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Music to My Eyes

For me, as a child growing up in Baltimore, the Peabody Conservatory took on a magical patina. Peabody was, after all, the place where my parents met. I reveled in the stories Mom would tell of their courtship — of their first date, when Dad approached her at the end of a concert and offered her a ride home in his brand-new yellow convertible. Of the late-night beers and sandwiches they downed with classmates at a nearby joint called Morty's. Of marathon practice sessions, and tough-as-nails music theory professors, and stomach-churning senior recitals. Though I'd never set foot on the Peabody campus, in my 8-year-old mind's eye, the place was wrapped in a gauze of perfection.

But that golden image didn't jibe with the Peabody I actually experienced two decades later when I became editor of this magazine. First off, I could never figure out where the front door of the conservatory was located. It seemed odd that the path to the Friedberg Concert Hall took me through the parking garage, past a guard house in an alley, then down and up a series of hallways and stairways. This premier institute that produced world-class musicians and awe-inspiring music felt a bit like a fortress — inaccessible and uninviting.

Thanks to the vision of conservatory director Robert Sirota and other university leaders, that situation has changed dramatically. This month, Peabody celebrates a $26.8 million restoration effort, three years in the making, that effectively rolls out a new "welcome mat" to Baltimore's midtown arts community. The conservatory now has a front door that no one could miss — an entrance on Mount Vernon Place that opens into a sun-filled Grand Arcade. There's much more to the restoration effort, as you'll discover on p. 49. But the symbolic impact of Peabody's new accessibility shouldn't be underplayed.

As Bob Sirota notes, by inviting the community in, and by becoming more engaged with the other members of Mount Vernon's cultural district, Peabody is contributing to the "creative capital" that will allow the city of Baltimore to thrive: "It's fairly axiomatic now," he says, "that the cities whose arts institutions are flourishing and who are attracting creative people to work and study in great schools and institutions are also going to prosper as cities."

I'm excited about what Peabody's restoration portends for Baltimore's future. And, selfishly, I'm thrilled that the conservatory's reality now comes closer to the golden ideal I harbored as a child.

-Sue De Pasquale

Return to April 2004 Table of Contents

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