A Peabody History

Little Blue World vol. 3 issue 1, Spring 2003

dimanche 11 mai 2014, par Kenya McCullum

Building a community through art


Any good Toriphile can recite this story while asleep : After showing all the signs of a piano prodigy, Tori’s parents enrolled her in Baltimore’s Peabody Institute at the age of 5, making her the youngest student admitted at the time. Peabody felt the young pupil should focus on learning classical music, but Tori thought her talent was better spent composing her own work - a theoretical rift that resulted in her scholarship being revoked after she played a piece for the board members that was considered far too peculiar for a young Carnegie Hall-bound pianist. As many of us know all too well, sometimes no more financial assistance means no more school. And the rest, as the ubiquitous saying goes, is history.

The Peabody Institute was founded in 1857 (although because of the Civil War it was not able to open its doors until 1866) by George Peabody, a successful investment banker from humble beginnings. Known by many as the founder of modern philanthropy, Peabody provided over $8 million in benefactions during his lifetime. Among the recipients of his generosity are several institutions in New England as well as the Peabody Donation Fund, which to this day still provides subsidized housing for the working class in London where Peabody resided for several years. As someone with only four years of formal education, Peabody understood the importance of providing educational opportunities to the poor, and to that end he created the Peabody Education Fund to further the education of impoverished children in southern states after the Civil War.

George Peabody recognized the ability of artists to enrich the lives of those around them, and the Institute embodies his vision by creating a community of artists, teachers and scholars who uplift the quality of life of those around them. Research on the effects of musical study on children confirms Peabody’s belief : Studies have credited childhood music education with enhanced performance in reading and math, critical thinking skills, self-discipline, and self-esteem. Researchers have also found that young children who study music are more likely to graduate high school and pursue college, and less likely to engage in truancy and crime. In adults, it is hypothesized that music can improve memory, reduce stress and anxiety, treat depression, and alleviate physical pain. And after the release of Don Campbell’s 1997 "The Mozart Effect," college professors started playing concertos during classes, believing the book’s assertion that test scores improve after listening to the composer.

The Peabody Institute, part of Johns Hopkins University, is made up of two schools : the Preparatory and the Conservatory. The Preparatory, which Tori attended, is considered a community art school where anyone with a desire to learn about music or dance can attend. The school enrolls 2,600 students of varying ages and skill levels, from students in the early childhood program as young as three to adult education octogenarians. Founded in 1894, the Preparatory’s objectives are to offer gifted children the opportunity to realize their potential as performing artists, as well as to provide rudimentary education to anyone who desires it, regardless of age or previous training.

The Preparatory believes that everyone is capable of artistic expression, and to foster excellence in its students, the school offers a curriculum that includes private instruction and group classes, which are scheduled based on the needs of the students and the availability of the teachers. Students of the "Prep" have gone on to study at prestigious musical colleges like Eastman, Juilliard, and of course, the Peabody Conservatory. Alumni of the Preparatory include musicians such as eccentric composer Philip Glass, violinist Hilary Hahn and jazz pianist Cyrus Chestnut.

The Peabody Conservatory, on the other hand, is for college students with formal musical training. The school offers undergraduate and graduate degrees to give aspiring professional artists the musical skills necessary for their careers. The school also offers liberal arts courses in its programs because, according to the dean, "the world already has a surplus of musicians with fast fingers." Unlike other music conservatories, the Peabody does not promote cut-throat competitiveness, and instead chooses to nurture every student’s unique musical approach. Armed with these values, Peabody graduates have gone on to become professional musicians, members of arts organizations, teachers, and writers.

Although Toriphiles may only associate the Peabody Institute with stodgy teachers who didn’t know who John Lennon was, or with Tori’s feelings of rejection after losing her scholarship, many alumni have fond memories of their experiences at the school. "Although I’m working in an entirely different field now, I’ve always felt that the years I spent at Peabody were instrumental in carving out a space for myself in this country," writes Chinese alumnus Ci-Ying Sun - who received a bachelor’s and master’s degree in piano - in the Peabody’s Web site reunion book. Pat McKinsey Grocock, a 1953 graduate, says "The Peabody blood is in my veins !" Lynn Taylor Hebden, who studied at both the Preparatory and Conservatory and later went on to teach at the Peabody, says "Staying at Peabody was the right choice for me. Life has never been dull." This is the spirit of what George Peabody intended - students who absorb knowledge and channel it back into the community, even the students who were thrown out.

More information about the Peabody Institute can be
found at www.peabody.jhu.edu.

Kenya McCullum, not to be confused with a musical prodigy, was an elementary school flutist for two years until it was "strongly suggested" that she not return. Yes, folks, she really sucked that much.