Claire Polin, 69, Performer, Composer

Posted: December 08, 1995

Claire Polin, 69, a composer who led a lifelong fight against the term ''woman composer," died Wednesday of cancer and Parkinson's disease at her home in Merion.

More than 30 years ago, Ms. Polin said, "Inequality in music? I meet it every day, but I continue writing and performing. I don't sign a man's name to my music; that wouldn't settle anything."

Her determination was rewarded by widespread performance and publication of her music that ranged from solo works for her instrument, the flute, to three symphonies and a large catalog of chamber music and songs.

Her music developed from a young dissident's clangor through rigorous serialism. As she traveled, she began to incorporate Eastern scales in her music. She also used Welsh folk material, medieval chant and microtones, and she wrote works that offered performers the chance to improvise. Much of her work was written for flute or harp, although a piano sonata, Shirildang, was among her last pieces.

The youngest of 10 children of a Turkish father and Franco-Russian mother, Ms. Polin showed an early interest in composition. She began piano studies at 6, and at 10, she had written her first symphony, but she didn't know how to score it. "I wrote in things like, 'Now the violins play,' " she said.

She continued studies at the Philadelphia Conservatory with Vincent Persichetti, the Tanglewood Music Center with Lukas Foss and Aaron Copland, and the Juilliard School with Roger Sessions. She studied flute with Philadelphia Orchestra principal William Kincaid, and after his death, she published a five-volume flute method series based on notes he had left.

In 1962, she joined the faculty of Rutgers University in Camden, teaching art history and composition until her retirement in 1991.

In the 1960s, she was the model of the feminist composer, for she not only kept house and raised two sons, but taught, performed and continued to compose. She won a fellowship in 1968 for a year's study in Wales; was a MacDowell Colony fellow that year; and won a series of prizes for her music. She won commissions from Westminster Cathedral in England, the Haifa Madrigal Society and the Korean Government, among others.

Ms. Polin was also director of contemporary music concerts at the Philadelphia Art Alliance and founder of the International University Exchange Concerts. She contributed articles to music journals in Israel, England and the United States.

She is survived by sons Josef Schaff of Philadelphia, and Gabriel Schaff of Englewood, N.J.; a sister, Mattie Marks; and one grandchild. Her husband, printing executive Merle Schaff, died in 1971.

Services were to be held this morning at Goldsteing's Rosenberg's Raphael- Sacks, 6410 N. Broad St. Burial was to follow at Mount Carmel Cemetery.

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