Thomas Karolyi was an extraordinary orchestra teacher and director and a remarkable musician. One of J. Taylor Finley Junior High School’s founding faculty members, he instructed, nurtured and guided thousands of musicians during his storied career. Huntington High School senior Arielle Harvey hopes she can have the same impact when she becomes a teacher.
Mr. Karolyi passed away late last summer after battling lung cancer. He was 82 years old and still performing as a musician. His family, friends, former faculty colleagues and students contributed thousands of dollars to create a scholarship in the gifted musician’s memory.
Huntington High School senior Arielle Harvey.
The first annual $1,000 award was presented earlier this month by Mr. Karolyi’s widow, Felicia to Ms. Harvey, who is headed to CUNY Queens College’s Aaron Copland School of Music to begin studies to be a music teacher.
Mr. Karolyi’s 31 year Huntington UFSD teaching career is the stuff legends are made of. “During that time, he established the chamber orchestra, the all-district orchestra concert and the intergenerational concert,” said Mrs. Karolyi at the Huntington High School senior academic awards ceremony earlier this month. “He also founded the Tri-M Music Honor Society, which like several other programs, still continues to this day.”
A member of the Gemini Youth Orchestra program, Ms. Harvey has been studying in the Mannes Prep pre-college music program at The New School in Manhattan. She has been involved in the high school’s Tri-M Music Honor Society chapter and has performed with the chamber orchestra and pit orchestra.
“Arielle, you were chosen to receive this award because you exemplify many of the same qualities of my late husband; a talent and passion for the violin, a desire to share music with others, a dedication to hard work, and above all, a respect and kindness toward others,” Mrs. Karolyi said. “The fact that you will be attending Queens College to study music in the fall has special meaning for me because my husband and I also attended Queens College, which is where we met and where we received our bachelor and master degrees in music education.”
In addition to being a wonderful musician, Ms. Harvey played on the Blue Devil varsity field hockey team. She recently gave a stirring performance of Mozart’s “Concerto No. 5 in A Major” at the high school’s senior showcase recital.
Born in January 1936 in Budapest, Hungary, Mr. Karolyi first evaded the Nazi killing machine when Germany occupied Hungary, hiding with his parents in a darkened basement room for weeks at time.
He later escaped suffocating religious persecution in Hungary when the Soviet Union invaded the country in 1956 and crushed a popular rebellion. Mr. Karolyi immigrated to the US and became an American citizen, later earning undergraduate and graduate music education degrees at City University of New York-Queens College.
Mr. Karolyi began his career at Finley in September 1965 when the school first opened its doors. His deep voice and heavy Hungarian accent added to the aura that always seemed to envelope him. He had a perpetual spring in his step. He walked fast through the hallways.
As a strings teacher, orchestra director and violinist, few could match Tom Karolyi. He performed throughout his life and right up until the time of his death. His smile, quick wit and hearty laugh will always be remembered by his colleagues.
Over the years, Mr. Karolyi taught at Finley, Robert K. Toaz Junior High School and Huntington High School. He split time between Finley and the high school from 1988 until his retirement in July 1996, serving as orchestra director at both schools.
Mr. Karolyi’s file in the Huntington UFSD personnel office is packed with accolades from fellow teachers, department supervisors and principals regarding his students’ performances at concerts and special events through the years.
The veteran music teacher’s “great rapport” with his students and his ability to “bring out the best in them musically” is a constant theme that runs throughout the missives placed in Mr. Karolyi’s file.
Current Huntington music teachers, most notably those who work with strings students and orchestras across the district were exceedingly saddened to hear of Mr. Karolyi’s passing. He lived in the Huntington area and regularly attended district concerts.
Mr. Karolyi helped establish the Tri-M Music Honor Society in the district and served as its faculty advisor. He spent countless hours helping students prepare for NYSSMA auditions. As vice president of the Long Island String Festival, he played a key role in the organization and in the running of its festival.
Always a consummate professional, Mr. Karolyi had a certain boyishness to his nature. It’s that perpetually young at heart teacher that Huntington UFSD will never forget.