A Juilliard student sleeps homeless on Penn Station

A Juilliard student sleeps homeless on Penn Station


norman lebrecht

December 24, 2017

Further to Juilliard’s decision to refuse accommodation to foreign students over the holidays, we have received this submission from an anonymous contributor. We have no way of validating the person’s identity or the facts of this case, but the school’s heartless attitude to overseas students makes this account all too plausible. Si non e vero…:

As a first year Juilliard student, I have been sleeping in NYC’s Penn Station, the 24-hr FedEx on 59th St, and sometimes random Hotel lounges to make ends meet. I asked if there were any of the dorm rooms available for students who are homeless and the Dormitory people never responded after emailing twice, the Financial Aid office said “sure – just sign here for $18,000+ a year like all the rest of the students do” and when asking someone on the Deans Level they said “let me get back to you” and nothing.  While I’d like to remain anonymous- it is true I wander  the streets at night after Juilliard closes as midnight and count the minutes til it opens around 8am. Sometimes security will let me in at 6:30am if I can catch the right guy.  The school has millions of not over a billion in donations and the vast majority of it goes to the bloated Administration staff salaries for a private school like Juilliard and the students are told “just take more loans, you’re not an exception”. Even after telling them my circumstances.  The answer came back “we’ll tell us if you’re returning or not for the Spring”.  I said “you’ve just lost another Juilliard student because I can’t afford it”. They answer the same every time “just sign here and get more loans”. And off they go to their comfortable Mahanttan apartments, another days hard work is ended.  Would love to see the number of what salaries are and how much donations they get.  It’s criminal.  And I’m done.

I got a job teaching 10 1/2 hours away and lived in a little office there (we are NOT supposed to and people check the rooms for homeless people sleeping there every morning) but that money going to transportation to get to NYC has been used and I’m struggling to better myself and get an education at Juilliard when the truth is, they don’t care – and I have explained my case to Juilliard. They really don’t. They set aside rooms for people who might need them – but you ask they want to charge you the full standard rates and fees and shrug if you don’t want to.

Juilliard chief Joseph Polisi with students


UPDATE: Juilliard’s homeless students – some harsh facts of life.


  • DAVID says:

    First of all I fully sympathize with your predicament and wish you the best for the holiday season. I would suggest the following: success in classical music does not depend on what school you attend — it only depends on how good your playing is. Depending on what you plan to do, there may be some benefit from the networking that a major school offers (and networking is of course still possible outside that arena), but for the most part success will be determined by how good you are. I don’t know what your instrument is, but if you are planning to take orchestra auditions no one will care which school you attended — all that matters is how well you play that day. In that sense it is a level playing field, since everyone is judged on their playing no matter what their resume might say, and in a sense we have to prove ourselves from scratch every single time. Find yourself a really good teacher and practice like crazy — the rest really doesn’t matter. Good luck to you.

    • DAVID says:

      I should also mention that there are quite brilliant teachers in schools of lesser “reputation” than the top names — in fact, some of these schools may offer the very best teachers you may find anywhere, though they may not have celebrity status. The quality of the teacher and their fit with your particular style and personality are ultimately what matters — not the school. Whichever route you take — whether a smaller school or private lessons with a great teacher — you should be able to find what you’re looking for and spend a mere fraction of what you might otherwise have to spend in a so-called “top” school. It may take some research to find that special teacher, but it may be the best investment of your time you may ever make.

