History and Mission of the School of Music

The origin of the Yale School of Music can be traced to the 1840s when members of the Battell family of Norfolk, Connecticut, became interested in the musical life of the University. Irene Battell Larned, an accomplished musician, moved to New Haven in 1843 with her husband, Yale professor William Larned. Sensing a need for professional music instruction at the University, she was further motivated by the arrival in New Haven of the German musician Gustave Jacob Stoeckel in 1847. Larned persuaded her brother, Joseph Battell, to fund an endowment for musical studies with Stoeckel as the teacher. In 1854 Battell presented $5,000 to Yale College “for the support, as far as it may go, of a teacher of the science of music to such students as may avail themselves of the opportunity.” The Yale Corporation approved the appointment of Stoeckel as an instructor in church music and singing and as director of the Chapel Choir and other musical activities at Yale College in 1855. Continued support by members of the Battell family resulted in an endowment for a professorship of music. In 1890 Mr. Stoeckel was appointed Battell Professor of Music, and Yale offered its first credit courses in music.

The Yale School of Music traces its beginning to the conferral of the first Bachelor of Music degrees to a class of four in 1894. The Yale Corporation then voted to separate the music program from Yale College in November of that year, and two cochairs succeeded Gustave Stoeckel. Samuel Simons Sanford, a pianist, was appointed professor of applied music, and Horatio Parker, an outstanding composer and church musician, was named Battell Professor of the Theory of Music. Parker was appointed the first dean of the School in 1904.

Also in 1894, musical instrument dealer Morris Steinert organized the New Haven Symphony Orchestra. With Parker as the music director, the orchestra was inextricably linked to the School. In 1900 Steinert donated eighty-three historical instruments to Yale, providing the core of the future Morris Steinert Collection of Musical Instruments.

The steady growth of the School’s enrollment and programs was hampered by the lack of suitable facilities. The situation was alleviated by the construction of Albert Arnold Sprague Memorial Hall in 1917, given by Mrs. Sprague and her daughter, Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge, “to advance the best interests of music and to widen the usefulness of Yale University.” The only building on campus designed specifically for musical instruction, Sprague Memorial Hall housed the entire School, including offices, studios, practice rooms, the music library, and a recital hall.

Upon Horatio Parker’s death in 1919, the deanship and the post of conductor of the New Haven Symphony Orchestra passed to David Stanley Smith. A composer, Smith served until 1940, and under his leadership academic programs were strengthened and the library was developed into one of the finest in the country. The development of a strong program of professional studies resulted in the establishment of a graduate division. The first Master of Music degree was conferred in 1932.

In 1940 Yale designated a separate Department of Music for undergraduate studies, with Bruce Simonds as chair. Richard Donovan served a one-year term as acting dean of the School of Music, and the following year Simonds continued to serve as both chair of the department and dean of the School. Music history classes were now offered through the department, though some music theory courses continued to be held through the School. From 1941 to 1953, the presence of composer Paul Hindemith brought a special distinction to the history of the School, and his leadership of the Yale Collegium Musicum helped ignite the early music movement.

Also during this period, an annual festival and summer school for music were established through the benevolence of Ellen Battell Stoeckel, who left her Norfolk estate in a private trust with instructions that the facilities be used for this purpose. The year 1941 brought the first students to her estate in northwest Connecticut to attend the Norfolk Chamber Music Festival/Yale Summer School of Music. Like the School of Music, the Norfolk summer school admitted women from its earliest days, although Yale College did not become coeducational until 1969.

Luther Noss, professor of organ and university organist, became dean in 1954. That year, Sprague Memorial Hall was reconfigured to accommodate the School’s rapidly growing library, and the acquisition of York Hall, which was renovated and renamed Stoeckel Hall, helped meet the need for expanded studio facilities and administrative offices. Under Noss’s guidance, the School of Music became exclusively a graduate professional school in 1958, requiring an undergraduate degree for admission and conferring only the Master of Music degree. Undergraduate and Ph.D. programs remained with Yale College and the Department of Music in the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, respectively. Additional programs of graduate professional studies, leading to the degrees of Master of Musical Arts and Doctor of Musical Arts, were introduced in 1968.

In the 1960s, the School of Music developed facilities for both historic preservation and new technology. The Morris Steinert Collection of Musical Instruments moved to its current location, a former fraternity building on Hillhouse Avenue, in 1961. This new climate-controlled facility, renovated specifically for the collection, enabled growth and expansion of the collection’s holdings. With further acquisitions in 1960 and 1962, it became one of the world’s foremost collections of its kind. During the tenure of Richard Rephann, who served as director from 1968 to 2005, the collection tripled in size and became a globally renowned laboratory for research, teaching, and conservation techniques. Rephann also established a program of annual early music concerts that is now the longest-running series of its kind in the country.

