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Remembering Stephen Clapp

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Dean, Teacher, Musician

Former dean and longtime faculty member Stephen Clapp (Pre-College ’57; M.S. ’65, violin; honorary degree ’07) died on January 26 at age 74 after a long battle with cancer. He is survived by his wife, Linda; his children, Amy, Peter, and Andrew; and two grandchildren.

Stephen Clapp

Clapp and a student in 2005.

(Photo by Peter Schaaf)
Stephen Clapp

Clapp in 1963.

(Photo by Russell Ray)

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Born November 27, 1939, in Tallman, N.Y., Clapp began his Juilliard affiliation early. He went through the Preparatory Division (the forerunner of Pre-College), where he studied with Dorothy DeLay (’38, ’42, violin; faculty 1948-2002) before getting his bachelor’s at Oberlin College Conservatory and then returning to Juilliard, where he studied with DeLay and Ivan Galamian (faculty 1946-80). A founding member of the Oberlin Trio, he was also in the Beaux-Arts and Blair string quartets. Clapp taught at a number of places (including Oberlin and the Aspen Music Festival and School for many years), joining the Juilliard Pre-College faculty in 1962 and the College faculty in 1987; he received an honorary degree from Juilliard in 2007.

In a 2007 interview with The Journal when he stepped down as dean (he became dean emeritus and remained on the faculty until his death), Clapp said that having been “a fiddle teacher all my life, I always mistrusted administrators. Then I finally found myself wearing that jacket!” Among his goals as dean (1994-2007) had been encouraging students, he said, “to view all of the opportunities out there as worthy of them, not just the solo ones” and that he tried to hire younger faculty members “so that we didn’t have one stratum of masters and another stratum of assistants.” President Joseph W. Polisi remembers his longtime friend and colleague.

In celebrating the life of Stephen Clapp, I have become immersed in a whole series of memories that reflect upon a person of extraordinary character and artistry. Steve was a role model for all of us—as an artist, a teacher, a caring administrator, a husband and father, and perhaps most important, as an empathetic and engaged human being. His spirituality brought all these attributes together in a way that made him a respected and beloved member of the many communities he touched, from Juilliard to Aspen to his church.

I first knew of Steve as a successful violin teacher at Oberlin. His own teacher Dorothy DeLay suggested I contact him during a summer visit to Aspen. As always, Steve was optimistic and energized by his visions of future possibilities. He started part-time at Juilliard, but as his responsibilities increased he eventually moved to a beautiful historic home in Cos Cob, Conn., with his beloved wife, Linda, and his children.

Soon I realized that Steve’s talents extended well beyond instrumental teaching, and he was tapped as our associate dean. As luck would have it (Steve probably would call it God’s will), he was in residence at Juilliard at a pivotal time in the School’s history. Throughout the summer of 1994, before he was officially appointed, I decided to forego the traditional search route and instead consulted individually with close to 100 faculty members about what Juilliard needed in a dean at this time. At a September gathering in Morse Hall, the assembled faculty discussed Steve’s candidacy and then enthusiastically voted for his appointment. 

As dean, Steve spent long hours overseeing his administrative responsibilities, but continued to teach violin and to be a spiritual leader in his church, St. John’s Episcopal in Stamford. At his memorial service there on February 1, I learned that Steve participated in weekly bible discussions beginning at 7 a.m. in a cafeteria in Grand Central Station. Steve always had time for what was important to himself and those around him.

In 2006 Steve met with me and simply stated that it was now time to step down as dean so that he could give greater attention to teaching. When I asked if there was anything I might do to ameliorate the pressures of the deanship, he said he wanted me to stop all the emails he was receiving. Since that was clearly not an option, Steve returned fulltime to the faculty and had robust classes in both the College and Pre-College, teaching not only violin, but chamber music as well.

I last saw Steve when we met in his home, where he sat close to a warm fireplace. As always, he was at peace with himself and with his condition—but he did want to come back to Juilliard to teach his violin students one last time and say a personal goodbye to each of them. Steve was able to realize three trips to the School before his strength gave out. This final gesture of sharing was so typical of Steve’s goodness. Although he wasn’t able to  meet personally with each student, his spirit of generosity and his legacy of  dedication to the artistic and intellectual growth of young artists will live within all of us who had the privilege of knowing and loving this special human being.

—Joseph W. Polisi

For information about the Stephen Clapp Memorial Violin Scholarship, call (212) 799-5000, ext. 692, or go to Juilliard.edu/giving. A memorial will be held at Juilliard on May 21.

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