      • Donato says:

        Your response has nothing to do with the predicament this young man is now facing or writing about, Ebenezer! Offering him a lump of coal would’ve been far more helpful

        • DAVID says:

          Actually it very much does, and the fact that you seem challenging to see how obvious that is, is quite unfortunate. S/he is finding herself/himself in this predicament because of one very simple problem most of us are quite aware of but often prefer to sweep under the rug: money. My point was indeed very simple: is it necessary to attend a so-called “top” school in order to obtain the necessary training and education to achieve success? I suggest that it is not, and that for many the financial burden they will be taking on in the hopes that it will eventually pay off is simply not worth it. This does not mean there aren’t good teachers in these schools — there certainly are, but this doesn’t mean they provide an exclusive avenue to being able to become a professional musician. In fact it would be very enlightening to do a study of how many graduates of top schools are actually able to land a job in music — I’d be willing to bet the statistics don’t support the financial burden such businesses (and they indeed are businesses) expect their customers to undertake. I personally studied in one of those schools (not the aforementioned one, mind you) with a world-renowned authority and learned absolutely nothing. It’s your answer that I actually find out of touch with the predicament this person is undergoing, as if money was not even part of the equation.

        • Una says:

          Not ideal but having worked for many years with the homeless at Christmas in London, and no prospect of any future, this American situation will at least be temporary, hard as it may seem at the time, and what some musicians in their training have done for years but gone unnoticed as a well as no food. When it is not for life but temporary, then it all becomes different. But it’s a very cold time of the year just the same.

    • Vladislav says:

      Maybe Opera auditions are different, but thinking it’s a level playing field is one of the most naïve things I’ve ever read. In my expereince it all depends on how a panel feels on any given day. I could sing better than Bonisolli, and still not get a job becajse the auditioner was in a bad mood.

      Also, it’s a rich kids game- paying to audition is illegal in every other art form except opera. Some people just can’t afford it.

  • Anon says:

    Deans level saying “let me get back to you” and doing nothing is no surprise. That’s exactly what they do — nothing.
    It is a well-known fact, for many years (if not decades!), that Juilliard does not care about their students. Juilliard’s true and only concern is money.

    • Una says:

      Like so many of these places, stuffing the colleges with music students to make money when they know half of them won’t get work at the end of it as there isn’t enough out there, and only interested in star-status students – unless you come from China.

  • Ross says:

    The kid doesn’t have a single friend who lives off campus in an apartment, where he could go sleep on the couch or floor?
    Or a fellow student with an apartment, who went home for the holidays?

    • Anon says:

      It’s NYC. People always strive to give sublets whenever they are away / going home / etc.
      AND the kid is a freshman, and sounds like he is in school far away from home. How many “friends” in a city like NY could he have made within just 3 months, who, luckily for the kid, did not rent out their apartments for the break?

  • Charles Fischbein says:

    I have the smallest violin in the world and will play My Heart Bleeds For You.
    How about the Y of Jazz in the Park youth hostel when my grandson stays visiting New York.
    Rooms for under 48$ a night. Clean and great upper west side location.
    If this genius student planned ahead I am sure a friend or teacher could have helped with a place to stay.
    On this Christmas eve it appropriate to quote
    God Helps Those Who Help Themselves.

    • LB says:

      $48/night still comes out to nearly $1500/month… Which comes out to the same $18k/year as for the dorms.

      • Charles Fischbein says:

        Great math LB but they are not out for a month and since this was known far in advance no reason said student could gave picked up a part time job to earn enough to cover the anticipated expense.
        In Manhattan even Starbucks and McDonald’s pays $12 to $15 an hour.
        Forget begging at the Salvation Army try the unique concept of a psrt time college job

    • TG says:

      Hey Charles, just where do you get your wisdom about God helping those who help themselves? I’d really like to know. Feel free to show me any scriptural references you have… should be easy for a man with your knowledge of God.

  • Mark Henriksen says:

    This has become the blog spot of whiners. Go to the Salvation army; they will give you a bed, I’ve heard.

  • La Verita says:

    Juilliard cares only about Juilliard, period. Their over-inflated egos and exaggerated self-importance is used as a weapon to intimidate and manipulate naive young students into thinking that only Juilliard graduates succeed in music, which is pure fallacy. Overall, the Juilliard faculty produces little more than well-drilled mediocrity. If a student truly aspires to achieve artistry, go somewhere else.

    • Mark says:

      Lol. Let me guess – you didn’t get into Juilliard.

