American Conservatory of Music

Last updated
American Conservatory of Music
Active1886 (1886)–1991 (1991)

The American Conservatory of Music (ACM) was a major American school of music founded in Chicago in 1886 by John James Hattstaedt (1851–1931). [1] The conservatory was incorporated as an Illinois non-profit corporation. It developed the Conservatory Symphony Orchestra and had numerous student recitals. The oldest private degree-granting music school in the Midwestern United States, it was located in Chicago until 1991.


That year, 1991, its board of trusteeschaired by Frederic Wilbur Hickman (born 1927) [2] voted to close the institution, file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy, liquidate the assets, and dissolve the corporation. The conservatory closed at the end of the semester, in May 1991. [3] [4]

An organization based in Hammond, Indiana, uses the name "American Conservatory of Music" and identifies as the reorganized continuation of the Chicago institution. It also has a base in Belize. [5]


John James Hattstaedt, a musician who had taught piano in Detroit, Michigan and St. Louis, Missouri, moved to Chicago, Illinois, in 1875. A center of railroad lines connecting to the East Coast and the resource-rich Great Lakes area, it was booming as a center of business, industry and culture. In 1886 he established the American Conservatory of Music, which became the oldest private, degree-granting school of music in the Midwest.

Hattstaedt was founding president and continued his direction until he became ill, six months before his death in 1931. He had expanded the school, attracting talented faculty and students. A Conservatory Symphony Orchestra was developed. In addition to the regular faculty, the conservatory attracted artists who conducted master classes in their specialties. In 1931 the conservatory had 3,000 students.

In the later 20th century, the conservatory appeared to suffer from its lack of affiliation with a university, which would have provided access to a wider circle of programs and donors. But it still served urban students and in 1977 had 2,000 students. At least in the early 1970s, accredited academic coursework was provided by the University of Chicago Extension [6] which had classroom facilities in downtown Chicago's "Loop" district. After the late 1970s enrollment declined more markedly in the 1980s. Many other music schools were also under pressure and struggling financially. In 1986 ACM entered Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings. [3]

Under the presidency of Vernon R. Nelson, the school moved to more modern quarters in the Stevens Building, 17 N. State Street, and attracted new faculty. He gained several major gifts from donors and foundations, including a $1 million grant from the Marquette Charitable Trust. [3]

But by spring of 1991, enrollment was down to 90 full-time students, 60 fewer than expected. The conservatory announced it would close in May at the end of the semester. Chicago Musical College offered contracts to many of the conservatory faculty, and offered to have students enroll there to complete their studies and degrees. [3]


Conservatory presidents

General directors

Deans of faculty

Department deans

Faculty, guest teachers and associates

For over a century, many prominent artists, including some who had their musical training in Europe, taught master classes in piano and other instruments at the American Conservatory. Among them were pianist Josef Lhévinne from the Soviet Union, a colleague of Sergei Rachmaninoff, and his student Adele Marcus. Both taught primarily at the Juilliard School in New York City.

From the post-WWII years to the late 1960s, Irwin Fischer, composer, pianist, and conductor, served as dean of faculty and conductor of the American Conservatory Orchestra. Violinist Scott Willits coached many members of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra from 1940 to 1974. Acclaimed pianist William Browning, heir of the Brahms-Schumann piano dynasty and one of the legendary pianists and teachers of the 20th century, was on faculty from 1957 to 1989. Pianist Wilhelmina Pouget, student of Walter Gieseking, specialized in late Romantic piano technique in the 1970s.

Notable faculty members


Pulitzer Prize for Music recipients

Other notable alumni

Recipients of honorary doctorates

Former locations

1975–1991 restructuring efforts

1975 acquisition & 1983 sale of building

In 1975, using funds from its endowment, the conservatory acquired and renovated a 17-story, 105,400-square-foot "turn-of-the-century" office building at 116 S. Michigan for about $1.2 million and moved from the Fine Arts Building at 410 S. Michigan Avenue. The conservatory's strategy was to occupy part of the building and earn enough rent income to cover some losses. But that plan failed, and in 1983, the conservatory sold the building to developer Horwitz Matthews, Inc. Tem H. Horwitz (born 1944) and E. Curtis Matthews Jr. (born 1943) who launched their own $4.5 million renovation. [27] That year, they gave the conservatory, which had been occupying 25,000 square feet on 4-1/2 floors, two years to find new quarters for its 125 faculty members and 250 full-time and 800 part-time students. [25] [28]

1987 Chapter 11 bankruptcy

In January 1987, the conservatory filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection; and shortly thereafter, Charles Moore, its president, resigned. Henry Regnery an industrialist, publisher of conservative books, benefactor, and amateur cellist asked Vernon Nelson to step in as acting president. Nelson an engineer with an MBA from the University of Chicago had, since 1986, been leading a group from the University of Chicago to design a business plan for the conservatory. Nelson agreed to serve as president for a short time on a pro-bono basis. Many of the directors resigned shortly after the Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing.