Yale opened its first electronic music studio in 1962 under the guidance of faculty member Mel Powell. The Center for Studies in Music Technology, known colloquially as CSMT (pronounced “kismet”), was only the third such facility to be built in the United States and continues to be an invaluable resource for students at the School and the University.

From 1970 to 1980, musicologist Philip Nelson served as dean of the School of Music. In 1973 Yale established the Institute of Sacred Music as an interdisciplinary graduate center for the study of music, liturgy, and the arts. The same year, the Yale Philharmonia took on its role as the premier graduate ensemble.

Frank Tirro, a musicologist and early music specialist, was appointed dean in 1980. In the 1980s, the School acquired and renovated the former health center building at 435 College Street, the Yale Philharmonia performed annually in Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts in New York and embarked on its first European tours, and Professor Aldo Parisot established the Yale Cellos. American composer Ezra Laderman assumed the deanship in July 1989, and the Artist Diploma was added to the School’s programs in 1993.

In 1995 pianist Robert Blocker was appointed the first Henry and Lucy Moses Dean of Music. He established the Board of Visitors, later renamed the Board of Advisors, in 1997. Two of its members, Denise and Stephen (B.A. 1959) Adams, pledged a transformational gift of $100 million in 2005 that enabled the School of Music to become tuition-free and to expand its academic and artistic programming. With this gift, Dean Blocker has increased the School’s endowment tenfold over the past twenty years.

The Yale School of Music adopted its first strategic plan, “Beyond Boundaries,” in 2009, and with it affirmed its mission to prepare a new generation of international artists and cultural leaders. With subsequent revisions to all of its degree programs, the School of Music’s curriculum strives to address the role of classically trained musicians in a digital age.

Programmatically, the School of Music has forged and maintained strong relationships with local, national, and international educational institutions and professional organizations. Since the 1970s, forty percent of the School’s student body has been comprised of international students, and its faculty and ensembles have performed worldwide. To further strengthen its international commitment, eight partnership agreements have been signed with institutions worldwide since the early 2000s. In 2008 the School led ten institutions in an ambitious international collaboration by cohosting Musicathlon: The Conservatory Music Festival with Beijing’s Central Conservatory of Music.

Since its early beginnings, the School of Music has been active in the New Haven community and has worked to promote music education in public schools locally and across the country from the 1970s onward. In 2005 the Yale College Class of 1957, committed to ensuring the birthright of music for all children, created an endowment to establish and sustain the Music in Schools Initiative. This ongoing partnership between YSM and the New Haven Public Schools grew into a year-round commitment with the creation of the Morse Summer Music Academy in 2010. This venture is a national model for partnerships between public schools and professional music organizations.

While preserving a steady level of enrollment, Dean Blocker has guided the School in pursuing an ambitious facilities renovation program as part of a quest to enhance its programs and expand its global reach. The Gilmore Music Library opened its doors in 1998, giving the music library a prestigious home inside Sterling Memorial Library. Sprague Memorial Hall reopened in 2003, after two years of extensive renovations, with a refurbished and technologically state-of-the-art Morse Recital Hall. In 2005, the building at 435 College Street was renovated and officially reopened as Abby and Mitch Leigh Hall.

This program of work culminated in January 2017 with the opening of the new Adams Center for Musical Arts, which is named for Stephen ’59 B.A. and Denise Adams in recognition of their continued generosity and support of the Yale School of Music. The complex, which was made possible primarily through gifts from Yale alumni, connects a newly renovated Hendrie Hall to the previously renovated Leigh Hall by way of a new structure that is anchored by a dedicated orchestra rehearsal hall and an atrium in which students from the School of Music and Yale College can gather. In addition to carefully engineered acoustics incorporated throughout the complex, the Adams Center is equipped with advanced audio- and video-recording systems and distance-learning technology.

The vibrant artistic and academic environment at the Yale School of Music has launched some of the world’s foremost artists, educators, and leaders. YSM alumni are presidents, deans, and CEOs of renowned institutions worldwide and founders of innovative ensembles and collectives. The School’s global influence is seen through its stellar performing alumni in the world’s leading orchestras and opera companies and the extraordinary number of Pulitzer Prizes won by its celebrated composers.

Deans of the Yale School of Music

1904–1919 Horatio Parker
1919–1940 David Stanley Smith
1941–1954 Bruce Simonds
1954–1970 Luther Noss
1970–1980 Philip Nelson
1980–1989 Frank Tirro
1989–1995 Ezra Laderman
1995–2023 Robert Blocker

Mission Statement

The Yale School of Music educates and inspires students with exceptional artistic and academic talent for service to the profession and to society. The School fosters a vibrant musical environment where graduate-level performers and composers realize their highest artistic potential with an internationally distinguished faculty. To prepare students for roles as cultural leaders, the School engages fully with the University’s extraordinary intellectual and technological resources while collaborating with artistic centers throughout the world.