      • La Verita says:

        Lol – Let me guess – you’re one of those has-beens who didn’t make it, so you ended up “teaching” at Juilliard.

      • David says:

        La Verita is absolutely right – for students who want to achieve real musical excellence Juilliard is best avoided: I remember one graduate (a stunning chamber player, leader of an orchestra in Europe) telling me “I learned more in one afternoon sitting in on other people’s classes at Prussia Cove than in three years at Juilliard”.

    • Una says:

      It’s considered over-rated by us in London and also over-priced as manynother colleges are. Get a good teacher outside and work very hard to get on the first rung of the ladder and know and learn your trade not just play or sing well. Not everyone can be stars as they think they will become by going to these places. Then to be well paid for something you love doing is certainly something I considered to be an enormous privilege and then all the wonderful people I met and the countries I saw as a result. But I was no star and neither did I become a busker, but it came at an enormous price and much sacrifice as it was for my British singing teacher who slept out in Germany and often with no food and hence becoming ill. That was the price he paid.

    • Jay Fong says:

      That is sic well said!

  • Anonymous says:

    Meanwhile, the Kovner Fellows receive free money in the form of multi-thousand dollar stipends each semester, free to spend it on whatever they please, NO RECEIPTS REQUIRED. Juilliard disgusts me.

    • La Verita says:

      Speaking of Kovner fellowships, Bruce Kovner could offer some space in his 40 room mansion at 1130 Fifth Avenue to homeless Juilliard students.

    • Una says:

      No winners in that situation. There are things in life that no amount of money will buy and be far more permanent.

  • Angry New Yorker says:

    Norman, You might tell this young person that many New Yorkers would love to help, if only to put him/ her in contact with someone who might be able to provide housing. If you can find a way to validate the story, I — and I daresay many of my colleagues — will start posting on Social Media to try and help this student. Juilliard has long has a reputation of being heartless.

    • norman lebrecht says:

      Thanks, P. The person has promised me emails from Juilliard officials. I will publish when I get them.

      • Mark says:

        Mr. Lebrecht, perhaps we could organize a little fundraiser here (via GoFundMe or something of this nature)? It’s Christmas, for crying out loud, let’s help this kid !

  • Duane says:

    I’m sorry, but it’s Important that Juilliard management CARES about all students. If a student has no home to go to, over the holidays, supporters of Juilliard should step up to the plate and take in students, also, faculty! When I went to music conservatory many years ago, there was a program in place where no student was without a place to stay, between school sessions. Homeless in Penn station is unacceptable for a student of Juilliard, in my opinion!

    • Charles Fischbein says:

      So Deane in New York Penn station is suitable for homeless Vet,s but not for a Juilliard student.
      A tad elite I would say rather than whine about the student please suggest an alternative for New York’s many homeless men women and children.
      There are too many to even fit into Penn Station. Maybe the Juilliard Student could do a concert firm them one night and pass the hat for spare change for his/her room.

  • Viola88 says:

    Not a surprise. I had classmates in my studies in major conservatories in London and NYC who worked as escorts so they could survive and study. And during a Winter Break I housed a 1st year latinamerican student who had neither acquaintances off campus nor money to fly back home.
    Major conservatories care more about raising even more the status and name of the institution than about students… THAT IS A FACT.

  • Christopher Stager says:

    I may have a place in Manhattan this student can use. It’s generally empty. Do you have his / her e-mail address?

    • Charles Fischbein says:

      How about reaching out to a homeless veteran. Or do you only help the elite?

      • Antonia says:

        Charles, I’m usually in agreement with your comments, but this is flabbergasting. Why lecture someone who is being so generous? I’m just so disappointed.

      • Scotty says:

        Or Christopher could help the teenager and Charles could reach out to homeless veterans. Neither is a moral failing.

