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Paying It Forward: The Legacy of Mabel Gerber

Mabel Gerber

Pianist Mabel Gerber (1930–2015) grew up in the Norwood neighborhood of the Bronx. From an early age, Mabel’s mother, a pianist and the owner of the Bainbridge Piano Studio, taught her the importance of social justice and helping those in need. These values would influence the course of Mabel’s career as a performer and piano teacher.

In 1943, while still a student at the High School of Music and Art, Gerber enrolled in the preparatory program at Manhattan School of Music. She later attended the college on scholarship, earning a Bachelor of Music in 1951 and a Master of Music in 1955. Her June 8, 1948 financial aid letter from MSM Founding Director Janet Schenck stated, “I am writing to say that we will be able to grant you a scholarship next season. This scholarship will be in the amount of $260, and, with the $100 which your parents will pay, will cover your tuition for the year. Its continuance in the spring term of 1949 will, of course, depend on your getting good marks for the winter term, which I am sure you will do!”

After graduating from Manhattan School of Music, Mabel gave solo piano recitals in many prestigious New York venues before making her Carnegie Hall debut in 1961. While maintaining an active career as a performer, Gerber began offering private piano lessons to the children of her Norwood neighbors. Her teaching career lasted over six decades, and profoundly impacted the lives of countless Bronx children. Forgoing high fees so that all of her talented young students could afford to study, she never turned away a student because of an inability to pay. As recently as 1999, Gerber still offered half hour private lessons for as little as $8.

Gerber thought of her students and neighbors as family having never had children of her own. She passed away on November 21, 2015, still living in the Norwood home of her childhood. Her studies at Manhattan School of Music equipped her with the tools to teach and train generations of pianists. By providing a caring and supportive environment for all of her students, Gerber served as a living testament to the legacy of Janet Schenck.

Through a simple bequest, Gerber’s estate supported the renovation and endowment of a teaching studio in her name. The Mabel Gerber Teaching Studio, formerly the President’s Office, now serves future generations of piano students and stands as her legacy.