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. Pi Kappa Lambda, the national music honorary society, was founded at Northwestern in 1918, its name derived from the Greek equivalents of Lutkin’s initials.

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 the 400-seat Lutkin Hall constructed. 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 and Regenstein Hall of Music. Bernard J. Dobroski became the school’s sixth dean in 1990. His term featured new initiatives in faculty and student recruitment, expansion of course offerings for nonmajors, and new community outreach programs, including the popular Kids Fare series.

Toni-Marie Montgomery has served as dean since 2003. Under her leadership the school has provided all doctor of musical arts candidates with full-tuition scholarships; established two major international awards, the Jean Gimbel Lane Prize in Piano Performance and the Michael Ludwig Nemmers Prize in Music Composition; and increased guest-artist residencies by internationally renowned performers. The school’s visibility has also been heightened through several annually recurring high-profile initiatives, including appearances at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and an annual spring concert in downtown Chicago’s Millennium Park.

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, professorships, and new creative and scholarly initiatives.

In 2015 the school opened a new lakefront facility, the Patrick G. and Shirley W. Ryan Center for the Musical Arts. The building integrates completely with Regenstein Hall of Music and brings the music school community together for the first time in almost four decades. A dedication ceremony was held 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 135. 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.