      • Charles Fischbein says:

        FYI. I live on my 60 acre farm about 30 miles from the Martinsburg WV. VA hospital.
        We have two mobile homes near our horse barn.
        Hitting 70 two years ago keeping up with nine horses and 70 plus sheep is,a bit of a chore.
        I contacted the VA social worker at the hospital.
        I now have two Vets both suffering from PTSD living on the farm in the campers.
        Never realized the healing power of farm livestock but the guys totally enjoy working with them.
        All is excellent except when I walk by their campers and hear country music
        Tried to get them into opera but have failed so far.
        If that,Juilliard students had,a pair of high work boots and didn’t mind shoveling horse,stalls he/she would have been welcome on the farm.
        I have come a long way from growing up on West 70th St Manhattan but the journey from the Subway life to riding a horse,has been wonderful
        Merry Christmas
        See you at The Met first week in February

    • Alicia says:

      My son goes to Julliard. Please send info on housing. It is much needed. I can be reached at acm2ent@yahoo.com

  • Current Juilliard Student says:

    I find a lot of reason to doubt that this is a true story. Firstly, while the dorm decision was reprehensible, there was some advance notice given (not enough, but some). They were very explicit that students would be kicked out December 22-January 7 (or January 2 if students were participating in ChamberFest), with NO EXCEPTIONS. Once again we all thought this decision was completely despicable, but it was very clearly stated.
    Secondly, the entire school banded together and so many students offered international students housing for the week and a half or so that the dorms would be closed. I cannot believe that this person didn’t here about this show of generosity or take advantage of that. I hope that people, instead of blindly sharing this article, might at least put a footnote calling the veracity of this story into question.

  • musicologyman says:

    “[W]e have received this submission from an anonymous contributor. We have no way of validating the person’s identity or the facts of this case, but the school’s heartless attitude to overseas students makes this account all too plausible.”

    In a world in whIch governments are making life-and-death decisions bared on stories for which there is little or no evidence and in which such stories fuel irrational public outrage, it is responsible to publish this because…???

  • Ricardo says:

    In 1983 I actually got into Juilliard. However, during the theory test I developed a sort of rapport with the examiner. He seemed to be enjoying himself when I kept correctly identifying all the harmonic progressions he was playing for me, and when I managed to sigh-sing the top line of an excerpt while playing the bottom one on the piano. At the end of the session he said “I hope Juilliard won’t destroy you”.
    I went and studied somewhere else for the next four years.

  • Cam3xl says:

    The entitlement around this issue and the Kobner issue is mind boggling. I went to the college I went to because it was where I could afford to go. It is the STUDENTS and parents that run with getting accepted and figure out how to pay for it later. Its THEIR egos that get in the way. It’s just irresponsible. No one has a RIGHT to other people’s resource. If the school infuriates you refuse to attend… it is costing our family uncomfortable portions of our resources to send our daughter there. We calculate travel costs, she works and if it was still too expensive we would tell her she must choose another school. Now granted, they could probably afford to keep a floor open but name more than a handful of other schools that do. What salaries are or total donations are truly none of our business. They tell us how much and we decide if we can work with that anything else is entitlement at its worst. (And yes, I went through the pain of leaving my first university in the middle of my junior year because I couldn’t afford it). I feel your pain but it truly is not their problem.

  • Iona says:

    Mr. Lebrecht, I don’t think it’s responsible of you to post this without verifying the person is actually a student at Juilliard, not to mention verifying if his/her story is true. Your posting of this creates huge implications for the school and its students, especially if this account is fiction. Students risk their grievances not being taken as seriously by administration if this account (which is already being reposted by many people) is proven false.

    • norman lebrecht says:

      We will see in a couple of days if the person produces the promised documentation. My view is that, at this particular time of year, every homeless person deserves a hearing. And Julliard, we know, has made quite a few foreign studeints homeless.

    • norman lebrecht says:

      We will see in a couple of days if the person produces the promised documentation. My view is that, at this particular time of year, every homeless person deserves a hearing. And Julliard, we know, has made quite a few foreign students homeless.

