Manhattan School of Music: One of the World's Premier Music Conservatories
By the time of its first-ever semester in the early decades of the 20th century, the settlement music school founded by Janet Daniels Schenck that would one day be internationally recognized as an epicenter of music excellence and education, was buoyed by an annual budget of $3,000, galvanized by an initial enrollment of 120 students, and guided by a faculty of 23. Even taking into account that first season’s ambitious curriculum – private study, theory, composition, music history, and literature were offered – and the involvement of an “Artist Auxiliary Board” that included the likes of pianist Harold Bauer and cellist Pablo Casals, could MSM founder Janet Daniels Schenck, for all her resolve and sense of purpose, have possibly envisioned then what MSM has become now?
Internationally recognized for the outsized talent of its gifted undergraduate and graduate students (960 of them, hailing from more than 50 countries and nearly all 50 states), a renowned faculty of 200-plus artist-teachers, and innovative curricula across a broad range of programs, this one-time settlement music school has long since taken its place among the world’s premiere music conservatories.
Offering a supportive, nurturing environment while at the same time promoting the highest standards of artistic excellence, MSM takes full advantage of New York’s incomparable creative energy and the fact that the city is home to so many of the world’s great musical artists and venues. Students are exposed to an ongoing roster of luminaries invited to lead MSM’s high-profile master class series, and singular performance opportunities at venerable venues such as Jazz at Lincoln Center, the Metropolitan Museum, Merkin Concert Hall, the New Jersey Performing Arts Center, and the nearby Cathedral of St. John the Divine, among others.
With its intensive curricula of classical and jazz training, and musical theatre, MSM grants Bachelor of Music, Master of Music, and Doctor of Musical Arts degrees, as well as the Professional Studies Certificate and Artist Diploma. And true to its origins as a music school for children, MSM offers superior instruction to young musicians between the ages of 5 and 18 via its renowned Precollege program with its nearly 500 students; an Arts-in-Education Program that serves an additional 2,000 schoolchildren; and a rich summertime education experience for students ages 11 to 17 at MSM Summer. Further distinguishing MSM are the School’s pioneering Center for Music Entrepreneurship, which incorporates practical, entrepreneurial skill development into a wider music education; and its seminal Distance Learning Program – the brainchild of faculty member Pinchas Zukerman – which since 1996 has used videoconferencing for live, interactive arts education, connecting some of the world’s most gifted artist-educators with thousands of learners from around the globe.
Finally, true to its original name, MSM is still a “neighborhood” school. Indeed, among its many attractions is the School’s Morningside Heights location on Manhattan’s west side. Dubbed an “academic Acropolis,” it’s a cozy part of the city with a genuine “college town” feel, home to fully seven institutions of higher learning – Columbia University, Barnard College, Bank Street College of Education, Teachers College of Columbia University, Jewish Theological Seminary, Union Theological Seminary, and MSM. It is also home to spectacular institutions such as the famed Riverside Church (site of MSM’s annual Commencement ceremonies), the Cathedral of St. John the Divine (the largest cathedral in the world), and the national memorial for U.S. President Ulysses S. Grant and his wife Julia (“Grant’s Tomb,” otherwise known as North America’s largest mausoleum).
Further, MSM is just a short stroll from the New York City subway’s extensive 1 train service and mere steps from Riverside Park, thus allowing students to enjoy the best of two worlds: the subway offers a gateway to the city’s vast cultural riches, while the Park offers walking and cycling trails and spectacular views of the Hudson River. It is a dynamic, multi-faceted urban setting, one that only boosts the energy and pulse of this dynamic and multi-faceted institution.
But perhaps best of all – an intangible quality that truly distinguishes MSM – is the fact that Morningside Heights’ “neighborhood” feel is itself reflected in MSM’s family of students, faculty, and administration. It is there in the strong sense of community and collegiality that underscores all the music-making and learning and excitement of daily life at the School. We are all connected, and the supportive environment that extends out of that shared experience makes this a very special place to be.
And finally, for all that it has to offer, MSM is not simply a top-tier music conservatory in one of the world’s great cities; it is also, thanks to its accomplished students and distinguished faculty, a first-rate performing arts center, one that provides New York City music lovers with more than 700 live performances a year. The MSM performance season, spanning September to April and encompassing a full range of classical, jazz, musical theater, and contemporary offerings – everything from the most intimate student recital to the most ambitious operatic production – is well-served by MSM’s nine performance venues and off-site partner venues.
Enjoying this extensive season of live music in the here and now is in many ways to witness the future, as many of MSM’s students eventually graduate into the front ranks of the world’s musical and artistic leadership. In fact, the School’s impressive, seemingly endless list of distinguished alumni, stretching as it does across disciplines and decades, represents an implicit and collective testimonial for how far the School has come since its founding nearly 100 years ago.
