages without any difficulty.”