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Bennett Reimer, NU professor who boosted music education, dies at 81

Northwestern University Music Professor Bennett Reimer

Northwestern University Music Professor Bennett Reimer

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Updated: December 23, 2013 2:39PM

If you had a music class in school anytime after the mid-1970s, Bennett Reimer might be the reason why.

The Northwestern University professor wrote books that bolstered the case for K-12 music education. His 1970 work “A Philosophy of Music Education” was translated into French, Japanese, Chinese, Korean and Greek, according to Northwestern.

Mr. Reimer died Monday at his home in Wilmette. He was 81.

Hundreds of thousands of students and teachers have read Mr. Reimer’s books, according to Janet Revell Barrett, a music professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The National Association of Music Merchants puts the number of college music students who have studied his publications in the millions.

Worldwide, it would be hard to find anyone better known in the field of music education, said Patrick Freer, an associate professor at Georgia State University and editor of Music Educators Journal.

“Any graduate student in music would read Plato, Aristotle, Socrates, and then eventually they’d read Reimer,” Freer said. “I would venture every single person who is certified to teach music education in the U.S. has read something that Bennett Reimer wrote.”

Mr. Reimer wrote about 25 books, including widely used music textbooks for elementary-age kids. He was a hero to many music teachers. After the Soviet Union’s 1957 launch of the Sputnik satellite, fears took hold that the United States needed to focus on science, math and testing to get ahead in the space race. Mr. Reimer deconstructed music education, examining why music is important, its impact and how it’s learned and taught. He established a doctoral research center at Northwestern that investigated creative thinking, music composition, performance and improvisation, Barrett said.

“As an author and a deep thinker, he moved our field forward toward the idea that music should be a part of every child’s development,” said Michael Butera, executive director of the National Association for Music Education. “In the development of the first set of National Standards for Music Education in 1994, he was a strong voice for consistency and rigor in the setting of expectations for our schools, our students and ourselves. Through his life work, he helped music teachers everywhere orchestrate success.”

“He will be remembered for his enormous contribution to the development of the philosophy of music education, his vision for the centrality of music to education and his generous mentorship of colleagues,” said Margaret Barrett, president of the International Society for Music Education and head of the music school at the University of Queensland in Australia.

Mr. Reimer was born in New York City, started out as a clarinetist and oboist and planned to be a high school band director, he told the association in a 2008 interview posted online at

He received a bachelor’s degree from the State University of New York at Fredonia and a master’s from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Mr. Reimer taught at Case Western Reserve University before joining Northwestern in 1978. He was its John W. Beattie Professor of Music Emeritus.

Mr. Reimer is survived by his partner of 27 years, Elizabeth Hebert, and daughters Terry Reimer and Jan Ellen Reimer. Visitation will be from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday at Donnellan Family Funeral Home in Skokie.


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