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History of the Frost School of Music

The University of Miami opened in the fall of 1926 with two academic units: the Conservatory of Music, and the College of Arts and Sciences. The Conservatory of Music was founded in October 1926 by Bertha M. Foster, who became the University’s first music dean. The Conservatory was renamed the Frost School of Music in 2003 in honor of a landmark naming gift by Dr. Phillip and Patricia Frost, ardent supporters of the arts in Miami. With its start in the middle of the Jazz Age, in a fledgling city of 100,000 at the southern end of Henry Flagler’s East Coast Railroad, the Frost School of Music has survived 85 years of change and growth to become a national music leader in higher education.

The Early Years

In the 1920s, the United States was rollicking with flappers, automobiles, radio and other technological innovations, Al Capone and organized crime, Louis Armstrong, John Philip Sousa, Charles Ives, and much more. This time of boom, followed by an economic crash and then World War I, defined the culture of Miami and its promoters – especially real estate visionary George E. Merrick, the founder of the City of Coral Gables.

South Florida’s land boom climaxed in the mid-1920s, as Merrick was bringing his plans for the new city of Coral Gables to fruition. Right from the beginning, his planned community would contain a private university that would attract northerners and serve as a bridge to the Caribbean and Central and South America. One of Merrick’s backers, James Cash Penney, pledged $200,000 toward a school of music in honor of his wife, Mary Kimble Penney. Part of that gift was to be $75,000 to endow a professorship, to be used as an inducement to hire Bertha M. Foster, a graduate of the Cincinnati College of Music, to bring her Miami Conservatory into the new university project. Foster agreed, and the planning started.

However on September 17, 1926, catastrophe struck. A devastating hurricane hit the city, and Coral Gables and the new university were in shambles before they even had a chance to begin. Foster’s hopes and dreams for a school of music at the new University of Miami faced not only the usual problems inherent in human ventures, but now she had to deal with a blow from nature. Merrick went broke and J.C. Penney’s pledge for the fledgling school of music turned to dust in the wind and took Foster’s endowed chair along with it.

Bertha Foster, Dean (1926-1944)

Not to be discouraged, Foster and 22 faculty members and 25 college music majors began classes just one month later, on October 15, 1926 in the old Anastasia Hotel, which had been recently remodeled to become the temporary home of the University of Miami. The Anastasia Building, as it came to be known, was the first of many so-called temporary buildings on campus whose term of service went on for a decade or more.

Bowman F. Ashe was the first president of the University of Miami.  He remained president for over a quarter century and was a kindred spirit to the indomitable Foster.  Ashe and Foster were the two pillars on which the University of Miami began its existence and on which its fate rested for many years thereafter.

Lithuanian native Arnold Volpe, who had studied at the St.Petersburg Conservatory with Leopold Auer, came to Miami in 1926 at the bidding of Ashe and Foster. Arnold Volpe founded the University Orchestra and led its first concert on March 6, 1927. Volpe’s daughter, Cecilia, comprised one-fourth of the University’s first graduating class in 1927.

In addition to Foster and Volpe, the first faculty included three piano professors, two in music education, two in voice, and one in cello. The Conservatory also had three art professors and one each in dance and expression. From the very beginning, the UM Conservatory had programs in applied music, music history, music theory, and music education. Volpe conducted the orchestra and Robert E. Olmsted conducted two glee clubs.

Men’s Glee Club (1928-29) at the Venetian Pool in Coral Gables

The Great Depression

The Depression years were hard for all involved with the new university, and especially so with the School of Music. The institution was in such dire straights that it could not afford to pay Volpe’s salary in 1931. So Volpe went to Kansas City, where he founded the Kansas City Conservatory (now the University of Missouri-Kansas City) before returning to finish his career at the University of Miami, from 1934-1940.


The first University of Miami Band (1933), Walter E. Sheaffer, Founder and Director

One of the School’s stars during the later years of the Depression was Carl Ruggles, who taught composition from 1938 to 1943. Ruggles was a noted composer of ultra-modern music who came to Miami to visit his son, a University of Miami student, and ended up staying to teach for five years. He wrote several arrangements for the University Band and six
brass students performed one of his original works, Angels , at a University Band concert in April 1939, the same year the School became an accredited member of the National Association of Schools of Music.

The War Years and Beyond

As the nation entered World War II, the University of Miami underwent many significant changes. Foster’s vision for the School of Music was becoming a reality by the time she retired in 1944. She was succeeded by Joseph M. Tarpley, who had played percussion in the first University Orchestra. He served not as dean, but as Secretary of the School of Music, until John Bitter joined the school as Dean in 1950.

