The Henry and Leigh Bienen School of Music, or Bienen School of Music, is an undergraduate and graduate institution devoted to musical performance and academics. Located on Northwestern University's campus in Evanston, Illinois, 12 miles north of downtown Chicago, the school was known as the Northwestern University School of Music from 1895 until 2008. In September 2008, the school was named to honor retiring University president Henry Bienen and his wife, Leigh Buchanan Bienen.


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One of the top schools of music in the United States, the Bienen School offers performance degrees in all orchestral instruments, keyboard, voice, music composition, jazz studies, and conducting, as well as academic degrees in musicology, music history, music education, and music theory and cognition. It is one of the few music schools that offers a dual-degree undergraduate program in liberal arts, science, journalism or engineering, in conjunction with those respective university schools. The School of Music has about 125 faculty members, over 400 undergraduate students, and over 200 graduate students. In 2010 the school had an acceptance rate of approximately 10%, accepting about 200 undergraduate and graduate students out of more than 2,000 applicants.


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Initially, the Women's College of Northwestern University contained what was then called the Conservatory of Music, founded by Oren E. Locke in the 1880s. As of 1891, however, enrollment at the Conservatory was stagnating at only 40 students. Peter Christian Lutkin, a noted church organist who ran his own private music school in downtown Chicago, was appointed director in that year, and began widely expanding the curriculum to include not only keyboard and voice instruction but also theory and practice courses that he felt would appeal to amateurs and educators. The Conservatory was soon reorganized as a department within the College of Liberal Arts, and Peter Lutkin was made a professor and the chair of the department. Under his control, the curriculum was further expanded to include music history, counterpoint and harmony. In 1895, the department had a strong enrollment of 200 students and was formally reorganized as the School of Music. Lutkin continued to serve as dean until 1931.

Areas of study

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The Bienen School of Music offers 16 academic majors in six degree programs. Students may also specialize in an area that involves one or more other schools, including art and technology, sound design, international studies, legal studies, music theater (by audition), and leadership. Bienen School offers programs in the following areas of study:

Performing groups

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The Bienen School of Music currently sponsors 16 ensembles: the Symphony Orchestra, Chamber Orchestra, Symphonic Wind Ensemble, Symphonic Band, Contemporary Music Ensemble, Philharmonia, Concert Band, Guitar Ensemble, Wildcat Marching Band, Jazz Orchestra, Baroque Music Ensemble, University Chorale, University Singers, The Bienen Contemporary and Early Vocal Music Ensemble, Chapel Choir, and University Women's Chorus. Some ensembles are open only to music majors. In addition, students can form chamber music groups on their own. Victor Yampolsky is the director of Orchestras and Donald Nally is the director of choral organizations.


School Buildings

The Bienen School of Music was traditionally housed in two buildings. The Music Administration Building was designed by Gurdon P. Randall and built in 1873 as the Women's College of Northwestern University. In 1901 it was named for Frances E. Willard, and served as a women's dormitory. It became the home of the Northwestern School of Music in 1940, and was renovated in 1988. Vocal studies, piano, and composition departments were housed in this building, in addition to administrative offices and academic classrooms. The organ department, which formerly occupied a wing in this building, was controversially closed in 2003.

Regenstein Hall of Music was built in 1977. This building sits on the "Lakefill" and overlooks Lake Michigan. It houses studios for the instrumental and conducting programs, practice rooms, a rehearsal room and a recital hall.

In February 2008, the University announced that a new $90 million five-story building was to be erected on the southeast campus as part of a renovation plan for that corner of the campus. Construction began in June 2012. The new building, slated to open in Fall 2015, will unite all music faculty and departments in a common location for the first time since the early 1970s and will include classrooms, teaching labs, teaching studios, practice rooms, student lounges, a choral rehearsal room and library, an opera rehearsal room/black box theater, and a 400-seat recital hall.

Performance Venues

  • Pick-Staiger Concert Hall. Designed by Edward D. Dart and dedicated in 1975, this 1,000-seat venue is the main performance space not only for the Bienen School but for the university as a whole.
  • Lutkin Hall. Built in 1941 and named for the first dean of the Music School, Peter Lutkin, this 400-seat hall is used primarily as a recital space.
  • Regenstein Recital Hall. Also known as the "Master Class Room," this 200-seat venue, located in the Regenstein Hall of Music, is commonly used for student recitals.
  • Cahn Auditorium. Located in Scott Hall (1940), Cahn Auditorium is the only space with a full orchestra pit and is used by the School of Music primarily for operatic productions.
  • The Alice S. Millar Chapel. Built in 1962, this neo-Gothic church in stone and brick houses a 100-rank Aeolian-Skinner organ and is used for choral and mixed performances.

Music Library

The Music Library (part of the main university library), founded in 1945, occupies the second floor of the Charles Deering Library. It is known primarily for its holdings of music after 1945 and features an extensive collection of John Cage's correspondence.

Notable Alumni


General references
  • Pridmore, Jay. Northwestern University: Celebrating 150 Years. Northwestern University Press, 2000. ISBN 0-8101-1829-7
  • Rebstock, Heather. Advancing Music for a Century: The First Hundred Years of Northwestern's School of Music. Northwestern University Press, 2002. ISBN 0-9709021-0-7

External links

  • Henry and Leigh Bienen School of Music homepage
  • Northwestern University Music Library
  • Pick-Staiger Concert Hall

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