In 1964, our founding director, David Greer, was the organist at West End Presbyterian Church, and a true visionary of his time. Combined with determination and perseverance, he opened a community music school in the basement of the church by talking to kids on the street about studying music and attending concerts. His own dedication to music must have been infectious and the school’s initial enrollment included 75 students in 1964 taking lessons for 50 cents or a dollar.
From its beginning, the Bloomingdale House of Music, as it was first known, brought amazing vitality to an Upper West Side community that was already growing in diversity. The neighborhood was filled with the opportunity to establish greater musical awareness and David hit the ground running. By 1966, the enrollment had reached 500 and after the school moved to its new home on 108th Street in 1972, Bloomingdale had a roster of 1000 students each week. David’s ambition for the school went on to create a concert series of weekly recitals performed at the school and at Symphony Space by established, emerging, and faculty musicians, as well as the Bloomingdale Orchestra. His most significant contribution to the community was his commitment to an “open access” policy – the mission to provide music instruction to students regardless of their financial means. This mission has been and still remains central to the Bloomingdale School of Music and has been supported by the efforts of subsequent executive directors, Paul Fran (1988-1991), and Lawrence Davis (1991-2013), Erika S. Floreska (2014-2020), and Erika Atkins currently.
Throughout the history of Bloomingdale, the school has engaged an exceptional faculty roster of professional musicians trained at the most prestigious music conservatories and universities throughout the world. As directorships changed, the school continued to grow with new programs that raised the standard of performance by the student body. Under Lawrence Davis’ leadership, the school initiated the advanced Music Access Project (MAP) and the Professional Training Program in addition to the yearly all-school “Performathon” fund-raising events, yearly department festival concerts – the Piano Project Concert, the Guitar Festival, the Voice Festival, the Percussion Festival, and A4TY (Student Composers Concert) – while he also conducted the Bloomingdale Chamber Orchestra in two concerts each year and supported a vital faculty concert series of over 40 recitals each year. Lawrence always kept pace with new innovations and during his tenure established internet concert projects on Bloomingdale’s website as well as insightful blogs by faculty. He also worked with the entire administrative staff and selected faculty members in the ambitious two-year project to develop the first online theory program by a community music school – Theory in a Box – which has benefitted Bloomingdale students and schools throughout the U.S.
Currently, students perform in all of these programs as well as in student “Sharing Hours” several times throughout the academic year. The first 50 years were very busy and productive at the Bloomingdale School of Music, and the legacy of each director has broadened the scope of the school while remaining flexible to the needs of the students. Part of this effort includes the current online instruction in connection with the Covid19 Pandemic which has proven to be successful despite any limitations from the absence of in-person instruction. Indeed, the faculty and staff at Bloomingdale have “made” this profile of instruction work through imagination and determination which can be considered a hallmark within the history of the school in general. Following the tenure of Erika Floreska who secured solid community connections for greater access to the school through collaboration and innovation, Bloomingdale’s new executive director, Erika Atkins, comes from an extensive background in arts administration and education. A singer herself, Erika’s vision is to continue Bloomingdale’s rich tradition of providing quality music education to anyone who wants it by evolving programs and offerings to support the needs of our community through talent development, dedication to access, and partnership building. As we maintain our standards of excellence, we are proud to be a vital part of the broad cultural fabric of New York City and we look forward to greater accomplishment with each new year.
Written by Monica Verona, BSM resident teaching artist, and archivist