We Are Thankful for Our FREE Public Arts Education!
Thank you to everyone who submitted reasons why you are thankful for having received a free, public high school arts education at Music & Art, Performing Arts, or LaGuardia. Please read the wonderful responses below, and if you have not done so already, please submit your own! We will continue to add to this page, with the most recent submissions at the top of the page.
There are so many reasons but music was always healing for me. Being at LaGuardia gave me the opportunity to learn new skills, challenge myself as a musician and use singing as an outlet all at once.
– Shantell Lewis, LaG ’05
Acceptance to Music and Art was life changing for me. Primarily, it rescued me from the Bronx. My father, who wanted me to go to Hunter College High School, gave me a subway map and said, “You’re on your own.”
Suddenly, I had friends from all over the City. Manhattan opened up to me, Greenwich Village was a joyful gathering place. Our teachers, specially selected to relate to students with interests such as ours, inspired me.
Finally, my art teachers honed a talent and love for art in general and, for me personally painting, that has been a gift providing joy and self development throughout my life.
– Alice Gail Dvoskin, Ph. D. M & A, 1963
I was so lucky to have had the opportunity to audition for, attend, and graduate from such a fine high school, M&A. I had an excellent academic and studio-art education. I met talented students and teachers. Attending M&A built my confidence to live courageously and creatively in the world. I am still very proud to say, “Oh, yes, I studied art and graduated from one of the finest high schools ever, M&A.”
– Peggy Tartt, M&A ‘74
I am thankful for the most extraordinary environment a teenager could be in for learning! My love for music and the arts only grew exponentially as I grew, and my teachers and fellow students inspired me, always.
My public high school arts education was definitely the major turning point in my life. I was a “jock” in junior high school. I had made the JV football team at my neighborhood school and was looking forward to a possible career as a professional athlete.
When I took the test for M&A, I never though I would get in. I auditioned on tenor sax, which I had just started learning about 9 months before testing for M&A. My music consisted of whole notes, half notes, quarter notes and a few sixteenth note sprinkled in. Everyone else whom I saw and herd audition came in with music that had a few quarter notes; and maybe a half note or two. I accepted the fact that I was probably not going to Music and Art High School.
I was shocked to find out that I had passed. Out of the 35 or more kids from my junior high school class, only three of us past the audition; Ruben Rivera, a gifted cellist, Juan Dandridge, a gifted violist and me.
My musical career was, how shall I put this, a blessing and pleasant surprise. In elementary school I said I played trumpet for two years. I actually only played it for two weeks. I ended up in an advanced music class in junior high school. I only started playing trumpet because my father played trumpet and wanted me to learn. I wanted to play sax.
Fortunately, I had a very good ear, loved harmony and could hear and keep time. I only knew the “C” scale; so I would ask the first trumpet how do you play this note or that note e.g. “b” flat, “f” sharp. I took the test for M&A, was accepted and the rest, as they say, is history.
I apologize for the long winded diatribe. When I think about M&A, I get sentimental; it was some of the best years of my life. I was blessed to go to M&A and become part of a family of talented beautiful people. A family of artist that represented all walks of life and cultures, were accepting and encouraging of one another and demonstrated what people should be like, what America should be like, what the world should be like.
– Rudy Valentine, M&A ’67
Without question everything i created at M&A and learned there about music has stayed with me my whole life so that i have been fearless about doing some very creative work. I am so very thankful for the gift of understanding all the arts which i carry with me everywhere and that only M&A could provide. Few places include quiet painting along side the curriculum for music dance and drama; this simple but unique facet of M&A shines throughout my career. More than a collection of homemade paintings on my walls, M&A taught me to bring the human values of art to my writing lawyering or merely critiquing the cover of my new book in a field that never existed before GLOBAL HEALTH IMPACTS OF NANOTECHNOLOGY LAW.
– Dr ilise Levy Feitshans JD & ScM & DIR M&A (ART) 1974
I loved the freedom of going to school where people could be whatever they wanted to be, that the creative side of us was as important as the academic. I loved the diversity of the student body. I loved my teachers. And I love that small shabby old building on 46th Street that made High School bearable.
