In April 2010, Peabody received a $2 million bequest from pianist, organist, and choral conductor Tristan W. Rhodes to benefit students who have lost financial support because they are gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender.
Rhodes, who lives in Victoria, British Columbia, studied piano and conducting at Peabody from 1966 to 1969, when he left after his brother was killed in Vietnam. He completed his BM at Westminster Choir College in Princeton. For many years, he directed the National Boychoir of America in Washington, D.C., and later was conductor and artistic director of the New England Vocal Ensemble in Boston.
The impetus for the bequest, one of the largest future commitments made to Peabody, was the lifelong suffering of a close friend, a talented writer, who was ostracized by her family due to her sexual orientation. Rhodes said that he could not imagine a better use of the money he leaves behind than “to save a kid.” “In all my years at Peabody, nobody cared if you were gay or straight,” Rhodes recalled, adding that the Conservatory’s “whole purpose is to give music of the highest quality.” While visiting Peabody to sign the bequest intention, he also spoke of the impression made on him by his piano teacher, Walter Hautzig, who had escaped from Nazi-occupied Vienna.
Cellist Hannah Pressley, who received her BM from Peabody and is now a graduate student, attended the signing representing Peabody’s Gay-Straight Alliance. Pressley commented that “it happens quite frequently that people don’t come out because they will lose family support,” noting that some students come from countries where homosexuality is highly stigmatized or illegal.
Expressing his gratitude for Rhodes’ generosity, Peabody Director Jeffrey Sharkey said: “This gift is all about lifting barriers. One of the things that music does is to bring people of diverse cultures and backgrounds together, and unite themunder this big tent of music.”