Directors who stayed on during Chapter 11 reorganization

New directors who joined to help reorganization

Hickman's firm, Hopkins & Sutter, handled the bankruptcy, pro-bono .

Other directors

Efforts to reorganize

In 1987, Regnery led with a $1 million gift to the conservatory. Other foundations followed. This provided operating capital to run the conservatory during the restructuring. Under the Deanship of E. Harvey Jewell, DMA (born 1942), [29] [30] [31] [32] [33] the conservatory strengthened its programs, raised entrance requirements, recruited prominent faculty, passed a rigorous accreditation review in 1988 by the National Association of Schools of Music, [34] and cleared a probationary status placed earlier by the Illinois State Board of Education on the Bachelor of Music Education program. [35] After eighteen months, the conservatory had developed a survival plan and raised enough money to provide a balanced budget for three years. If the milestones were met, the conservatory would be able to function independently going forward. When Nelson expressed to the board his desire to leave his pro bono post, the board accepted it and launched a nationwide search for a new president and a dean. The board hired Steven J. Nelson, as president, and Carl L. Waldschmidt, PhD (1917–1995), the former dean, longtime music professor, and choral director from Concordia University in Chicago (retired 1987), as dean. [36] Steve Nelson had studied violin at Cleveland Institute of Music and had served as president of the Center for Creative Studies Institute of Music and Dance in Detroit. After leaving the American Conservatory of Music, Steve Nelson served as vice president college of relations at Landmark College in Putney, Vermont. In 1998, he became head master at the Calhoun School in New York City. Vern Nelson remained on the board.

1991 Chapter 7 bankruptcy

By late 1990 it was clear to the board of directors that the milestones of the survival plan would not be met. In January 1991, the board reappointed Vern Nelson as president, pro bono. Grants totaling $2 million had been depleted by faculty salaries, student scholarships, and recruitment and development programs. Enrollment had fallen to 90 down from 2,000 full-time in 1977. The board determined that, in order to survive, the conservatory would have to be merged with another entity. Discussions were held with the Northwestern University School of Music, which had an interest in developing a Downtown presence to house the performance department with better access to members of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and the Lyric Opera. Discussions were also held with Roosevelt University to merge the conservatory with its Chicago Musical College. [4] The board felt that prospects were viable, but a merger of any sort was resisted by members of conservatory faculty.

Then, when faced with financial failure from, among other things, no viable operating funds or other prospects for survival, the board closed the school in 1991 and filed for protection under Chapter 7 bankruptcy. The main secured creditor was the landlord, Morris Kalish, who owned the Stevens Building at 17 N State Street, a 19-story building erected in 1913 which had housed the Chas A. Stevens Department Store. At the invitation of Kalish, the conservatory had taken up residence on the top two floors in 1987. [37]

Efforts to resurrect the bankrupt conservatory

Related Research Articles

Curtis Institute of Music Private music school in Philadelphia, United States

The Curtis Institute of Music is a private conservatory in Philadelphia offering courses of study leading to a performance diploma, Bachelor of Music, Master of Music in opera, or Professional Studies Certificate in opera. Its mission is to educate and train exceptionally gifted young musicians to engage a local and global community through the highest level of artistry. All students attend on full scholarship.

Saint Petersburg Conservatory Music school in Saint Petersburg

The N. A. Rimsky-Korsakov Saint Petersburg State Conservatory, also known as the Leningrad Conservatory, is a school of music in Saint Petersburg, Russia. In 2004, the conservatory had around 275 faculty members and 1,400 students.

Eastman School of Music American professional school of music

The Eastman School of Music is the music school of the University of Rochester, a private research university in Rochester, New York. It was established in 1921 by industrialist and philanthropist George Eastman.

Longy School of Music of Bard College

Longy School of Music of Bard College is a private music school in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Founded in 1915 as the Longy School of Music, it was one of the four independent degree-granting music schools in the Boston region along with the New England Conservatory, Berklee College of Music, and Boston Conservatory. In 2012, the institution merged with Bard College to become Longy School of Music of Bard College. As of the 2018–19 academic year, the conservatory has 300 students in its degree programs from 35 states and 23 countries.

Chicago Musical College is a division of the Chicago College of Performing Arts at Roosevelt University.

The Henry and Leigh Bienen School of Music is the music and performance arts school of Northwestern University. It is located on Northwestern University's campus in Evanston, Illinois.

Rudolph Ganz Swiss musician

Rudolph Ganz was a Swiss-born American pianist, conductor, composer, and music educator.

Schulich School of Music

The Schulich School of Music is one of the constituent faculties of McGill University in Montréal, Canada. The faculty was named after benefactor Seymour Schulich.

