With the Spring 2022 semester well underway, Manhattan School of Music President James Gandre shares what he’s looking forward to this year, what makes MSM a special place, and his own personal and professional goals.
Tell us your thoughts about concerts at MSM once again being open to the public.
President Gandre: It’s wonderful to welcome the public back to MSM to hear our incredibly talented students perform on all our stages – from our principal performance space Neidorff-Karpati Hall to Greenfield Hall, Miller Recital Hall, Ades Performance Space, and others. Every performer needs an audience, but students in particular need audiences so they can learn more about the interactions between performer and audiences and how one feeds off the energy that comes from a live audience.
I’m very happy for each audience member who is coming back, as they are once again able to experience in person the wonderful music performed by our extraordinary students. And I’m equally happy for our students, who will be receiving the energy and the feeling that only a live audience can generate. It’s a powerful reciprocal experience for everyone.
What are you looking forward to this year?
President Gandre: As case numbers decline, we will hopefully move from pandemic to an endemic situation at some point in the near future. For now of course, it remains important for us to maintain and adhere to masking protocols on campus. However, I do look forward to a time when we can once again see each other’s full expressions, especially the joy that comes with performing. What’s been interesting about the pandemic is that students have had to work with masks while finding ways to bridge this communication gap. In this manner, I think students have learned a lot.
What have been the main priorities and concerns for you and the MSM leadership team during the challenging time we’ve all been experiencing since March 2020?
President Gandre: The first priority has been working to protect everyone’s health and safety. Secondarily, it’s been to fulfill our mission to educate the next generation of artist citizens. The faculty did an amazing job in spring 2020 pivoting to online teaching and then last year handling a hybrid in-person/online schedule. This year’s full return to campus, made possible by vaccination and booster mandates and ongoing mask protocols, has been cause for celebration of course. The biggest concern for all of us has been to see how we can do everything the best possible way while remaining safe. That hasn’t been easy, but I’m incredibly proud of this faculty and, mostly, so incredibly proud of the students who have just transitioned to this new way of life really well and kept their spirits up. Seeing everyone on campus with so much positivity is heartening for me.
Auditions have begun for the academic year 2022-2023. What do you feel makes MSM a special place for anyone wanting to further their career in music?
President Gandre: I believe it’s important for every young musician to find the music school that is right for them. One of the reasons why I came back to this institution as president after being gone for 13 years, is because MSM has something deeply special about it. A few years ago, one of our graduates, Tony Award-winner Shuler Hensley, gave our Commencement address. He recounted the story of when he first walked in the front door at MSM, which was the last school where he was auditioning, and he thought “this is the place.” He had that feeling that this was home for him.
I believe MSM has this perfect combination of being situated in a relatively quiet, green neighborhood, a sort of college town within the big city, while at the same time enjoying all the advantages of this great cultural capital. The School is located just 15 or 20 minutes from Lincoln Center by subway and another five minutes to Broadway theatres. The great, legendary jazz clubs are also easily accessible by subway. You can travel quickly from our beautiful campus and neighborhood to the center of what is the largest city in America and one of the most important and influential cities in the world.
You returned to MSM as president nearly nine years ago. What are you most proud of so far in your tenure as president?
President Gandre: I’m very proud of working with the Board of Trustees to move the institution to a new level, particularly the beauty and functionality of the campus. So much has been achieved to improve our facility. For example, the practice rooms in the lower level of Andersen Hall, the renovation of the student lounge and the creation of the Student Union, the grand new entrance to the school, and, of course, the extraordinary renovation of Neidorff-Karpati Hall.
The faculty is the most important part of what any school can offer, but the physical campus has to work well in order to support the learning and performance environment, and in order for the community to thrive. MSM’s physical campus is now a much better place, and I thank the faculty and the trustees for the green light they gave, and continue to give, to ideas of transforming this environment in which people are learning and making art.
What makes you the happiest being president of MSM?
President Gandre: The thing that makes me happiest – and why I do this work I do – is our students. The early months of the pandemic were extremely difficult for me because I had so little interaction with students. I missed seeing them terribly, because they are the ones who give me the energy to keep going, especially in these very tough times. There are a lot of challenges in higher education these days, and the students are the people for whom we all do this important work.
What are your personal and professional goals for 2022?
President Gandre: My biggest professional goal for 2022 is to continue to pursue and build up the institution’s endowment. I would love to see further growth in MSM’s financial foundation so that it can fully support the artistic level, spirit, and soul of this institution. As for my personal goals, I look forward to the prospect of a little down time. And hopefully, we’ll all be able to someday soon spend a little less time thinking about COVID-19!