Industrialist and philanthropist George Eastman, founder of Eastman Kodak Company, established the Eastman School of Music in 1921 as the first professional school of the University of Rochester. Through the efforts of Eastman, Howard Hanson (Eastman Director from 1924-1964), and University President Rush Rhees, the Eastman School became an innovator in American music education. The original vision of a music school dedicated to the highest levels of artistry and scholarship, to the broad education of young musicians within the context of a university, to the musical enrichment and education of the greater community, and to the promotion of American music and musicians, is still alive and vital through the Eastman School’s numerous creative endeavors.

In 1921, George Eastman articulated his belief in the importance of music education in America:

“The life of our communities in the future needs what our schools of music and of other fine arts can give them. It is necessary for people to have an interest in life outside their occupations … I am interested in music personally, and I am led thereby to want to share my pleasure with others. It is impossible to buy an appreciation of music. Yet, without appreciation, without the presence of a large body of people who understand music and get enjoyment out of it, any attempt to develop the musical resources of any city is doomed to failure. Because in Rochester we realize this, we have undertaken a scheme for building musical capacity on a large scale from childhood.”

Today, more than 900 students are enrolled in the Collegiate division of the Eastman School of Music — about 500 undergraduate and 400 graduate students. They come from almost every state, and approximately 25% are from other countries. Each year about 280 students enroll, selected from more than 2,100 applicants. They are guided by more than 95 full-time faculty members. Seven Pulitzer Prize winners have taught at Eastman, as have several Grammy Award winners.

The School’s tradition of excellence in performance is reflected in its numerous renowned ensembles. Students can hear and perform the full spectrum of music: from opera to jazz, from medieval music to brand-new pieces composed by their fellow students.

The Community Music School’s preparatory and adult education programs have been an integral part of the Eastman School from its beginning. Approximately 1,000 area citizens, ranging in age from 18 months to well over 80 years of age, enroll annually for classes and lessons in the Community Music School.

Graduates of the Eastman School of Music distinguish every aspect of the musical community throughout the world, from the concert stage to the public school classroom, from the recording studio to collegiate classrooms and administrative offices. Eastman’s more than 10,000 living alumni are noteworthy for their depth and breadth of training and experience, as well as for their willingness to assist current and graduating students in pursuing their careers.

Among the most prominent of the Eastman School alumni are opera singers Renée Fleming, Joyce Castle, Pamela Coburn, Anthony Dean Griffey, and the late William Warfield; jazz musicians Ron Carter, Chuck Mangione, Steve Gadd, and Maria Schneider; conductors John Fiore and Paul Freeman; the late conductor, oboist, and record producer Mitch Miller; composers Peter Mennin, Dominick Argento, Michael Torke, Gardner Read, Robert Ward, Charles Strouse (Bye Bye Birdie; Annie), and Alexander Courage (Star Trek; The Waltons); Raymond Gniewek, former concertmaster of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, and Met conductor and pianist Richard Woitach; Mark Volpe, managing director of the Boston Symphony Orchestra; and Doriot Anthony Dwyer, former principal flute of the Boston Symphony, and one of the first women to be named a principal in a major American orchestra.

Beginnings and Renewals

The Eastman School, one of the constituent colleges of the University of Rochester, was brought into being by the generosity of Rochester philanthropist and Eastman Kodak magnate George Eastman (1854-1932). A music-lover by avocation, Mr. Eastman suggested to University President Rush Rhees in 1918 that the University should have a professional school of music. To that end, Mr. Eastman bought and presented to the University the property and corporate rights of the D.K.G. Institute of Musical Art (est. 1913), operating on Prince Street. The new school was thus formed from an existing institution. In 1919, Mr. Eastman purchased the land bounded by Gibbs, Main, and Swan Streets and Barrett Alley, where the new school building would stand. Ground was broken at the beginning of 1920. By Mr. Eastman’s design, the building would house not only the School, but also an auditorium that would benefit the greater community by providing a venue for musical performance – existing for “the enrichment of community life,” in the words of Dr. Rhees. Those same words grace the Eastman Theatre façade.

The Eastman School opened its doors to a class of 104 regular course students in September 1921. The Eastman Theatre opened one year later, on September 2, 1922. In 1923-24 a five-floor annex was built on Swan Street, connected by a bridge to the Eastman Theatre. In 1925, three dormitories for women students were built on University Avenue, adjacent to the University’s College for Women. In 1927, a 10-floor annex was built on Swan Street, providing additional practice rooms and classrooms, rehearsal space for the opera department, and a gymnasium.

In 1937, the Sibley Music Library moved from its quarters on the first floor of the main building into its own new building on Swan Street, a two-level structure with an adjoining four-level stacks area. The library collections would remain there until 1989, when they were re-housed in the new Eastman Place building on Gibbs Street, directly across from the School and Theatre.

In 1991, a new Student Living Center was opened at the corner of Main and Gibbs Streets, replacing the University Avenue dormitories built nearly 70 years earlier.

