Take Five with Peter Lerman ’05

Peter Lerman

Shervin Lainez

Peter Lerman ’05 is an award-winning songwriter and composer for theater, television and film. His superhero musical, Brooklynite (a New York Times Critics’ Pick), played a sold-out run Off Broadway at the Vineyard Theatre, and his musical Hipsters was presented as part of the 2017 NYSAF Powerhouse Theater season at Vassar College. Lerman has won the Stephen Sondheim Young Artist Citation Award, Columbia’s I.A.L. Diamond Award for Achievement in the Arts, a Dramatists Guild Fellowship, the Jonathan Larson Award from the American Theatre Wing and the Kennedy Center-ACTF Musical Theater Award. Lerman has contributed music to the Emmy Award-winning comedy Modern Family, is a music and sound consultant for the House Hunters franchise and also developed a musical movie based on his songs and original concept for MTV Films.

What were you like when you arrived at Columbia?

When I visited Columbia as a prospective student, the admissions officer spoke to our tour group around a grand table in Low Library. He made it crystal clear that we best not answer “because it’s in New York City” to the application question “Why do you want to attend Columbia College?” So I wrote about the Core like everyone else. But truly I was excited to be on my own so I could explore New York and use my Columbia ID to get discount theater tickets.

What do you remember about your first-year living situation?

I lived on the 5th floor of John Jay and it was my only year at the College before 9-11, so I remember it as a special moment before everything changed. I also made a lifelong friend who lived across the hall, Brian Platzer ’05. He wrote the brilliant novel Bed Stuy is Burning.

What class do you most remember and why?

The late, great Professor Arnold Weinstein taught a yearlong seminar in dramatic writing. It was a brilliant class held during the day, and he would also hold regular art parties in the evenings at his apartment in the Chelsea Hotel and invite a handful of students. We would drink wine, share new scenes from plays and poems, and perform original songs at the piano alongside [poetry professor] Kenneth Koch. [Composer] William Bolcom would fax over new sheet music, which Professor Weinstein’s nonagenarian neighbor would sight-read. I thought every class was going to be like that one.

Did you have a favorite spot on campus, and what did you like about it?

St. Anthony Hall. That’s all I can say about that.

What, if anything, about your College experience would you do over?

I would have written a few more Varsity Shows.