in: News & Features

March 7, 2013

Longy Announces Termination of Beloved Program

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In an email to current students and their families, Karen Zorn, the president of Longy School of Music at Bard College, announced the closing of the school’s Preparatory and Continuing Studies department. While this must come as a shock to most, it apparently has been under discussion for more than 20 years. According to the press release, Longy’s growth since its recent merger with Bard had made it more and more difficult for the needs of the degree students to coexist with those of the prep community. So, on March 4th, Longy revealed that it would discontinue Preparatory and Continuing Studies effective Aug. 31, 2013, “which will end the part-time private lessons, classes, and ensembles offered by Longy to area residents in order to expand the space available to full-time conservatory students this fall.”

“The space currently occupied by Preparatory and Continuing Studies activity will be put to immediate use this fall for full-time students,” said Wayman Chin, dean of the conservatory. “Access to more practice facilities and better teaching space for studio instruction is essential for us to deliver a complete academic offering and to support the growth in the conservatory and its competitive degree programs.”

Harriet Griesinger told me: “I’m one of many parents and grandparents of Longy’s Community Music Program students who sits on the college’s board. Let me tell you that when we voted to close the Preparatory and Continuing Studies, it was very sad, but inevitable.”

Others responded with anger. Norman Lebrecht misleadingly headlined his blog entry: “Music school shuts down, fires staff by email.” Longy teachers were not fired by email or any other manner—yet. Layoffs are sure to come after the summer sessions conclude. But giving six or seven months’ notice by email to faculty, friends and current students strikes this writer as fair.

To put this in perspective, consider that there are probably 1 million K-12 students in the Boston area. If Longy’s 500 have to make new arrangements for music teachers, is this a catastrophe, especially since many on Longy’s faculty teach at other institutions in the area? Having arranged for three different music teachers for my own child, I can tell you that this is doable.

New England Conservatory seems particularly hospitable to the displaced of Longy. Ellen Pfeifer, NEC’s Senior Communications Specialist, told BMInt, “New England Conservatory has the friendliest possible relationship with the Longy School of Music and we support the difficult decision they have made as they work to fulfill their long-term aspirations. NEC, will, of course, welcome any students from Longy’s Community Music program. We have a wealth of ensembles, classes, and private teachers for all levels and offer a warm nurturing center of learning for musicians wherever they are on their musical path.  Of course, some of the instructors at Longy already teach at NEC, and several of them have already invited their Longy students to study with them at NEC.”

Many think that NEC Prep and Longy’s Preparatory and Continuing Studies programs throw off lots of profit to their respective institutions, but unlike the apparently profitable Harvard Extension program with classes of 20-30 and more, much music instruction is one on one. And the strain on the facilities of a smaller institution like Longy is considerable, especially on weekends, when Community Programs are taking practice rooms, especially those with pianos, from undergraduates. Longy simply has too small a footprint to accommodate 500 Community Music students while at the same time trying to professionalize their undergraduate programs.

On the other hand, there’s a really strong sense that Community Programs make strong connections with the local donor base. So if the programs don’t actually function as cash cows, they can encourage generosity from those whose children and grandchildren receive instruction. Also, many Prep and Community students later enter their respective conservatories. Perhaps now that it is part of Bard College, Longy can rely on the proven fundraising acumen of President Leon Botstein rather than on an inclusive local community. It may also feel that it can benefit from a larger applicant pool because of the Bard merger.

Lesley Foley, dean of the NEC Prep Department, told us, “We’re interested in long-term relationships between students and teachers. There’s a place for everyone, but we do have auditions for placement, especially in ensembles where everyone has to be at the same level. NEC gets some of the Prep School graduates for its undergraduate programs, but most of the Prep School graduates do not go on to do music professionally. On the other hand, they do become advocates for the arts—that’s our greatest contribution and success. And many of the parents and grandparents of Prep students do take on valuable leadership roles at NEC.

“In the 90s I was Dean of Admissions for Longy. Back then we were discussing how we could improve the level of our undergraduate experience for 150 students while also nurturing a Community Music Program benefitting 1000. It was really tough to have to tell one of our master’s students that there was no practice room available to her on a busy Saturday. So I was not entirely surprised by Longy’s announcement. Their facilities are just too small to handle both demands.”

