History

Black and white image of the entrance to the CCM Conservatory in 1902

The story of CCM’s success involves three institutions separate in their origins but united by a common cause: the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music, the College of Music of Cincinnati and the University of Cincinnati.

Sometimes partners and sometimes rivals, these three institutions would eventually join forces to establish one of the world’s premier schools for the performing and media arts. At the very beginning, though, there was just a 31-year-old music teacher offering classes in a one-room studio in Walnut Hills.

Humble Beginnings: The Cincinnati Conservatory of Music (1867)

Black and white image of the music room at the CCM Conservatory in 1867

CCM traces its origins back to a young piano and voice teacher by the name of Clara Baur. Born in Germany, Baur came to the United States in 1849 at the age of 13. She traveled back to Europe in 1867 to study piano and voice methods in her homeland, as well as Austria, France and Italy. When she returned to Cincinnati later that year, Baur established the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music by renting a room in Miss Nourse’s School for Young Ladies.

Founded the same year as the Boston Conservatory, the New England Conservatory and the Chicago Academy of Music (which would become the Chicago Musical College), the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music was one of the first music conservatories in the United States (and possibly the first residential conservatory in the country). It quickly established itself as one of the finest in the world.

The Cincinnati Conservatory of Music was born of Baur’s personal love and devotion to the arts, and was intended to bring to Cincinnati a European-styled conservatory that would help establish the “Queen City of the West” as a cultural center for music and the performing arts. Tireless from the start, Baur would also establish a summer music school and a placement bureau to help graduates find employment.

Because of Baur’s early and strict insistence on excellence, the school quickly gained an international reputation that attracted artists from Europe. Baur also established strong support for the school within the community with open public performances at the Conservatory. By 1883, Baur opened a branch at 139 West Eighth Street and initiated some of the country’s first community engagement programs, which included classes in music appreciation for children and continuing education classes for adults.

By 1885, the faculty had grown to 23 and by the late 1880s another move to a larger location was required. Baur also established a relationship with the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra by guaranteeing a teaching post to the concertmaster of the CSO as well as posts for many symphony musicians.

In 1902, the Conservatory moved to the former Shillito Mansion in Mount Auburn. Enrollment neared 1,000 students, and the faculty included some of the best-known artists of the time. In 1910, a Jacobean- style building was added to the south wing of the Conservatory that contained more studio, office and dormitory space. In the years to come, the Conservatory expanded across Highland Avenue.

Clara Baur passed away in 1912 at the age of 77, at which point her niece Bertha Baur assumed leadership. The Conservatory that Bertha Baur inherited was solvent and thriving. There was a faculty of 50, many of them concert artists with international reputations. There was an expanded campus with a new concert hall, dormitory and additional plans for expansion.

As time passed, though, the Conservatory surpassed the limits of a private, unendowed school. Bertha Baur turned the Conservatory over to the Cincinnati Institute of Fine Arts in 1930, making it a non-profit organization. Retiring that same year, Bertha Baur continued to serve as president emerita until her death in 1940.


Distinguished Competition: The College of Music of Cincinnati (1878)

Black and white image of the exterior of the College of Music in 1878

The success of the Conservatory led to the development of another such institution in 1878. The College of Music of Cincinnati was established by Reuben R. Springer and George Ward Nichols together with a group of cultural leaders who had previously founded the May Festival. Theodore Thomas, who eventually became the first conductor of the May Festival, was named the school’s first director. Initially located in Dexter Hall, which was part of Cincinnati’s just-opened Music Hall, the College of Music became one of the first American schools of music to have its own concert hall when it relocated to the Odeon Building in 1884.

Over the next decade, the College of Music continued to expand, buying more real estate for its ever-growing needs. Its reputation as a serious academic institution also grew. The College’s faculty was a phenomenal draw. Albino Gorno, accompanist to the famed Adelina Patti, stayed on for 60 years, as did cellist Lino Mattioli and organist Lillian Arkell Rixford.

When the College opened, it granted certificates after five terms (one year) of study, diplomas after two years of study and post-graduate diplomas for another two years of study. Adolph Hahn, who was a founder of Cincinnati’s Matinee Musicale, played in the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra and would become Director of the College, earned the College’s first post-graduate diploma.

In the 1900s, the College weathered economic hardships by establishing relationships with prominent musical groups such as the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra and continued to increase enrollment numbers. The College also expanded its curriculum, adding a preparatory department, a complete course of study of church music and a partnership with the University of Cincinnati’s College of Education. The College affiliated with UC to award bachelor’s and master’s of education degrees in public school music.

During the 1920s, the College of Music burgeoned. More and more buildings were added to its Over-the-Rhine complex until it was physically joined to Music Hall. Enrollment continued to rise and the final building was added to the College’s complex in 1927: the administration building on Central Parkway.


A Momentous Merger: The College-Conservatory of Music (1955)

Logo of interlocking circles depicting the merger of the College of Music with the Conservatory of Music

Both the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music and the College of Music of Cincinnati continued to innovate in arts education through the early decades of the 20th century. In 1924, the Conservatory was one of the founding members of the profession’s accrediting body, the National Association of Schools of Music. Then in 1927, the Conservatory became the first major music school in the United States to offer a formal training in dance, with an emphasis on classical ballet. In 1936, the College of Music established the first collegiate department in radio instruction, offering courses in radio with WLW staff musician Uberto Templeton Neely as the program’s director.