– Laurie J. Greenwald, PA ’74
People! Wonderful teachers and wonderful students. What could be more special than attending a school devoted to wisdom and the arts. Thanks go to Benjamin Steigman and a faculty that really cared. Musically I am most grateful to Mark Lawner, Isidore Russ, Ben Lindemann, and Alexander Richter. I had a fabulous public education. I played my trumpet every day in Senior Orchestra, conducted, and composed while receiving a superior general education. Hey, I was in a drama class that presented Henry V! It doesn’t get any better than that.
– Stephen Jablonsky, M&A ’58
M&A provided the basis for a lifelong passion for creative process. To this day, I create music (compose for piano and choir), do mixed media art, and teach others to unlock their creativity. For more, please see my website:
– Niela Miller, M&A ’52
I am most thankful for discovering my love of education. Because of the many dedicated teachers at LaGuardia, I became a public school educator.
– Sarah Cohen Spurge, LaG ’05
I went to work at 17 right after I graduated high school and was not able to go to college. My dad passed away a year after and I had to care for my ailing mom. But the education I received in New York City was top-notch, and well-rounded. I continue to use it to this day as a linguist. I have been a freelance Certified Court Interpreter for the State of California and the US District Courts for the past 38 years.
– Anna Arroya Watrous, M&A ’68
I realized then and now that I was privileged and fortunate to be able to attend the HS of M&A (class of 1968)
Attending this school enhanced my understanding of the following:
Learning to socialize with students both similar to me and ethnically, racially, and culturally diverse…had I gone to Bayside High School, I would never have had that opportunity;
Acquiring a love and appreciation for classical music: I came in to M&A on the piano. I chose to study voice once there, and while not a great singer, the experience taught me Italian and German classical songs; also, significantly, the exercise of having to get up in front of the class and sing (I don’t know how I had the nerve) was invaluable for later presentations and public speaking;
Acquiring an appreciation of art: while I was a music student, we were required to take a few semesters of Art Appreciation. I remember my first assignment was to go to the Cloisters and comment on tapestries (of which I had and still have no knowledge);
Being taught by wonderful, talented teachers: Voice teachers such as Ms. Ext, Ms. Ziehmer; Ms. Mandel; Mr. Lawner and Ms. Landecker made the classes come alive, while providing expert instruction!
Travel and Responsibility: while I lived about 1 mile from Bayside High School, it took me 1 and 1/2 hours each way to and from the Castle on the Hill. I learned about responsibility, accountability and independence by doing so.
Friendships: it was harder to make friends at a commuter school, but I am thankful for the friends that I made at M&A. It took me out of my “comfort zone” (i.e., going to local high school) and forced me to form relationships with other M&A students. I was the manager of the varsity basketball team, and formed friendships with students who played on the team
I cherish the memories of M&A and always will. It was the highlight of my academic career, and one of the real high points of my life.
– Alan Rubin, M&A ’68
It provided an all around education. Music & art was the best! Great teachers and I learned so much to help prep me for college.
– Juanita J Rodriguez
Makes for well rounded graduates.
– Jeff B
1. I was in a community of Kindred Spirits some of whom I also shared camp and college with and a few who remained lifelong friends.
2. I received excellent free instruction in music theory, harmony, conducting, composing, vocal music and more as well as having opportunities to experience musical conducting giants such as Eugene Ormandy and Toscanini!
3. M&A provided the rare experience of being able to do public choral conducting and work with an orchestra when I was just a kid!
4. I loved knowing visual artists and doing some of that as well
5. I was launched as a composer by David Epstein and have continued this first as a singer-songwriter and then as a composer of piano and choral pieces.
– Niela Miller, M&A ’52
In my junior high school in Springfield Gardens, Queens, I was considered weird for loving classical music. I found my true community when I came to the High School of Music & Art. It was filled with all the other weird kids from every neighborhood. For four years I took a bus and three trains and walked up 127 steps through St. Nicholas Park to get to the Castle on the Hill. It took an hour and a half each way. It was worth every step and every minute. I received a first class academic education, including a fifth year of French with Madame Simone Plastrik that enabled me to be advanced enough to take my college junior year abroad. I got to be in the last class to be in the Senior Orchestra under Alexander Richter, the original Instrumental Music Chairman who had gotten Aaron Copland to write An Outdoor Overture for the new M&A, and the first class to be in the orchestra under Gabriel Kosakoff, who had been in M&A’s first graduating class. I learned great orchestral music and my first string quartets there. The other music courses were rigorous enough that I completed my music major at Smith College in three semesters. I am most grateful for the wonderful people I met, both teachers and classmates. Many are lifelong friends. Now as a LaGuardia teacher I will always be committed to, in the words of our school song, “our task unending defending that realm above where dull and lifeless things have caught a beauty that daring dreams have wrought.”
