Founded in 1894, Third Street has helped to establish community arts education in the United States. The School traces its roots to the late 19th century settlement house movement. It was the unique inspiration of Third Street founder Emilie Wagner to make high quality music instruction the centerpiece of a community settlement house that would also provide social services to the immigrant population of the Lower East Side.
In this context, music would provide a source of spiritual and cultural nourishment, inspire achievement in its young students, and serve as a universal language to unite the community’s Jewish, Irish, Italian, Russian, Greek and Hungarian immigrants. Third Street soon grew to include an extensive library of books and music, a rooftop playground and a summer camp in New Jersey, and provided help with housing, employment and medical care – and even baths for neighborhood residents. By 1915, Ms. Wagner’s vision had inspired similar music school settlements in thirty American cities.
Third Street alumni have gone on to successful careers in every field imaginable. And, over the years, many have pursued careers in music, joining the rosters of major symphony and opera orchestras across the country. The School’s most famous alumni include concert violinist and music educator Josef Gingold and renowned songwriter Irving Caesar, whose more than 2,000 works include Tea for Two, Swanee and I Want to Be Happy.
Emerging professionals today who attended Third Street include violist Masumi Per Rostad of the acclaimed Pacifica String Quartet; Bobby Lopez, co-writer of the hit Broadway musical Avenue Q and Academy Award-winning writer of “Let It Go” from Disney’s Frozen; Ingrid Michaelson, pop singer/songwriter with hits on the TOP 40 charts; and violinist Jessie Montgomery of the Sphinx Organization, and formerly of Providence String Quartet and its Community MusicWorks, hailed by Alex Ross in The New Yorker for its “revolutionary” melding of professional performance with instruction for low-income urban youth (September 4, 2006). Distinguished past directors of Third Street have included David Mannes, violinist, concertmaster of the New York Philharmonic and founder of the Mannes College of Music and conductor Julius Rudel.
Third Street has always believed that music and dance are inseparably connected, and dance offers a unique opportunity for physical and artistic expression. The School’s dance program emphasizes proper body alignment, healthy physical development and the complete integration of music and dance.
Over the years, as the ethnic makeup of the Lower East Side has changed and government agencies have taken on many of the social services once shouldered by settlement houses, Third Street has evolved to meet the changing needs of the community. When the budget crisis of the 1970s forced the New York City Board of Education to cut virtually all arts education, Third Street stepped in to enrich and deepen the arts curriculum in public schools on the Lower East Side. In 1983, Third Street established a licensed preschool school program to address neighborhood demands for an arts-infused early childhood program. In 2007, with a new focus on adults “50 and better” Third Street launched the first New York chapter of the New Horizons band and chorus programs for adults.
Today, as always, Third Street’s programs of high quality music and dance instruction help children thrive in school and in life by promoting healthy personal and academic development, by opening avenues to further study and eventual careers and by encouraging a lifelong love of the arts.