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Longy School of Music to disband nondegree programs

The Longy School of Music of Bard College will eliminate its longstanding Preparatory and Continuing Studies programs by the end of August. The programs, which currently provide private music lessons, classes, and ensemble work to 700 children and 200 adults in the Boston area, are being phased out while Longy focuses on serving its full-time conservatory students, school officials have announced.

“This isn’t a money decision, it’s a strategic one,” school president Karen Zorn said Wednesday, as students and families affected by the decision were being notified.

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Classes for children have been part of Longy at least as far back as 1920, when there is evidence of them in the school catalog, Zorn said — not exactly a preparatory program but the beginnings. In 1978 Longy added a Saturday program of theory, private lessons, and other music classes for children.

Full-time enrollment at Longy, a degree-granting conservatory, has nearly tripled in recent years, Zorn said, from fewer than 100 a decade ago to 215 this academic year. Competition for classroom and rehearsal space has grown along with that marked increase.

Meanwhile, enrollment in the prep and continuing studies programs, which employ 54 part-time instructors, has declined 27 percent over the same period, leading the school’s board of governors to phase them out altogether. Their vote took place earlier this week.

“Right when I came in, six years ago, people identified space as an issue,” Zorn said.

The school attempted to solve the problem by expanding its hours of operation and repurposing existing space in its two buildings, which are located near Harvard Square, an area where further expansion is difficult and expensive, she said.

The issue reached a breaking point last fall as full-time degree students found themselves lined up outside classrooms to claim rehearsal space. The school was also under pressure from its accrediting organization, the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools, to more fully meet the needs of its full-time students, she said.

“The board made a hard decision, but it was a clear decision,” Zorn said.

Board member Marilyn Ray Smith said the decision, while difficult, was meant to clarify the school’s evolving mission: to turn out graduates who are not only talented performers but community-minded musicians as well, capable of “making a difference in the world.”

“In the long run, we think that’s a really powerful mission,” Smith said. “There was unanimity on the board that this is where we’re going.”

Full-time students pay a little over $30,000 in yearly tuition. Those enrolled in the prep and continuing studies programs pay tuition in a variety of forms and amounts, but a private half-hour weekly lesson generally costs around $1,600 per academic year.

The nondegree programs were commanding nearly 50 percent of the available instruction space, Zorn said, yet generating only 25 percent of the school’s revenue. Longy has a $7 million annual operating budge.

School officials expressed hope that musicians enrolled in the two programs will continue working with the teachers they already have, but do the work off-campus. Others will be steered to different music schools and teaching resources in the area.

William Oh, 23, a violinist and Longy senior who has assisted teachers in the prep program, says he was shocked to hear about the cancellation.

“I never thought they’d consider it,” he said. “I see those students come in every day,”

While he recognizes the benefits for full-time students, who need more practice space, he also views the move as a loss for younger musicians.

“Their talent level is quite high, and I wouldn’t want to be in that position myself,” Oh said. Many of them are likely to maintain their current teacher connections, he added, but it will be tough for them to find the chance to study and play together in larger groups.

Founded in 1915 by famed oboist Georges Longy, the school has a distinguished pedigree. Notable Longy alumni include composers Elliott Carter and Daniel Pinkham, soprano Phyllis Curtin, New York City cultural affairs commissioner Schyler Chapin, and Boston Symphony Orchestra violinist Xin Ding.

In 2006 the school refocused its mission to make a priority of community outreach initiatives and the development of students’ teaching skills. Degree candidates are now required to spend time working in public schools, homeless shelters, prisons, and other venues, reflecting this commitment

In 2011Longy merged with Bard College, a private liberal arts college in Annandale-on-Hudson, N.Y. Later that year it colaunched a program incorporating the Venezuela-based El Sistema philosophy of music education, which aims to empower communities through music. The partnership was joined by the Los Angeles Philharmonic and includes a master’s of teaching music program.

Joseph P. Kahn can be reached at jkahn@globe.com.
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