Learn about the nine individuals who have led the School since its founding in 1918.
Janet Daniels Schenck (November 11, 1883–October 12, 1976) was born Janet Williams Daniels in Evanston, Illinois. After studies at the American Institute of Applied Music in New York, she traveled abroad and met pianist Harold Bauer, with whom she studied. A graduate of the New York School of Social Work, she also took courses at Columbia University. She served as president of the National Guild of Community Music Schools from 1934 to 1941 and as vice president of the National Association of Schools of Music. She spoke on education and music to such groups as the New York Times Panel on Education, National Music Council, National Federation of Music Clubs, Metropolitan Opera Guild, and the Griffith Foundation. She was also a music teacher at summer sessions at Juilliard and at winter sessions of the New York School of Social Work, now a part of Columbia University. She headed Manhattan School of Music’s piano department until 1969. In addition to her history of Manhattan School of Music, Adventure in Music (1961), she wrote Music, Youth and Opportunity (1928) and contributed articles to such publications as Musical Courier, The Quarterly, and Musical America. Rutgers University and Lafayette College awarded Schenck honorary degrees, and the National Association of American Composers and Conductors gave her an award. In 1968, the City of New York gave her its Handel Medallion.
John Donald Mackenzie Brownlee (January 7, 1900–January 10, 1969) was an operatic baritone, born in Australia. After serving in World War I, he studied accounting but pursued his interest in singing informally. He entered a singing contest and won, having never had a singing lesson. At a subsequent engagement, Nellie Melba heard him and convinced him to go to Paris for serious study. His operatic debut took place at Covent Garden on June 8, 1926, in a performance of Puccini’s La bohème, in which Dame Melba made her farewell appearance. That autumn he was engaged by the Paris Opera, the first time a British subject had been made a permanent member of that company. On February 17, 1937, he appeared for the first time at the Metropolitan Opera, in Verdi’s Rigoletto. Besides making important appearances elsewhere, Brownlee remained a regular at Covent Garden, the Paris Opera, and the Met, making his last performance there in March 1957. In total at the Met, he would appear in 33 roles, giving over 500 performances: 348 in New York and the remainder on tour with the Company in Philadelphia, Boston, Baltimore, and other cities. In addition, he often sang in operetta, oratorio, and musicals. He joined Manhattan School of Music’s voice faculty in 1953 and became head of the opera department. When Janet Schenck retired as director in 1956, the Trustees appointed Brownlee as the School’s new director, a title later changed to president.
George Schick (September 28, 1908–March 7, 1985) was a Czechoslovakian-born conductor, vocal coach, accompanist, and music educator. He served as accompanist for Richard Tauber on his 1946–47 tour of North, Central, and South America, and for Elizabeth Schumann, including on what proved to be some of her last recordings in New York in 1950. He notably served on the conducting staffs of the Metropolitan Opera and the Prague State Opera. Trained at the Prague Conservatory, Schick began his career as an assistant conductor at the Prague State Opera from 1927 to 1938, then left to take a conducting post at the Royal Opera, London. Schick immigrated to the United States in 1940 and joined the United States Navy. After World War II, he conducted performances with the San Carlo Opera Company, the Internationale Opera Company, the Miami Opera Guild, and the Little Symphony of Montreal during the 1940s. He then worked as an associate conductor under Rafael Kubelik with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra from 1950 to 1956. Schick relocated to New York City in 1956 to become coordinator of the NBC Opera Company. He joined the conducting staff of the Metropolitan Opera in 1958 and remained with the Met for the next 11 years. Before leaving the Met in 1969, he conducted over 160 performances with the company.
John O’Hea Crosby (July 12, 1926–December 15, 2002) was a musician, conductor, impresario, and arts administrator. Born in New York, he was enrolled at age 13 at the Los Alamos Boys School in New Mexico due to asthma. He served in the U.S. Army from 1944 to 1946, with time spent with the 18th Regimental Band, and then attended Yale as an undergraduate, studying composition with Paul Hindemith. Crosby spent time as an assistant arranger for Broadway musicals before pursuing graduate studies at Columbia University. His love of opera intensified with regular attendance at the Metropolitan Opera and work as accompanist to the former artistic director of the Hamburg State Opera. He planned for and founded Santa Fe Opera, a summer opera series in New Mexico that was inaugurated in 1957. He presented the world or American premieres of nearly 50 works during his tenure, including the commission of Carlisle Floyd’s Wuthering Heights during the second season and American premieres of several operas by Richard Strauss and Hans Werner Henze. Igor Stravinsky was invited to supervise a production of The Rake’s Progress during the first season and was subsequently given “an unmatched musical pulpit” with six productions of his operas. Crosby often cast young, promising singers, many of whom went on to successful careers. He was to serve a four-year presidency of Opera America and oversee 44 seasons as Santa Fe’s general director.
