From its beginnings as a small community music school to its current incarnation as a top conservatory, Manhattan School of Music has upheld a tradition of excellence in music education. The School was founded in 1917 by pianist and philanthropist Janet D. Schenck. Then called the Neighborhood Music School, it was located on Manhattan’s Upper East Side and tasked with bringing high-quality musical training to the immigrant communities of New York City. By re-establishing the musical communities that had existed in these immigrants’ home countries, Schenck hoped to further the nascent cause of American music. To that end, the School developed its resources to educate the complete musician.
By 1928, enrollment at the School had reached 400 students. Under additional artistic guidance from Pablo Casals, Harold Bauer, and Fritz Kreisler, the Neighborhood Music School erected a new building and, in 1938, changed its name to Manhattan School of Music. In the space of twenty years, the school had built a national reputation. By 1943, the School offered the Bachelor’s degree; advanced degree programs soon followed.
In 1956, Dr. Schenck retired and John Brownlee, noted Metropolitan Opera baritone, was appointed director, a title later revised to president. President Brownlee initiated the idea of relocating the School to the Morningside Heights neighborhood; his death occurred only months before his efforts were realized. In 1969, George Schick, Metropolitan Opera conductor, accompanist, and distinguished opera coach, succeeded Brownlee as president and led the School’s move to its present location. John O. Crosby, founder and general director of the Santa Fe Opera, was appointed president in 1976; Gideon W. Waldrop was appointed in 1986; and Peter C. Simon in 1989.
Marta Casals Istomin, former director of the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, served as president of the School from 1992 until 2005. Her tenure saw the construction of the G. Chris and SungEun Andersen Residence Hall, which opened in 2001. In addition to student housing, Andersen is home to the William R. and Irene D. Miller Recital Hall and the Alan M. and Joan Taub Ades Performance Space; the Peter Jay Sharp Library; and 108 practice spaces. Dr. Robert Sirota, appointed president in 2005, oversaw significant growth at Manhattan School of Music during his seven-year tenure, instituting the critically acclaimed Contemporary Performance Program and, in 2010, the innovative Center for Music Entrepreneurship, as well as the addition of the Solomon Gadles Mikowsky Recital Hall, a new state-of-the-art recital space.
Under the current leadership of Dr. James Gandre, who assumed the presidency in May 2013, Manhattan School of Music continues to uphold the mission that Janet Schenck began over 90 years ago. Now home to 900 students from over 40 countries, the School is a thriving international community of artists. As MSM continues to grow, its focus remains the same: the education of tomorrow’s leaders in the arts.