Levine was founded in 1976 in memory of Selma M. Levine, a prominent Washington attorney and an amateur pianist who took particular delight in encouraging young musicians. Selma died tragically in an automobile accident in 1975.
Levine was founded by Diana Engel, Ruth Cogen and Jaclin Marlin in the basement of a small church. In the first year, Levine’s 70 students were taught by 16 faculty members, seven of whom were National Symphony Orchestra musicians. With the help of a $10,000 grant from the Eugene and Agnes E. Meyer Foundation, Levine offered full or partial scholarships to eight students during that first year.
Levine quickly outgrew its first home and relocated to a larger church in 1979. The following year, Joanne Hoover was hired as Levine’s first full-time executive director, and Levine began its community outreach programs. By 1981, Levine faculty members were teaching students at Oyster School, a bilingual elementary school in the District, using violins found in a closet. Interest in Levine’s collaboration with the Oyster School soon spread, launching a partnership between Levine and the D.C. public schools.
In 1984, Levine relocated to a former dormitory at the convent of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd near Georgetown University and the Duke Ellington School. Recognizing the vast cultural diversity of the Washington, D.C. area, Levine began to integrate the great oral and aural traditions of Africa, Asia and Latin America into its curriculum, long before “multicultural” programs became a popular concept.
To give Levine a permanent home, in 1992 the Levine Board of Trustees purchased the former Geophysical Laboratory of the Carnegie Institution at 2801 Upton Street NW for $2.3 million. Situated on 4.4 acres overlooking Rock Creek Park, the Mediterranean Renaissance Revival building was built in 1906 and designed by renowned Washington architect Waddy Wood. It has been designated a historic landmark by the Historic Preservation Review Board.
In 1993, William Reeder became the new executive director, overseeing a period of tremendous expansion that included the opening of new campuses in Southeast D.C., Maryland and Virginia. An $8.9 million renovation of the Upton Street location began in March 1996 and lasted until October 1999. The building was renamed Sallie Mae Hall in recognition of a $1 million leadership gift from the company.
Levine’s Maryland campus relocated to the Music Center at Strathmore in January 2005, joining a partnership with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, Strathmore, Washington Performing Arts Society, National Philharmonic, CityDance Ensemble and Montgomery Classic Youth Orchestras. Levine became the primary education provider for the arts center.
In May 2005, Levine moved its Southeast campus from the Village of Parklands Shopping Center in Anacostia to the Town Hall Education Arts & Recreation Campus (THEARC), a $25 million state-of-the-art community center developed by William C. Smith Construction Co. In addition to housing Levine, THEARC is home to branches of the Children’s Hospital Wellness Clinic, Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Washington, Covenant House, Washington Ballet, Corcoran School of Art and Design, Parklands Community Center, Trinity University, and Washington Middle School for Girls, all of which are committed to serving disadvantaged children and at-risk youth.
Levine’s main campus in Northwest DC currently offers its students about 30 teaching studios and rooms; the Morris and Gwendolyn Cafritz Library and Information Center; the Jane Lang Recital Hall, a 150-seat flexible performance space; and the James L. Kunen Theater, which contains the Morris and Gwendolyn Cafritz Foundation Recording Center with playback and recording equipment given by Harman International.
Over the years, Levine has grown into one of the country’s leading community music schools. It is one of the few such schools to be accredited by the National Association of Schools of Music, and it is the only All-Steinway community music school in the world. Levine is also certified by the National Guild of Community Schools of Arts as exemplifying the highest standards of excellence and access in community arts education.
Read “A Trio Con Brio,” writer Agnès Tabah’s account of Levine’s founders and the early years.