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Preserving MSM's Legacy: Louis Alexander

Louis Alexander

What Lou cherishes most about MSM is that the School and its faculty gave him “the space to be me. It’s a place that takes such a deep, nurturing interest in the students who are there.”

Louis Alexander, who goes by Lou, was born in Elmira, New York, and s­pent his childhood in the Finger Lakes region. He was first drawn to the piano at the age of 2 through repeated hearings of Rachmaninoff’s Second Piano Concerto, a favorite piece of his mother’s, and at 7 began to take lessons.

Although the piano was central to his life, his interest in ideas eventually drew him toward philosophy, and he received his bachelor’s degree in comparative religions from Penn State. He then pursued graduate work in comparative religions at Union Theological Seminary and Columbia University.

While his studies were intellectually fulfilling, he always felt there was something lacking. “While at Union, and across the street from Manhattan School of Music, I would watch the students going in and out of the School and had this feeling that MSM was the place I was really supposed to be.”

After a lapse of some years of serious piano study, he decided to take private lessons with Harold Lewin, who taught at the School at that time. He studied with Lewin for three years before he felt prepared to tackle MSM’s entrance audition. “Miraculously,” he says, “they accepted me.” His first two years at MSM were spent focusing on the music classes he missed at the undergraduate level.

As an older student beginning conservatory studies, a performing career was definitely not in the stars for him. With his strong humanities background, and the deep grounding in music theory that MSM provided him, he felt drawn to pursue a master’s degree in musicology at MSM. Instead of focusing on the music he loved most, 18th- and 19th-century German, he decided to delve into music of the late Middle Ages. “I wanted to take myself out of my comfort zone and try to understand tonal and rhythmic systems that were all but foreign to me.”

He briefly considered the possibility of doctoral studies, but wasn’t interested in the typical path of an academic. He also felt that his time at MSM had already met his desire for an immersion in the intellectual side of music, which in turn greatly helped him mature as a pianist. While at MSM, he was working in New York for the development office of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, writing research dossiers on MIT alumni. He decided to remain with MIT, and over the course of a lifetime career developed the MIT Alumni Education program. He retired as its director a few years ago.

Because Lou felt that MSM had given him so much, he felt compelled to make a provision in his will leaving a portion of his estate to endow a scholarship at the School. “Having spent my life in private universities, I understand the funding needs of education, and I have seen how vitally important alumni support is to preserve educational quality. Even though my career was not in music, of all the schools I attended I felt that what I learned at MSM prepared me the most for real-world challenges. An MSM education teaches skills that cannot be learned from lectures or books. Musicians learn how to be in real-time problem-solving mode and to deal with problems as they arise. We do not have the luxury of stopping the music, and this means we have to be completely prepared, and to know that others can depend on us just as we depend on them. In short, we are trained to listen and to be able to think on our feet. You don’t get this kind of training anywhere else than at a conservatory or other performing arts school. And, these are highly transferable skills.

“The quality of education at MSM is second to none, and the only way to have it continue at this level is to do what we can to support the School. Making a bequest to MSM is my way of expressing what the School has meant to me, what it currently means to others, and the importance of preserving its legacy for generations of future students.”

If MSM has been important in your life, we hope you'll consider including the School in your estate plan. To learn more about how your gift will help future students, please contact Edward Sien at esien@msmnyc.edu or 917-493-4583.