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July 23, 2018

Celebrating the MSM Centennial: The Past Comes to Life

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by John K. Blanchard (MM ’89)
MSM Institutional Historian & Director of Archives

As we prepare to celebrate the School’s Centennial in the 2018–19 season, we are finding ways to tell our story more fully and vividly than ever before.

The world will experience visually the School’s rich history through our discovery of previously unknown artifacts and the acquisition of troves of film negatives from freelance photographers.

Susan Graham appearing in the MSM Opera Theatre production of Massenet's "Chérubin" in 1987 while a graduate student

Many materials and photos that have been buried in crumbling boxes and scrapbooks for decades, are just now seeing the light of day.

Institutional Historian

In the History section of the School’s newly redesigned website, we have recently added photos, scanned documents, and other material, greatly expanding our documentation of the breadth of the School’s legacy of music in New York and music education throughout the world.

Virtually Unseen

Our first Virtual Yearbooks were launched on the School’s website in 2008, with a new page for each decade. We have done a major overhaul of these, adding new and higher resolution photos that chronicle each year since the School was founded.

One of the oldest surviving items from the School’s history, showing ledger entries for receipts and disbursements from 1918, when Manhattan School of Music was still known as the Union Settlement Music School

While alumni relive their time at MSM through entries about important performances and beloved faculty members, others will learn of seminal events, well-known guest artists, and concurrent NYC musical highlights.

Graduating students visit with American contralto Marian Anderson, who gave the commencement address at their 1965 ceremony, and MSM President John Brownlee (far right)

Did you know that…

  • Paul Price started one of the first Percussion Ensembles in the U.S. at MSM in 1957?
  • A 1941 Met performance of “Don Giovanni” benefited the School?
  • Billy Joel received an honorary doctorate from MSM in 2008?

Aaron Copland with MSM students after a 1968 coaching of his Sextet

Our Founder

Not many people alive today had the fortune to meet Janet Daniels Schenck (she died in 1976) or to experience firsthand her leadership and her immense concern for the welfare of each and every student who attended the School. Even among those who met her, few knew the full scope of her accomplishments or the details of the early days of the School.

This is why we have devoted a section of the website to an in-depth appreciation of this great and inspirational  woman. The Meet Our Founder section has many materials and photos that have been buried in crumbling boxes and scrapbooks for decades and are just now seeing the light of day.

An early class on “Rhythms” ca. 1922 from Janet Schenck’s personal scrapbook

Did you know that…

  • Our founder, Dr. Janet Schenck, gave lectures at the Metropolitan Opera Guild?
  • She had Fritz Kreisler as an early member of the School’s Artist Auxiliary Board?
  • She served as president of the National Guild of Community Music Schools?

An early photo of “two of the School’s first graduates” that includes a young Dora Zaslavsky, standing, who would join the faculty and teach for over 60 years

While we have presented excerpts before from Adventure in Music — the memoir Dr. Schenck wrote, published in 1961 — a complete reproduction of the book has now been included in the Founder’s section for the first time.

A 1970 portrait of Janet D. Schenck by American realist painter John Koch

Architecture Revisited

The buildings of Manhattan School of Music’s current campus — some inherited from the Institute of Musical Art (1910) and Juilliard (1931), some built by MSM itself (1969 and 2001) — are excellent examples of the rich architectural history of New York City.

Our Architectural History page extols the School’s physical attributes from an outsider’s perspective, with an insider’s devotion. Illustrated with archival photos, it culls from expert sources and published commentary.

The Student’s Room, ca. 1910, also known at the Heckscher Children’s Library, next to a photo of the same room from the 1980s

Please find time to explore MSM’s storied past in ways never before available. And if you find some MSM treasures on your own archaeological digs be sure and contact me (John Blanchard) at 917-493-4496 or

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