Department of Music

History of the Department

The history of music at Brown from 1895 to the present


Music was included in the Department of Fine Arts when it was first taught in 1895 by Joseph N. Ashton 1891, who had been appointed instructor of musical theory and history. Ashton was promoted to associate professor in 1898, and in 1900 became director of chapel music. During the first year of the Sayles Hall organ he conducted two series of concerts, before his resignation in 1904. No classes in music are listed in the course announcement for the years 1904-05 through 1907-08. The next year Hamilton MacDougall of Wellesley College acted as lecturer in music on a temporary basis, teaching a course in “The Evolution of Modern Music.” In 1909-10 Arthur Ware Locke (Harvard 1894), who had taught at St. Paul’s School in Concord, New Hampshire, and had studied in Berlin and Paris, was was instructor in music, teaching the same course. The next year Professor MacDougall returned, and until his departure in 1914 the music courses varying from year to year covered elementary and advanced harmony, the symphony, and the opera. Edwin Ernest Wilde, who was also in charge of music at St. Stephen’s Church, was lecturer in music at Brown from 1914 to 1920. Gene Wilder Ware ’06, who had been director of chapel music since 1906, became lecturer in music in 1920, and assistant professor of music in 1923.


The department occupied two first floor rooms in the dormitory at 36 Prospect Street in 1924. In 1929 Brown entered into an affiliation with St. Dunstan’s College of Sacred Music, which made it unnecessary for Brown to give advanced courses in music and allowed students at St. Dunstan’s to take courses at Brown. In 1930, for the first time Brown students were able to major in music, and for the first time in 1930-31 credit was given for work in applied music, as students who had already had training in singing or playing instruments upon examination were allowed to continue their training under an approved teacher. Also, in 1930, Arlan Coolidge ’26 succeeded Gene Ware as professor of music. As the only member of the department he taught two courses in music appreciation. He was named chairman of the department in 1939, a post he held until 1963. In 1932 the student musical organizations were put under the direction of the department. When St. Dunstan’s withdrew from work of college grade in 1932, the Music Department added a new course in elementary theory. The department grew steadily with the arrival of William Dinneen in 1938, Francis K. C. Madeira in 1943, Edward B. Greene in 1946, Martin Fischer in 1947, Otto van Koppenhagen in 1949, Millard S. Thomson and Mildred Pansy in 1950, David Laurent in 1951, Ron Nelson in 1956, and Paul Nelson in 1964.

Professor Ron Nelson, a graduate of the Eastman School of Music at the University of Rochester, became chairman in 1963. His cantata, The Christmas Story, was first performed at Brown, and his Triumphal Te Deum became part of Brown’s annual Latin Carol Service in 1962.


When Professor Coolidge retired in 1967, the department offered thirty courses. A new concentration in non-Western music was added in 1971. In 1971, when enrollment in applied music had increased 300% in the preceding five years, students sought more space for the Music Department by staging a demonstration in University Hall. As a result the department was given a building on the East Campus at 148 Power Street. With contributions from the Steinert Foundation the building was fitted with soundproof practice rooms and an electropiano laboratory in which the sound of piano-playing is heard through earphones. In 1973 1,400 undergraduates of the University’s 4,700 were taking courses in music. The houses on College Street which the department occupied were outgrown. A grant from the Kresge Foundation made possible the conversion of South Hall on the East Campus into a new home for the Music Department, which was later named the Orwig Music Center. A new wing on the building in 1988 added a music library. Students of music can now specialize in theory, composition, musicology, computer music and multimedia, and ethnomusicology. Among the courses featuring rehearsal and performance are offerings in old time string band, chamber music, chorus, orchestra, wind symphony, Ghanaian drumming and dance, and Javanese gamelan.

The department chairs after Coolidge have been Ron Nelson, David Laurent, David Josephson, Gerald M. Shapiro, James M. Baker, Joseph Rovan, Dana Gooley, Joseph Meisel, and Emily Dolan.