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Violin teacher gives $7 million to music school. There’s good money in teaching?

A retired* teacher has given a small fortune to the University of Southern California’s Thornton School of Music. Read about it here.

*UPDATE: We hear she’s not retired, still teaching…

alice schoenfeld

Reminds me of the two threadbare Torah teachers huddled up against the samovar on a frosty night in a shtetl.

‘Oy,’ sighs one, ‘if only I were Rothschild…’

‘If I were Rothschild,’  reflects the other, ‘I’d be richer than Rothschild…’

‘How could you be richer than Rothschild?’ demands his friend.

‘I’d do a little teaching on the side…’


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  1. Well, not just any teacher … sister of Eleonore Schoenfeld who passed away in 2007 “survived by her sister Alice”. I guess after decades of world tours and being on judging panels of major competitions and 200+ recordings you would eventually earn a bit .. and leave it maybe to your sister (who was clearly no slouch either).

    Still it’s very heartening to hear of philanthropy like this. From what I just read up about them they really started with nothing having fled the USSR in the 50s with their parents… American Dream?

  2. Clyde McConnell says:

    I remember the wonderful FREE performances given by the Schoenfeld sisters at CalTech in the late fifties or early sixties. It wasn’t a concert venue, just a medium-sized room with good acoustics and comfortable seating. The events were well attended, needless to say. Those were the days!

  3. Although this is wonderful news it just seems that professional orchestras need the money more than music schools. So we now have well-endowed conservatories cranking out professional musicians for a shrinking job market. Still – a great gift from an extraordinary lady.

    • Robert Fitzpatrick says:

      And when orchestras treat their players like family and not like slave labor (and I mean attitude not money), perhaps musicians will start to think about orchestras as part of their own planned estate giving. The Schoenfeld sisters gave to USC/Thornton because they felt that their money would be put to good use and they felt that their gift would be administered well. Someone has also been doing a bit of well-received cultivation in this case. Gifts like this are not an accident. Congrats to all involved.

      PS: Who in their right mind would leave a substantial gift in their will to MO or SPCO under the current circumstances?

    • Gavin Cunningham says:

      Couldn´t agree more with the comments of messers Levinson & Fitzpatrick.. I find it so sad that there are so many music schools churning out better & better prepared musicians for a shrinking job availability. What often happens is that these excellent youngsters feel obliged to turn to teaching careers, thus creating an ever widening vicious circle. Still, it´s always good to hear of private donations to the arts.

  4. Norman,

    Love your joke. They sound like relatives of mine, whose memories are for a blessing. I can just hear the cadnece of the voice saying, “I’ll just do a little teaching o the side.”

  5. Would it be fair to say that a school for the rich just got richer? I found these numbers on the web for USC:

    Tuition and Fees $44,463
    Room and Board $12,440
    Books and Supplies $1,500
    Other Expenses $1,480

    Cost of Attendance $59,883

    Or does financial aid to cover all of this……?

    • Another irony is that this is in Los Angeles, the third richest city in the world, but that ranks 125th for opera performances per year. Elite education for musicians who will almost certainly face unemployment or under employment.

    • Robert Fitzpatrick says:

      Like most elite private universities, they have a generous financial aid program based on need with a few merit-based scholarships based on talent at schools like Thornton. The typical average “discount rate” at schools like this is over 50% and that reduction is covered by endowment which is supported, in part, by gifts like these. Hats off to the donors and to their confidence in the Thornton School and USC,

      • Robert Fitzpatrick says:

        The usual annual endowment draw at such schools is 5% (probabaly closer to 4%). The maximum annual yield on the Schoenfeld gift of $7MM is $350K toward scholarships for Thornton students each year or the equivalent of about 6 “free-rides.” Chances are good that the deserving recipients will be talented and poor.

        • Robert Fitzpatrick says:

          Coda: if the marketplace (jobs) were to dictate enrollment in specialized curricula, then schools would have eliminated majors in history, art history, philosophy, classical music, jazz, visual arts, and a few others long ago. Today’s post-secondary music school graduates in the USA look at the very broad spectrum of musical performance activities in all genre. (Some of the best jazz I’ve ever heard has been from classical violin students one who actually used to “jam” with Stephane Grappelli in the late 80s and early 90s: Curtis class of ’91, Benjamin Schmid:

          The role of schools like Thornton at USC is to nurture the dreams of talented students while allowing them to explore the many directions available to them

          • Only 16% of the students at USC receive Pell grants, which are need-based federal grants to low-income students. And even that low ratio still puts USC in fourth place among elite schools for the number of poor students. At Notre Dame it is only 9%. Yale, Princeton, Northwestern, and Duke all come in at 10%.

