Gentemann was a natural at the piano. By age 5 she could play anything
she could whistle or hum. Although her feet barely reached the pedals,
her fingers danced along the keyboard, playing notes with thunderous
authority or as softly as a butterfly landing on a bluebonnet.
Ida was born on October 4, 1909 in Fredericksburg,
Texas. Her father, John Gentemann, was her first music teacher.
John was the organist and choir director at St. Mary's Catholic
Church for over 50 years.
After graduating from St. Mary's School, Ida studied music at Our
Lady of the Lake College in San
Antonio. At age 19 she joined the Sisters of the Divine Providence
and took the name Sister Elaine.
Sister Elaine earned a master's degree from the America Conservatory
of Music in Chicago. She did post graduate work at Julliard and
Columbia University before returning to San
She taught piano and organ as well as courses in musical composition,
orchestration, counterpoint, form and analysis at Our Lady of the
Lake for the next 70 years.
Fredericksburg Standard, April 1, 1953
| An internationally
acclaimed musician, Sister Elaine is well known for her extensive
work in musical composition. She wrote over 500 pieces for orchestras,
wind ensembles, vocal ensembles, choruses, stringed quartets, vocal
trios and solos including masses, motets, hymnals, overtures, piano
pieces, fugues and passacaglias.
In case you're wondering, the online dictionary of musical terms tells
me that a motet is a composition of sacred choral music without instrumental
accompaniment, a fugue is a musical composition in which one or two
themes are repeated or imitated by successively entering voices, and
a passacaglia is a musical composition that features variation over
a repeating bass.
Sister Elaine wrote all kinds of music, from simple children's songs
to concert overtures and masses with full orchestration.
Her original compositions include a 200 page hymnal and a 3-act operetta
called "The Rose Window," based on the famous legend of the Rose Window
at San Jose Mission
in San Antonio.
She wrote a special song for the Fredericksburg Easter Fires Pageant.
But she is best known for adapting popular Negro spirituals to masses.
Her work includes arrangements of "Were You There When They Crucified
My Lord?" "Nobody knows the trouble I've Seen" and "Swing Low Sweet
There was a special place in her heart for the Native American culture.
She wrote masses that contained nothing but American Indian chants.
Sister Elaine spent her summers traveling throughout the Southwestern
United States and Mexico attending Native American dances and ceremonies.
Even in those rituals she heard strains of the Gregorian chant which
she attributed to the influence of early Spanish missionaries.
Sister Elaine believed music had the power to feed the soul, to teach
and to heal. She wrote 4 piano books integrated with language study
in German, Spanish, French and Italian. She coauthored a series of
books called We Speak Through Music, acclaimed by speech therapists
for helping children with speech difficulties.
An article in Time Magazine described her as "an accomplished
pianist" with "a lightning musical memory."
Sister Elaine described her gift for writing music not so much as
inspiration but "a kind of hunger that doesn't leave until you have
given time and thought to the musical idea with the ultimate result."
People who knew her say Sister Elaine was modest, thoughtful and sincere,
but she was also playful, funny and very human. And her taste in music
went far beyond hymns and spirituals. She loved ragtime, jazz, rock
and roll, Broadway musicals and other forms of popular music.
She was especially fond of Scott Joplin, The Beatles and Andrew Lloyd
Webber. Many of her concerts included songs from "Camelot," "The sound
of Music" and "My Fair Lady" mixed with religious music and sophisticated
piano and organ numbers.
While Sister Elaine enjoyed creating and playing complex musical arrangements,
she used popular songs to connect to the common man. Most of us, after
all, love music but have little interest in music theory or advanced
We just turn on the shower and sing.
| © Michael
July 1, 2018 Column
"Sister Elaine Widely Recognized for Musical Ability in Composing
Masses," Fredericksburg Standard, April 1, 1953.
"OLL sets program by Sister Elaine," San Antonio Express, December
"Negro Spiritual Mass Stirs Interest of Music Critics," San Antonio
Express, November 7, 1944.
"Pianist, Composer to Present concert," Kerrville Daily Times, April