By Sarah A. Hoover
Drawing upon our forward-thinking founding as we vault into the 21st century
As a young pianist growing up in Washington, D.C., I made my first trips to Peabody’s Friedberg Hall as a participant in yearly piano competitions. I was frequently overwhelmed by the whole experience: the anxiety of waiting my turn to play, the fear of stumbling over a tough spot once I began, the discomfort of being judged as a musician. I remember feeling rather small in that grand hall, dwarfed by the eight elegant statues above me on the walls. I later learned that these stone female figures were called caryatids, a Greek form of columnar support carved in the shape of the human body.
Now back at Peabody in a new capacity, I have found myself looking at those caryatids, who seem to carry the weight of the ceiling upon their heads. I am reminded of another image, rendered in stained glass in the south rose window of Chartres Cathedral: Each evangelist sits upon the massive figure of an Old Testament prophet, an image recalled by Isaac Newton in a letter: “If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of a giant.”
At Peabody, too, we stand on the shoulders of giants. The caryatids of our 19th-century origins support us as we vault into the 21st century. Our future is grounded in our rich past. Dean Fred Bronstein has delineated a clear path forward for Peabody, organized around the concepts of excellence, interdisciplinary experiences, innovation, and community connectivity. He has called these concepts “pillars,” and we are now at work as a community to give these pillars character and shape with new programming, curriculum, and partnerships.
As we move ahead, we are fortunate in having a history to draw upon to help us remember that the Peabody Institute was in fact founded as a forward-thinking organization, a pioneer in arts education in a city of entrepreneurs and industry leaders, and a model for the development of a uniquely American tradition of classical music training and performance. Our subsequent legacy has been one of innovation in the development of new educational programs and concert life, and of periodic recalibration in response to changing times and changing audiences. This serves to remind us that what we are up to right now in 2016 is, in fact, not very new at all.
Born in poverty in New England, George Peabody was a self-made man who grew up without access to opportunities for education in the liberal and fine arts. According to the first provost, Nathaniel Morison, Peabody’s pioneering vision of a single multidisciplinary campus containing a library, lecture series, art gallery, music school, and concert series was intended for a similar sort of motivated “young man of genius without means.” For him “this institute is especially designed. It affords him, in its library and lectures, means of improvement which he could not possibly obtain without its aid.” Peabody knew from his extensive travels and residence overseas that America did not yet possess a high-quality training program equal to those in Europe. While creating access to opportunity for American musicians, the overarching ambition of the founders was clear: “It is aimed at the highest and the best.”
Peabody’s motivations were perhaps as entrepreneurial as philanthropic. He wished to drive “the enlargement and diffusion of a taste for the fine arts” in an enterprising city that, in the mid-1850s, was a leader in industrial activity but lagged behind in the development of academic and cultural institutions. He speculated that gathering together cultural activities in one institution could create a compelling intellectual energy in the city and help broadly educate its citizens, both music-makers and music lovers, for a rapidly evolving future. He understood that the proposed institute would need to create its own audiences and demonstrate its own relevance and value to the community. In his vision, reflected in the second annual report, “all parts of the system are bound together into a consistent whole. The training in the school is to culminate in the concerts; and the concerts are to be standing exhibitions of the culture of the school, and are to spread that culture among the people.”
Therefore, when musical instruction began at Peabody in 1868, professional concert activity also commenced. Regular series provided both students and residents access to Baltimore’s only professional orchestra (discontinued in 1895 to create a student ensemble); under director Asger Hamerik, Peabody presented ambitious concerts of all-American music in 1874 and 1877, as well as the first American Beethoven Memorial Festival and programs devoted to symphonic music from France, Germany, and Scandinavia. The Friday Afternoon Recitals, founded in 1874 by pianist Nanette Falk-Auerbach, presented 20 yearly concerts featuring faculty and international artists. Visiting artists included Fritz Kreisler, Ferruccio Busoni, Gertrude Stein, Pablo Casals, Georges Enesco, Arthur Schnabel, Wanda Landowska, Myra Hess, Vladimir Horowitz, Rudolf Serkin, Arthur Rubinstein, Andres Segovia, Helen Traubel, and Zinka Milanov. The series lasted until 1952, when Director Reginald Stewart replaced it with a six-concert series on Tuesday evenings called Candlelight Concerts, featuring a professional chamber orchestra and guest soloists in an intimate, candlelit setting.
Director Otto Ortmann wrote in 1941 that “these recitals, apart from furnishing concert opportunities for the public, also form an essential part of the education of the music students.” Creating a culture of musical excellence in turn fostered a lively practice of community performances, providing students with invaluable professional opportunities. A brief-lived Concert Bureau took Peabody faculty and students as far away as Chicago, Cincinnati, St. Louis, and New York, as well as in the city of Baltimore to concert halls, universities, clubs, churches, and hospitals to perform concerts — up to 108 in the peak year of 1913–14. While the Friday Recitals had “for many years been one of the most important educational factors in the art life of Baltimore,” the Peabody Bulletin reported in 1910, “it is desired to extend still further their usefulness by instituting a series of recitals outside of Baltimore, thus giving the people of Maryland and the neighboring states the opportunity of benefiting by this important phase of the Conservatory’s work.”
