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The newspaper of The Johns Hopkins University June 12, 2006 | Vol. 35 No. 37
Maestro for Peabody's Next Act

Pianist and composer Jeffrey Sharkey, now dean of the Cleveland Institute of Music, will officially take the helm of the Peabody Institute on Oct. 1.
Photo Courtesy of Cleveland Institute of Music

Director-designate Jeffrey Sharkey talks about music, challenges

By Dennis O'Shea

A music conservatory is, of course, conservative. And no one at a conservatory is likely ever to argue that Bach, Beethoven and Brahms aren't worth listening to anymore.

But a conservatory — especially one like the Peabody Institute — must also be subversive, in some ways radical and, above all, passionate, Peabody's director-designate says.

"Music is one of the deepest forms of communication there is," pianist, composer and veteran music educator Jeffrey Sharkey said. "Our graduates need to be passionate advocates for this wonderful art."

Peabody, Sharkey said, is wonderfully positioned to provide the "deep, thoughtful, connected form of education within the art of music" that helps students develop that ardent advocacy.

Unlike some conservatories, he said, Peabody has a "wonderful, strong composition program," connecting budding players with the continuing evolution of music. It has a new jazz department. It teaches world music. It has the Peabody Preparatory and a thriving music education program, both of which can be national models and help form not only new musicians but new audiences for music.

And Peabody has a growing number of connections with other divisions of the university, Sharkey said.

"Peabody should aim to be one of the top two or three places in the country [and] an institution of international importance," Sharkey said. "Its breadth gives it possibilities that no other places have. So many of the ingredients are there."

The link between Peabody and the rest of Johns Hopkins is very powerful, he said. "It's not just an individual conservatory out on its own. Peabody can benefit from Johns Hopkins' great reach nationally and internationally. Johns Hopkins can benefit from the way that Peabody touches people's lives."

Sharkey, now dean of the Cleveland Institute of Music, will join Johns Hopkins on Oct. 1. He succeeds Robert Sirota, who last year became president of the Manhattan School of Music.

"A Russian friend of mine once told me that the three most important things for a great school of music are the finest teachers teaching the finest students in the finest facilities," Sharkey said. "Bob Sirota has done so much to make sure Peabody's facilities are the finest. We have some wonderful faculty I'm looking forward to getting to know. And, of course, we have wonderful students.

"But keeping all those things is the challenge" for a new director, he said. Meeting that challenge, he said, is a matter of building partnerships: partnerships between faculty members and the admissions office, partnerships between the conservatory and institutions like the Baltimore Symphony and, of course, partnerships with potential donors.

Sharkey, who is 41, became dean of the Cleveland Institute in 2001, serving as the chief academic officer of its college division. At Peabody, he will lead both the college-level conservatory — one of the nation's leading professional music schools with 650 students and nearly 250 faculty members — and the Prep, a community music school with 1,800 child and adult students.

Under Sharkey's leadership, CIM has increased applications by 25 percent. He has recruited distinguished faculty members, developed new structures for student affairs and advising, and created exchange programs with London's Royal Academy of Music and the Paris Conservatoire. He has strengthened CIM's close ties with nearby Case Western Reserve University and works closely with the institute's president on a $40 million capital campaign that includes funding for a new recital hall and an education building now under construction.

Before joining CIM, Sharkey was director of music at the Purcell School in London from 1996 to 2001 and head of composition and academic music at Wells Cathedral School, also in England, from 1990 to 1996.

A Delaware native, he is a 1986 graduate of the Manhattan School of Music and earned a master of music degree in composition from Yale University in 1988 and a master of philosophy from Cambridge University a year later. His teachers included pianists John Browning, Boris Berman and Peter Frankl and composers Aaron Copland and John Corigliano.

Sharkey was a founding member of the Pirasti Piano Trio, which recorded with ASV Records in the United Kingdom and toured throughout Europe and the United States. Since returning to America, he has played in Trio Zannetti and performed regularly with members of the Cleveland Orchestra and CIM faculty. His compositions have been performed by the St. Louis Symphony under the direction of Leonard Slatkin and in chamber concerts in the United States and Britain.

Sharkey is married to Alison Wells, who will join the Peabody cello faculty. They have three daughters, Jessica, 13; Olivia, 10; and Florence, 6.


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