  • Graduate says:


    I went to Juilliard, was an RA at Juilliard. Loved the place. Got employed.

    Everyone is friendly there, and there are countless resources for students to seek accommodations in the city while renovations are being done. It’s NYC! You gotta be flexible with living situations sometimes. It happens. If the student was accepted to Juilliard and found a way to afford the price tag of the school, I’m sure they were smart enough to find a place to stay for a week or two during the holidays.

    Give me a break. It’s not heartless of Juilliard to operate like a business. They ARE a business. And they are in the business of producing great young artists. Notice how none of the dancing or acting students seemed to have any trouble with the situation…

    • Current Juilliard Student says:

      .Music majors are half international – dance and drama? No.
      .Christmas break? Costs thousands of dollars for round trip flights to asia.
      .International students double pay the tuition Americans pay (and internationals are making names for Juilliard these days).
      .I am a current juilliard student (now 5th year BM,MM), was already discussed by the school years ago except they pay to hire [invite] top level professor (I mean, artists. Not class professors. Ah, the classes here at Juilliard is almost a middle school level. Ironically strict attendance that makes students to travel and perform internationally because of consequence of failing the classes=wasting 50000dollars.

      Fuck Juilliard.
      No one loves Juilliard except the ones that get Kovners fund for no reason.
      Lots of black money dirty money rounding the table here.

  • RA says:

    This is a sad predicament, but speaking as someone who was a Juilliard RA for multiple years a few ago, the person surely had AMPLE warning. In my experience the level of preparation for these breaks was over the top, in fact. This will perhaps be a good lesson in thinking ahead…

  • Current Juilliard Student says:

    As a current Juilliard student, I find it doubtful that this is a true story. Its vindictive and spiteful tone is not deserved by Juilliard, and does not ring true. Like any school, Juilliard has its pluses and minuses, but the facts in this story absolutely do not add up. If this is a first-year student, then this person would have *at least* 10-20 people with whom they could stay. Any fellow Juilliard student (including myself) would gladly offer a place to a friend in need. To attack the administration like this is just petty.
    As for the comments – please check your facts before insulting other people. It is naive to blindly believe whatever you read, and to openly humiliate other people who question what you think.

    • Robert Fitzpatrick says:

      I agree the this story does not appear totally unbiased. There is a cloud of bitterness hovering over the original message. Let’s not confuse the plight of this student with the closure of the dorm for the Holidays. He/she apparently claims to have been living on the streets of NYC for the entire first semester; finding a place to crash during the Holidays is not an insurmountable problem but living in Penn Station and hotel lobbies is beyond-the-pale.

      I would encourage NL to refrain from publishing any e-mails or other written documents between this student and the administration.

      Juilliard, like every major conservatory, has generous need-based financial assistance for students in addition to merit-based scholarships such as the Kovner Fellowships. The details of this sad story are not our business and should not be tried in this blog.

      Once a student is accepted and remains in good-standing at a major American conservatory or college of music, it would be extremely unusual for a student to be compelled to leave after one semester strictly for financial reasons.

      Let’s not judge this student or the school and leave the resolution to the interested parties.

  • Felix Ang says:

    I don’t think there are many schools that offer dormitory housing to students during winter break, US national or international. I used to visit Juilliard during winter and it amazed me that the dorm was open, even the cafeteria had limited hours. Is it the case now that this is common everywhere? I always thought this was a rare exception. Hoping for the best for this and other students

  • Juilliard Student says:

    I think Norman Lebrecht ( NL I guess is what your supposed to call him) can post whatever he wants and email whoever he wants… damn, and if he gets emails from Juilliard I hope he posts them online – the Juilliard school should replace their glass facade and useless glass extension walkway that goes over the street and offer the money so all students receive full merit based scholarship.

