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The newspaper of The Johns Hopkins University October 6, 2008 | Vol. 38 No. 6
A Legacy of Artistic First Steps

Amy Killian, coordinator of the Peabody Preparatory's Towson branch, in a classroom with two of the 500 students currently taking music and dance lessons.
Photo by Will Kirk / HIPS

Peabody Preparatory's Towson branch marks 50 years of music, dance

By Greg Rienzi
The Gazette

Amy Killian, coordinator of the Towson branch of the Peabody Preparatory, says that she relishes the little things about her job — and the little ones.

On any given day, she can walk down the halls and hear a symphony of musical development, whether it's a 4-year-old awkwardly putting bow to violin or a children's chorus that fills the air with sweet, high-pitched notes. She can see it, too. A favorite scene is a studio filled with tiny dancers just old enough to stay on two feet.

"This is a place of a lot of first steps, literally and figuratively," said Killian, who became coordinator in 1994. "It's been a special privilege to be part of this legacy of learning and growth."

Since 1958, the Peabody Preparatory Towson campus has offered musical and dance instruction to students of all ages, from 2 months to 90-plus. To celebrate the division's golden anniversary, Peabody will host a benefit recital at 3 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 12. The event will feature award-winning pianist Eric Zuber, an alumnus of both the Peabody Preparatory and the Peabody Conservatory.

The Towson branch, located in a single building on the Goucher College campus, offers individual instruction in all orchestral instruments, voice, Suzuki-based piano for children and traditional piano for all ages. Its group class offerings include dance, strings, guitar, voice and music theory. Advanced students take ensemble and theory classes and participate in expanded performance opportunities at Peabody's Mount Vernon campus, where the Preparatory program is headquartered. In addition, the branch hosts camps in the summer for singers and string musicians.

Roughly 500 students are currently enrolled at Peabody Towson, including nearly half of the 300-plus-member Peabody Children's Chorus.

A Towson branch of the Peabody Preparatory was largely the vision of former superintendent Leah Thorpe. In the late 1950s, the Preparatory was bursting at the seams and needed room to accommodate additional students. Thorpe and other Peabody leadership also felt that a campus in Baltimore County would capture a population of people unwilling or unable to drive into the city.

Thorpe negotiated a land-lease deal with Goucher College to construct a building on the school's campus. The branch opened its doors in 1958 and has been faithfully serving the community ever since.

In addition to its 100-seat auditorium, the building houses classrooms, a large dance studio and small teaching studios. The classes are open to those of all ages and abilities, and Johns Hopkins employees can receive partial tuition remission for both themselves and family members.

Founded by May Garrettson Evans in 1894, the Peabody Preparatory, a division of the Peabody Institute, offers gifted children and adolescents the opportunity to realize their highest potential as leaders of the next generation of performing artists. It also provides an education in music and dance to all members of the community who desire it, regardless of age, professional intention or previous training.

Following on the success in Towson, the Preparatory opened other branches, including the ones operating today in Annapolis and Howard County.

Carolee Stewart, dean of the Peabody Preparatory, said that the school owes a huge debt to Thorpe's wisdom and vision.

"She had a really good idea and made it happen," Stewart said. "I often run into former students who now bring their children to the branch. They talk about how wonderful their experience was. I think credit should be given to the work of Amy Killian, who has developed this welcoming and warm community that you sense as soon as you walk through the door."

Jeffrey Sharkey, director of the Peabody Institute, said that he, too, is regularly gratified to hear the stories of appreciative Preparatory alumni.

"I meet people all the time who express the great pleasure that the experience gave them, and the confidence it instilled in them," Sharkey said. "Creativity is especially essential for children. It is one of the best ways for them to develop individual expression and discover their own potential. I feel the best way to nurture creativity is through the arts, music and dance, and we've been doing that effectively for a long time now."

Sharkey said that the Preparatory, and the Towson branch in particular, has been the face of Peabody for many.

"Just as many people — and this is certainly true locally — know Peabody through the work of the Preparatory, as compared to our college division," he said. "In terms of Towson, we've been fortunate to be in one dedicated space for 50 years, which has enabled us to anchor ourselves in the community."

Sharkey and Stewart said they hope the Preparatory will stay and grow in Towson for another 50 years and more. While there are no current plans for expansion, Stewart said that the Preparatory seeks to modernize the Towson facility in the near future, and the proceeds from the concert recital on Sunday will go toward capital improvements.

Stewart said she was pleased that Eric Zuber agreed to perform and help illustrate the mission of the school.

"He is a young man with a very big talent, and we're delighted to welcome him back," she said.

Zuber earned a bachelor of music degree at the Peabody Conservatory and a performance diploma from the Curtis Institute of Music. His principal teachers have included Boris Slutsky, Claude Frank and Leon Fleisher. He is currently studying with Slutsky at the Peabody Conservatory to complete an artist diploma.

Zuber was a prize winner in the 2008 Sydney International Piano Competition, 2008 Seoul International Piano Competition and 2007 Hilton Head International Piano Competition, among others. The New York Times praised his debut at Carnegie Hall, calling his playing "irresistibly fluid."

At the Oct. 12 recital, he will perform works by Chopin, including the Andante spianato et Grande Polonaise brillante in E-flat major, Op. 22, considered one of the composer's most difficult pieces for piano.

To purchase tickets, which cost $50 and include a post-concert reception, call the Preparatory at 410-659-8100, ext. 1121.

For information about music and dance classes for children and adults at the Peabody Preparatory, call 410-659-8100, ext. 1130, or go to:


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