The early 21st century has seen a thorough renovation of the Eastman Theatre, and an expansion of the School with a new East Wing building which includes a large-ensemble rehearsal space, studios, an atrium with a box office and gift shop, and the new Hatch Recital Hall. The renovated Eastman Theatre re-opened in fall 2009 as Kodak Hall at Eastman Theatre; the East Wing opened in December 2010 with a gala week of concerts and other events.

The School’s charter faculty (1921-22) numbered 32 instructors. Today the faculty numbers 150 members, including all full- and part-time instructors and professors emeriti.

Directors and Deans

Since 1921, the Eastman School of Music has had seven directors or deans.

Alfred Klingenberg, who had been one of the founders of the D.K.G. Institute of Musical Art and then served as its director (1916-21), served as the first Eastman School director (1921-23). After a one-year interim under Acting Director Raymond Wilson (a member of the School’s piano faculty), the young American composer and conductor Howard Hanson was appointed director in 1924. Dr. Hanson’s 40-year directorship was a time of tremendous expansion of the School’s reputation and mission, with a special emphasis on promoting American music. In 1925 Dr. Hanson initiated the American Composers’ Concerts, a series of concerts that, over the next 10 years, provided a venue for the first performances of works by numerous American composers. Dr. Hanson’s tenure also saw the launch of the Festivals of American Music, weeklong festivals that took place annually from 1931 through 1970. The festivals not only stimulated the active performance of contemporary American music, but also engendered scholarly research in that field. Hanson’s legacy of service to American music lives on in the Hanson Institute for American Music at the School.

Upon his retirement in 1964, Dr. Hanson was succeeded by the distinguished American conductor Walter Hendl , who led the School until 1972. In his eight years at Eastman, some of Hendl’s accomplishments brought Eastman national renown. He invited such prominent composers as Stravinsky, Khatchaturian, and Penderecki for week-long residencies, established the Eastman Musica Nova ensemble, and encouraged innovative curricula in accompanying, conducting, jazz studies and contemporary media, and electronic music.

In 1972, the American pianist, musicologist, and music educator Robert Freeman was named director, a position he held until 1996.  Associate Director Daniel Patrylak served as acting director from the time of Mr. Hendl’s resignation (May 1972) until Mr. Freeman assumed full-time responsibilities (July 1973). Robert Freeman’s 24 years at Eastman were a time of great growth for the school. As director, Freeman oversaw a major expansion in the campus, including a new Student Living Center and a new building for the Sibley Music Library. He appointed many distinguished artists and scholars to the Eastman faculty, while pointing the school’s curriculum towards the realities of the musical world. He helped to increase national and international exposure for such Eastman performing groups as the Eastman Wind Ensemble, Jazz Ensemble, and Philharmonia.

James Undercofler (BM ’67) was Acting Director from 1996 to 1997, and Director and Dean from 1995 to 2006. While serving as Associate Director for Academic Affairs (an office he assumed in 1995), Mr. Undercofler led the transition of the of the Eastman Initiatives, a collection of curricular and extra-curricular programs designed to give students the skills and experience necessary to meet the demands of performance and education in today’s changing musical world, into the Institute for Music Leadership, which was formed in 2001. The IML encompasses such programs as the Arts Leadership Program, the Orchestra Musician Forum,, and various other cutting-edge certificates, diplomas, programs, and partnerships. Other initiatives that took place under Undercofler’s tenure included an expansion of the Music for All program and increased emphasis on technology-based programming. Following his departure from Eastman, Undercofler became the President and CEO of the Philadelphia Orchestra.

In August 2007, Douglas Lowry began his tenure as the sixth dean of the Eastman School. Senior Associate Dean Jamal Rossi served as the interim dean from the time of Mr. Undercofler’s resignation (April 2006) until Mr. Lowry assumed full-time responsibilities (August 2007).  A nationally known conductor and composer, Lowry had previously served as Dean and Thomas James Kelly Professor of Music at the University of Cincinnati’s College-Conservatory of Music, and before that as Associate Dean of the Flora L. Thornton School of Music at the University of Southern California. In 2010, Douglas Lowry was installed as the Joan and Martin Messinger Dean of the Eastman School of Music.  During Mr. Lowry’s tenure, the Eastman Theatre was renovated as Kodak Hall, and the Eastman East Wing was added.  Lowry also created the Center for Music Innovation and Engagement, and the Paul R. Judy Center for Applied Research within the Institute for Music Research.

On September 23, 2013, Lowry resigned for health reasons and was named Dean Emeritus, and Jamal Rossi was appointed the interim dean. Dean Lowry died on October 2, 2013.

After an extensive search, Jamal Rossi was announced as the Joan and Martin Messinger Dean of the Eastman School of Music in May 2014 – the seventh dean in Eastman’s history.  A nationally recognized saxophonist and arts leader, Rossi had served previously as the Executive Associate Dean at Eastman (2005-14), as the Dean of the University of South Carolina’s School of Music (2000-05), and as the Assistant and Associate Dean of the Ithaca College School of Music (1989-2000).