In the 1930s, radio broadcasting was sweeping the nation and the College of Music was at the forefront of broadcasting education. During the first year of its "Radio Extension," the College of Music produced 51 half-hour broadcasts on WLW and WSAI, a 15-minute program for NBC, 30 half-hour broadcasts of "Music of the Masters" and 10 half-hour "Odeon Radio Workshops" for WSAI.

The rapidly expanding radio business blossomed at the College. New broadcast studios were opened in 1941 and by 1946 the College granted the degree of bachelor of fine arts in radio broadcasting. This department continued to expand with the addition of television and became the Radio-Television Arts Department in 1950.

The post-war boom in college enrollment began to wane after 1948, though, and both the Conservatory and College felt the pinch. New classes were added to try to increase attendance, including music therapy and a cooperative system of work-study. The schools remained rivals in education and training throughout this time, but it became clear by the early 1950s that bringing these two powerful institutions together would benefit all parties involved.

Two of the most prominent music schools in the country brought stellar reputations, faculty and facilities together to form one of the premier music colleges in the country in 1955, when the two merged to become the College-Conservatory of Music. The new school was first headquartered in the Conservatory buildings in Mount Auburn.


The Sound of Synergy: The University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music (1962)

Black and white image of the exterior of the College-Conservatory campus in 1962

On August 1, 1962, the College-Conservatory of Music became the 14th college at the University of Cincinnati. The school was originally headed by Dean Jack Watson, an alumnus of the Conservatory who took a “hands-on” approach to virtually every aspect of CCM’s beginnings at UC. Watson worked closely with J. Ralph and Patricia Corbett, two of Cincinnati's and CCM's premier benefactors.

Shortly after this merger, construction began on a $5-million CCM complex on UC’s campus; the state-of-the-art facility opened in 1967 in a series of events, which began with a performance of Prince Igor in the new Corbett Auditorium. That same year, pioneering American composer John Cage was named composer-in-residence at CCM.

In 1968, CCM became the first official school for the Cincinnati Ballet Company. The school made history again in 1969 when it granted the country’s first BFA degree in musical theatre. CCM’s musical theatre program became a veritable overnight success story that same year when its first graduate, Pamela Myers, was cast as Marta in Stephen Sondheim’s Company. That role netted Myers a Tony Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress and helped solidify the reputation of CCM’s groundbreaking musical theatre program. Shortly thereafter, CCM became the model for the National Association of Schools of Music and the National Association of Schools of Theatre in creating their guidelines for the accreditation of musical theatre programs nationwide.

CCM’s facilities expanded again when Patricia Corbett Pavilion opened in 1972 with productions of the opera Callisto and the ballet The Beloved in the new Patricia Corbett Theater. The curriculum continued to expand, and CCM began offering a major in jazz and studio music in 1976 under the direction of Cincinnati jazzman Frank Brown.

CCM continued to grow and flourish as part of UC. In 1983, UC’s dramatic performance program moved from McMicken College to join the other theatre arts at CCM. In 1990, CCM’s arts administration program began offering an innovative joint MA/MBA program with UC’s Carl H. Lindner College of Business.

The Dieterle Vocal Arts Center opened in 1995 as the home for CCM’s choral, voice and opera departments. The building was named after Mrs. Louise Dieterle Nippert, a devoted patron, volunteer and alumna of the University of Cincinnati who generously supported CCM. The redesigned, rebuilt and refurbished Corbett Auditorium opened its doors the following year. In 1997 CCM opened its state-of-the-art Theatre Design and Production Wing. With the ever increasing enrollment and demand for appropriate space, CCM grew once more in 1999 with a $93-million renovation and creation of the state-of-the-art CCM Village.

In 2009, CCM received the designation of “All-Steinway School,” a distinction shared by the top conservatories in the world. CCM also became one of the largest repositories of Steinway pianos outside of the company’s Long Island-based factory, a move that attracted national media attention and in-depth profiles of the school on NPR’s All Things Considered and CBS Sunday Morning.

In April of 2017, work began on an additional $15-million worth of improvements to the college’s performance spaces. These renovations advanced the experience for students as they continued to work and to learn in CCM spaces, launching the college into a new era as a leading training center for the performing and media arts.

  • 1867: The Conservatory of Music becomes the country’s first residential school of music.
  • 1924: The Conservatory of Music becomes one of the founding members of the accrediting body the National Association of Schools of Music.
  • 1927: The Conservatory of Music becomes first U.S. music school to offer formal training in dance, with an emphasis on classical ballet.
  • 1936: The College of Music establishes first collegiate broadcast department in country.
  • 1968: CCM establishes country’s first BFA program in musical theatre, which serves as model for the National Association of Schools of Music and the National Association of Schools of Theatre in creating accrediting guidelines for musical theatre programs.
  • 2011: CCM is named an "Ohio Center of Excellence" by the state's Board of Regents. As the "UC Center of Excellence in Music and Theatre Arts," CCM becomes the state’s first performing arts program to receive this distinction.
  • 2015: CCM and the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra launch the CSO/CCM Diversity Fellowship Program for exceptional string players coming from populations that are historically underrepresented in classical music. Made possible by generous grant funding from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the program is the first of its kind to leverage the resources of both a major American symphony orchestra and a major conservatory.
  • 2019: CCM's Department of Jazz Studies is named the inaugural college affiliate of the acclaimed Jazz at Lincoln Center, a distinction reserved for the country’s top-ranked jazz programs. 

Links to historical documents are provided by UC Libraries Archives and Rare Books Library.