Which brings us full circle, back to Janet D. Schenk. Could she in those first days of instruction have envisioned where this “adventure in music” (the title of her 1961 memoir) would one day lead? Far be it from me – writing roughly a century on – to assume, but I like to think she did. And as Manhattan School of Music moves ever-closer to its centennial mark, I invite you to envision yet more: a music conservatory that, far from resting on its considerable laurels, continues to grow, expanding its education offerings and influence, all the while nurturing the talents and unique qualities of new generations of musicians, artistic leaders, and, above all, well-rounded human beings.
James Gandre, President
Dr. James Gandre, an educator and musician with a deep commitment to students and the development of American conservatory learning, returned to Manhattan School of Music to assume the presidency in May 2013. He had served the School for fifteen years (1985–2000), most recently as Dean of Enrollment and Alumni. In 2000, Dr. Gandre 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.
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 Conservatories of Music that Survived the 20th Century. He has also written about conservatories and music schools in Music in American Life: An Encyclopedia of the Songs, Styles, Stars, and Stories that Shaped Our Culture (ABC-CLIO, 2013). He presented his views of conservatory education and its impact on cultural life in America in the 2014 Musical America Directory.
As a performer, James Gandre has appeared as a tenor soloist with the Cleveland Orchestra, London Classical Players, Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra, and members of the San Francisco Symphony. His professional choral engagements include more than 175 performances with the New York Philharmonic, Aix-en-Provence Festival, Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra (The Netherlands), Israel Philharmonic, Warsaw Symphony, San Francisco Symphony, Orchestra of St. Luke’s, Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra, New York Chamber Symphony, American Symphony, Opera Orchestra of New York, and Voices of Ascension, and more than 20 commercial recordings and television appearances on EMI/Angel, EMI/Capital, Teldec, Delos, MusicMaster, Warner Records, and on NBC’s The Today Show, PBS’s Live from Lincoln Center, ABC, and CBS. In these performances, he has worked under such conductors as Leonard Bernstein, Zubin Mehta, Sir Colin Davis, James Levine, Mstislav Rostropovich, Riccardo Chailly, Robert Shaw, Edo de Waart, Christopher Hogwood, Roger Norrington, John Nelson, Carlos Kalmar, Giuseppe Patane, Dennis Russell Davies, and Eduardo Mata.
Gandre is a voting member of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (GRAMMYS) and a member of the Recommendation Board of the Avery Fisher Artist Program. He has been a judge for the Region Finals of the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions. He was a panelist for the William Randolph Hearst Foundation/New World Symphony’s symposium on future multicultural recruitment for the orchestra and for the joint Andrew W. Mellon Foundation/Aspen Music Festival panel about bridging the worlds of musical training and future music performance. He led the effort to create the National Performing and Visual Arts College Fairs presented by the National Association for College Admission Counseling and served as the first and third Chairperson of the Advisory Committee. Dr. Gandre also has presented numerous panels on issues affecting LGBT youth and college/high school professionals at educational conferences.
President Gandre has lectured at higher education institutions throughout the country, including the Curtis Institute of Music, New England Conservatory, Oberlin College, University of Michigan, Peabody Institute, Mannes College of Music, Stanford University, University of Michigan, the National Orchestral Institute at the University of Maryland, the University of the Arts, University of New Mexico, and Interlochen Arts Academy. For four years he served as the external adjudicator for graduation performance examinations at Australia’s University of Melbourne School of Music and he has been a regional selector for the Alberto Vilar Global Fellowship in the Performing Arts at NYU. He is the coauthor of a chapter in The New First Among Equals: The Role of the Chief Academic Officer (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2014) on the role of the provost and of the chief financial officer.
He has served on the Board of Directors of Chicago’s Grant Park Music Festival, Chicago High School for the Arts, and the Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University. He has also served on the Board of Visitors of the Walnut Hill School for the Arts, the Board of Advisors for Music in the Loft, and on the Diversity Working Group sponsored by the Elizabeth Morse and Elizabeth Morse Genius Charitable Trusts.
Dr. Gandre has been a consultant to institutions as diverse as Canada’s Royal Conservatory of Music, Chicago’s Institute for Clinical Social Work, and the Wisconsin Conservatory of Music and has served as a site team member for the American Bar Association’s accreditation division at City University of New York, University of Pittsburgh, University of North Dakota, and Indiana University–Purdue University.
A Wisconsin native, President Gandre earned his 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 attended the Harvard University Institute for Management and Leadership in Education and pursued postgraduate music study at the Blossom Festival School of Music/Kent State University.
He is married to Dr. Boris Thomas, a psychotherapist and executive coach in private practice.
About President James Gandre
Board of Trustees
International Advisory Board
Artistic Advisory Council
Alumni Advisory Council
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