            The poverty rate among African-Americans is 44%, and 33% among Hispanics. This compares poorly to the 9 to 16% ratio of Pell grants at the schools I mention.

            The average student debt for a USC undergraduate is $30,090. To that will be added the costs of graduate school. For most musicians this will be a real burden, given the lack of jobs.

            It’s a big contrast to continental Europe where most university educations are free, and private universities generally forbidden because they are thought to be a manifestation of classism. Here in Baden-Württemberg where I live, the government decided to charge 500 Euros for tuition for the first student of a family, with all additional children in a family not being charged at all. The recently elected Green government once again eliminated all tuition requirements. Everyone goes free, and the conservatories are excellent.

            In addition to this, there are around 20 times more professional orchestras per capita in Germany, and 83 fulltime opera houses. A quick glance at “Das Orchester” reveals how many more positions are available.

            I know many Americans resent these comparisons, and find ways to rationalize them, but they put things in perspective.

          • I should add that 50% of Americans are now classified as poor or low income. The current ecomonic crisis has shrunk the middle class. See:


            Pell grants at USC cover less than a third of the poor. At Yale, Princeton, Northwestern, and Duke its only a fifth.

          • Robert Fitzpatrick says:

            Perhaps Ms. Schoenfeld’s money would be better spent on one-way tickets to Deutschland for the talented poor youth of America.

          • Something like that has been happening for decades. One example is my wife, Abbie Conant, who was first trombone of the Munich Phil for 13 years. She studied with Dee Stewart at Temple, then got her masters at Juilliard. There are countless American instrumentalists and opera singers who have spent their careers working in Germany. They would have never found good jobs in the States in spite of their high professional abilities. They are, in effect, economic refugees.

            I also mentioned this in another SD thread about a member of the currently shut down SPCO who recently left to work in the Tonhalle Orchestra in Zurich. For another example, we only have three cities in the top 100 for opera performances per year. Simple arithmetic shows why these musicians have to leave the country.

          • To bring it closer to home, Philadelphia has the 9th largest metro GDP in the wold, but ranks only 178th in opera performances per year. It is only natural that so many opera singers leave the country.

  6. To Fitzpatrick — point taken.

  7. Derek Castle says:

    Norman, a great joke. But perhaps better not to crack it at Ben Gurion , after all the comments on the Dudamel story, it appears they don’t do humour – or courtesy.

  8. Greg Hlatky says:

    “Philadelphia has the 9th largest metro GDP in the wold, but ranks only 178th in opera performances per year.”

    Nothing whatever is preventing the city of Philadelphia from adopting the German model and subsidizing a year-round opera company. The incumbent mayor is a Democrat (as all have been for the last 61 years) as well as nine out of ten elected city council members, 14 of 17 of all city council members and almost 80% of registered voters in the city.

    • Sadly, niether the Republicans or the Democrats genuinely support public arts funding. As with so many political issues, we are not given a meaningful choice in our vote. Change is possible, but it will involve a long process of educating the American public.

      Philadelphia has the potential to be one of the world’s most beautiful and cultured cities, but like all other American cities it has suffered from almost violent neglect. A mayor’s report in 2001 noted that Philadelphia had 14,000 abandoned buildings in a dangerous state of collapse, 31,000 trash-strewn vacant lots, 60,000 abandoned autos, and had lost 75,000 citizens in recent years. Little has changed since then. Eventually, even the Philadelphia Orchestra went bankrupt.

      Europeans view the city itself as the greatest and most complete expression of the human mind and spirit. Venice, Florence, Rome, Prague, Amsterdam, Dresden, Barcelona and Paris, just to name a few, are all embued with this ideal. Americans, by contrast, behave almost as if they have lost hope in their cities, as if they were dangerous and inhuman urban wastelands to be abandoned for the suburbs. This tacit assumption has had a profound but largely unrecognized effect on American political and cultural discourse. Classical music is one of the most urban of art forms. Its status will always be measured by the health and vibrancy of our cities. Ultimately, questions of arts funding will only be fully resolved when we recognize that the well-being of our cultural and urban environments are deeply interdependent.

    • Michael Hurshell says:

      @ Mr Hlatky: I am confused – are you implying that there are cities in the U.S. with Republican mayors and councils that have adopted the German Model? And if so, where?

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