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A blast to Drake’s musical past

Photo: Connor McCourtney

With the number of students steadily increasing every year, the Drake University music department is impacting the university’s future.

The university’s first music area was established in 1881, long before Drake had to work on declining enrollment.

As only an area of the university, music classes and group rehearsals were held in a nearby suburb of Des Moines, and they lacked a steady location. The only degree offered in the beginning was a bachelor of arts in music.

Drake University bought a building off campus in 1888 and refurbished it, which laid down the foundation for the School of Music.

The School of Music was established in 1898 when educator Frederick Howard made plans to construct a building on campus meant specifically for the music department. When the building opened in 1900, Howard Hall became the Conservatory of Music.

When the Conservatory opened, 180 students were enrolled in the program.  By 1908, that number rose to 482 students.

In 1901, the bachelor of music education degree was first offered. For the next 30 years, the music department spent much of its time increasing its academic standards.

The construction of the Harmon Fine Arts Center in 1972 gave the university a modern facility for the performing and visual arts. Howard Hall was then converted into offices and classrooms.

By 1990, the undergraduate degrees offered were bachelor of music education, bachelor of music performance, bachelor of the arts in music and music with electives in business.

The graduate program that offered a masters degree in music education and music performance was eliminated from the College of Arts and Sciences in the late 1990s. Because of this cut, the music department made a compromise with the university by asking it to fund a new position, the assistant director of bands.

Currently, the music department has about 150 music majors with this number steadily increasing every year.

Eric Saylor, an associate professor of music history and musicology, said the difficulty of music requirements was a major factor in the decreasing enrollment.

“The (music) theory requirements currently are much less rigorous than in the past,” Saylor said. “The music department saw a significant drop in enrollment because of the difficulty of classes, and after their freshman year, many music students dropped the major. By their senior year, about a third of the starting number of music majors remained.”

After this decrease in enrollment, the music department spent much of its time working to recruit more people to the department.

Professor Robert Meunier, the director of bands at Drake, said that the scholarships Drake gives to students helps to bring attention to the school.

“We’ve gained great support from administration regarding scholarship funding to help the recruiting — it’s very competitive,” Meunier said.

Professor Tom Sletto, assistant professor music education, said the amount of money dedicated to the scholarship pool is large.

“There is a strong amount of scholarship money allocated to the music department,” Sletto said.

The newest edition to the music department came with the construction of the Fred and Patty Turner Jazz Center in 2010.

“The Turner [Jazz] Center will help attract students and bring them to the jazz program,” Meunier said.

With regards to the students Drake recruits, Meunier said it’s about quality, not quantity.

“It all comes down to the quality of the people,” Meunier added. “You could have great students, but if they’re not dedicated, it doesn’t matter.”

The Drake music department looks to the future with optimism.

“We have one of the strongest music education programs in the state, and we continue to be a leader in preparing teachers,” Sletto said.

But it is not only Drake University’s degree programs that receive recognition.

“We are beginning to receive regional and national recognition for our program as well as the jazz and wind bands,” Meunier said. “The future looks great for us.”

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