Student life at Curtis

Date: August 31, 2015 Category:
Vocal students having fun, 1946
Students at Rittenhouse Square, c. 1933
Students in front of the Russian Tearoom, 1946
Students at 408 S. 22nd Street, 1959
Hoagies on Rittenhouse Square, August 1995
Students in front of Lenfest Hall, 2015

For more than 90 years, Curtis students have attended school to practice and rehearse music and to study. But when they were not in lessons, rehearsals, a practice room, or a classroom, how did they spend their time? Where did they live? What did they do in their leisure hours? And how much did these everyday aspects of student life change over the years? This archival exhibit provides a glimpse into the daily lives of Curtis students through the decades, based on photographs and archival materials donated by alumni to the Curtis Archives, as well as recollections from faculty and alumni that were shared in oral histories.

 

 

 

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Curtis before the War

During the school’s first decades, student life was determined to a great degree by the founder’s personal involvement with the school. Although tuition was free from 1928, many students—often from an Eastern European immigrant background—were financially strained. Mary Louise Curtis Bok arranged for daily meals in a cafeteria, instituted the weekly tea and annual holiday party, and financed summer retreats for students to continue their studies with Curtis faculty. When she entered the Common Room, students were expected to stand up to show respect.

 

Mary Louise Curtis Bok addressing students, 1938

Mary Louise Curtis Bok addressing students, 1938

Mrs. Bok found it important to demonstrate to students how to behave in public. This is believed to be the reason she instituted the weekly tea. Throughout her lifetime there was a dress code at Curtis. [Copyright Fritz Henle. View an exhibit of Henle's photos at Curtis]

Mary Louise Curtis Bok addressing students, 1938
Efrem Zimbalist with students in New London, Connecticut, Summer 1929

Efrem Zimbalist with students in New London, Connecticut, Summer 1929

Mrs. Bok paid for students to study with faculty during the summer. During the Great Depression she bought up the harbor of Rockport, Maine, along with surrounding land, to establish a retreat for this purpose. Through the 1930s and 1940s Rockport became the school’s summer music colony. [Photograph Collection; Photographer unknown]

Efrem Zimbalist with students in New London, Connecticut, Summer 1929
Students at Rittenhouse Square, c. 1933

Students at Rittenhouse Square, c. 1933

Rittenhouse Square has always been a favorite place to hang out. From left to right: (sitting) John Hreachmack (Flute '35), Jeanette Weinstein (Piano '36), Bella Braverman (Piano '35), Max Aronoff (Viola '34), Cecille Geschichter (Piano '37), Jascha Brodsky (Violin '34), and standing behind them, Schima Kaufman (Violin '26).

Students at Rittenhouse Square, c. 1933
Request for fraternity in men's lounge, 1938

Request for fraternity in men's lounge, 1938

In 1938 Max Aronoff (Viola ’34)—a member of the Curtis String Quartet—wrote a letter to Curtis’s founder, Mary Louise Curtis Bok, on behalf of eight fellow alumni and students, asking to establish a men’s club at Curtis. The request was denied. [AD1, Founder’s correspondence]

Request for fraternity in men's lounge, 1938
"Fraternal" mingling in the cafeteria, 1937

"Fraternal" mingling in the cafeteria, 1937

After the concert hall was built in 1928, a lunch facility in the basement underneath the new hall was moved to the top floor of Knapp Hall at 1720 Locust Street. According to a caption in Overtones, where this photo was published in 1937, faculty, staff, and students mingled there "fraternally day by day." [Overtones, 1937]

"Fraternal" mingling in the cafeteria, 1937
Overtones spoof: Undertones, 1938

Overtones spoof: Undertones, 1938

This Overtones spoof seems to have been a one-time effort. It was assembled by students of Samuel Chotzinoff, who taught Music Criticism in 1937–38 (view the full version). In the 1990s additional parodies included Ovaltines and Ovaries. [AD 3.8 Student publications]

Overtones spoof: Undertones, 1938

 

From the War years through the 1950s

After the Great Depression Curtis director Efrem Zimbalist introduced a period of austerity, cutting programs, reducing the number of faculty and students, and selling the building at 1720 Locust Street (which put an end to the cafeteria). During the war years 35 students were drafted, of whom fifteen returned to Curtis as vets. (Read more about student life in the 1940s and view film excerpts). Students socialized in the library or other rooms in the basement, or socialized in the rooms they had rented to live in, close to Curtis. The renting of student living space was not regulated through Curtis, although the school provided Steinway pianos for practice, delivering them to piano students’ accommodations.