Joseph Banowetz is an American-born pianist, pedagogue, author, and editor, currently teaching at the University of North Texas. Banowetz is an expert on the music of the Russian Romantic Composer, Anton Rubinstein.

Bush Conservatory of Music Private school in Chicago, Dallas, Memphis

The Bush Temple Conservatory of Music and Dramatic Art was an American conservatory of music based in Chicago with branches in Dallas and Memphis.

William Albert Beller

William Albert Beller was an American concert pianist and professor of music at Marquette University and Columbia University. He was deemed a musical prodigy when he was 4 years old. He had also taught piano at the Bronx House Music School in the 1930s.

Willard Somers Elliot was an American bassoonist and composer. He was the bassoonist with the Houston Symphony Orchestra (1946–1949), bassoonist with the Dallas Symphony Orchestra (1951–1956), principal bassoonist with the Dallas Symphony Orchestra (1956–1964), and principal bassoonist with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (1964–1997). Elliot composed and twice performed the Concerto for Bassoon and Orchestra with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra under conductors Seiji Ozawa and Jean Martinon.

Wallace Wesley LaViolette was an American musician who composed, conducted, lectured, and wrote about music. He was also a poet and music theorist. As an educator, he mentored Shorty Rogers, Jimmy Giuffre, John Graas, George Perle, Florence Price, Bob Carter, Bob Florence and Robert Erickson and writer William Irwin Thompson. Laviolette was an important figure on the West coast jazz scene of the 1950s.

Michael Kim is a Canadian concert pianist and professor. He is currently the Dean. of the University of Western Ontario. He was Dean of the School of Music at Brandon University and earlier Chair of the Keyboard Department, and faculty associate to the President at Lawrence University, Wisconsin.

The American Conservatory of Music, Inc., of Hammond, Indiana, is a binational music school that operates under the auspices of the Orthodox Church of Belize, which is part of the Greek Orthodox Metropolitanate of Central America, one of the 18 Archdioceses and Metropolitinates under the Patriarchate of Constantinople. The Conservatory was founded in 1992 with the intent to save, by becoming successor, a 105-year-old Chicago institution by the same name, American Conservatory of Music, which was shuttered in 1991 as a result of full liquidation under a Chapter 7 bankruptcy. The new institution was first located in Chicago—it took over the lease of the bankrupt Conservatory at 17 N. State Street, Stevens Building, but in 1998, moved to 4117 Wabash Avenue, Hammond, Indiana, 24 miles away. The building in Hammond was, from 1904 to 1940, the factory of the Straube Piano Company. Today, the institution is located at 252 Wildwood Road in Hammond and at 16 Maxi Street, Santa Elena, Belize.

William Hall Sherwood American musician

William Hall Sherwood was a late 19th and early 20th century American pianist and music educator who, after having studied in Europe with notable musicians, became one of the first renowned piano performers in the United States. He founded the Sherwood Music School, which was acquired by Columbia College Chicago in 2007.

Robert Blocker, DMA is an American classical pianist, music educator, and university administrator, who has served as Dean of the Yale School of Music since July 1995. He is a Steinway artist.

The Faculty of Music at the University of Toronto is one of several professional faculties at the University of Toronto. The Faculty of Music is located at the Edward Johnson Building, just south of the Royal Ontario Museum and north of Queen's Park, west of Museum Subway Station. MacMillan Theatre and Walter Hall are located in the Edward Johnson Building. The Faculty of Music South building contains rehearsal rooms and offices, and the Upper Jazz Studio performance space is located at 90 Wellesley Street West. In January 2021, the Faculty announced Dr. Ellie Hisama as the new Dean starting July 1, 2021.

The Woman's Symphony Orchestra of Chicago was an American orchestra based in Chicago. In addition to its regular radio broadcasts which spanned 1925–1948, the Woman's Symphony Orchestra of Chicago also toured.

Grace Welsh was an American pianist, composer, and educator. Welsh was the first person to receive a master's degree in piano from Juilliard School. She taught piano for more than 60 years.


