Gazette Article by: Kaitlin A. Briggs, Ed. D.
Appeared in the Gazette: Fall/Winter 2012
Kaitlin A. Briggs, Associate Professor of Interdisciplinary Studies at the University of Southern Maine, spent a week at WHS researching Dorothy Dushkin. Intrigued by Dushkin’s journals, she visited to explore the community that attracted the Dushkins in 1930.
In 1990 a demolition permit was approved for an abandoned building at 555 Glendale Ave. in Winnetka, despite attempts to preserve it as a national historic landmark. Designed by Chicago architect Robert Paul Schweikher and built in 1934, this building had been both the school and home of renowned music educators David and Dorothy Dushkin.
The Dushkins met in 1927 in Paris where they were both studying with the famous composition teacher Nadia Boulanger, whose other students included Aaron Copland and Virgil Thomson. The couple married in 1930, settling in Winnetka where they started The School of Musical Arts and Crafts, known today as The Music Institute of Chicago.
Dorothy Brewster Smith Dushkin (1903-1992) was raised in Glencoe and graduated from Smith College with honors in music in 1925. She was a composer who wrote over ninety compositions, including chamber music for a wide variety of ensembles and large scale works for orchestra and for chorus and orchestra. Her quintet for oboe and strings was performed at Washington, D. C.’s Kennedy Center in 1976 as part of The Parade of American Music, a national competition organized to celebrate the U.S. Bicentennial.
Dushkin was also a diarist, who for some seventy years chronicled her struggle to get her work more widely recognized. Dushkin’s music and diaries are archived at Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts. A biography of Dorothy Smith Dushkin, including reference to the Winnetka Historical Society as an important archival source, will be coming out in American National Biography Online this month, a reference available through most university and large public libraries.
For the Dushkins, music and life were integral to one another, and Schweikher’s architectural design clearly reflected that vision. Across from the Skokie Junior High School, the building’s location on the corner of Glendale and Elm allowed students to walk back and forth for their music lessons during the day. As they walked in the door, they entered a world that revolved around music. The design featured a ground floor recital hall with seating capacity for two-hundred, family living quarters on the second floor, and a basement instrument workshop where David Dushkin designed and manufactured high quality recorders.
Ensemble playing, across age and ability levels, was an important feature of the Dushkins’ approach to music education, with an emphasis on the recorder as a secondary instrument for advanced musicians and a training instrument for beginners. The school curriculum included instrument construction in the basement workshop: violins, organs, xylophones, marimbas, cellos, drums, flutes. These instruments were basic but highly functional and incorporated quality materials for essential elements. For the Dushkins’ students, learning to play an instrument then became a natural extension of having actually made it. The Dushkins recorded practice performances so that students could hear their own playing and note their progress.
The Dushkins’ music education methods quickly took root in the community, and the school developed a national reputation. By 1938, visitors included Igor Stravinsky, who performed there three times; the Kentucky folk singer John Niles; the Boston dancer and choreographer Jan Veen, aka Hans Weiner; recorder player and instrument maker Carl Dolmetsch; singer Suzanne Bloch, whose portrait Picasso famously painted; Moholy-Nagy, the director of the New Bauhaus; and even Nadia Boulanger herself.
The school’s success, however, was also its demise; it was a mixed-use building in a residential zone that never fit in the neighborhood. By 1952 the Dushkins had moved full-time to Weston, Vermont, where they started a summer camp for gifted high school musicians called “Kinhaven,” and their Winnetka music school became a non-profit organization and moved onto the North Shore Country Day School campus.
The building at 555 Glendale is gone, but the Dushkins’ vision for community-based music education, first enacted in Winnetka, soared beyond its walls and launched a substantial legacy that thrives both on Chicago’s North Shore and in Vermont today.