College of Music

University of Colorado Boulder


  • Composite photo of Macky Auditorium then and now.

Since its founding in 1920, the University of Colorado Boulder College of Music has earned a reputation not only for preparing students for successful careers in music, but also for providing them with an outstanding college education.

University of Colorado Boulder College of Music Historical Survey
by Robert Fink and William Kearns

The Beginning (1882-1920)

Historic Old Main

Music at the University of Colorado is first mentioned in 1882, during the first decade of the University’s existence. The small body of students requested that the Regents purchase a piano for chapel services held in Old Main, the University’s sole building standing tall on a treeless plateau overlooking the small town of Boulder below. The request was honored and, from that beginning, music has grown within Colorado’s “flagship” university, at first as a part of the College of Arts and Sciences and later as an independent College. After a few abortive attempts to establish music in the university curriculum, Professor Charles H. Farnsworth (1888-1900) secured a permanent toehold. Under Farnsworth’s direction, courses in music theory and private instruction were established, operettas were produced, choral and orchestral concerts with the help of supporting townsfolk were given, and ceremonial, social, and athletic functions were supported by appropriate music. Farnsworth set two goals that have since become permanent: student competency in both performance and music theory and making music an integral part of the University, the community, and the state.

The Frank Chace Administration (1920-1926)

Dean Chace at the organ

The following two decades of the twentieth century were an unsettled period for music under a series of short-lived administrations. The year 1920, however, set music on an independent course that remained steadfast. Its various activities were consolidated as a College with only a nominal connection to its previous parent, Arts and Sciences. The administration of Frank Chace (1920-1926) was brief but significant. Chace had been an organist in the East who later taught at colleges in Michigan and Oregon. During his time, a degree program leading to the Bachelor of Music was established. Macky Auditorium was completed and $50,000 was raised from various sources to install its remarkable organ with its pipes concealed in the ornate ceiling. Rehearsal and classroom space was also made available in the wings of the large building. As had been the previous pattern of instruction, Chace was the single professor, assisted by a few adjunct teachers who supplemented their pay for class instruction with fees for private lessons. Chase taught most of the theory classes, the music literature class (now known as music appreciation), gave private instruction on organ, and performed recitals regularly. He also led the choral union of students and townsfolk. He and his wife, who served as his administrative assistant, frequently entertained both students and others. He appears to have been both a strong and popular leader. During his time student enrollment varied from twenty-five to thirty-five majors. In his last year (1925-26), the College received a refurbished “Old Medical Building,” located on the site of the present-day University Memorial Center. Music finally had a primary home to serve many, but not all, of it’s varied activities for the next thirty years.

The Rowland Dunham Administration (1927-1951)

The CU Glee Club

The next Dean of the College, Rowland Dunham, was an organist/choirmaster from Youngstown, Ohio. During his term of twenty-four years (1927-1951), the College grew dramatically and assumed many of the features it has today. Dunham held the single professorship, teaching organ and theory, and two instructors were hired, one for voice and the other for piano instruction. Additional positions were created in the late 1930s and the1940s in band, orchestra, violin, piano, voice, organ, composition, and theory, bringing the permanent faculty up to approximately ten. Additional instructors were hired as needed on a fee basis. The College was now large enough to have divisions in Organ and Church Music, Piano, Voice/Choral music/Opera, Strings/Orchestra, Winds/Band, and Theory/Composition. Faculty instruction was supplemented by visiting composers, performers and educators such as Percy Grainger, Rosina Lhevinne, Sergei Prokofiev, Rudolph Ganz, Albert Spalding, Ruggieri Ricci, Thor Johnson, Ellis Snyder, Margaret Hood, Clarence Sawhill, and Misha Mishakoff Student enrollment had grown from fifty-seven to eighty-four during 1927-37 alone. During World War II, student enrollment held at slightly over 100 but doubled rapidly in the immediate post-war years.

