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A Musicologist Traces 100 Years of the Chicago Musical College’s Modernism and Inclusion

Nancy Newman, in inset upper left, will research the history of the Chicago Musical College this fall at Chicago's famed Newberry Library, depicted here in a 1910 postcard.

ALBANY, N.Y. (June 25, 2020) — As Chicago developed into an international hub for finance, commerce, industry, education and transportation in the late 19th century, its cultural assets grew in harmony. In the area of music, a chief catalyst was the Chicago Musical College (CMC), founded in 1867.

Nancy Newman, associate professor of Music and Theatre, is now at work on a book project that examines the CMC, one of the nation’s oldest conservatories, which operates today as Roosevelt University’s Chicago College of Performing Arts. Beyond paying homage to CMC’s output of famed graduates in composition, performance and music education, Newman will examine its role in the dramatic demographic and ideological advancement of the Midwestern metropolis well into the 20th century.

To research the book, titled Chicago Musical College and the Quest for Social Harmony: The First Hundred Years, 1867–1967, Newman will take residence this fall at Chicago’s Newberry Library, one of the world’s premiere research institutions. Supporting her work is a National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) Long-Term Fellowship.

Rudolph Ganz

Rudolph Ganz, renowned 20th century composer/musician and a key figure in the progressive and inclusive policies of the Chicago Musical College.

Newman’s will trace CMC’s development from its founding by Florenz Edward Ziegfeld, a Leipzig Conservatory graduate and father of the famed Broadway impresario Florenz Ziegfeld Jr., and pay particular note of the impact upon the college made by Rudolph Ganz, an internationally renowned pianist, conductor, composer and music educator. Newberry Library has named Newman as its Rudolph Ganz Fellow for this fall.

“Ganz’s involvement with the conservatory was decisive, reaching well beyond his years on the piano faculty, beginning in 1900, and presidency from 1934 to 1954,” said Newman. Like Ziegfeld, whose young college encouraged women to become professional musicians and faculty leaders, Ganz’s influence, she said, “was progressive, modern and inclusive.”

Newman noted that “The Great Migration” of African Americans from the South, which grew their population in Chicago from 50,000 in 1915 to about one million by 1970, made the city’s downtown “a meeting place for diverse communities, and CMC an engine of opportunity. These factors, combined with Ganz’s tireless advocacy for contemporary composition and openness to new media, helped make Chicago a locus for musical modernism.”

CMC became part of the historically significant Roosevelt University — dubbed “Chicago’s equality lab” — in 1954. Newman will continue to trace CMC’s development through the first decade after the merger, extending her in-depth study of the college through a full 100 years and the beginning of the Civil Rights Era.

A musicologist who specializes in European and American musical practices since 1800, with an emphasis on the relationship between art music and popular culture, Newman said her book “builds upon” her participation — also through support from NEH — in 2019’s 6-week-long Summer Institute at Newberry Library.

“The seminar, ‘Making Modernism: Literature and Culture in Chicago, 1893-1955,’ was attended by advanced humanities scholars from across the country,” she said, “and explored issues very much related to my current book project.”

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