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Peabody to extend reach to Singapore


In what may be a first for a U.S. music institution, Baltimore's Peabody Conservatory will sign a six-year agreement today with the National University of Singapore to establish a new music school.

That institution - with the unwieldy name of the Singapore Conservatory of Music in collaboration with the Peabody Institute of the Johns Hopkins University - is expected to draw undergraduate music students from throughout Southeast Asia and provide graduate students for the Baltimore conservatory.

In addition to granting use of its name to the new institution, Peabody will act as a consultant, lending its expertise in building a conservatory, developing curriculum, hiring faculty and recruiting students. Peabody's dean, Steven G. Baxter, who has served as the institution's chief executive officer since 1994, will be named founding director of the new music school in Singapore.

In return, over six years, the Singapore institution will pay Peabody millions of dollars, including endowments for two faculty positions in Baltimore, said Peabody's director, Robert Sirota. He declined to reveal the exact amount, describing it only as "multimillions."

"A huge percentage of the world's population doesn't have access to Western music instruction of this level, and we see this as an opportunity to raise up graduate students for Peabody," Sirota said. "We'll be helping the Singapore university create a curriculum that is not just a reproduction of Peabody's but is what a Western model of a conservatory in Asia should be."

The Peabody Institute encompasses a conservatory - which was founded in 1857 and offers undergraduate and graduate degrees in music - and a preparatory school. About 680 students attend the conservatory, and of those, one-third are from Asia, with the highest concentrations from North Korea, Taiwan and Japan. This year, five students are from Singapore.

That country, which has a population of 3.1 million, is home to a respected symphony and, in the past few years, has stepped up efforts to bolster its reputation as a cultural hub of Asia. It recently constructed a new performance center at the university and is building an arts complex near the harbor.

"We at NUS are proud and excited to be a part of this new enterprise, which will greatly contribute to the artistic and cultural development of the nation and enhance the vibrancy of the NUS campus," Shih Choon Fong, president and vice chancellor of the university, said in a written statement.

Though partnerships between American universities and overseas institutions are becoming increasingly common, the scope of the Peabody-Singapore collaboration may make it a first for a music conservatory. For example, the Indiana University School of Music and the Juilliard School both have agreements with overseas institutions, but those relationships are limited to either summer or one-year student exchange programs.

"The kinds of schools that are quickest to partner are business or medical schools, particularly business. Other kinds of educational schools are more difficult to establish," said Paula Burger, vice provost for academic affairs and international programs at Hopkins. "To my knowledge, this is the first music school partnership of its kind."

But it is not the first time that Hopkins and Singapore have collaborated. In 1998, Johns Hopkins Medicine and the National University of Singapore formed a partnership through which they jointly founded a medical center in Singapore, created graduate programs in basic science and clinical research, and established research laboratories focusing on diseases prevalent in Asia.

The National University of Singapore also has similar relationships with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Wharton Business School for science and technology and business education programs, respectively.

Under the new agreement, Peabody and the National University of Singapore will collaborate on designing a conservatory, including the development of a four-year bachelor's in music program modeled after the Baltimore curriculum. Peabody also will coordinate a recruitment strategy for attracting students from Asian countries.

In addition, the Baltimore conservatory has agreed to allow faculty members, including composers and performing artists, to travel to Singapore for short-term residencies. Peabody administrators said they expected student exchange programs to be developed. As at Peabody, there will also be a Singapore program aimed at gifted younger students.

Plans call for about 200 students - drawn primarily from Singapore, Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia, Indonesia, China and the Philippines - to attend the new conservatory. The first class of about 30 students is scheduled to be accepted by 2003, though construction of the buildings won't be complete, Baxter said. Until then, he will be working to build a conservatory from scratch.

Baxter, who has a doctorate in music education and plays the oboe, has taught in public schools and colleges and has written extensively about teaching music. In 1984, he came to Peabody from Ithaca College to coordinate the music education division. In Singapore, "what I am going to do is found a conservatory that is like this one, but is also different," he said.

One aspect of the new conservatory that may differ from its Baltimore relative is that its programming will incorporate Asian music in a significant way. While the school's focus is on performance of Western music, "a conservatory in the middle of Asia will necessarily have a component of Asian music," Baxter said.

"This is an opportunity to put together lots of things that I have learned about teaching children and young adults and faculty members about music," he said. "After years of working with experts in music, I now get to give expression to what I've learned through this school. It is an opportunity that most people don't get in their careers."

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