– Paula Washington
It was the best school experience I ever had. I learned so much about theater and acting and went on to study acting for many years. In fact, I am currently in an acting class. I also made life long friends.
– Elaine Evans, Performing Arts, ’61
It led me to a very happy and successful career in film.
– Jane Chaback Jenkins, Performing Arts, ’61
Through M&A LaGuardia School of the Arts I have made life long friends, the education received has stained my interest in music education. I am now a National Board Certified Music Teacher! Thank God for LaGuardia H.S.!
– Thomas Pierre, first graduating class of LaGuardia H.S. ’85 and proud assistant director to Victor Cook for the Gospel Choir
Music was so much a part of my life even before the high school level. I had been considering applying to The High School of Music and Art for a long time because my older sister was already an alumnae. She had stayed in contact with several of her fellow former classmates. I am thankful for their influence, encouragement & example. I continue to be passionately interested in music & the arts. Listening to music, attending performances and participating in group singing will remain a pleasurable priorty for the rest of my life. I am deeply grateful to all of my teachers & classmates at M&A.
– Cynthia Teramura, M&A ’78
It inspired creative process as a Way of Life.
– Niela Miller, M&A ’52
Great global education, teachers, learning environment, cultural, breadth, constructive, appreciation for wonderful fellow students. Discipline, energetic, exercise walking those stairs. In short, a miraculous time of music, art, expression, and learning.
– Paul Shapshak
People didn’t smoke in the bathroom, they sang gospel songs in exquisite harmony there.
– Alma Schneider
The arts open hearts and expand minds and lives.
A wonderful opportunity and education from a top notch teaching staff I could not otherwise afford.
– Scott Wilson, Art, 1968-1972
I learned to appreciate the diversity in people.
It gave me my direction in what I wanted to do for a career. I met life long friends. I was allowed to explore the arts and to focus my passion and make it my life. I witnessed some high school classmates become legends in the entertainment industry. I was not allowed to fail. Mr. Cooney made sure I did not flunk out of school and I owe him a great deal for that.
– M.C. Serch
It gave me, for the first time, a community of kindred spirits. This helped me to realize that being different is a good thing! In this context it became possible to explore and discover who I was as well as who could become. This allowed me to find and express myself in my authentic voice. The friends who went through that process with me are still some of my most cherished relationships today! I love you Carmen, Linda, Wendy, Lois and all!!!
– Debby Stringham Samelson
Prepped me for immediate work on graduation. Best 3 years of my life!
– Merrilly, Music, Class of ’62
Where do I begin? Not only am I thankful for being accepted to LaGuardia I am thankful that it was an opportunity where I gained priceless training in dance. When I was a freshman, I knew I was in a special place. Yet, as the years went by, I knew that this experience was one in a million. My teachers, peers, and the whole culture of LaGuardia is special, this place cultivated indiviuality and creativity. I am thankful and will always treasure LaGuardia.
– Krystal Cruz
It taught me that it’s okay, and desirable, to be different and original and unique!
– Joan Z. Shore
The three years I spent at Music & Art changed my life forever. I was exposed to so much more than I expected when I auditioned; music theory, opera, theatre, and life in Manhattan to name a few. I made lifelong friends that I’m in touch with, see on occasion and love dearly. The teachers and staff were amazing and they really cared about us. We are family and I look forward to the reunions. I would redo those years without hesitation. M & A 4 life 84’!
The arts have the potential to humanize,enlighten, uplift, and thrill us. That’s what Performing Arts did for me…AND in the company of like-minded people …AND with masters like Lumet and Cimino. (The cocktail party patter was a very nice bonus.) I shared my passion for the arts, drama in particular, with my children, grandchildren, and elementary schol students. My spectacularly dramatic presentations in the classroom played a part, I think, in the continuing relationship of many students with me now, years afteer they were in my class, years after I retired. I started in Performing Arts when IT started. One student, who heard me speak admiringly of Performing Arts, attended LaGuardia High School and became a brilliant actress, nominated for a Tony and an Oscar. I go backstage to admire her and she introduces me as her sixth-grade teacher.