The faculty was strongly performance-oriented, and the degree programs (the Master of Music degree was begun in 1937) emphasized both performance and a thorough grounding in music theory. Many students, however, sought teacher training. This need was met with adjunct instructors drawn from music teachers and supervisors in the surrounding area and an occasional nationally known music educator who taught as a visiting professor during the summer term. A two-year certificate was offered for public school teachers or a four-year Bachelor of Music Education degree (beginning in 1931) with performance requirements the same as the Bachelor of Music degree and education courses substituted for some theoretical and liberal arts courses. A Master of Music Education degree was offered beginning in 1937. During Dunham’s administration the College’s national reputation had blossomed to the extent that it received permanent membership in the National Association of Schools of Music in 1941, and all of its programs were accredited by that organization by 1944.

The Warner Imig Administration (1951-1978)

The old College of Music Building

In 1951 Warner Imig became Dean of the College. At that time, the faculty had expanded from the three at the beginning of Dunham’s administration to twenty. Imig is the only Dean to have been chosen from the existing faculty, and his administration was the longest, running to 1978. During this time the faculty and student body more than doubled and doctoral programs were begun: the Doctor of Musical Arts (DMA) in 1953 and the Doctor of Philosophy (PhD): Music Education in 1964, Musicology in 1966. The doctoral programs necessitated two new divisions: History and Literature in 1966, and Music Education in 1970. In 1970, the governance of the College was changed from appointments made by the Dean to an elected Faculty Council with various subcommittees, and an Executive Committee consisting of the heads of divisions.

From the beginning, Imig strove to get the College out of its now antiquated and cramped home. By 1954 the University heeded his call, and the present home of the College was built on Eighteenth Street at the end of Euclid Ave. With seemingly adequate classroom and practice room space, faculty offices, a 500-seat recital hall, and supporting administrative and workshop spaces, the College nevertheless retained facilities in both Macky Auditorium and Norlin Library. The mortar had hardly dried in the new building before Imig commenced new appeals for additional space in his annual reports. Success came at the end of his administration, when a three-story north addition was added to the original one-story music building. In addition to more classroom, practice room, and office space on the first and second floors, the north addition included an opera workshop/orchestra rehearsal room on first basement floor, and the music library on the third floor. The library had heretofore been housed in the University’s central Norlin Library, but it had now grown to a substantial size with the ever-expanding degree programs and needed an independent space of its own. At the time of Dean Imig’s retirement in 1978 both the original building and addition were named Imig Hall in honor of his service.

During the 1970s, the College of Music secured permission from the College of Arts and Science to begin a Bachelor of Arts in Music degree. In time this degree grew both in numbers and importance because it provided an important niche between the Bachelor of Music degree for students seeking a performing career and the Bachelor of Music Education degree for those wishing to become music teachers. Because the BA in Music degree had much lower performing requirements than either of the other bachelors’ degrees, many students found sufficient electives to carry an additional degree in another college.

The doctoral programs were the major graduate curriculum addition made during Imig’s time with the Doctor of Musical Arts making a major impact not only on the graduate program but also the graduate/undergraduate balance of students in the College. Starting with major emphases in voice, keyboard, and violin, it expanded rapidly to include all instruments as well as various programs in pedagogy. Enrollment in these programs eventually was second only to that of the undergraduate degrees. This factor enhanced the quality of the College’s various performing groups, chamber music, and student recitals. By 1970, the College’s entire graduate program had become sufficiently large enough to lead to the appointment of an Associate Dean for Graduate Studies.

Imig encouraged his faculty to try new programs. Performance groups were expanded to include a University Percussion Ensemble, Collegium Musicum, and New Music Ensemble. The world-famous Hungarian String Quartet became artists in residence. Opera, which had received sporadic attention earlier, now took on a modest schedule of regular performances. Comprehensive Musicianship programs were begun in Music Theory and Music Education; an Electronic Music Studio was initiated; and a Group Piano Environments piano pedagogy program was started. The Comprehensive Musicianship and Group Piano Environments programs were later discontinued, but the Electronic Music Studio continues to this day. Invited guest faculty included the LaSalle Quartet, Alfred Deller, Karlheinz Stockhausen, Paul Yoder, Thor Johnson, Roger Wagner, and numerous others.