Gideon William Waldrop (September 2, 1919–May 19, 2000) was a composer and conductor, born in Texas. He served as an intelligence officer in the U.S. Air Force and was awarded the bronze star in 1945. He studied composition with Bernard Rogers and Howard Hanson, earning a Bachelor of Music degree from Baylor University and a Master’s degree and a PhD from Eastman/University of Rochester. A member of ASCAP, his compositions include a symphony, an overture, a prelude and fugue for orchestra, chamber works, choral works, and numerous songs. He held positions as conductor (Waco Baylor Symphony Orchestra); editor (Review of Recorded Music and Musical Courier); professor (Baylor University); music consultant (Ford Foundation’s Young Composer Public School Project, as well as to the Minister of Education in Portugal); and teacher (Baylor University). He was an advisor to the Toscanini Archives committee and to Israel’s Minister of Education. Waldrop was appointed Dean of the Juilliard School in 1963 and served as its Acting President from 1983 to 84, after the sudden death of Peter Mennin.
Peter Simon, born in Hungary in 1949, studied piano at the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto before attending the Juilliard School. After further studies in London, he became the student of Leon Fleisher at the University of Michigan, receiving a Doctor of Musical Arts degree in 1983. He subsequently divided his time between performing, teaching, and artistic direction. In 1986, Simon became Director of Academic Studies at the Royal Conservatory of Music (RCM) in Toronto, where, after serving as President of Manhattan School of Music, he returned in 1991 to become President and CEO. He initiated a redevelopment of the RCM’s national headquarters that included the construction of Koerner Hall, launched a Performing Arts Division (2009) offering over 300 events a year, and founded the Glenn Gould School for exceptionally gifted performers. He created Learning Through the Arts, a program that has been offered in hundreds of schools across Canada to engage disadvantaged young people in learning. In 2015, he established the Marilyn Thomson Early Childhood Centre to design developmental programs in conjunction with the RCM’s Neuroscience Research Centre. The RCM Certificate Program, a sequenced program of music study and assessment, has the participation of over 400,000 students and 30,000 teachers in Canada and the U.S. annually.
Marta Casals Istomin, born Marta Montánez Martínez in Puerto Rico in 1936, began studying violin and cello at age five. A student of the legendary Pablo Casals, she later became his artistic assistant and then his wife. (She later married pianist Eugene Istomin.) With Casals, she developed the performance and study of classical music in Puerto Rico, establishing the Puerto Rico Casals Festival, the Puerto Rico Symphony Orchestra, and the Puerto Rico Conservatory of Music. As an accomplished cellist, she has given master classes around the world. From 1980 to 1990, she served as Artistic Director of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C. She founded the Kennedy Center’s Terrace Concerts series and established the largest ballet series in the United States. She was the General Director of the International Evian Music Festival in France, where she was instrumental in the establishment of master classes with the festival’s visiting artists, the expansion of the festival by requiring that choral music be included, and the building of a new concert hall.
Robert Sirota, born in New York in 1949, is a composer, conductor, and administrator. He pursued his early training in composition at the Juilliard School and received a Bachelor of Music degree in piano and composition from Oberlin Conservatory. After a year of study in Europe, he earned a PhD in composition at Harvard. His works have been performed throughout the U.S. and Europe; he is the recipient of fellowships from the Guggenheim and Watson foundations as well as grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, Meet the Composer, ASCAP, and the American Music Center. Sirota served as Chairman of the Department of Music and Performing Arts Professions at New York University and as Director of Boston University’s School of Music. From 1995 to 2005, Sirota served as Director of the Peabody Institute of Johns Hopkins University and as a member of the conservatory’s composition faculty. During his Peabody tenure, Sirota spearheaded a $27-million physical transformation, enhancing and repairing much of the Peabody campus, including a restored entrance and new performance spaces. He started an institute-wide initiative to better align its operations with its mission, focused on the development of music entrepreneurialism, and forged a conservatory partnership in Singapore.
James Gandre, born in Wisconsin in 1959, earned a Bachelor of Music degree with honors from Lawrence University, a Master of Music degree from the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, and his Doctor of Education from the University of Nebraska– Lincoln. He also pursued postgraduate music study at the Blossom Festival School of Music/Kent State University and MSM. Before his appointment as President of Manhattan School of Music, Gandre had served the School for 15 years (1985–2000), most recently as Dean of Enrollment and Alumni. In 2000, he became Dean of Chicago College of Performing Arts at Roosevelt University, where he went on to serve concurrently as the Interim Dean of the College of Education, and ultimately as the University’s Provost and Executive Vice President. Gandre has broad knowledge of the history and discourse of the American conservatory, the subject of his doctoral dissertation, And Then There Were Seven: An Historical Case Study of the Seven Independent American Conservatories of Music that Survived the Twentieth Century. He has also written about conservatories and music schools for various publications, including Musical America, and has lectured at higher education institutions throughout the country. He was the founder and served as the first Chairperson of the Advisory Committee for the National Performing and Visual Arts College Fairs; served for four years as the external adjudicator for graduation examinations at Australia’s University of Melbourne School of Music; and was a voting member of the Grammys for more than two decades. As a performer, he has appeared as a tenor soloist as well as a choral artist in concert, commercial recordings, and television appearances with leading ensembles and opera companies around the world, including the New York Philharmonic, Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, Aix-en-Provence Festival, Israel Philharmonic, Royal Concertgebouw, San Francisco Symphony, and London Classical Players.
In the School's former home, on East 105th Street, The Director’s Office was occupied by Schenck and Brownlee during their tenures.