At the Curtis Institute of Music Wednesday, students, faculty, board members and other friends celebrated Eleanor Sokoloff's 75 years. Seventy-five is not her age. It's the number of years she's been teaching piano at the conservatory.
"Actually, Eleanor has been a part of the Curtis family for 82 years," former Curtis director Gary Graffman told the crowd that stuffed the lobby of Curtis' main building on Rittenhouse Square. He was counting in her first Curtis tenure as a student. "She came here as a teenage piano prodigy, and, to make a long story short, she never left."
No one knows how many pupils she's taught over the years. But at least 75 of them have gone on to play with the Philadelphia Orchestra. "No other piano teacher can begin to compete with that record," said Graffman.
How do you fete an employee in the same job for 75 years? A gold watch? That's for amateurs. In Curtis tradition, this week's Wednesday tea - the last of the year - was held in Sokoloff's honor. Sheet cake was served, this one augmented with fondant icing fashioned in the likeness of one of her signature hats.
Sokoloff, 97, is devoted to her students, and can often be found in the school's recital hall, or at Verizon Hall, listening and cheering them on. This, however, was her day to accept applause. She thanked "so many wonderful colleagues and students. I'm just so grateful."
The school year ends in a few days, and then Sokoloff expects to be back teaching in the fall for more Mozart, more Bach, more finger exercises.
Said Graffman: "People assume she gets her boundless energy from her students. I believe it is actually the other way around."