Perlman Music Program Celebrates 20 Years on the East End

Toby Perlman
Toby Perlman, Photo: Courtesy Perlman Music Program

Can it be that 20 years have gone by since Toby Perlman founded the Perlman Music Program (PMP)?

Perlman, a mother of five, grandmother of nine, wife of Itzhak Perlman and Juilliard-trained violinist, founded PMP to realize a dream to create a “haven for gifted pre-college age string players.” A place that would provide superb musical training and would also allow “kids to be kids.” Originally housed in a rented space on the old Boy’s Harbor grounds in East Hampton, the program quickly attracted a devoted audience and outgrew its tent.

Fast forward to Shelter Island, where for the last several years PMP has been running a stunning array of workshops, chamber music sessions and instrumental and choral performances featuring its students. Now, with the newly built Clark Arts Center, PMP also presents recitals by its advanced students and alums year round. It’s “The Littles,” the 12–18 year-olds, who claim Toby’s heart the most—“my favorite group,” she says. These talented children made it through the highly competitive admissions process. On any afternoon, kids can be found practicing in small white cottages dotting PMP’s 28-acre shoreline Shelter Island campus, or at The Clark, or swimming, running, playing ping pong or just hanging out. A peek into rooms at Clark confirms that Toby’s dream to combine school and camp has come to fruition. Rooms are littered with instruments, laptops, scores, electronic gadgets, socks, shirts and water bottles.

With Muttek and Boychik, her two Portuguese water dogs, looking on, Toby sits on the deck of one of the cabins and muses on what PMP has become and will continue to be. “The philosophy and the design” will remain, but with more activity year-round. The Clark allows for a winter series of concerts, and prestigious venues in the city and around the world now play host to performances by PMP graduates. Maybe, down the line, PMP will introduce a “fiddle” seminar for professionals 25 and older. But Perlman always comes back to “The Littles!” They’re young enough to have time to change or evolve.

This year there are about 39 Littles (“we never go over 40, that’s the idea, keep it small”) from different countries, many coming back year after year until they age out (this year PMP had room to take in 11 new kids). It’s important, Toby says, to build a sense of community, to nurture the children and provide “a safe environment” free of the sometimes “prison-like” or “pressure cooker” atmosphere they might face at home.

But that doesn’t mean PMP students can disregard rules and regulations. Shortly after The Littles’ arrival, Toby gives them a “big lecture” on observing PMP policies and Suffolk County Health Department laws—signing out and in when going for a walk or run, swimming with a buddy, eschewing drugs and alcohol, etc. She feels she develops close relationships with the kids who trust her to be compassionate but not betray their confidences. They know she means it when she says she listens, and she looks hard at what they write on exit polls, taking into account what they like and don’t like. She takes pride in eliciting their truthfulness.

Although all students attend all performances, standing ovations are not permitted. And though their expertise may be classical rep, more recent music is also on the schedule. “They don’t have to like it, but they all have to play and open their ears to it.”

Students aren’t required to perform every week, or even perform at all. “PMP is not a performance-oriented program,” explains Toby. If there’s time and they’re interested, they can form string quartets. The 12-year-old violinist will have companions in 13- and 14-year-olds, and lifelong friendships will be formed (even some marriages have started here). And everyone, no matter what his or her major instrument, sings in the chorus, run by the beloved Patrick Romano.

Perlman Music Program open rehearsals are already underway at 5 and 7 p.m. most weekdays in Shelter Island. Perlman Music is holding a Orchestra and Chorus Concert at Southold High School (420 Oaklawn Avenue) on Thursday, July 31 at 7:30 p.m., and the program’s 20th Anniversary Gala is scheduled for Saturday, August 2 in East Hampton, with a reception at 6 p.m. and a celebration concert conducted by Maestros Itzhak Perlman and Patrick Romano at 7 p.m. A dinner will follow at 8 p.m. For more information and to confirm your seats today, call Katie Nojima at 212-877-5045 or email [email protected].

See for a full schedule. Seating is limited and reservations are suggested.

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