The Crisis Facing The New School Of Music

Posted: February 09, 1986

The New School of Music, its future imperiled by vanishing financial resources, is seeking to join hands with Temple University. A need for the affiliation is intense, according to Alan S. Fishman, the new chairman of the board of directors of the 43-year-old New School, who called this month ''a critical juncture in the school's history."

The New School, an accredited, degree-granting college of music, has undergone a complete change in leadership in midterm. Observers close to the school say a merger with Temple is the only chance to save the New School

from closing at the end of the academic year.

New School officials currently are negotiating with Temple representatives. The officials say that the merger proposal has not yet reached the Temple board of directors but is under discussion with the dean of its college of music, Helen Laird. However, Laird was unavailable for comment.

The search by the New School for a parental institution follows unsuccessful talks that involved first the Moore College of Art and, then, the Philadelphia College of the Performing Arts before it became incorporated in the Philadelphia Colleges of the Arts (PCA). PCA then took under consideration the New School request.

Moore College declined the proposed merger after Moore's president, Edward C. McGuire, said that even with the savings in administrative costs the merger would have provided, his college would not have been able to cope with the deficits that the New School had been running.

In response to the New School's plea, PCA made a proposal that would have effectively closed the New School and dismissed its faculty. The New School faculty voted against the merger and was supported by the board. "That was the first time the board had asked the faculty about any issue," Fishman said.

The New School president, Tamara Brooks, who had also opposed the PCA merger, resigned, effective Dec. 31. With her went James W. Stratton, then board chairman, and three members of the board, Ruth G. Preucel, Jean B. Toll and Polly P. Mackie.

The board named Richard C. Brodhead acting president. A Philadelphia native and composer, he had been dean of the school since 1982 and is now administering the two offices.

Fishman, who moved up from vice chairman of the board, said the school's difficulties were financial and inherent in the nature of the school. "It's very labor-intensive," he said. "Our teaching is one on one, and that makes it very expensive to operate. In her nearly five years as president, Tamara Brooks did some good things. She improved the faculty, for instance, but there has been no increase in enrollment, and she and the board did not face the real financial problems. She did finally hire a director of development last year and an admissions director. Those are two fields in which we have long needed help.

"Our desire for a merger is based on what we see nationally. The Eastman School has the University of Rochester behind it; Peabody Conservatory is now part of Johns Hopkins University. We are trying to find a formula which will guarantee the integrity of our school, preserve our faculty and let us continue our mission.

"Our immediate goals in a merger are to maintain our student services, to be able to set tuition at a reasonable rate, to set a balanced budget."

Fishman said the $5,800 yearly tuition placed the school at the "lower middle in college costs. But I think that if we raised our tuition much, we would lose our students."

The board of the New School learned last fall that the school would be out of money by the end of the current academic year. The school had had an endowment of $1.4 million, but because it was running an annual deficit of $200,000 to $300,000, the endowment would have been exhausted by May.

The picture is not quite that bleak now, according to McGuire, who, after opposing the merger with Moore, volunteered to act as a consultant to the New School. "We worked out some administrative changes which will have husbanded some of the resources," McGuire said. "New School will not be out of money at the end of the year."

Looking at the school's balance sheet, he said, "Almost the whole budget goes for salaries. If you cut out the faculty, you don't have the kind of

college you need. Richard (Brodhead) is learning real fast to be a good president. He's very out front."

However, McGuire said bluntly that "Temple is the only possible solution for New School. I believe it is a marriage which would have distinct advantages for both schools. I am not a believer in having a private school consumed by big state universities, but it's better than closing down completely.

"I have been telling the city government that when the Eagles threatened to leave town, the city came to the rescue. When there is a real chance the city could lose an important school, a valuable resource, then nobody cares. And that's not right."

