A school of music! The very idea would have seemed preposterous 200 years ago. Of course, there were music teachers and music students then, but teaching music was almost always one-on-one, and usually it was done in the family. Bach's older brother taught him. Mozart's father taught him. Beethoven's grandfather taught him. Only in the early nineteenth century, with the rising popularity of art music among the burgeoning bourgeoisie, were the first schools of music founded in Europe. The United States, being a Eurocentric country with its own burgeoning bourgeoisie, eagerly followed.

In 1880 the U-M hired Calvin Cady as a music instructor in the literary department. As a side venture, Cady opened a private music school on Maynard Street. In time the school was absorbed into the university, and 125 years later, the U-M School of Music has 150 faculty teaching over 1,000 students. Over the long years, other things have changed as well. The school continues to boast a renowned instrumental faculty as well as a distinguished academic faculty, but it has added dance, theater, and musical theater departments, all of them turning out graduates to compete in the high-stakes world of the performing arts.

For Ann Arbor there are two clear benefits from having this music school in town: more musicians and more performances. Every year its students and faculty put on hundreds of concerts and recitals, the vast majority of them free and open to the public. And to celebrate its 125th anniversary this year, the U-M School of Music will be offering even more performances than usual. The first of these will be a special free concert at Rackham on Friday, September 23, by the Michigan Chamber Players, an ensemble of the school's best instrumental teachers; its performances have traditionally been a high point in the school's concert season.

This year, the high point will be even higher, for two reasons. First, the program features Aaron Copland's deeply beloved Appalachian Spring in its original chamber music version for thirteen instruments, plus Dvorak's endlessly charming Serenade for Winds. Second, the players include some of the very best instrumentalists at the school: the superlative violinists Stephen Shipps and Aaron Berofsky, viola legend Yizhak Schotten, the fabulous flutist Amy Porter, the exquisite oboist Nancy Ambrose King, the brilliant bassoonist Richard Beene, and the soulful clarinetist Fred Ormand.

While these performers are well known to Ann Arbor audiences, their conductor, Christopher Kendall, is almost a complete unknown locally. Appointed music school dean in August after a successful career as an administrator and conductor in Washington, D.C., and Maryland, Kendall has yet to perform in Ann Arbor. It's one more way in which the opening concert of the 125th season will be the beginning of a new era for the School of Music.

[Review published September 2005]