Early this summer, the Department of Music announced that it will now be known as the University of Southern Maine School of Music. Although the new moniker will require a change in stationery, it won’t necessarily change day-to-day operations. Despite the minimal short-term impact, the school hopes the upgrade will highlight the achievements of a program that has grown steadily and continues to grow.
Ron Cole, chair of the department for nearly 24 years until his recent retirement, joined the music faculty in 1963 and remembers a much different program.
“I was the fourth person in the faculty. We inhabited half of the third floor of Corthell Hall. There were 25 or 30 majors,” he recalls with a laugh.
Cole acknowledges that the new name may help the school attract new students and continue to build new programs, but believes that the change functions mostly to highlight the work that has already been done.
“I think of it as recognition of the fact that we have been growing,” he says.
“We have been growing constantly, steadily,” agrees Arts Promotions Director Mary Snell.
Snell believes that by changing the title, the music program will be better able to compete for new students on a more even playing field. Many music students who consider USM also have conservatories on their college lists. Snell notes that while her department offers instruction on par with such schools, many students consider a department in a university less serious than a conservatory.
“A school of music in name will help,” says Snell. “It positions us better and might affect how people perceive us.”
Scott Harris, the current acting director of the school, notes that recruitment is important to building a strong program and hopes that the recent change will allow the music program to continue to prosper.
“We expect that it will allow us to continue to draw excellent students, and students from a wider region,” he says. In addition, the school plans to build a scholarship program to draw a larger pool of applicants.
As the music department changes its public face, it is also working from within to build new programs and develop those already in place.
Currently, the school is planning to offer master’s programs in music education, conducting, performance, jazz studies, and composition. While there is no official expected date of completion, Harris anticipates a short wait. “As early as next summer we want to start offering courses.”
Also on the horizon is a new concert hall, a project that may benefit from partnership with the Maine State Music Theater. Cole expects to know whether the theater will be on board by the end of September, but is not depending on the alliance.
“We’re planning to go ahead either way,” he says.
As these new projects begin to take shape, the school is doing some lower-profile development from inside as well.
The musical theater degree that debuted last year has proven popular with students and is picking up steam despite its freshman status. The program, which is offered in conjunction with the theater department, has plans to present a musical theater performance each year, beginning this spring.
This partnership emphasizes the fact that the new school of music is still very much a part of USM. Snell likens the music program’s new status to that of the Muskie School or the Nursing School, both of which boast a master’s program and have grown in size and prestige but remain a part of the university. The School of Music will continue to be part of the college of arts and sciences.
Arts & Entertainment Editor Meghan Conley can be contacted at [email protected]