Lee Eitzen (1920-1981)

cropped-marimba.jpgLee Eitzen (1920-1981) was born in Mountain Lake, Minnesota, a small Mennonite farming community where his father George worked as a bank clerk. He showed interest in music from an early age, and became something of a young local celebrity after his father bought him a marimba.

He earned a bachelors’ degree from Luther College in Decorah, Iowa, and then joined the Army during World War II. He spent much of the war performing as a percussionist in a jazz band in an Army mental hospital in Kentucky.

After the war, he moved to New York City, where he attended the Juilliard School of Music, worked as a copyist for a Broadway arranger, and met his future wife, the mezzo soprano Leslie Mong. After their marriage he earned a Master’s Degree from the University of Michigan and a PhD in Music Composition at the University of Iowa, during which time he worked as program director at radio station WSUI.

LeeEitzenDuring his late graduate studies Eitzen, who had admired the jazz style of Benny Goodman and the harmonies of Gershwin and Ravel, was disillusioned by the apparent evolution of “serious” music toward atonality.

From 1960 to 1968, Eitzen was a public school music teacher in Detroit. In 1968 he joined the faculty at Hampton Institute in Hampton, Virginia, where he taught music and communications.

In 1971 he took a faculty position at the Shenandoah Valley Conservatory of Music in Winchester, Virginia.

LeeatpianoDuring all of his working life, Eitzen composed music for students, fellow faculty, and church musicians, none of which was ever published. Many of his vocal and choral compositions are archived online in the International Music Score Library Project.

He retired to southern Michigan, where he wrote compositions for music faculty at Grand Valley State College. He died of cancer in 1981.

He is survived by his wife Leslie and a daughter, Lois.