John Bitter, Dean (1950-1963)

Dean Bitter was also the conductor of the UM Symphony Orchestra, whose concerts became important cultural events in the city and featured prominent guest artists of the day.


UM Symphony Orchestra, John Bitter, Conductor
Artur Rubenstein, Pianist, Dade County Auditorium (1952)

The University Band, which endured a rocky time in the 1940s, stabilized when Fred McCall began his 23-year career as bandmaster in the fall of 1948. This began the development of the famed “Band of the Hour,” named after Henry Fillmore’s march, the Man of the Hour. Fillmore became an ardent supporter, friend, and benefactor of the band. Under McCall’s leadership, the band program grew rapidly and traveled to El Savador and Guatemala, giving concerts and earning great acclaim. Fillmore became increasingly devoted to the University Band and to Fred McCall. The present Fillmore Hall, dedicated in 1959, was a result of his dedication and generosity.

In the late 1940s and early 1950s, radio and recordings were having an impact on music at the University of Miami. Station WLRD began to broadcast the University of Miami’s Symphony Orchestra’s nightly performances in the University cafeteria. In addition, the music education program grew and by the mid-1950s, the School of Music boasted a local chapter of the Music Educators National Conference.

1960 to 1980: Twenty Years of Rapid Growth

By the 1960s, the University of Miami was growing rapidly. In 1963, the second year of Henry King Stanford’s term as president, enrollment at the University was over 14,000. Expansion of students also meant expansion of facilities, and numbers of faculty and programs. The Arnold Volpe Building opened in 1954, followed by the Albert Pick Music Library Building in 1957-58. Henry Fillmore Hall opened in 1958-59, the Bertha Foster Building in 1960, and the Nancy Greene Orchestra Rehearsal Hall in 1961.

Fabien Sevitzky served as guest conductor of the UM Orchestra in 1959 and became its permanent conductor in 1963. A highlight of this period was when comedian and television star Jack Benny appeared with the Orchestra in a benefit concert in 1962.

Studio Music and Jazz at the University of Miami had its origins as early as the late 1950s and early 1960s. Fred Ashe’s extra-curricular jazz ensemble gave way to a Phi Mu Alpha big band, which became a curricular offering under William Russell’s leadership in 1962-63.

Glenn Draper joined the UM as director of choral activities in 1960, and immediately organized a popular music vocal ensemble, the “Singing Hurricanes,” that entertained troops stationed in Europe in the summer of 1961 and that reached a national audience with a performance on the Ed Sullivan Show in the mid-1960s.

William F. Lee III, formerly the chair of the music department at Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, Texas, became the School of Music’s third dean in 1964. He immediately initiated a seven-year plan for the School that included new undergraduate courses in sacred music, conducting, and music therapy. He initiated music forums, lectures by guest scholars and composers, sessions on career development, and the concept and practice of juried examinations in music performance. Lee also expanded graduate music programs,and hired additional faculty members to meet the needs of increasing enrollments and burgeoning programs.

William F. Lee, Dean (1964-1982)

By 1978, under Lee’s leadership, enrollment had increased to 607 undergraduates and 183 graduate students, and the School offered ten undergraduate degree programs with the additions of music merchandising and music engineering technology (the first of their kind in the country), music therapy, studio music and jazz, accompanying, and musical theatre. The graduate division offered master’s degrees in music education, applied music, theory and composition, musicology, conducting, music therapy, accompanying, music librarianship, jazz pedagogy, music merchandising, jazz performance, and studio arranging and producing. New Ph.D. and D.M.A. programs were also added during these boom years.

UM Percussion Ensemble, 1970, Fred Wickstrom, director

Physical facilities grew to accommodate the incredible growth of this period. By the time Lee left the deanship in 1982, enrollment had topped 825, and the school had developed a host of new undergraduate and graduate programs, raised about $18 million, added four new buildings, and constructed a major addition to the Foster Building.

In 1974, the School helped the nation celebrate the centennial of Charles Ives’ birth. In a concert and symposium on the campus, Frederick Fennell led the University Orchestra in a performance of Ives’s Fourth Symphony, and F. Warren O’Reilly spoke on the significance of Ives and his music.