– Thelma Rosenblum Blanc
I am thankful I attended M&A (and, especially, in the Castle. I graduated in 1956). Spectacular, talented student body. I was an ART major but my passion and my entire LIFE has been dedicated to music. As life has moved on since graduation, I find that – more and more – having had the M&A experience, has contributed GREATLY to my life. Meeting people throughout my daily adventures, I always seem to meet graduates of M&A (not necessarily from my class nor from my year). There appears to be a bond among alumni. Those daily, long subway rides, apparently, were well worth it! Thank you for the wonderful ‘universal’ education you provided me in 1956. It has made for a wonderful life.
– Alan Hirschhorn, M&A ’56
Music and Art HS educated me…. culturally, educationally and artistically.
– Wendy Weitzer Kleiner
Great education. But nothing is free. Tax dollars paid for my education and my class, ’73 knows what happens when budgets get tight. Art is the first thing they cut. We had to fight to Keep our art classes.
– Lou Cubello
It (arts education) made my life like that of a VERY rich person, with access to the aesthetics of just about every culture and/or worldview.
– Edwin Smith
The people I went to M&A with in itself is enough of a reason, but aside from that there is hearing the voices singing, that I could count on a performance daily, the instruments and almost a daily concert, knowing half the cast, though mostly extras, in the movie” FAME,” and the relationships with the teachers that, as I get older, realize how special it was, from being bailed out of certain classes that on certain days would be too much, to having those extra points found when I nearly failed my English regents. Looking back the Castle on the Hill was filled with enough good memories to fill a lifetime.
– Michael Alpert
I’ve made some amazing friends here, learned how to see the world beyond just black and white, and hear it in all its colorful glory.
– SungJin Yun, LaG ’01
Like most kids growing up in the borough of Brooklyn, I spent my elementary and junior high school years going to conventional neighborhood schools. While in junior high, I discovered that I had an affinity for music and fell in love with the saxophone. I actually considered a future in professional music, but the outlook – continuing on in a conventional high school with almost nothing in the way of an advanced musical education offered – was more of a pipe dream than a path. Then, I heard about the High School of Performing Arts (this was well before the ‘Fame’ days, so the school was kind of a well kept secret at the time). With the promise of three years of advanced musical training, plus adequate academic classes enabling one to continue on to college, I made it a gilt-edged priority of getting into that school. Of course, one had to have satisfactory grades coming out of junior high, AND there was an audition on the instrument of choice. I won’t go into details, but I made it – and what a school it was! I was never what you would call a good student. I hated elementary school, junior high (except for music), and even college. But I LOVED this school! I learned that in addition to music, it also offered separate curriculums in Drama and Dance (unfortunately, image art was not yet an offering). The teachers were tough – both artistic and academic – but they knew how to impart knowledge and how to get through to us. Mainly, however, there were two outstanding features of the school that shined brighter than all others: First, the artistic education I was receiving gave me an actual hope that if I wanted a professional career in my chosen field, I could have it. OF course there were no guarantees, and making it as a professional musician, actor, or dancer was no more than a 500 to 1 shot. However, for a kid who, up to that time, spent his whole educational experience walking a few blocks from his home to a familiar neighborhood setting, traveling each day – twice a day – on the subway into the heart of Manhattan was nothing short of an adventure. Experiencing life on my own, as a pseudo-adult, responsible for my own existence away from home, gave me invaluable experience of what life would resemble in the future – possibly as a professional musician. The second outstanding feature may even have surpassed the first. That was, the experience of mingling with children from different boroughs with different backgrounds, who were of different colors, different ethnicities, and held different opinions of the world. And we all seemed to get along. In the three years I was there, never did I hear a single disparaging comment about race, or a slur about nationalities. We all actually learned from each other, and these lessons are still in evidence today when attending one of the many class reunions sponsored by the school’s successor – La Guardia Arts. Most of us never made it to a career in our chosen artistic field, but the education and the love we experienced in Performing Arts High, and Music & Arts High, stayed with us for a lifetime.
– Sam Shapiro – Performing Arts ’67