November 15, 2018: Quarterly Update

Greetings!  Welcome to the Dean’s page and my quarterly update on key initiatives at the Peabody Institute.


This fiscal year (FY19) is the second year in our 5-year financial plan supporting the academic vision laid out in Peabody’s Breakthrough Plan.  The first three years of the financial plan call for significant investments in new programs in New Media and Dance, a reenergized jazz program, and the new Breakthrough Curriculum, as well as piloting initiatives online and standing up projects in the emerging Center for Music and Medicine.  Final results from FY18 included a $1.2M improvement to budget, making the planned deficit smaller — largely the result of exceeding enrollment and fundraising goals, and realizing expense savings.  Now having just completed the first quarter of FY19, we can say with some certainty that we expect to meet and likely improve upon this year’s budgetary assumptions, which include a planned deficit for a year in which we continue to make investments.  Enrollment is on target at 600 students for FY19, as is fundraising.  We will have more to report about the FY19 outlook once we are at the halfway mark, but at this juncture I expect that we’ll be on or better than plan again this year.


Peabody has a goal of raising $6.5M cash during the current fiscal year, which ends June 30, 2019.  We are currently at $1.56M, or 24 percent of goal.  While we are slightly behind our objectives in endowment cash and capital contributions, we are running significantly ahead in current use funding, which is central to funding operations and new programmatic initiatives.  One of the reasons for success here is a wonderful gift received from a member of Peabody Institute Advisory Board (PIAB).  The George Peabody Society recognizes donors whose lifetime giving reaches $1.4 million and above, which was the amount of George Peabody’s gift over 161 years ago to found the Peabody Institute.   Members of the PIAB who are also members of the George Peabody Society include Chung and Ted Kotcheff, Allan and Claire Jensen, Taylor Hanex, and Rheda Becker and Bob Meyerhoff.  Now joining the ranks of the George Peabody Society is Dr. Nancy S. Grasmick, who has made a multi-year commitment of one million dollars to support Peabody’s Breakthrough Curriculum.  This commitment, from a leading educational expert and former State Superintendent of Maryland Schools for more than twenty years, takes on even greater meaning as it demonstrates a firm belief in the direction of Peabody’s new Breakthrough Curriculum and a recognition of the importance of this work.   We could not be more grateful to Nancy for her wonderful support.


A critical aspect of planning for next year is the recruitment of the next Peabody Conservatory class.  Although still several weeks away from our application deadline, we are seeing positive trends with applications up 17 percent over last year at this time, and up 58 percent over two years ago.  There are several components driving this including new programs in New Media and Dance, and reenergized Jazz at Peabody; the Breakthrough Curriculum; and continued development of admissions recruitment strategies including programs like the Blue Ribbon Scholarship program, which has now grown in scale to include partnerships with 25 magnet schools, orchestras, and their educational affiliates, having begun just two years ago with four partner institutions.  While we don’t expect that we’ll continue to see the trajectory of application growth enjoyed over the last two years, it’s a good base on which to build.

Performance Highlights

A few weeks ago, Peabody presented Leonard Bernstein’s MASS in celebration of the Bernstein Centennial.  Two years in planning, this was an enormous undertaking resulting in an important and thrilling moment for Peabody, a compelling performance attended by 3,000 at the New Psalmist Baptist Church.  I am so proud of our students, who rose beautifully to the challenge that this work entails, putting in countless hours of rehearsal and preparation.  But one need only have seen the response of the audience and the numerous comments to follow from so many in attendance to realize the impact made.  Peabody has been intentionally working to increase and strengthen our connections with our neighbors and communities throughout Baltimore, and this production of MASS, under the direction of Marin Alsop, offered the perfect opportunity to do so.  Among more than 500 performers were members of the Baltimore City College High School Choir, the Baltimore School for the Arts Chamber Chorus, the Morgan State University Choir, and the New Psalmist Baptist Church Choir.  We are grateful to have had the opportunity to collaborate with such diverse and talented groups in bringing this work to life.

It’s an overused phrase, but MASS really is a production that “takes a village.”  I cannot help but think about the village we created, this production, and the impact of the performance on the community, in the context of what we experienced in our nation during that week of turmoil that included bomb threats, the shootings in a grocery store in Louisville, and the terrible events in a Pittsburgh synagogue.  What artists can do is provide a respite, a way for people to cope, and an outlet for emotional expression.  With its focus on the crisis of faith and questioning of institutions, our MASS’s arrival seemed perfectly timed.  If nothing else, we know that this performance provided at least two hours where people could inhabit a different place, to experience something good and positive and to have a chance to renew and reflect.  That is, after all, what art can and must do.