The Robert Fink Administration (1978-1993)

The renovated Macky Auditorium

Robert R. Fink was appointed Dean of the College in the spring of 1978, and arrived on campus that summer. He had been a member of the music faculty at Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo since 1957, and had served as Department Chairman beginning in 1972. His first initiatives at the University of Colorado included the addition of three staff positions, the creation of a Concerts Office to manage all aspects of the College’s performance and publicity activities, and the acquisition of control of Macky Auditorium and the Artist Series from the office of the Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs. He also created an Associate Dean of Undergraduate Studies position. The governance system of the College was reorganized by replacing the “division” system with “faculty” units and elected chairs who also served as the College’s Advisory Council. This group replaced the previous Executive Committee in providing guidance to the Dean regarding College programs and policies. An elected Curriculum Committee consisting solely of faculty members became an equally important aspect of faculty governance.

During Dean Fink’s administration, a number of improvements in music facilities occurred. The opera workshop/orchestra rehearsal room in the north addition was converted to the Music Theatre with 200 fixed seats and extensive theatrical lighting. The performance area of Macky Auditorium benefited from a 3.5 million dollar renovation (1985-86) which included new opera boxes, an expanded orchestra pit with lift, and a moveable acoustical shell on stage; the Music Library stacks were expanded with a second level (1989), and a graduate student reading room was added. The recital hall (then known as the Music Hall) was renovated, thanks to a gift from alumnus Dave Grusin, and named the Grusin Music Hall.

Numerous faculty retirements occurred just prior to 1978 and in the 1980’s. Replacements coupled with ten new positions increased the size and diversity of the music faculty significantly including new specialists in world musics, jazz, and theatrical production. The band program began emphasizing contemporary wind ensemble literature and presenting spectacular “collage” concerts involving wind/percussion groups of varied instrumentation. Also, during this time, the opera/musical theatre program was renamed the Lyric Theatre Program and began presenting three fully staged productions during the academic year and two in the summer. During the Imig and Fink administrations and continuing into that of Dean Daniel Sher, the choral groups and the orchestra continued their high levels of performance.

Undergraduate music major enrollment was limited to around 300 in the 1980’s and early 1990’s in order to raise the academic and musical standards of the students. During the same time graduate enrollment flourished reaching over 200 with many highly talented students from throughout the world.

Artists in residence continued to be a part of the curriculum. The Takács String Quartet, which was invited to Boulder in 1983 and is still in residence as of 2006, maintains the tradition of outstanding resident faculty chamber music groups that began with the Hungarian Quartet followed by the Pablo Casals Trio.

Significant steps were taken in music history. In the fall of 1988 the American Music Research Center was acquired from the Dominican College in San Rafael, California. This collection, consisting primarily of 18th-century materials, supplemented existing holdings of Americana in the Music Library and, together with many new acquisitions made in its first few years of existence in Boulder, has enabled the Center to become a leading research and programming institution of its kind in the nation. In 1989 the College became one of seven regional centers for the Thesarus Musicarum Latinarum, a nationwide project to put early music theory texts online, including printed editions and manuscript sources. During the 1990s and into the next decade, three ethnomusicologists were added to the faculty, and several world music courses and ensembles in Latin American, Asian, and African music augmented the curriculum.

The 1980s and 90s also saw expansion in music theory. Eventually three positions for music theorists, as distinct from composers, were filled (previously composers had taught many of the theory courses), and new music theory courses were offered. In 1989 a Director of Music Technology position was created, and an existing classroom was turned into a computer-assisted music laboratory (CAML) that gained enthusiastic student interest and use.

Music Education, while not making any structural additions or changes, continued to serve the state and nation as it had done earlier. Many primary and secondary music teaching positions throughout Colorado are held by College graduates, and music educators hold the largest number of Ph.D’s awarded by the College. The Music Education Faculty continues to play a leading role in the administration and activities of the Colorado Music Educators Association.

