Pierce's contribution to Peabody

September 27, 1994

The Johns Hopkins University will need to search hard for a worthy successor to Robert O. Pierce, who will retire as director of the Peabody Institute at the end of the academic year. Fortunately, his successes in restoring the musical excellence, eminence and financial underpinnings of the nation's first conservatory of music should attract candidates of stature to finish the job.

Mr. Pierce, a hornist who taught there while playing in the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, became acting director of the Peabody in 1981 and director two years later. He took over a venerable institution suffering from inadequate physical plant and tiny endowment, but with improving reputation and recent takeover by the Johns Hopkins University. While the obvious need was a massive endowment campaign, that required confidence on the part of the national donor community, as well as short-term subsidies and medium-term help.

What was brokered between 1988 and 1990 and enacted by the General Assembly in 1990 was an agreement among the state, the university and the philanthropic community. Mr. Pierce and Lt. Gov. Melvin A. Steinberg were at the heart of this process. Under it, Peabody finances have revived, admissions have soared in quantity and quality and its physical plant is much improved. The community will have noticed that it has turned near-derelict town houses into a splendid Elderhostel for senior citizens who take cultural sustenance visiting Baltimore institutions (a function largely imposed by the state in return for support).

Thanks to the working of this plan, the endowment of $2 million that Mr. Pierce took over stands at $25 million and is rising on schedule. The plan calls for state subsidies through fiscal 1995, followed by a new campaign to raise $30 million for the endowment on top of the $45 million expected by then. Since the premier conservatories with which the Peabody competes are not standing still, the need for improved facilities such as more practice rooms is likely to be felt.

You would think from this that the director's job is to raise money. Actually, it is to run a great school for training professional musicians at the highest level. The next director will start from a comfortable base and not the dire emergency that greeted Mr. Pierce.

The community's stake is enormous, because of the interlocking musical life here, in which the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, the Peabody, an array of performing organizations and the audience all need each other. It's too bad Robert Pierce has decided to step down but his successes as educator, conductor-in-chief and drumbeater have made him easier to replace than would have been possible a few years ago.

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