playing for life



         Hirsch Suwalski Bieler, 1900 – 1985

          Anna Burstein Bieler, 1908 – 2003


          Rich lives, rounded                                                                             

Anna – Always in Motion

Though she concertized around Philadelphia until the mid-Fifties, Anna increasingly divided her time between homemaking and teaching piano at the Settlement Music School, a faculty position she held for thirty years.

In 1949, yearning for her far-flung family, Anna returned to the infant State of Israel for several months to reunite with her mother Genia and sister Rebecca for the first time in over a decade.  She voyaged there again in 1952, bringing her two daughters.  In 1954 she flew Rebecca, widowed but still performing and teaching, to Philadelphia for Rebecca’s 60th birthday and Tania's wedding.  The sisters gave a celebratory two-piano recital in Anna’s Elkins Park home, their first joint performance since 1931. 

Anna's passports are papered with stamps from trips to reunite with family and friends.  She masterminded her first trip to the Soviet Union just after the July 1959 Nixon-Khrushchev Kitchen Debate.[5]  Despite Cold War fireworks, for Anna international relations were purely personal -- they opened the door to visit the rest of her family.  She arrived in Leningrad on Vice-President Nixon’s heels 9 August 1959, re-uniting with her sister Bertha after almost 50 years and finally meeting Bertha’s musical clan.  In later visits to the USSR, she went far afield to connect with the family of her mother's brothers Samuel and Michael Neiman, still living in Tblisi:

*          *          *

Anna[6]: They got married there, raised their families, and died there. Their wives were either singers or played an instrument.  Samuel had one or two sons.  The oldest (Monya) was named after the [grand]father, Mark [Neiman], and played the violin.

Michael had a very colorful life.  He was very vain, good looking, loved life and women. His wife was a singer. He had three sons:  Mark -- cello, Alexander (“Shura”) -- violin; Leva -- violin.[7]

Samuel died before my first trip to the USSR in 1959. I finally made it [that time] to Leningrad – [but] was too frightened to go to Tblisi, and never met him.  A few years later I took Bertha with me to Sochi and Tblisi.  I think this was 1964 or 1966.  She wasn't there [to Tblisi] since 1920, although the young Neimans had been in Leningrad and visited [her].  I met them after Uncle Michael had died, and [his son] Mark told us that Uncle Michael used to lead the band that followed the funeral processions.  He was old when he died.

My meeting with my cousins was like a fairy tale.  I never in my life dreamed I will meet them all -- including Bertha.

*          *          *

Anna taught until 1982 at the Settlement School, where her students included future composer-conductor Louis Karchin.[8]  After Hirsch’s death (1985) she not only continued to travel, but started to play again in a Settlement School senior chamber group program organized by her daughter Tania.[9]  Despite aches and pains, at age 80 she dug out her sheet music, began practicing scales, and lugged a briefcase stuffed with scores to practice sessions and performances.[10]

In 1995 Anna moved to Washington DC.  Five years later at age 92 she consolidated her residences to Palm Beach FL.  Before her last move she donated her beloved Steinway B to the Settlement School.  After her death most of the bound volumes of her extensive sheet music collection dating to 1920s Leipzig were donated to that School’s main library.  They remain in use.



[5] See Chap. __ ("Cultural Exchange") Appendix 2, below.

[6] Anna's handwritten "memoirs" (undated).

[7] See Chap. ___("In Stalin's Russia") (Monia's 1938 letters), below.

[9] “Sixty Plus,” now called “Adult Chamber Players and Ensembles.”  See

[10] For a clip of Anna (age 84) rehearsing with a chamber quartet at Sixty Plus, see