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Our History

P.G. Clapp conducts the orchestra

The University of Iowa was established in 1847 as Iowa’s first public institution of higher education. UI was the first university in the U.S. to accept creative work in theatre, writing, music, and art as theses for advanced degrees. The Iowa Center for the Arts continues to play an important role in the university, embracing the arts of writing, music, theatre, dance, ballet, visual arts, television, and film, and providing the stimulus for performances, exhibits, and writing programs, both on- and off-campus.

The School of Music started in 1906, but it originally had no departmental status. By 1912 the School of Music was like an affiliated conservatory of music under the supervision of the Dean of Liberal Arts; students paid fees for their instruction rather than tuition. Nevertheless a degree in music was offered and Gustav Schoettle was named head of musical instruction. When P.G. Clapp arrived to head the School of Music in 1919, he was charged with reorganizing the school into a regular department and administering the staff of eight teachers. By 1921, music had become a full-fledged department in the College of Liberal Arts, all music courses had gained full academic recognition, large performing ensembles had been developed, and graduate study had been established as central to the mission of the School of Music. Clapp also developed a music contest and a summer music camp to encourage the development of music in the state of Iowa.

When Clapp arrived in 1919, the School of Music was housed in three buildings located on the corner of Clinton Street and Iowa Avenue. As large ensembles were established, other university buildings were used for rehearsals, and rooms in various houses were used as practice rooms. In 1932, the music department moved into new quarters: a refurbished former isolation hospital with a new ajoining rehearsal building. Because this complex was never large enough, various other buildings and houses were appropriated by music through the years.

Himie Voxman succeeded Clapp as director of the School of Music in 1954, serving in this capacity until 1980. Voxman's contributions to music education, pedagogy, and wind instrument repertoire were nationally recognized during his tenure as director, and continue to the present time. Voxman oversaw the opening of a new music building in 1971; its 700-seat recital hall was named in honor of Clapp. During Voxman's tenure, the school was awarded a grant by the Rockefeller Foundation for the formation of a Center for New Music. This center continues to attract internationally-known composers to the campus for residencies, workshops, and concerts, and many talented student composers and performers have been featured on its concerts.

The School of Music was headed by Marilyn Somville from 1980 to 1990. John Hill served as interim director from 1990-1991, and David Nelson served as director from 1991 to 2000. In 2000, the university formed the Division of Performing Arts in an effort to foster collaboration and artistic exchange between the artists in music, dance, and theatre, and to expand public awareness of artistic and scholarly work. Kristin Thelander was director of the School of Music from 2000-2008.  David Nelson returned to lead the School of Music from 2008-2009, and was succeeded by David Gier, who served from 2009-2018.  Benjamin Coelho served as the interim director of the School of Music for the 2018-2019 academic year.  The current director of the School is Tammie Walker.

The School of Music celebrated its 100th Anniversary during the 2006-2007 academic year.  Many distinguished alumni returned to Iowa City to work with our students and speak or perform on campus. A number of alumni were commissioned to compose new works for student and faculty ensembles, and the School of Music was particularly proud to have provided opportunities for engagement with composers and performance of new music.  Alumni composers T.J. Anderson (PhD 1958), Mark Sirett (DMA 1990), Marti Epstein (undergraduate studies), Andrew Boysen (BM 1991), Timothy Mahr (DMA 1995), John Allemeier (PhD 1998), Ching-Chu Hu (MFA 1996), Joseph Dangerfield (PhD 2005), David Maki (MA 1996), and David Lang (MA 1980) produced new works that were met with enthusiasm by students and faculty.

Twelve major events for the anniversary year included a Centennial Showcase concert in September, two faculty chamber music concerts, and the Verdi Requiem featuring alumni soloists Michèle Crider, Katharine Goeldner, William Gabbard, and Kimm Julian.  An Alumni Jazz All-Star concert featured 40 alumni performers from all parts of the country and Brazil performing an entire program of jazz pieces composed by alumni.

A lasting souvenir of the 100th Anniversary is the commemorative program book for the Centennial Showcase concert, including a History of the School of Music written by Emeritus Professor Frederick Crane, more than 100 photographs, a list of all full-time faculty from 1906-2006, photographs and biographies of all current School of Music faculty, and a list of more than 5000 alumni. 

100th Anniversary projects also included enhancements to the Voxman Music Building, including landscaping, extensive new directional signage inside the building, improvements to classrooms and the VMB Opera Room, the purchase of a new harpsichord and several pianos, and the installation of beautiful new benches in the hallways - donated by alumni and friends in honor of various emeritus faculty members. Several art installations were made possible by generous donations - the Clapp lobby now houses a George Walker Gallery of ten magnificent acrylic paintings, an original Byron Burford painting, five beautiful digitized enlargements of School of Music opera posters, and fourteen marvelous pen-and-ink drawings of the entire 2006 faculty by art alumnus Robert Naujoks. Framed posters and art works were found throughout the Voxman Music Building, including two digitized reproductions of paintings by Emeritus Professor Leopold La Fosse and eighteen pieces featuring scenery and costume sketches of UI Opera Theatre designer Margaret Wenk.