The New School was founded in 1943 by members of the Curtis Quartet, all of whom were also on the faculty of the Curtis Institute of Music. Violist Max Aronoff, who headed the New School from its founding until his death in 1981, said the school grew from the realization that Curtis graduates were not prepared to play in symphony orchestras.

Aronoff was a raconteur and folksy administrator who had a story for every situation. "I used to tell violinists, 'You'll never earn a dime playing the Tchaikovsky Concerto, so learn to play what an orchestra needs.' " That message made an impression on young musicians who wanted to earn a living, and he and other members of the quartet stressed it whenever they played their concerts on national tours.

Three of the original members were in the quartet when it played during its 50th anniversary celebration, and they provided continuity in the New School's artistic and administrative life. Two of the founders, cellist Orlando Cole and violinist Jascha Brodsky, are full-time faculty members at the New School. They were honored Monday at a Founders' Day concert played by faculty violist Kim Kashkashian and pianist Robert Levin.

The school, at first open to string players only, stated its goal as that of training musicians to play in orchestras and ensembles. Since then, it has expanded its program to include teaching in all orchestral instruments and has become an accredited college of music with an extension division.

Enrollment at the school, which has about 45 faculty members, is between 50 and 60 full-time conservatory students and about 100 part-time and extension students. Brodhead said that a study conducted last year showed that the school could accommodate as many as 85 full-time students but that such an increase would fill every corner of the building at 21st and Spruce Streets.

Brodhead said he felt it was "miraculous that the school had attracted its students through word of mouth alone. Since we established an admissions office, our admissions officer, Nancy Morgan, has gone to the summer festivals - Aspen, Interlochen - and the response has been very strong. There is certainly an upsurge of interest in the New School and its program."

Brooks' resignation has been called "her own choice" by Fishman. She was in San Francisco last week conducting the Bay Area Philharmonic. She said, ''In retrospect, I am happy at my presidency and proud of the things I accomplished.

"I was asked to apply for the job, you know. I had taught there a little and conducted at the school. I thought the idea of the school was sensational. The vision of Robert Montgomery (head of the search committee) was for a school that did more than train musicians. If you have something to say in music, you would be a better musician, and my view for years had been that musicians need a well-rounded education.

"When I started, the school needed help in curricular fields. I changed it to increase the liberal-arts offerings by bringing in people from other institutions and adding to our in-house courses.

"I am proud that we added to our resident ensembles, that we added to our faculty Richard Woodhams (solo oboist with the Philadelphia Orchestra) and (composer) Jan Krzywicki, who really understands educating musicians. I'm proud, too, that I had brought in Richard (Brodhead), who is a strong and compassionate leader."

Brooks said that it was apparent last summer that deep differences existed between her and the board on major policies. "I was absolutely opposed to the merger with PCA," she said. "I was opposed to any idea that would change the school. It's got to survive."

She will return to the school in May to conduct the orchestra. In her tenure as president, she had been the orchestra's regular conductor, and her departure has left the orchestra without a designated conductor. Henry D. Scott, Philadelphia Orchestra bass player and conductor, works regularly with the orchestra, and guest conductors had been engaged for this spring before Brooks' resignation.

The orchestra will have a week in March under Serge Baudo, music director of the Lyon (France) Opera and with Max Rudolf, conductor laureate of the Concerto Soloists of Philadelphia. Rudolf is focusing on audition techniques and will devote a week to helping students. Composer Arthur Weisberg will premiere a work in April with the orchestra and will conduct it.

Brooks had also founded an ensemble, Sequenza, to play contemporary music, but that series faded as the money problems advanced. Throughout her tenure, Brooks had continued as music director of the Mendelssohn Club chorus and maintained a schedule as guest conductor with choruses.

The Curtis Quartet's place has been taken this year by the Colorado Quartet, whose members come to Philadelphia to teach on Wednesdays.

Fishman said that despite the upheaval in leadership and the fragile position of the New School, "the faculty morale is higher than I can remember it. Our school is a great one; it is just not known in the city."

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