 

Seymour Lipkin and Jascha Heifetz at the German border, 1945

Seymour Lipkin and Jascha Heifetz at the German border, 1945

In the spring of 1945, 17-year old Seymour Lipkin accompanied the famous violinistJascha Heifetz during a USO tour for American troops in the European War zone. This image was part of a cartoon in a series True Comics created by Parents Magazine as an educational alternative to comic strips. (Read about Lipkin's tour with Heifetz.) [Visual Materials Collection]

Seymour Lipkin and Jascha Heifetz at the German border, 1945
Vocal students having fun, 1946

Vocal students having fun, 1946

From left to right: Theodora Brandon (Voice '48), Edith Evans Frumin (Voice'48), and Estelle Harrop (Voice '48). [Gift of Jane Phelan Vogel (Voice'47)]

Vocal students having fun, 1946
Students in front of the Russian Tearoom, 1946

Students in front of the Russian Tearoom, 1946

The “Balalaika” was a Russian restaurant on Sansom Street that often frequented by Curtis students. This photo was taken after Commencement in May, 1946. Front row, left to right: Norman Carol (Violin '47), Abba Bogin (Piano ’49); Lucille Rothman Felsenthal (Piano '50); Josephine Sitjar (Voice '46); Joseph Silverstein (Violin '50). Behind them Theodore Lettvin (Piano ’49); Allison Nelson (Piano '49); Burton Fine (Violin '48); Joseph Rezits (Piano '48), and Sylvia Zaremba (Piano '51). Abba Bogin, Theodore Lettvin, and Joe Rezits were returning veterans. [Gift of Joseph Rezits '48. With thanks to Allison Nelson Loebbaka (Piano '49)]

Students in front of the Russian Tearoom, 1946
Students in "Bob's Room" in the basement, c. 1950

Students in "Bob's Room" in the basement, c. 1950

The unofficial place for male students to spend their free time was the custodian’s den to the right of the basement stairs, next to the men’s bathroom. In the 1940s the place was also known as the “Den of Iniquity,” later just “Bob’s Room.” In this photograph, from left to right: Harold Wright (Clarinet '51), Alfred Genovese (Oboe '53) and Michael Tree (Viola ’55). [Gift of Diana Steiner Dickstein ’57. With thanks to Joe Rezits and Michael Tree]

Students in "Bob's Room" in the basement, c. 1950
Students at 408 S. 22nd Street, 1959

Students at 408 S. 22nd Street, 1959

For three decades, drapery shop owner Julia Ewell rented the three top floors of the house known among as “408” to Curtis students, including Leonard Rose (Cello ’39), Leonard Bernstein (Conducting ’41), John Dalley (Violin ’57), and Arnold Steinhardt (Violin ’59). In this photograph, from left to right: Richard Lesser (Clarinet '59), Michi Ishikawa (Piano '61), Lynn Kahle (Cello ’59), James Caldwell (Oboe '61), Susan Willoughby (Bassoon '61), and Artemus Edwards (Bassoon '60). The cutaway diagram on the wall, created by Edmund Moore (Tuba 1960), depicts all rooms rented to students at that time. [Photo: Spencer Crockett (Bassoon '61). With thanks to Michi Tashjian]

Students at 408 S. 22nd Street, 1959
Christmas costume party invitation, c. 1960

Christmas costume party invitation, c. 1960

In the early days of Curtis, Christmas parties included skits that were performed by faculty (rather than students, as at today’s holiday party). In later years the parties sometimes were costumed balls. [Visual Materials Collection, Artist: Nicholas Nahunck]

Christmas costume party invitation, c. 1960

 

The 1960s and 1970s

Curtis students were well aware of the sweeping changes that took hold on American campuses in the 1960s. In the 1969–70 school year they added their voice to nation-wide student protests against the Vietnam War and the invasion of Cambodia with an outdoor performance of Mahler’s First Symphony on Rittenhouse Square, together with students from other Philadelphia music schools and free-lancers. They also petitioned for the appointment of a student counselor and a say in the selection of chamber music, which had thrived after Rudolf Serkin succeeded Efrem Zimbalist as director in 1968. In general, however, the school remained the small island of musical study that it had been in the previous decades. Student life was still concentrated in the Common Room or in the basement until the library moved next door in 1975 to the building at 1720 Locust, which had been re-purchased.

