History

Northwestern University’s Henry and Leigh Bienen School of Music is one of the oldest degree-granting music schools in the United States. Its beginnings date to 1873, when the Northwestern Female College and the Evanston College for Ladies were incorporated into the Northwestern University Woman’s College. This new institution established the Conservatory of Music, and in 1891 Peter Christian Lutkin was named its director. In 1895 it became the School of Music, with Lutkin serving as its first dean.

During Lutkin’s 33-year tenure the school grew to a position of national prominence. A new music building opened, the “Beehive” practice facility was constructed, and the first honorary doctor of music degree was awarded in 1915 to Frederick Stock, conductor of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Lutkin was succeeded in 1928 by Carl Beecher, who had earned the school’s first bachelor’s degree. Music education professor John W. Beattie was appointed the school’s third dean in 1936. During his administration the graduate program was expanded and Lutkin Hall constructed in 1941. George Howerton, a 20-year faculty veteran, assumed the deanship in 1951. Under his leadership the school established an opera program, began a series of guest artist master classes, and greatly increased the music library’s holdings. He was succeeded in 1971 by Thomas Miller, whose tenure brought sweeping revisions to the undergraduate curriculum as well as the opening of Pick-Staiger Concert Hall in 1975 and Regenstein Hall of Music in 1977. Bernard J. Dobroski became the school’s sixth dean in 1990. His term featured a new emphasis on faculty and student recruitment, expansion of course offerings for nonmajors, and community engagement programs.

Toni-Marie Montgomery has served as dean since 2003. Under her leadership the school has established two major international awards, the Jean Gimbel Lane Prize in Piano Performance and the Michael Ludwig Nemmers Prize in Music Composition; increased guest-artist residencies by internationally renowned performers; established the Institute for New Music; provided all doctor of musical arts candidates with full-tuition scholarships; heightened the school’s visibility through annually recurring high-profile initiatives, including a spring concert in downtown Chicago’s Millennium Park; opened a new state-of-the-art music facility; appointed the acclaimed Dover Quartet as the school’s first quartet-in-residence; and secured funding for a tour to Asia in 2018 by the Northwestern University Symphony Orchestra.

In 2008 the school was renamed the Henry and Leigh Bienen School of Music, honoring retiring Northwestern University President Henry Bienen and his wife. The naming gift, made possible through the generosity of trustees, alumni, and friends of the University, provides an endowment for scholarships and new creative and scholarly initiatives.

Construction of the school’s new lakefront home began in 2012 and the building opened for academic music classes in spring 2015. Northwestern announced the building would be named the Patrick G. and Shirley W. Ryan Center for the Musical Arts in honor of the Ryans’ longtime support of the arts at Northwestern. A dedication ceremony took place September 24, 2015.

Today the Bienen School of Music has an enrollment of more than 600 undergraduate and graduate students and a world-renowned faculty of 125. Students pursue degrees in performance and music studies as well as dual bachelor’s degrees. Alumni hold positions as performers, administrators, and educators in leading arts and educational institutions throughout the world.