During the 1980’s and early 1990’s many College faculty members and student performing groups traveled internationally to present concerts and represent the U.S.A. in festivals and competitions. In 1991 the College received considerable recognition when it was selected as one of only ten American Schools of Music to be invited to perform at the Mozart Bicentennial celebration at Lincoln Center in New York. Many of the College’s graduates have secured teaching and performing posts throughout the country and in Europe. International students, particularly those from Asia, have taken graduate degrees here, and some have returned to their home countries to practice their specialties.

State financial support became even more limited during the 1980s and created the need for increased fundraising from alumni and friends of the College. Annual fund drives began, and large contributions were solicited on a regular basis. To aid in this effort an external Advisory Board for the College was appointed, which provided valuable curricular input and financial help. By 1993 the College’s endowment had tripled and scholarships and tuition waivers had increased substantially. These helped to raise the quality of the undergraduate student body and supported the graduate program, which became increasingly recognized in national rankings.

High school students and the general public in Boulder and throughout Colorado have benefited for many years from the College’s hosting of the All-State Orchestra, the Madrigal Festival, and Band Day, all of which began in the Imig era. In the 1980’s a high school Honor Band was created with similar success. Local audiences were substantially increased in 1986 when College holiday concerts and events by various choirs and instrumental groups were combined into a Festival of Christmas, which has since continued to attract large audiences. A larger and more diverse faculty has resulted in more numerous recitals, lectures, and colloquia. These are supported by many people throughout the region as well as the immediate University community.

During Dean Fink’s years, the College focused on building infrastructure through strong support for the Music Library, increasing the size of the faculty, staff, and graduate student body, providing more financial aid for students, and upgrading facilities. The only new academic programs that were introduced during his tenure were undergraduate certificates in jazz studies and music technology; however the strengthening and expansion of existing programs and faculty as well as the large infusion of support from alumni and friends kept the College well abreast of leading music schools in the nation.

The Daniel Sher Administration (1993-2013)

Daniel P. Sher

Daniel P. Sher was appointed Dean of the College in 1993. He had been a faculty member and Dean of the School of Music at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge. During his years most of the programs and activities begun in previous administrations have continued, and some have grown. Important changes have been made in facilities, and a number of new programs have been added to the curriculum.

A second much needed addition was made to the music building as a result of funding from the Colorado State Legislature in the amount of 2.1 million dollars. Construction was begun in May, 1996. The addition was made on the east side of the building, and it nearly matches the north addition in height and size. It consists of an instrumental rehearsal room dedicated to former Dean, Robert R. Fink, and is large enough to house the 200-piece marching band. The east addition also includes practice rooms, instrument storage space, the Hugh MacMillen Band Library, and faculty offices. Once this construction was completed, renovations were made in the original building, including the conversion of the old Band Room into a percussion/world musics studio, practice rooms, and a “smart” (technology innovative) classroom. The total cost of all of these improvements was 5.3 million dollars. The entire Imig Hall complex now stands as a unified structure worthy to compare with the impressive architecture found in many other University buildings.

Among the new programs during Dean Sher’s administration are the Entrepreneurship Center for Music which was opened in the fall of 1998 with a grant from the Louis and Harold Price Foundation, and a Wellness Program for Music Students that was formally established in the spring of 1999. New degree programs include the Bachelor of Music in Jazz Piano Performance, the Master of Music in Jazz Performance and Pedagogy, the Master of Music in Collaborative Piano, and the Master of Music in Music Theory. Professional Certificates in Opera and Solo Vocal Performance, and in String Quartet Performance were also offered, and the Doctor of Musical Arts degree was expanded to include Jazz Studies and Collaborative Piano.

Soon after the turn of the century Dean Sher led a campaign to raise funds for the improvement of music faculty salaries. Over 3.5 million dollars was realized, resulting in the College’s first two endowed chairs: the Robert and Judy Charles Professorship in Music and the Joseph Negler Professorship in Music, and three faculty fellowships.