Commitment to community engagement through musical performance expanded in the 1930s when the Carnegie Corporation awarded Peabody a series of three grants totaling $129,000 to bring musicians into public schools in Baltimore: “In cooperation with the public schools system, 13 Peabody teachers [applied music majors and ‘school music’ students] are giving training in instrumental music to more than 2,000 pupils in 34 grade schools and 13 junior and senior high schools.” In 1939, the Bulletin posed hard questions about how to select students for intensive study based on “ability and interest,” how to provide instruments for practice at home to economically disadvantaged children, and how to pay for “talented students in the public schools to study at the Conservatory.” The Carnegie grants allowed Peabody during the Depression era to commit to “the finding of talent that might otherwise be lost for lack of care,” supporting a large-scale institutional commitment to instrumental instruction for schoolchildren in the Baltimore community.
Experiments with education took place within the walls of Peabody as well. Over the years, its leaders and faculty began with a European blueprint for professional musical training; studio teaching was for the first 30 years conducted in frequent weekly small group lessons, with an astounding total of 72 per year. While it was recognized that “in the majority of cases, the most satisfactory results can be obtained in class lessons, since a careful and attentive student profits hardly less by the instruction given to his classmates than by that to himself,” by 1898, instruction expanded to include the option of private lessons under the leadership of Harold Randolph, under whose guidance the Conservatory distinguished itself for its “insistence on the ‘hand-made article,’” a combination of private training and group education tailored for the unique needs and characteristics of each student. By 1912, 60 minutes of private instruction, either in one hourlong or two half-hour lessons per week, was standard practice, a model continued today. By 1914, the Yearbook reported that it was “the object of the Conservatory to turn out well-rounded musicians”; the Conservatory expanded its programs to include a “school music” curriculum (1911); an affiliation with Johns Hopkins to allow for cross-divisional registration (1916); expanded coursework in music history, form and analysis, ear training, acoustics, and eurhythmics (1927); the development of a Bachelor of Music (1926) and, in 1934, Master of Music and Bachelor of Science, a degree offered jointly with Johns Hopkins; and the nation’s first doctor of musical arts in 1963. Over time, Peabody developed curriculum that balanced 19th-century European professional training with a broader university-based education, adapting to changing models of American education and evolving needs in career preparation for high-level performers.
A pioneering program in performance training took place in a laboratory on the fourth floor of Leakin Hall; in 1915, Mr. Ortmann began research on musical aptitude at the Preparatory, later publishing studies on the psychology of music and acoustics, and utilized new recording technology as a teaching tool. His work was found to be “of practical value because the department has been active as an integral element of the Conservatory’s work, in no way replacing its artistic function but merely serving to help in the solution of musical and educational problems.” Mr. Ortmann was perhaps best known for his groundbreaking book The Physical Basis of Piano Touch and Tone (1925), reviewed by Arnold Schultz as “by far the most important and effective book in the field of piano-playing — a work which bears the distinction of being the first genuinely scientific investigation of the technical problem.” Mr. Schultz urged music schools to “inaugurate courses in physiological mechanics.” The research program was disbanded in 1942 at the time of Mr. Ortmann’s resignation, in part to pay the $5,300 salary of French composer/conductor Nadia Boulanger.
Given our predecessors’ commitment to building a civic and national culture of musical excellence, serving the community through musical outreach, and seeking innovation in teaching, performance, and interdisciplinary research, it is not surprising that we return to these principles now in a new chapter at Peabody. Exactly what form they may take is part of institution-wide conversations convened this year under Dean Fred Bronstein’s leadership and beginning to take shape under the initiatives of his Breakthrough Plan. Rooted in experiments and successes of the past, what might we build “on the shoulders
- A 21st-century “concert bureau,” affording all of our students the opportunity to bring their talents outside of Peabody and, as in the early years, instilling the imperative that musicians need to cultivate their own audiences and create a need for their art within a community.
- Continued experimentation with instructional models in studio and classroom teaching to discover new ways and technologies to deliver the “hand-made article” of performance training as well as potential new programs.
- A new “research department” that brings a scientific perspective, like Mr. Ortmann’s, to musical performance to “help in the solution of musical and educational problems,” leading the field in scientific inquiry into the nature of
music’s effects on the brain and research into scientifically supported curricular advances in performance and occupational health (see related story, p. 9).
- A renewed commitment to the schools of Baltimore by building viable pathways to
musical careers through school programs, the Preparatory, and the Conservatory, making sure to find those talented young musicians who might be “otherwise lost for lack of care.”
In 1919, in response to Peabody’s first public fundraising campaign, The Baltimore Sun wrote that “the Peabody holds a peculiar place in the life of the city. It is the heart of Baltimore’s organized musical and art culture. For over half a century it has been a center
which has enriched the taste, raised the standards and opened wide the door of opportunity to higher things for many thousands of Baltimoreans. In its field it has contributed more to the making of a really greater Baltimore — greater in the greatest sense — than almost any other community agency.”
Rooted in the past and supported by the four pillars of a new era of leadership, Peabody will once again join in “the making of a really greater Baltimore.”