New York loses vital music school

New York loses vital music school


norman lebrecht

November 19, 2019

The Turtle Bay Music School, which has provided tuition for impoverished families for almost a century, has run out of funds.

Aside from the children it immediately abandons, TBMS provides music lessons in schools in a wide surrounding area. This is a devastating loss of musical infrastructure.

Here’s the farewell message:

Dear TBMS Students, Supporters, Families and Friends,
The Turtle Bay Music School was born out of a desire to provide the highest quality music education and experiences to all who seek them. We fulfilled that mission for 94 years but today, with a heavy heart, we are saddened to report that our time as a community music school will soon come to an end.

Confronting reality, changing times in the cultural and educational landscape, and society’s shifting priorities have made the TBMS business model no longer sustainable. We are saddened to report this news to the very people who have given life to our school, but barring an immediate and very significant financial investment, the doors of Turtle Bay Music School will close on January 29, 2020.



  • Anonymous says:

    What happened here was mismanagement by the board of trustees. They sold their old building and bought a new space inside an apartment building in a terrible location, took on too much debt, and then when the note started coming due, could not afford the payments. The media should take a look at what happened here and not simply chalk it up to a lack of funders. There are plenty of community music schools in New York and most if not all are doing pretty well. This was malfeasance by the board.

    • fflambeau says:

      From their website: “Our new location at 330A East 38th Street is fully accessible and features a performance hall, five group teaching rooms, 13 studios, and places to gather. It is truly a space that will see us into our second century of music-making.”

      Their board of trustees (from their web site): Jeffrey Schlosser
      Edwin Sirlin
      Nancy Grebey
      David Bondy
      Mary Neumann
      Taylor Nicholls
      Blair Talcott

      In contrast to the post above, the space looks nice and is within a large apartment building (The Corinthian), with parking. I’m not a native New Yorker but this looks like a good space and location.

  • drummerman says:

    Anonymous is quite correct.

  • Larry says:

    It was only about a year ago that they hired a new executive director. I guess it was too little too late. There are the Third Street Music School on the East Side and Bloomingdale School of Music on the Upper West Side. Perhaps they can take the Turtle Bay students.

    • fflambeau says:

      It appears, from research on the internet, that the school’s original building was sold for $11 million to Minrav, an Israeli defence/real estate firm that does not list its trustees with this exception: “The Company”) was founded in 1969 by Mr. Avraham Kuznitsky who serves as chairman of the board.”

      When the sale was announced this information was included by Crain’s New York Business:

      “The Turtle Bay Music School is selling its longtime Midtown home.

      Sources with direct knowledge of the deal said the school, which has owned and operated out of the four-story property at 242 E. 52nd St. since 1935, has entered into a contract to sell the building to the Israeli real estate investment and development firm Minrav Holdings for about $11 million. …

      Relocating to a new space has advantages for the school. Its current home is a walk-up with classrooms accessible only by stairs. Many of its members are children and older adults.”

      Obviously, that didn’t work out but shouldn’t this have been forseeable? and why such a quick collapse? It may be interesting to explore whether there were any conflicts of interest among trustees and buyer.

  • ThrownOutOfTheKremlinForSinging says:

    The Republicans’ so-called “tax-cut” heavily reduced the tax-incentives for wealthy individuals (and corporations) to support institutions like this. Most of the “little-grand-opera” companies here in New York (like Amore Opera, Vocal Productions NYC, Gateway Classical Music Society, etc.) are at risk of going under or are delaying their productions because they can’t raise the money they need.

    • fflambeau says:

      Good points made by you.

      Other questions to ask:
      what was the assessed tax value of the buildings that were sold for $11 million?
      Did the school get a fair price for their old building? (A quick consult with a realtor should give an approximation).
      Did the Board of Trustees keep minutes of their transactions? Are they available?
      Where is the financial information for this nonprofit? I could find nothing on their website.
      Why was the school’s website so optimistic that the new building would lead to success for another century? Were the rents at the new building excessively high? Were there conflicts of interest?
      Did the Board of Trustees take a hands on approach and were they really interested in the goals of the school? Why the change in the composition of the trustees?

  • fflambeau says:

    There are two broad possibilities here and any number of possibilities in between them.

    I) The actions could be completely innocent and the result of market forces, tax incentives being cut (as Thrown out suggests) etc., declining enrollments etc. The Board may have done the best it could in trying circumstances.
    2) The poplar extreme is dark but not unprecedented: the Board of Trustees could have been working in concert or collusion with those who targeted the original school building for development: in short, people made money off of what was a Breach of a Fiduciary Duty (that is a concept of law).

    Questions to ask:

    1) did the Board of Trustees really have an intersest in musical education, or was it more of a business front of “solid citizens”?
    2) did the Board consider and take other actions short of the most drastic one (selling out?): these could include, raising fees and tuition, cutting staff, etc.
    3) are there any points of collusion between the Board and the eventual buyers? Friends? Money being directed in one way (to agents or to a building that is charging high rents)? Any kick-backs?
    4) Was the buy-out for the old building ($11 million) a fair price? Were those proceeds used properly (it seems that they were exhausted very quickly). Why sell out when you should realize that the money from the proceeds would lead to a quick ending of the enterprise?

    My suggestion is that interested parties form a society and that they seek legal advice from a lawyer familiar with nonprofits; property law; fraud and the like. You might be able to find a lawyer interested in the music/the arts who will take on the role for reduced fees or on a contingency basis (if there was wrongdoing, the head of the Board of Trustees is a first President of a major NYC Bank with assets of over $1 billion; so someone has deep pockets and likely insurance money is available (something that perks up lawyers). Newspaper investigtions might also be helpful but the law is your best route.

    Again, what happened could be perfectly normal within a hostile (to the arts) economic framework; or, it could be something bordering on the criminal. Only getting answers and contacting a professional(s) will help. This will require work and some devotion to the school and what it stood for.

  • A Pianist says:

    What a tragedy. I took my toddler boy to Turtle Bay for music classes about 10 years ago when he was two. They were terrific, and an institution with reputation on a par with Third Street, Diller Quaile, Lucy Moses…since then the Manhattan baby boom has only increased and the demand for a storied institution like Turtle Bay could only have risen.

    There is no way in Hades this was just due to a “changing society” or whatever the statement says. If they moved house recently it is almost certainly tied up with that. Leave it to a dim-witted board to move neighborhoods because of some stupid tax advantage or other. It is hard for an institution like that to move and survive. Bonds with families and communities tend to be very local especially in New York City which is a collection of micro-neighborhoods.

    Here’s hoping the teachers there get snapped up by the other schools still kicking.