In the fall of 2003 the Music Library was named for the late Howard Waltz, who had been a substantial benefactor of the College as well as a beloved and long-time member of the faculty. Professor Waltz had been a key person guiding the growth of the Music Library since its inception in the 1940s. In 1994 the Lyric Theatre Program, under the direction of Dennis Jackson, received a “Program of Excellence” award from the Colorado Commission on Higher Education. In December of 2004, the Board of Regents designated Allan McMurray the first “Distinguished Professor” in the history of the College.

As of the 2005-2006 academic year, enrollment in the college consisted of approximately 300 undergraduate and 250 graduate students, and there were over 60 full-time faculty, 25 part time faulty, and 30 staff members.


Imig Music Building

We have outlined the history of the College of Music from the first mention of music at the University through today. We hope that our brief sketch will encourage the writing of a comprehensive history. We can’t pretend to be disinterested observers, for both of us have spent a major part of our professional lives engrossed in the activities of the College, and, in retirement, we still have a strong interest and participate in many of its functions. Writing this history has given us an insight into how remarkably well music can function and how important it is in a major university and a vibrant community. From the University of Colorado’s very beginning, a few students requesting a piano to enhance chapel services, to today’s many musical activities of a well established major school, music has kept pace with the growth of the University, from the single, stark building bordering a small town to one of the leading national institutions of higher education and research located on four campuses throughout the state.

The general goals of music have remained the same from the time of Professor Farnsworth during the 1890s through today: to instill a high level of performance in the College’s students and to share the results with the community, state, and the nation. One notes with a sense of pride the number of college activities listed in media outlets each week; the overflow audiences in Grusin Hall for the Tuesday evening Faculty Recital Series, the University choirs, the Chamber Orchestra, various small ensembles, and the Takacs Quartet; and, in Macky Auditorium, the large crowds for the Symphony Orchestra and Wind Symphony concerts, the operas, and the magnificent Holiday Festival collage concerts featuring the entire performing resources of the College. Indeed, the several performances comprising each Holiday Festival and even its dress rehearsals are sold out months in advance. The Artist Series has had a continuous record of bringing internationally known artists and ensembles to the campus for much of the past century and into today. It has reversed the national trend of declining audiences by offering a wider variety of programming than the emphasis almost entirely on classical music a generation ago. The audiences for all of these performances are not limited to the University community and the city of Boulder, which now surrounds the Boulder campus, but extend throughout the entire Denver metropolitan area. These are the immediately visible extension activities of the College. They do not include the participation of faculty and students in various regional, state, and national organizations such as the Music Teachers National Association, the Music Educators National Conference, and the College Music Society as well as the numerous specialists’ organizations.

We have made no attempt to compare the College to other music schools; however, we have noted the College’s standing among them whenever such information became evident. We do consider the College to be the “flagship” school of music for the state, a term frequently applied to the University itself. The College is among the larger schools of music in the nation, and like many of them, it offers both the performing opportunities of a traditional conservatory and the academic pursuits typical of a university. Other schools possibly have the same trajectory of growth; however, we offer two observations that might make our College of Music distinctive among the major schools of music.

First, music has the status of a College within the University, and, as such, has direct access to the central administration. Most other music schools within universities are a unit within a college of fine and/or performance arts, or a college of arts and sciences, whose chief administrator in turn reports to the central administration. Whether or not this arrangement is advantageous cannot be established with certainty; however, the College of Music’s faculty overwhelmingly rejected a proposal made during the 1980s to merge its activities into a College of the Arts.

Finally, we note that the College has had what may be a remarkable stability of administrative leadership. Following the short tenure of Dean Chace during the 1920s, only four successive Deans during the last eighty years have guided the expansion of the College to its present status among the leading schools of the nation. Each has led the College through the vicissitudes of his time with the same steadfastness of purpose. Undoubtedly, this consistent leadership has been of benefit to the College in its mission.

Robert Fink, Dean Emeritus
William Kearns, Professor Emeritus

Historical material for this website was completed in March, 2006