 

Cutaway view of the main building. c. 1960

Cutaway view of the main building. c. 1960

This artist’s impression of the main building highlights the spaces most commonly used by students, including the basement, with practice rooms underneath the recital hall, and the library rooms with the entry in what is now known as the Bok Room. The artist of the drawing is Anthony Trezza, who drew it as an illustration for the magazine Etude. [Visual Materials Collection. Reproduced with permission from the artist]

Cutaway view of the main building. c. 1960
Balcony above the Common Room, c. 1960

Balcony above the Common Room, c. 1960

Before fire regulations led to the installation of glass walls around the main staircase and second-floor balcony, the Common Room was the heart of the building. Students leaned over the balcony to communicate with friends on the floor below, or sat on the stairs to arrange their schedules. The strict dress code, still reflected in this drawing, was lifted in the 1970-71 school year. [Visual Materials Collection; detail from a larger drawing by Anthony Trezza. Reproduced with permission from the artist]

Balcony above the Common Room, c. 1960
Mardi Gras ball, February 1969

Mardi Gras ball, February 1969

During his first year as director of the school, Rudolf Serkin organized a Mardi Gras ball for students, faculty and staff. Students in this picture include Charles Walker (Clarinet ’70) and Francis Ryan (Trombone ’69). [Photograph Collection, gift of Anthony Checchia]

Mardi Gras ball, February 1969
Students playing chamber music, 1974

Students playing chamber music, 1974

One way for students to socialize was by playing chamber music together, either at Curtis or at their living quarters. In the 1950s the Marlboro Festival, co-founded by Rudolf Serkin, had become the de facto summer retreat for many Curtis students. In this picture from left to right Randall Cook (Oboe '74), Christopher Millard (Bassoon '75), Lucy Chapman (Violin '74), and Cynthia Raim (Piano '77), rehearsing for a recital on May 3 (view the program). [Photographer George Krause. With thanks to Cynthia Raim (Piano '77 and Lucy Chapman Violin '74]

Students playing chamber music, 1974
Tea in the Common Room, 1974

Tea in the Common Room, 1974

In this photo the Common Room is seen from the recently installed glass walls around the stairs. To the left of the entrance is the receptionist’s desk, where students reserved practice rooms and picked up messages and schedules. [Photographer George Krause]

Tea in the Common Room, 1974

 

From the 1980s to the present

Under directorship of Gary Graffman, director from 1986 through 2006, major changes affected student life. From 1988 students were allowed to take classes at the University of Pennsylvania. The accreditation of the school in 1993 made students eligible for federal student aid to supplement their Curtis scholarship. Students became more actively involved in the school by, among others, participating in a student council. Graffman instituted an open door policy, allowing students to visit during regular hours. When he was succeeded as president by Roberto Díaz in 2006, opportunities for students continued to evolve. From a student-life perspective the most visible change in recent years has been the opening of Lenfest Hall in 2011, with housing for half the student body and full food service.