1983 - 2007: Solid Leadership and Community Engagement

J. William Hipp, previously the chairman of the Division of Music at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas, became the School of Music’s fourth dean in June, 1983. He set to work reorganizing the School into eight departments – Instrumental Performance, Keyboard Performance, Music Education and Music Therapy, Musicology, Music Media and Industry, Studio Music and Jazz, Theory and Composition, and Vocal Performance. He also launched the School’s widely successful outreach program, Festival Miami, in 1984 and supported the development of a wide range of outreach and community engagement activities, including the UM’s internationally renowned Salzburg Summer Program; UM MusicTime, an early childhood program; Honor Band and Honor Choir; Keyboard for Kids; Strings for Kids; and many more.

J. William Hipp, Dean (1983-2007)

Under Dean Hipp’s leadership, the School’s administration and faculty worked diligently to place the School in a stable financial position. Since 1983, approximately $100 million in cash and in-kind gifts were raised to support the School’s programs and facilities, excluding planned gifts. Exactly 20 years later, in 2003, the School was renamed the Phillip and Patricia Frost School of Music, in recognition of a landmark $33 million gift from philanthropists Dr. Phillip and Patricia Frost, the largest gift ever made at the time to a university-based music school in the United States. The Frosts also created The Abraham Frost Endowment, which supports the commissioning of new works biennially, reinforcing the School of Music’s commitment to the creation, performance, and recording of new works.

“The arts play a vital role in the life of a community, and music in particular is a unifying force that transcends age, race, and culture. Miami is our home, and Patricia and I wanted to create a legacy that would enhance and sustain the school’s important work,” said Dr. Phillip Frost, former chairman of the University’s Board of Trustees and former chairman/CEO of IVAX Corporation, a Miami-based, publicly-traded, multinational pharmaceuticals company.

During the last two decades, the Marta and Austin Weeks Music Library and Technology Center and the L. Austin Weeks Center for Recording and Performance have been constructed, named for generous University benefactors L. Austin and Marta Weeks. The late Mr. Weeks was a retired petroleum geologist and former director of the Bermuda-based company, Weeks Petroleum Ltd.

A New Era of Tranformation and Invigoration


Shelton G. Berg, Dean (2007 - present)

Shelton G. Berg became the fifth dean of the Phillip and Patricia Frost School of Music in June 2007. He is also the Patricia L. Frost Endowed Professor of Music. Upon arrival, Berg worked quickly with the faculty to design and implement the Frost Experiential Music Curriculum for undergraduates, and create new graduate degrees including Masters in Arts Presenting and a joint J.D. and M.M. in Music Business. He attracted the Henry Mancini Institute to the Frost School of Music, providing cross-genre performance, recording, and community outreach opportunities for graduate students.

Formerly the McCoy/Sample Endowed Professor of Jazz Studies at the USC Thornton School of Music, Berg is an internationally recognized pianist, composer, arranger, author, and educator and is widely acclaimed for his energetic and innovative approaches to jazz performance, composition, and pedagogy. He was chair of the USC Thornton School’s Department of Jazz Studies from 1994 to 2002. A Steinway artist, Berg has performed and recorded with top music industry professionals and has contributed and/or orchestrated music for major orchestras and motion pictures.

University of Miami President Donna E. Shalala praised Berg’s hire: “We are incredibly fortunate to have Shelly Berg join the University community as our new dean of the Frost School of Music. Not only is he a world-class jazz pianist, but he has the administrative experience and the vision necessary to lead the Frost School as it meets the challenges of the 21st century.”

A major capital campaign is underway to construct a new facility that is reflective of the needs of the Frost Experiential Music Curriculum, and to increase the School’s endowment.  In addition, Dean Berg is raising significant funds for Frost MusicReach - a music mentorship program for at-risk teenagers, and is inspiring special scholarship programs such as the Stamps Family Charitable Foundation that is providing a unique series of chamber ensemble scholarships for top-flight student musicians in the areas of strings, woodwinds, brass, and jazz.

In addition, Berg is hiring dozens of new faculty to succeed many of the fine professors hired by Lee and Hipp, and in the process attracting marquee master-musicians and artists-in-residence to join the faculty.  It is a period of both excitement and careful planning to ensure the special collegiality of the Frost School is maintained. 

At this moment in history, the University of Miami Frost School of Music is one of the largest schools of music housed in a private institution in the United States, and among the most comprehensive in all of higher education. Many of its programs and faculty occupy positions of national and international prominence. Building excellence is a never ending challenge; continued vision, unity, diversity, and courage will, as always, make the critical difference.