My cousin Efrem Zimbalist began teaching at the Curtis Institute in 1928, and served as its director from 1941 through 1968. He was also the second husband of Mary Louise Curtis Bok, the founder of the prestigious music conservatory. During his tenure, he was the teacher of Jascha Brodsky, one of the faculty members implicated in the allegations of abuse recently reported by the Inquirer.
After The Inquirer’s story about Lara St. John and her alleged abuse by Brodsky, Curtis officials issued an email asking people involved with Curtis not to discuss the case. In the age of #MeToo, this was a tone-deaf and appalling move from a respected organization. Following the appropriate backlash from Curtis alumni and supporters, officials released a second statement. However, that just added insult to injury by deflecting all responsibility for the existence of the first.
From the outside, it seems that no one is being held responsible for that first tone-deaf email. This is not OK, especially when, as The Inquirer story illuminated, there has been an atmosphere of covering up and protecting teachers, living and deceased, despite their inexcusable behavior.
I am so sorry for Lara St. John and the other former students who were abused. Curtis turned a blind eye to them, and the school’s recent behavior seems to suggest to me that they have few regrets about it.
I have studied violin and viola with some fantastic teachers, albeit not with Brodsky at Curtis, but I know how important a relationship with a teacher is. I have also been on the other side of the mentor relationship as a music educator for over 20 years.
From both roles I have come to realize that there is a special bond between a music student and a music teacher that is different from other disciplines and professions.
Music deals not only with intellectual skill and coordination, but with intense emotions and the very expression of the human soul. To have an authority figure who is supposed to be guiding a student instead display an ulterior motive as the basis for their interactions is literally a violation of the spirit.
The program at Curtis is one of the most intense and stressful of any educational programs in the world. My cousin believed in its mission. It will and must continue, but it is time for Curtis to clean house.
The fact that there were those who allegedly used their roles as mentors inappropriately is bad enough, but the cover up that has been waged in their defense is far worse.
The administrators who ignored the initial complaints from Lara St. John and others should be investigated.
From this point on, Curtis should pay for a third-party agency to take future reports of abuse.
And anyone involved with issuing that recent denial email should resign immediately.