Others have said that Longy’s Community Music program became more costly after many of the instructors shifted to full-time employment, some with benefits as required by the settlement of last year’s contractual disputes with the Longy Teachers’ Union.

According to Jonathan Cohler, Longy Teachers’ Union spokesman, “This had nothing to do with salaries or allocating space, it’s just vindictive behavior on the part of Longy management. The National Labor Relations Board is investigating and has already found merit to 10 of our charges against Longy. The key to Longy’s actions has been its assertion that it’s making a strategic decision to change its direction because of space requirements. There have been no discussions with us on the issue and when Karen Zorn first came in 5 years ago, one of the first studies she commissioned about space and the allocation of overhead at the school. One of the conclusions that she announced to the entire staff and faculty was that the space crunch was a “myth.” Furthermore, since that study there has been no growth in the student population. The real story is that Longy wants to bust the union before NLRB can act. This action will result in 54 layoffs, including 39 individuals in our bargaining unit. I’m not sure that it’s a coincidence that these layoffs will include the majority of the union’s executive board and all of the remaining union founders.

Longy’s Chief of Staff Kalen Ratzlaff countered, “Our decision is 100% mission-driven—this has absolutely nothing to do with the union. Long-term, we expect the numbers of unionized employees at Longy to grow as our mission to offer more degrees to more students in our expanding programs develops. This really is about space. It took us a long time to realize that since we’re a 100% commuter campus, it doesn’t help relieve problems by extending our hours. Students need guaranteed access to practice rooms during normal teaching hours, and this was something the overlap with our Prep and Continuing Studies programs prevented. From a business perspective, Prep and Continuing Studies consumes 50% of our resources and generates 30% of our revenues. Short-term it’s going to be hard to give up that revenue. Longer-term we expect to grow it with expanded populations in our degree programs.

“Look, I’m a product of  Prep and Continuing Studies, and it really hurt me when we decided we had to close it. I can really understand what parents, students and employees feel, and we’re doing what we can to help.”

15 Comments

  1. I can’t believe a whole day has gone by without any comment on this. While NEC will certainly pick up some of the students who had gone to Longy, this is probably a good opportunity for the other high-quality community music schools in the area, such as Community Music Center of Boston, the New School in Cambridge, the Powers school in Belmont, etc. Not everybody wants to trek into Boston. It’s also an opportunity for these schools to pick up some of the excellent faculty left at loose ends by the Longy closing. Music teachers are rather like doctors and lawyers in the sense that their clientele–especially the best of them–move with the teacher rather than cast about for a new institutional affiliation.

    Comment by Vance Koven — March 8, 2013 at 12:04 pm

  2. The lively comments have ended up here: http://blog.thephoenix.com/BLOGS/phlog/archive/2013/03/06/longy-axes-its-prep-school.aspx

    Comment by Matthew Huhn — March 8, 2013 at 12:39 pm

  3. If by lively you mean mudslinging and a variety of conspiracy theories, yes…the conversation over at the Phoenix is “lively.” In the past few years, Longy has been making all sorts of moves to beef up its profile and the conservatory. This move is consistent with that, but it certainly wasn’t just a whim. In fact,the discussion of phasing out the undergrad conservatory program took place first, but then it seemed that they were getting increased admissions (due to what factors I cannot speak authoritatively). They also experimented with putting the Community Programs classes after 3pm, but that didn’t work because some prep teachers didn’t adhere to those hours, and, more importantly, the conservatory students have classes in the morning and would need the practice rooms at that time. Time will reveal the motives, I believe, but in the meantime, I hope people realize that behind all this political profiling, there is a hard working group of conservatory students–and yes, at a range of talent levels. Longy cannot remain the same if it wishes to be a competitive conservatory–the vitriolic mud-slingers have that right. But one thing is clear–Longy is not big enough for both divisions if it wishes to grow (a goal that has been obvious for several years–merger with Bard, collab with Celebrity Series, LA Phil, new MAT program). This is a business decision because Longy is a business and an educational institution–not simply a place for people to hang their shingle and teach lessons. I think that is a very valuable contribution, obviously, but there are liabilities involved when one assumes they are immune to changes. It is a decision that comes at a large cost, and I don’t think anyone is “happy” about it. It may be drastic, and it seems to be so to me, but we shall only see if the long-term benefits pay off…in the long term.