 

The Evian Festival, 1983

The Evian Festival, 1983

A notable community-building experience for Curtis students was a partnership with the Evian Festival, where the Curtis Orchestra had its first residency in 1983. This was the first time that Curtis students traveled and resided together, under the guidance of Dean Robert Fitzpatrick. In this photograph, students depart Geneva Airport for Evian, April 27, 1983. The orchestra would return to Evian three more times, the last time in 1994. (Read more about the Evian Festival). [Clippings and Scrapbook Collection]

The Evian Festival, 1983
Hoagies on Rittenhouse Square, August 1995

Hoagies on Rittenhouse Square, August 1995

Gary Graffman introduced "Meeting Day" during orientation week, where students were welcomed with a speech and introduced to faculty and staff, ending with a hoagie picnic on Rittenhouse Square. After the institution of Convocation, the hoagie tradition evolved into the President's Picnic. On this photograph: Sarah Bitlloch (Violin 2000), Gregory Lecoeur (Timpani/Percussion 2000), Phillip Roy (Violin ’98), Fernando Valcarcel (Composition ’96), Juan Carlos Lomonaco (Conducting ’96), Ludmila Konstantinova (Cello ’98), and Marylene Gingras-Roy (Viola ’97). [Photographer: Chris Clark]

Hoagies on Rittenhouse Square, August 1995
Holiday party skit “Otis and Otto,” 1992

Holiday party skit “Otis and Otto,” 1992

During Graffman’s directorship, students “took back” the traditional holiday party, staging with their own skits. One memorable 1993 skit, written by Steven Copes (Violin ’94) and Gregory Raden (Clarinet '93), was a parody of Peter and the Wolf, with "Otis" a fictional Curtis student. Conducting faculty Otto Werner Mueller was the Wolf, orchestra manager Richard Zuch was the duck, Dean Bob Fitzpatrick was the cat, and Gary Graffman was the grandfather (view the full script). Copes also drew the cartoon of Maestro Mueller. [With thanks to Steven Copes and Gregory Raden]

Holiday party skit “Otis and Otto,” 1992
Tea with Mrs. Graffman's brownies, 2006

Tea with Mrs. Graffman's brownies, 2006

The brownies that Naomi Graffman baked for tea each week became legendary. This photograph was taken at the dedication of the Gary and Naomi Graffman Common Room, as Graffman's tenure as director and president ended. [Photographer: Pete Checchia]

Tea with Mrs. Graffman's brownies, 2006
Students in front of Lenfest Hall, 2015

Students in front of Lenfest Hall, 2015

The opening of Lenfest Hall in 2011 had a major impact on student life. Lenfest Hall provided the first dormitories for students in Curtis’s history—Including a media room and terrace to complement the student lounge that had long existed in the basement of the main building at 1726 Locust Street—and reintroduced dining facilities that Mary Louise Curtis Bok had already instituted in the first years of the school. Here current Lenfest Hall residents Adé Williams (Violin), Erika Gray (Viola), and Henry Woolf (Flute) strike a pose in front of the new building inspired by a historic photograph from 1946. [Photographer: Helene van Rossum]

Students in front of Lenfest Hall, 2015

 

We need your help!

By definition, archival collections contain few tangible relics of student life. The Curtis Archives seek personal photographs, memorabilia, and recollections of alumni to supplement our records. Find out how you can help!

 

With thanks to the following people for donating materials, identifying individuals, and providing information and recollections in oral histories and personal exchanges:

(In order of graduation:) Eleanor Sokoloff (Piano ’38); Anshel Brusilow (Violin ’43); Gary Graffman (Piano ’46); Seymour Lipkin (Piano ’47); Burton Fine (Violin ’48); Edith Evans Frumin (Voice ’48); Joseph Rezits (Piano ’48); Allison Nelson Loebbaka (Piano’49); Barbara Cooper Moskow (Voice ’50); Joseph Silverstein (Violin’50); Antony Checchia (Bassoon’51); Michael Tree (Violin ’55); Frances Steiner (Cello ’56); Diana Steiner Dickstein (Violin ’57); Edmund Moore (Tuba ’60); Michi Ishikawa Tashjian (Piano ’61); W. Spencer Crockett (Bassoon ’61); Gary Logsdon (Viola ’72); Judith Serkin (Cello ’73); Lucy Chapman (Violin ’74); Judy Geist (Viola ’74); Cynthia Raim (Piano ’77); Martha Hitchins (Timpani/Percussion ’78); Jennifer Higdon (Composition ’88); Paul Bryan (Trombone ’93); Steven Copes (Violin ’94); Greg Raden (Clarinet ’94); Adé Williams (Violin); Erika Gray (Viola); Henry Woolf (Flute).