Eastman School of Music: 90 Notable Years

Industrialist, philanthropist, and music lover George Eastman, the founder of Eastman Kodak Company, established the Eastman School of Music in 1921 as the first professional school of the University of Rochester.

For nine decades, the Eastman School has been one of America’s leaders in musical composition, performance, and education.

As we observe our 90th anniversary year, we celebrate our extraordinary history, and reaffirm our commitment to leadership in 21st century musical life.

“A different kind of music school”: 90 years of Eastman School excellence

These words on the Eastman School’s 90th anniversary are taken from remarks given by Dean Douglas Lowry on the occasion of his installation as the Joan and Martin Messinger Dean of the Eastman School of Music, on September 14, 2011.

In 1921, our founder, George Eastman, and University of Rochester President Rush Rhees, envisioned a different kind of music school. They were united in their belief that a school dedicated to the highest levels of artistry and scholarship would be enhanced through the broad education that a University setting provides.

This vision was shared by my distinguished predecessor, Dr. Howard Hanson, who – in the 1920s – identified one of the major themes of his Directorship. This is a particularly visionary statement, even more important some 90 years hence. Howard Hanson wrote:

“The Eastman School of Music aims to create all-around musicians, instead of merely specialists in one branch or other of music.” He went on to say:

“For the day of the musician who knows music and music alone has passed. It will be followed by a day when the musician must take his place in the world of men and affairs. A narrower training, no matter how excellent, no longer suffices.”

What Howard Hanson meant is that music and the musicians who compose and perform it, and by extension the scholars who study it, cannot survive in a vacuum of music alone. If we want the world to be part of our musical lives, then our musical lives have to be intertwined with the world.

The intentions of George Eastman, Rush Rhees, and Howard Hanson’s original vision remain unchanged. Our University partnership makes possible a comprehensive educational experience, inspiring our students to achieve the requirements of an artist/scholar of the highest dimension.

It bears repeating, very much in line with Howard Hanson’s vision, that this educational experience assumes extraordinary musical and intellectual values and accomplishment. That is our baseline.

This year, as the Eastman School observes its 90th anniversary, we have an unbelievably strong foundation. Our prospects are unlimited. We are motivated. We have critical momentum. We have a strategic vision that courageously embraces the future of music. As we celebrate 90 years of musical excellence, we redouble our passion and commitment to that vision.

Eastman School of Music: A snapshot 90 years ago and now

When students walked into the Eastman School of Music for the first day of classes on September 19, 1921, they could take lessons on only two floors of what’s now the Main Building, since construction wouldn’t be completed until later that fall.  One hundred four students were enrolled in the bachelor’s degree and certificate programs (which included one program training theater organists for silent film screenings). The entire student body, including those enrolled in what today is the Eastman Community Music School, came from Rochester and numbered more than 1,200.

The 1921-1922 school catalogue shows that upper level faculty taught courses in Theory and Composition, Piano, Voice Culture and Art of Singing, Organ, Violin, Cello, Viola, Harp, History and Literature of Music, and “Public School Methods” – music education. Degree students were required to take courses in secondary piano, theory and composition, history and literature, and “Ear Drill,” with the explanation that  “ . . . the study of Harmony never reaches its object unless accompanied by an adequate system of Ear Drill.”

Ninety years later, approximately 850 undergraduate and graduate students take classes around an expanded Eastman campus that boasts the newly-completed Eastman East Wing. They come from every state, and approximately 25 percent are from other countries. In the Eastman Community Music School, about 1,600 students of all ages come from all over western New York State to take lessons and play in ECMS ensembles.

At the collegiate level, Eastman today offers a multitude of courses to train professional musicians to the highest standards of performance. Its Institute for Music Leadership is recognized for innovative programs and partnerships that prepare students for the changing music environment. Students can also pursue certificate programs in such areas as Arts Leadership and World Music, or graduate diploma programs in Sacred Music, Ethnomusicology, or orchestral studies. Undergraduates can apply to work on a second degree in the University of Rochester’s College, School of Arts and Sciences, and Hajim School of Engineering and Applied Sciences; or to the Take Five Scholars program, to explore other academic interests in an additional semester or year.