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Early History

From its early years as the Brigham Young Academy to its present stature among the nation’s top university programs, the growth and development of the BYU School of Music mirrors that of the University itself.

In 1876, the second year of the Brigham Young Academy, music began to be offered to all the students, interestingly, by the Academy principal himself, Karl G. Maeser. The 100 member student body soon enjoyed performances by the Academy choir at the weekly devotional. Two years later the faculty was augmented by a second teacher, Susa Young (Gates), the 22-year-old daughter of the school’s namesake. More teachers and new courses soon followed. After two building moves, the department settled in the ZCMI warehouse at 5th south and J street (now University Avenue). A course in harmony was taught by new faculty member Henry E. Giles, who used the Evan Stephens Music Reader as a text.


By 1892, Academy enrollment had reached 275 with 16 teachers. The most notable development was the completion of the new Academy building located on 300 North and University Avenue (still standing and recently renovated). The Academy also saw the inauguration of its second president, Benjamin Cluff, Jr. The four-story building easily housed the music department which offered 7 courses: vocal music, voice culture, instrumental music (piano), harmony, theory, composition, and church organ music.

In 1896, Professor Giles took a position as music supervisor for the Provo public schools and was replaced by Anthon H. Lund, who guided the music department for the next 20 years. After graduating from the Academy in 1891, Lund went on to study at the Royal Conservatory in Leipzig. Almost immediately upon taking over the helm of the music department, Lund set about making improvements based on the conservatory model he had experienced in Germany. Albert Miller, a former member of a Dresden military band and a recent convert to the church, was hired to start an orchestra and band program. Miller also taught violin and wind instruments. The next prominent faculty addition was Claire William Reid, a Manti, Utah native who had studied at the New England Conservatory following his graduation from the BY Academy. Because of growth, the music department was moved from the Academy Building to the adjacent Education building where it remained for the next 65 years.

A Century of Growth

The department of music’s name was changed in 1901 to the School of Music…

With 200 students and its programs of study expanding, the department of music’s name was changed in 1901 to the School of Music. Not long thereafter, in 1903, Brigham Young Academy followed the pattern, and was officially renamed Brigham Young University, with George H. Brimhall as president. The primary emphasis at the School of Music was to prepare music teachers for employment at the 22 church-owned academies throughout the West, as well as at public schools throughout the state and region.

Sadly, Albert Miller, who had done so much for the development of the instrumental programs of the School of Music, died from typhoid in 1906 and was replaced by Moses S. Gudmundson, who led the orchestras for the next 13 years. During most of these years, the orchestra and band were comprised of 20-30 students, giving regular concerts of the standard literature, as well as playing for the operas that Professor Lund staged. Opera played a prominent role at the School, though they were performed in the Provo Opera House because the University facilities were insufficient. The School’s orchestra accompanied other local opera productions there as well. In addition, the School’s productions were taken on tour to other nearby cities on a regular basis, even as far north as Logan, Utah. In the period from 1903 to 1916, Lund conducted over 100 opera performances. By 1916, the orchestra had grown to 51 members and performed Beethoven’s 5th Symphony for the first time. The role of the School of Music extended beyond their own resources as they also sponsored guest artists and ensembles in local concerts, notably the Chicago Symphony in 1908 and the Minneapolis Symphony in 1918.

In 1910, Professor Lund received, but declined, an offer from the New England Conservatory. However, in 1916 he accepted the appointment to be the director of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, a position he held until his death in 1935. Other changes included reduction of the School’s preparatory component and a strengthening of its college mission, and in 1917, the School of Music was authorized to offer its first academic major in music.

The year 1920 was a particularly important year which saw many faculty changes. Professor Reid, who had taken over for Lund in 1916, left to teach at the McCune School in Salt Lake. His replacement was Florence Jepperson, whose career and leadership was to last the next 32 years. Another 30 year career began that fall when a new faculty member, Franklin Madsen, took over the orchestra program.

In 1964, the Music Department moved to the recently constructed Harris Fine Arts Center, becoming part of the College of Fine Arts and Communications. In 1997, the name was changed back to the School of Music, reflecting its status among other highly qualified music programs with national and international reputations. Today, over 550 majors, 50 full-time faculty members, 50 part-time faculty members and numerous support personnel make up the Brigham Young University School of Music.

Photo by Mark Philbrick