    Comment by DGR — March 8, 2013 at 2:47 pm

  4. I take preparatory classes (music theory, orchestra, and chamber) at Longy. Karen Zorn has made a horrible mistake which everyone will come to regret. The Longy community is what inspires young kids to play an instrument, and the friends they make there motivate them to continue with their instrument. I know this from personal experience, because I have played the cello at Longy since I was seven. Discontinuing the Preparatory and Continuing Studies department will hurt everyone.

    Comment by Max Ellsworth — March 8, 2013 at 8:13 pm

  5. March 7, 2013
    An open letter to the board, administration, faculty, parents and students of the Longy School of Music:

    We are greatly disturbed by the March 6th email from Karen Zorn announcing the cessation of all Preparatory and Continuing Studies programs. The only reasons given were to “support the continuing growth of our conservatory and address our critical need for practice and teaching space”.

    The growth of Longy is supported by 1) the acquisition of new space including the rental of abundant unused (on weekends) institutional space in the Harvard Square area, and 2) the further development of the already successful Preparatory and Continuing Studies programs, not by proposing grandiose affiliations of questionable value to the devoted Cambridge music community.

    Bard College in upstate New York and the Los Angeles Philharmonic? Both with established music communities capable of providing students locally with any experience they need?
    Is it hoped that students from these institutions will interrupt their musical studies and rent space in Cambridge to receive a teaching certificate from a gutted Longy Music School?
    The New England Conservatory of Music is prestigious and apparently unafraid of its community programs.

    No one who has spent Saturday morning at Longy and truly understands these programs could vote for such an errant idea.
    We are one of thousands of Longy families, who, over decades, have devoted our weekends, financial resources and children’s musical lives to this warm, energy-filled building and its inspiring, loving, talented teachers.

    Karen Zorn, you are destroying this community. You are destroying Longy.

    As the true Longy community, we deserve a thoughtful discussion of this terrible, completely unexplained, decision, and a rapid correction of this horrible mistake.

    Comment by mara ellsworth — March 8, 2013 at 8:58 pm

  6. There is a protest organized by parents of Longy Community Programs students TODAY at 10am in front of the school at 27 Garden Street, Cambridge, Massachusetts.

    Comment by Concerned Musician — March 9, 2013 at 8:55 am

  7. I am shocked and saddened by this news. I am a product of those programs, from age six through sixteen. In 1956 I took organ lessons during the summer with Frank Taylor, and I paid for them out of my own summer earnings as organist at St. Thomas’s in Somerville. I probably would not be a musician today had I not got my start through late-afternoon piano lessons and Saturday-morning solfège and assemblies in what is now the Wolfinsohn Room. I’m remembering, too, that Melville Smith, who was Director of Longy from 1942 to 1962, was forced out when he opposed the Longy trustees in their effort to establish a coordinate degree-granting program with Emerson College; he lost, but that anemic program is gone today, and the young people’s programs of instruction at Longy remain the same axis of community pride that they have been for seventy years.

    Comment by Mark DeVoto — March 9, 2013 at 11:06 am

  8. While I was sipping my morning coffee at the Huntington Avenue Starbucks, I observed a non-stop parade of attractive, suburban-looking families processing (presumably) to and from NEC Prep. I imagined lots of open checkbooks and institutional loyalty. This does not appear to be a cohort that Longy should want to give up.

    Comment by de novo2 — March 9, 2013 at 2:40 pm

  9. Space was decided by Karen Zorn 5 years ago to be a non-issue. If it has become an issue since then, why take this sudden, drastic measure? Why not discuss this need and find solutions, with the Teachers Union? That is how problems are supposed to be worked out. It really speaks of hidden motives that Pres. Zorn and the Board of Directors studiously avoid working with the Union. Of course all of us who are affected will adapt. That is not the point, and does not white-wash this bad decision and the unprofessional manner in which Longy’s President and Board of Directors are behaving.

    Comment by Carrie Buddington — March 10, 2013 at 11:37 am

  10. Longy started being a part of my musical life in 1993, when I went to the Waring School in Beverly. My piano teacher there also worked at Longy, and I went there during vacations to have lessons, and to prepare for the Prep. division concerto competition, which I won in 1995. I played my first serious piece of chamber music there, the Brahms trio for horn, violin, and piano, coached by Janet Packer. I have performed in a number of concerts there, less while I was in college at Brandeis, but after I graduated, I began working as a staff pianist at Longy, mostly for the conservatory division (I played repertoire classes for D’Anna Fortunato, the vocal seminar taught by Jean Danton, Lynn Torgove, several master classes). After Longy stopped using professional pianists for that work, I still play for voice studios, including that of Robert Honeysucker. He teaches in the conservatory as well as continuing education, but many of the people that I have worked with do not. It saddens me to see not only these people losing their jobs, but also to see that young musicians will not have the same opportunities that I had not twenty years ago.

