As a young musician, Pulitzer Prize winning composer George Walker was dead-set on becoming a concert pianist. He had found his love for the piano at age 5 and by the time he was 15, was given a scholarship to the Oberlin Conservatory. After obtaining his bachelor’s degree at 18, he began his studies at the Curtis Institute of Music with legendary pianist Rudolf Serkin. But Walker often disagreed with Serkin’s approach:
Through the loss of his family at the hands of Nazi Germany and his own imprisonment in various concentration camps, violinist David Arben (born Chaim Arbeitman) remained incredibly resilient and grateful for his chance at life after the war. In an interview with his biographers, he summarized his outlook on life—“Life is my specialty. I am in love with life. It is fantastic. Freedom to breathe, freedom to talk, freedom to stand up, freedom to walk, freedom to move. I cherish this kind of freedom because I know the opposite.”
A truly versatile singer, Curtis alumna Irra Petina was well known for both her operatic and Broadway roles
Russian-American mezzo-soprano and actress Irra Petina (Voice ’35) was born on April 18, 1908 in St. Petersburg, Russia. The daughter of wealthy parents, she and her family were forced to flee to avoid persecution following the 1917 Bolshevik uprising. They made their way to China where, for twelve years, Petina received her first formal vocal training, largely from fellow Russian emigres. When she was 21, Petina traveled to Philadelphia to audition for admission to Curtis. She was accepted as a voice student of Harriet van Emden in 1930.
For nearly 100 years students have attended Curtis for music practice and study.
But when they were not in lessons, rehearsals, a practice room, or a classroom, how did they spend their time? Where did they live? What did they do in their leisure hours? And how did the aspects of student life change over the years? Take a glimpse into the daily lives of Curtis students through the decades, based on photographs and archival materials donated by alumni to the Curtis Archives, as well as oral history recollections from faculty and alumni.