The Curtis Archives presents the stories of four Curtis graduates who, through a strong desire to achieve the highest levels within their profession, paved the way for future generations of female musicians.
Clara Reisenberg Rockmore (Violin ‘28)
A child prodigy on the violin, Reisenberg was accepted to Curtis in 1928 at age 17. She had barely begun her studies when pain in her right arm caused her to withdraw from the school in November that same year. She was eventually diagnosed with arthritis – an incommutable death sentence for her ambitions as a violinist, but not, as fate would have it, a musician. Shortly after her withdrawal from Curtis, Reisenberg was introduced to Leon Theremin (inventor of the Theremin) and quickly became an accomplished, lifelong player, performing in venues across the country as well as with world-renowned orchestras including those in Philadelphia and New York.
Edna Phillips (Harp ’31)
In 1930 Edna Phillips was only 22 years old and still a Curtis student when, at the urging of her teacher Carlos Salzedo, she auditioned for the second harp position in the Philadelphia Orchestra. Having played the harp for only five years, Phillips (and Salzedo) were shocked when Leopold Stokowski offered her not the second position, but rather the principal instead. Phillips accepted and, after her graduation from Curtis in 1931, took her place as not only the first and only woman in the Philadelphia Orchestra, but the first female principal musician in any American orchestra.
Edwina Eustis (Opera ’35)
After graduating from Curtis Edwina Eustis quickly rose to great success on the opera stage, performing with major orchestras such as the Philadelphia Orchestra, New York Philharmonic, Boston Symphony, Cleveland Orchestra, and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. She was also a frequent participant in USO shows during World War II, and it was this exposure to the trauma of war which propelled her, after her retirement, to become an early and impassioned proponent of music therapy as a means to combat both mental and physical illness. She was a founding member of the National Association of Music Therapy in 1950 and wrote groundbreaking scholarly articles including “1953 Reports of Tape Recordings of Specially Selected Music for Electric and Insulin Shock Therapy” and “Report to Musicians’ Emergency Fund on Special Project in Music Therapy Conducted at Pilgrim State Hospital.” Eustis’s influence in the music therapy field is still memorialized today through the American Music Therapy Association’s annual Edwina Eustis Dick Scholarship for Music Therapy Interns.
Elaine Shaffer (Flute ’47)
Shaffer came to Curtis in 1944 and studied under Philadelphia Orchestra principal flutist William Kincaid. After graduating in 1947, Shaffer accepted a position as second flute with the Kansas City Philharmonic. Though she only stayed for one season, it was her acceptance of the job – and the terms she demanded – that made her an unwitting trailblazer. In the late 1940s women had few inroads into the male dominated world of professional orchestras, so for a woman to not only delay her start date but also demand – and receive - higher pay was unprecedented. However, after playing in orchestras for 6 years, Shaffer was dissatisfied and decided to forge a career as the first female flute soloist. This she did with tremendous success and acclaim, collaborating with musicians such as Aaron Copland, Yehudi Menuhind, and George Malcolm.
Kristina Wilson / Archivist / Curtis Archives
For more information on Curtis history, visit the Curtis Archives.