    Comment by Thomas Dawkins — March 11, 2013 at 11:33 am

  11. Longy’s recent decision to terminate all but degree programs is unfortunate in a era when audiences at classical music concerts are greying at an increasingly rapid rate. Who will be the concert goers of the future. The preparatory and community programs at Longy are important to the cultivation of interest in music (of all types) among a larger part of the population than the obviously commited degree students. Do we really need another full-blown conservatory in this city when it is already difficult enough for the graduates of such programs to find employment and the means to support a reasonable life style? This is a bad decision, and one that violates Longy’s tradition. Longy will now cater to a couple of hundred “chosen” musicians and ignore the thousand or more others who would have benefited from the schools prep and community programs every year. Our community, artistic and musical, is damaged by this narrow misguided vision.

    Comment by George Epple — March 11, 2013 at 2:21 pm

  12. I benefited greatly from being a continuing student at Longy during the 90’s, when I took voice lessons privately but was able to register for repertoire and other classes at Longy. I can understand how it could be difficult for a small school to meet the needs of serious conservatory students while at the same time offering lessons to the community. At the same time, I can’t help wondering about the industry that the conservatory system in general is feeding. Just how many conservatory graduates can the performance industry absorb at a level where the musicians can actually make a living doing it? Granted, the conservatory training will give them better teaching credentials, and perhaps that’s enough. And presumably, knowing just how competitive the industry is, Longy may feel that, in order to attact professional-track students, they need to be seen to put those students at the center of their concern. But it does seem like the end of an (important) era.

    Comment by Barbara Miller — March 11, 2013 at 10:33 pm

  13. Dr. Leon Botstein, President of Bard College, spearheaded Bard’s purchase of the Longy School of Music, now called the Longy School of Music of Bard College.
    Leon Botstein has been promoting his philosophy of education through speaking engagements and thru his most recent book, Jefferson’s Children, the education and promotion of American culture in which he voices a passionate call for childhood education and culture.
    The parents, students and teachers of the Longy Community Programs are now learning first hand what Dr. Botstein actually had in mind..
    The ironic truth emerges:
    1) For nearly a century, Longy has been one of the leading music schools in the country, with Preparatory and Community students and Conservatory students all learning together in this wonderful old building.
    2) Bard is closing Longy’s strong, vigorous and profitable Preparatory and Community programs for children and adolescents, allegedly to make more space for the Conservatory students. No one knows how carefully if at all, Bard looked at abundant, unused (on weekends) institutional space near Harvard Square.
    3)Dr Botstein is simultaneously calling for an important focus on childhood education and destroying one of the best childhood music education programs in the country.

    Does Leon Botstein have any understanding of the history, importance and value of Community Programs?

    Comment by Mara, George and Max Ellsworth — March 12, 2013 at 11:00 am

  14. The practicing excuse is just that, an excuse. Practicing on a Saturday at NEC was never easy until much later in the day; hence NEC Soccer. When I complained to the administration about the lack of practice space in JH, I was told, in more vague terms, that the school needed the programs for the money. If prep programs did not bring in money they would not exist anywhere. The decision is very much about money, but not the money that the prep program brought, but what Bard can buy.

    Certain money talks, communities walk.

    Comment by ALC — March 12, 2013 at 11:35 am

  15. A friend of mine just sent me this news. I am a product of Longy’s preparatory program, and it is a real shocker that the “new Longy” is disbanding the program for the sake of “making a difference”.

    Growing up in numerous apartments in 1970’s Porter Square was not easy – but my mother had the foresight to bring me to Longy’s prep program. That sent me down a path of a successful performance career that I would trade for nothing.

    But perhaps Longy thinks that since $30,000 a year didn’t trade hands, it wasn’t changing the world. It’s a sad day for those of us connected to Longy, a sad day for the community, and a sad day for kids.

    Comment by Gregory — March 16, 2013 at 10:35 am

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