It has been 15 years since Janna Friedman opened her Baltimore Music School. In that time,she has watched the school grow in numbers—in terms of students, locations and instruments taught.
Mrs.Friedman and her husband, Simon, immigrated to Baltimore in 1979 from the Ukrainian capital of Kiev. At that time,Mrs.Friedman, a former concert pianist in the former Soviet Union,was approached by the Russian community here to open a music school.
But she declined.“I’m not a businesswoman,” says Mrs.Friedman,who is nearly 70,has two adult children, lives in Pikesville and belongs to Beth El Synagogue.“I didn’t think I could do it.”
Instead, she joined the faculty of the Peabody Institute of Music,where she taught piano for 17 years.
In 1994,Mrs.Friedman was again approached about a music school and this time she accepted the challenge. “I realized it was important for Baltimore not to have only one school,” she says, alluding to the Peabody.
Still, there was some hesitation on her part.“I didn’t want a big school. A big school is a lot of pressure on me, a lot of business,”says Mrs. Friedman,“and I wanted to be more with the students.”
Now called the Janna Friedman Baltimore Music School, it opened with 30 students, all of them from the former Soviet Union. In a small rented studio, the school offered piano,violin,guitar and keyboard for youngsters.
Now, the school has two locations, at 6615 Reisterstown Road across from the Reisterstown Road Plaza and at 10806 Reisterstown Road near Owings Mills Mall.Its 86 students take private lessons in piano,violin,guitar, trumpet and clarinet.They come from a variety of backgrounds, an “international school,”Mrs.Friedman says proudly.
For children ages three to five, there are group lessons on a variety of instruments. For older children, there are group classes in harmony,music theory and history.Some teachers are Peabody staffers,while others come from the Russian immigrant community.
“We have students who start at the age of four and go through high school,” says Mrs.Friedman.
One student, she noted,won a prestigious music competition. Another was accepted at the famed Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia. A third student formed an orchestra in San Francisco.
“Our students play in competitions like the American Fine Arts Festival and the Carnegie Hall recitals,”Mrs. Friedman says.
Mrs.Friedman herself comes from an impressive musical background. At age nine, she was accepted into a music academy in Kiev for the gifted and talented.Later, she attended the Kiev Conservatory.
Each year, Natan Rahlin,conductor of the Ukraine Symphony Orchestra, chooses one conservatory graduate to play with the orchestra.Mr.Rahlin chose Mrs.Friedman, thus launching her concert career.
Mrs. Friedman said she believes that music encourages the intellectual development of one’s mind.“Music has a positive effect on the brain,on intelligence,”she says.
She conceded that not all children have a natural talent for music.But this can be overcome with practice, Mrs. Friedman says.
“I have students whose parents want to learn to play an instrument, and the ability is not there,”she says. “But year by year, they gradually progress from level to level and in the end, you cannot tell they did not have natural ability.”
The goal of her school is not to transform every student into a professional musician, Mrs.Friedman says.
“Our goal is for them to appreciate music,”she says,“to have a life with music.”
The annual Janna Friedman Baltimore Music School student recital will be held this Sunday, June 7, at 2 p.m. at the Park Heights Jewish Community Center, 5700 Park Heights Ave. For information, call 410-653-2862 or visit bmsmaryland.org.