    I think this story , whether real or fake, is perfectly believable. All these RAs and students at Juilliard acting like private schooled Girl Scouts … damn people wake up and smell the coffee, mental illness is a serious thing and when your low on money, focused on creating art, and the excess staff (European conservatories are much tidier) they hire to sort all these problems out are too arrogant and lazy to sort out all the students concerns.. or even reply to your one email in this case – damn right you gonna loose your mind. I know dozens of people that never socialized at the Juilliard school- whether it was because they didn’t feel comfortable speaking fluent English, always focused on practice, or just straight up had issues talking to people.

    So if there gonna impose all this well-rounded artist as citizen bullshit- they should sift through their hundreds of unnecessary faculty and figure out that half of them are useless, and several are truly mean-spirited and selfish professors just collecting paychecks .

  • Michael says:

    I attended and graduated from Juilliard over 35 years ago. I had good teachers for my instrument, but the other classes were a total waste of time. The orchestras were very good, as well as the other students. When people ask me about going toJuilliard, I always tell them to go to another school. As a whole, there wasn’t much to be learned about music, apart from what the major teacher would impart.. I don’t know if the institution has changed much since then, but it sounds like their elitist attitude is the same. Back then it cost $3000 a year for tuition.

    If anybody is considering studying music in New York, I would recommend going to a City University. The classes are much better, and there are fine teachers available.

  • MajoringInMusic says:

    I also wish this story had been fact-checked before posting, along with Juilliard’s opportunity to respond. Still, I’m not even sure this is the right forum for this posting even if it’s true. All that said, it does point to the importance of applying to schools that are a good fit along the lines of a student’s personal criteria, including affordability – which includes living there. Every student and their family (if involved) needs to decide what that means for them as well as what their limits are re: taking out loans. Lots to consider and no pat answers or solutions. Unforeseen circumstances may intervene despite the best planning, but that’s a different issue and one that doesn’t sound applicable to this story.
    The first comments from David about seeking out more affordable schools for undergraduate study are valid – many extraordinary musicians and other artists etc. find excellent undergraduate training and support at less expensive schools that provide necessary financial support. Upon graduation, they often go on to find financial and other support to continue their studies at more competitive and expensive schools to prepare for their careers.

  • Juilliard student says:

    I feel like so many people commenting on this have not only never attended Juilliard, they also haven’t lived in New York. There is absolutely NO WAY this person doesn’t know anyone who has apartments/rooms he can stay in over break (or friends who live nearby–realize that many who attend Juilliard are from the tri-state area, and some even still live in New Jersey/other boroughs of NYC with their parents). No way. Some people are trying to say that if he’s an underclassman he might not know upperclassmen. This is total malarkey, based on the way Juilliard is run. He would still be taking classes with many people (among those upperclassmen) and still be interacting with older people regularly within his studio or division.
    If this guy is REALLY a Juilliard student, and is “homeless” sleeping at Penn Station, that’s a testament to his utter stupidity and not to the poor resources of the school. You’d have to actively avoid speaking to anyone about your plight to not be able to have anywhere to stay over break.
    I think more likely than not, this account has been made up by someone seeking to simply air grievances they have with the institution. It’s probably been submitted by someone who doesn’t even go to Juilliard, based on a lot of the vague language in the post regarding deans and administration.

  • Elvira says:

    Juilliard is a “name” that offers more opportunities than education.

  • Elvira Labis says:

    Juilliard is a “name” that offers more opportunities than education.

    • Charles Fischbein says:

      Sure a diploma can get through a blind audition.
      Get the wax out of ears
      Have you ever sat through a Juilliard master class, I have.
      Have you ever sold and listened outside a Juilliard practice room with a student getting one in one instruction I have!
      Juilliard is not flash, they graduate some if the finest singers and musicians in the world.
      Did you ever apply ti Juilliard, I doubt bit.
      What I am sure of us you incorrect.

  • JJ says:

    Well…what ever happened to him? Was he for real, did he find a place to live, did he graduate? Is he a musician now? Has the school changed any policy? Just saying that these closed feeds that never follow up on such a tragedy drive me nuts. I hope all worked out well for him.