While we are on the subject of performances, I would be remiss if I did not mention the performance by Peabody instrumentalists led by Joseph Young and singers from the Peabody Opera Theatre Program to kick off the Johns Hopkins University gala celebrating the conclusion of the Rising to the Challenge Campaign.  Due to space constraints, the orchestra videotaped its accompaniment to the Champagne Song from Die Fledermaus and Nessun Dorma from Turandot in Miriam A. Friedberg Concert Hall; the recording was played on the giant circular screen at the gala as Peabody singers performed live.  It was a proud moment for Peabody.

Diversity and Inclusion

MASS is a perfect segue to report on Peabody’s ongoing initiatives around diversity and inclusion, which are beginning to yield promising results.  One of Peabody’s Five Pillars, fostering diversity in our business is a key strategic objective.  It is also the reason that we established the Peabody Diversity Pathway Task Force two years ago, comprised of more than twenty faculty, staff, students, and alumni.

Through greater intentionality in recruitment, supported by specific initiatives like the Blue Ribbon Scholarship program, relationship building with mentorship programs around the country, and partnerships with organizations focused on diversity such as Sphinx and El Sistema, underrepresented minority students now comprise 13 percent of the total Peabody student body, up from 10 percent in 2015.  This will continue to be an area of critical focus.  Similarly, through the Faculty Diversity Initiative, Peabody has worked diligently to develop a more diverse set of candidates in all faculty search processes.  Here too, this work is paying dividends.  In the 2018-19 academic year, 11 percent of our faculty identify as underrepresented minorities, up from 7 percent one year ago.  It is also worth noting that, nationally, schools and programs of music report underrepresented minority faculty in the 4 to 5 percent range.   Finally, an important aspect of diversity and inclusion is the work that we are doing on cultural climate.  In September, Peabody piloted for the Johns Hopkins University Office of Diversity a Micro Triggers workshop with faculty chairs, executive team members, and selected director-level staff.  Building on this successful and well received workshop, Peabody is expanding this training to a wider range of faculty and staff.

Peabody recognizes diversity to be a critical long-term effort, with the understanding that this is not just about the evolution of our school, but about changing the field.

New Program Update

This year marks inaugural classes of Conservatory programs in Music for New Media and Dance.  New Media, under the leadership of Thomas Dolby, represents the cutting intersection between composition and technology with its reach into video game music, augmented and virtual reality applications.  The inaugural class of 15 is the start of a potentially burgeoning program unique in its existence and differentiation from other more conventional music technology or composition programs.  Similarly, Peabody’s new BFA in Dance, under the leadership of danah bella, builds on a great history of dance in the Peabody Preparatory.  The potential for this program was on display with the dance students’ debut as part of the recent production of MASS, demonstrating how much the program is already bringing to Peabody.

The Breakthrough Curriculum, now in the second year of its full three-year rollout, continues to build Peabody’s competitive advantage in its commitment to surrounding Peabody’s traditionally high level of artistic and musical training with critical skills in communication, audience development, community engagement, and technology, along with other practical applications for both managing one’s own career and developing a unique artistic brand.  The curriculum, which now touches every corner of the Peabody experience – both undergraduate and graduate – will change not just the experience for Peabody students, but also the way schools think about training artists for the future.  As is the case with New Media, Peabody has positioned itself on the leading edge with the Breakthrough Curriculum.

Peabody Online

Peabody pilots its online initiative this fall with courses for music professionals and students called Playing Well.  An outgrowth of Peabody’s Music and Medicine initiative (which includes the new Johns Hopkins Rehabilitative Network Clinic for Performing Artists at Peabody and a focus on injury prevention as part of Peabody’s orientation programs for students), Playing Well makes available valuable information around peak performance, injury prevention, and healthy playing and practice habits.  A three-month pilot launching this month includes four course offerings, with the expectation that course offerings will more than triple over the next year.  The online curriculum fills an important need in a market that has little to offer in this critical area, while continuing to build awareness and brand recognition of Peabody.  A true “start-up,” Peabody Online adds to other efforts to build innovation on a long and grand tradition of training musicians at Peabody.

Summing Up

As you can see, there is much that his happening at Peabody.  I look forward to future updates and progress in all these key areas.