In New York, of all cities, it’s easy to rush through an oversubscribed day, moving from one calendar item to another, without taking a moment to pause and appreciate life’s many gifts. I am as guilty as anyone of this syndrome, but as temperatures chill and that most inclusive and wonderful of American holidays looms large on the calendar, a gear shifts, and I am reminded to take that pause: to “check in” and give thanks. Among a multitude of reasons for gratitude, this Thanksgiving brings thoughts of the many beautiful moments – musical and otherwise – that in recent months have brought such richness to our MSM community.
On October 24th, for example, the United Nations celebrated U.N. Day, marking the anniversary of its founding, with a concert featuring Lang Lang. The extraordinary evening was organized by the Lang Lang International Music Foundation, presided over by actor, music booster, and MSM honorary doctorate recipient Alec Baldwin, and opened with remarks by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. Remarkably, MSM students comprised fully one quarter of the musicians in the orchestra.
I can only imagine the number of details that went into producing such an event, which included an audience of dignitaries from around the globe. As the busy day began – with questions about editions of scores and with the challenge of transporting instruments, music, and more – it was clear that our musicians needed a knowledgeable champion to take charge. As MSM luck would have it, that champion appeared in the person of a dedicated member of the School’s staff, someone who never seeks the spotlight but proved once again equal to the task of – no other way to describe it – saving the day. I’ll respect his desire for anonymity, but suffice it to say I am grateful that he and so many members of the faculty and staff work hard every day to make MSM much greater than the sum of its parts.
I’m also grateful for the inspiring Olivia Chew, a former scholarship student from MSM’s Orchestral Performance Program, who in July was seated as Assistant Principal Viola in the distinguished Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra. She is a bright example of someone who embraced MSM with gratitude and focus and is now living its promise. Olivia is across the starting line of what will no doubt be a long and rewarding career.
And of course, on April 13 this year, in a defining moment for the School, the MSM Symphony made its triumphant Carnegie Hall debut, with MSM Orchestral Performance Program student Hannah Choi serving as Concertmaster. Hannah was seated just a few feet away from her teacher and mentor, the great former Concertmaster of the New York Philharmonic and that afternoon’s soloist: Glenn Dicterow, Chair of MSM’s Orchestral Performance Program. I was so gratified by the beautiful performance that afternoon and was struck by what a spectacular moment this must have been for our students, playing one of the world’s foremost concert stages so early in their musical lives. How could I know that for Hannah, her return to the great stages of New York was just around the corner, as one of the newest members of the New York Philharmonic? For Glenn, who retired this past June as the Philharmonic’s longest-ever tenured Concertmaster, I can only imagine the gratitude he feels seeing his protégé taking her place as part of that majestic institution’s next generation. I couldn’t be more appreciative of the hard work and commitment both have made to music.
Olivia’s and Hannah’s impressive career beginnings are associated with a single program at Manhattan School of Music, but I like to remind people – young candidates for enrollment at MSM, the public, audiences for MSM’s diverse program of performances – that the Orchestral Performance Program is just one in a spectrum of musical pursuits at MSM. I’m always grateful for the opportunity to expound on the successes of MSM’s lauded Voice and Opera Studies Program, for example, and its serious contributions to the professional opera world, as when Yunpeng Wang, now a Lindemann Young Artist at The Metropolitan Opera, made his Met debut this month in The Barber of Seville. And I’m pleased each year to celebrate the scores of Grammy award nominations garnered by alumni of MSM’s singular Jazz Arts program. This year that includes two potential nominations for our students, as the recent Jazz Philharmonic and Afro-Cuban Jazz Orchestra releases have sailed through first-round consideration.
So, during this holiday season, I give thanks for the opportunity to lead this wonderful School and to witness the dedicated work of so many MSM professionals and students: the staff member who goes way beyond the call of duty to “save the day”; the student who strives to be her best and to get the most out of each opportunity; the faculty member who takes the extra time with a student, one-on-one, to untangle a complicated idea; and the Trustee who doesn’t step away from a challenge before its resolution is complete. I’m grateful, too, for the smiles and the easy greetings I receive as I walk down the halls of our buildings, knowing the sense of mission and accomplishment that inspires that kind of warmth.
Finally, then, as the first fast-paced months of the school year draw to a close, I look forward to sitting down at my Thanksgiving table and reflecting again on how fortunate we are, all of us, to be part of this international MSM community. Whether you have long-standing Thanksgiving rituals to enjoy, or whether this will be your first experience celebrating this joyous holiday (it’s for everyone!), take a moment to think about what you’re grateful for – and Happy Thanksgiving to all!