MSM in the 1930s

Interview with Marie Bambino by Lauren Frankovich, Alumni Engagement Officer

Last month I received a phone call from Marie Bambino, a very sweet woman who was requesting archival information about Manhattan School of Music. She mentioned having performed at MSM in the 1930s, which piqued my interest. Little did I know that our brief conversation would turn into a fascinating phone interview for our first e-newsletter.

Marie with her violin when she was 5 or 6 years old (1931 or 1932)

What is your instrument?

The violin. I started when I was five years old. I wanted to learn the piano, but my father said, “you can’t take a piano everywhere.” I also can play the accordion.

Where were you originally from?

My dad was from Sicily and my mom was born in the U.S. We lived in Little Italy in New York City.

Did you come from a musical family?

My dad was talented at guitar and knew operas and arias well. He pushed my musical talents.  People called me a child prodigy.

What do you remember about MSM?

I was one who benefited from Mrs. Janet D. Schenck’s strong desire to help young people receive music lessons. These were children of immigrants, of which I was one. She helped form a small school on East 104th Street [later moving to 105th Street]. The school was [eventually] named Manhattan School of Music. The children were charged 10 cents a lesson. Years later I attended a Settlement House on the Lower East Side of New York City where I lived and had the same opportunity to join the music classes, thanks to Mrs. Schenck. At this Settlement House I was chosen to play a violin solo at Manhattan School of Music. I remember I was so engrossed in the music—like I was in another world. Notes came easily and I never fumbled.

What happened next?

I was asked to go to California to play in an all-girls orchestra. My father refused, fearing for my safety, and I gave it all up. I entered the School of Industrial Arts (now the High School of Art and Design) and studied commercial ads. (Tony Bennett, Calvin Klein, and Marc Jacobs are all alumni.) Then I got married and had kids.

At age 17, In 1944, when she was offered a position with an All-Girls Orchestra

What’s one of your fondest memories of performing?

In 1934 I was chosen to play at the opening of the Sara Delano Roosevelt Park on the Lower East Side. Max Baer, the Heavyweight Champion of the World, and I were introduced to Mayor LaGuardia. It was such an honor. I was 8 years old.

Who is your favorite composer?

Chopin.

Do you ever play nowadays?

I still have my violin. I tried to play, but a string broke and I haven’t fixed it yet. I also play on my piano.

If you have any life advice what would it be?

Encourage your children to see their talents. Don’t steer them away from what they want to do. I probably would have gone into music and wonder what would have happened. I may not have had a family though. My son is the vice president of a company and my daughter teaches at Columbia University and is getting her PhD.

Maria on her 85th birthday in 2011


I was really touched by Marie’s story and could not believe that over 70 years later she decided to call MSM.  While her life went in a different direction, she clearly cherishes her experiences at MSM and reflects on her musical memories with great fondness. Many alumni have similar experiences, no matter their career path after MSM. While I am not performing as much as I used to, I feel so fortunate to have been given the opportunity to follow my dreams and pursue a life in music.  Thank you, Marie, for sharing your story with the MSM alumni community and reminding us that the gift of music is a blessing.