  1. Baker's Biographical Dictionary of Musicians (6th ed., revised), by Nicolas Slonimsky, Collier Macmillan Publishers.
  2. Marquis Who's Who in America, 1992–1993 (47th ed.), Vol. 1, A–K, pg 1547, Reed Reference Publishing Company, New Providence, New Jersey (1992)
  3. 1 2 3 4 "All Out Of Miracles, Century-Old Music School Will Close In May", by John Richard von Rhein, Chicago Tribune, March 9, 1991
  4. 1 2 "Changing The Score, American Conservatory Gets Another Chance," by John Richard von Rhein, Chicago Tribune, July 28, 1991
  5. "American Conservatory of Music". Retrieved 21 June 2019.
  6. "Univerisity of Chicago Library". Guide to the University of Chicago University Extension Records 1892-1979. Retrieved May 30, 2022.
  7. "Obituaries: John Robert Hattstaedt", Chicago Tribune, p. C13, February 6, 1978
  8. International Who's Who in Music and Musicians' Directory (10th ed.), Cambridge, England (1984)
  9. Who's Who in American Music: Classical, R.R. Bowker, New York (1983)
  10. "Leo Heim, 78; Helped Save American Conservatory of Music", Chicago Sun-Times, January 7, 1992
  11. Who's Who in America, 1990–1991 (46th ed.), Marquis Who's Who, Wilmette, Illinois (1990)
  12. "Charles E. Moore, DePaul Music Teacher," Chicago Sun-Times, January 31, 1995
  13. 1 2 "Ailing Music School Given An Encore Numbers Man Rides To Rescue", by Howard Reich, Chicago Tribune, March 15, 1987
  14. "How For-Profit Management Saved a Failing Institution", Nonprofit World, Jan–Feb 1988, Vol. 6 Issue 1, pg. 36-37
  15. Buck, Dudley (2005). N. Lee Orr (ed.). American Victorian Choral Music. Series: Recent Researches in American Music, Vol. 53. A-R Editions, Inc. p. xx. ISBN   9780895795731.
  16. "Irwin Fischer" (biography), American Composers Alliance ( ) (retrieved November 4, 2015)
  17. Herringshaw's City Blue Book of Biography: Chicagoans of 1916, edited by Mae Felts Herringshaw, Chicago: Clark J. Herringshaw (publisher), 1916 OCLC   36048155
  18. "Well-Known Musician, Composer to Give Recital Celebrating New Organ," by Jim Wrinn, The Charlotte Observer, November 9, 1986 (accessible via ; subscription required)
  20. "Hint to Singers," Wisconsin State Journal, col. 3, May 12, 1953
  21. "Doctorate Awarded Native of Wyoming" (New York), Democrat and Chronicle , July 2, 1938, pg. 11
  22. "Tauno Hannikainen, Conductor, Noted Sibelius Interpreter, Dies," The New York Times, October 13, 1968
  23. Who's Who in America, Vol. 33 (1964–1965), pg. 93 Marquis Who's Who, Inc. OCLC   493777888 LCCN   04-16934 ISSN   0083-9396
  24. "Long-ignored Composer George Perle Unfazed Standing In Pulitzer Spotlight," by John Richard von Rhein, Chicago Tribune, June 8, 1986
  25. 1 2 David Ibata, "American Conservatory of Music Plans Near West Side Move," Chicago Tribune , April 16, 1985
  26. "Debts Force the Closing of Famed Music School," by Joseph Kirby, Chicago Tribune, April 21, 1991
  27. Note: In 1979, Horwitz authored the book How to Set Up and Run Successful Nonprofit Arts Organizations, published by Chicago Review Press, of which E. Curtis Matthews Jr. was CEO. OCLC   560415669 OCLC   608827741
  28. Plath, Karl (June 8, 1986). "Rehab Firm Marches to a Different Drummer". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved June 21, 2019.
  29. International Who's Who in Music and Musicians Directory, 1990-1991 (12th ed.), edited by David M. Cummings & Dennis K. McIntire, International Who's Who in Music, Cambridge, England (1990) OCLC   185572505
  30. Who's Who of Emerging Leaders in America, 1987–1988 (1st ed.), Marquis Who's Who, Wilmette, IL (1987) OCLC   16395697 ISSN   0895-965X
  31. Who's Who in the Midwest, 1986–1987 (20th ed.), Marquis Who's Who, Wilmette, IL (1985) OCLC   13088248 ISBN   0-8379-0720-9 ISBN   9780837907208
  32. Who's Who in the West, 1978-1979, (16th ed.), Marquis Who's Who, Wilmette, IL (1978) OCLC   6261917 ISBN   0-8379-0916-3 ISBN   9780837909165
  33. "79 Army Band (US) alumni website: Harvey Jewell Oboe & Flute (biography)". Archived from the original on 2012-07-10. Retrieved 2012-03-07.
  34. National Association of Schools of Music archives, Reston, Virginia
  35. Illinois State Board of Education archives
  36. "Carl L. Waldschmidt, 78, Ex-Dean, Music Director," by Teresa Jimenez, Chicago Tribune , October 8, 1995
  37. U.S. Bankruptcy Court, Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division (Chicago), 1991 Case No. 91-19363
    Case location: The U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, Chicago Archived 2012-10-08 at the Wayback Machine
    Location No. 175995-176144; Accession No. 021-99-0097; Box 053

Coordinates: 41°52′35″N87°37′29″W / 41.87639°N 87.62472°W / 41.87639; -87.62472