MU School of Music Celebrates 100 years!

cadet band 1896

The Cadet Band on the steps of Jesse Hall, Savitar, University of Missouri, 1896

Julia Gaines, Michael Budds, Susan Worstell
News Source: 
College of Arts & Science

Music at MU Pre-1917

One hundred years ago in the Fall of 1917, a music class at the University of Missouri could be listed on your official transcript as a course within a music major or minor, and the Department of Music was born.  However, even before 1917, there was still a lot of music making going on at MU.  Most colleges and universities without a music major often had a military band and some sort of choir.  MU was no exception.  The Cadet Band, consisting of 12 men, was formed in 1884 by the newly appointed Professor of Military Science Enoch H. Crowder. He later went on to be a General in the U.S. Army.  Their annual budget approved by the Board of Curators was $125, and their primary function was to play for all the military parades. They had their first public performance in 1886 under the direction of Frederick Pennell.

Right before the Department of Music was established, the MU Glee Club, directed by C.L. Brewer, won a national competition in 1914 sponsored by the Santa Fe Railroad. As a result, the 32 member men’s choir went on a two-week tour by train with performances in Missouri, Kansas, Colorado, New Mexico, and Arizona.

William H. Pommer, Chair of the Department of Music, 1917-1922

William Henry Pommer, first Chair

Right at the turn of the century, the Missouri Music Teachers Association (MMTA) petitioned the Missouri General Assembly to establish a chair of music at MU, even without a department yet.  The MMTA President at the time was William Henry Pommer, a Missouri born composer and the Supervisor of Music for the St. Louis Public Schools.  Prior to this appointment, Pommer was the Director of Music at Christian College (now known as Columbia College), and was the choirmaster of the Smith Academy (a preparatory division of Washington University).  He met with MU’s president, Richard H. Jesse, and was appointed to the faculty of the College of Education in 1907. Shortly thereafter in 1910, he transferred to the College of Arts & Science.  He primarily taught music appreciation classes.  One of his most important contributions was to get college credit for applied music lessons.  This was then imitated by multiple university campuses across the country.

Pommer was the grandson of Caroline Pommer, who built the Pommer-Gentner House in Hermann, Missouri.  The Pommer and Gentner families were some of the original founders of Hermann.  For more on this family or the pianofortes they built, see Pommer-Gentner House. (

Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia, Zeta Chapter, 1908

Zeta Chapter/Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia/University Concert Series

One of Pommer’s accomplishments was to help found the Zeta Chapter of Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia, a national men’s music fraternity.  They were the 10th affiliate to be established and Pommer was their faculty advisor.  Hermann Almstedt, professor of German at MU and a pianist, became the first official member and President of the chapter.  One of the purposes of Phi Mu Alpha as a national organization is to advance American music.  With Pommer’s encouragement, the Zeta chapter created a university public concert series for professional touring artists centered around American Music that would annually feature the St. Louis Symphony.  Pianist Vladimire de Pachmann performed the inaugural event of this series on February 21, 1908.

Official Department of Music

The Department of Music at MU was established when a group of fine arts departments came together and requested that their courses show up on an official transcript as a major or minor.  By then, W.H. Pommer had already been teaching at MU for ten years.  Upon the approval of this request by the administration, he became the first official Chair of the Department of Music and served in that position for five years until his retirement in 1922 at the age of 71.

Next article:  Part 2:  1917-1927

Throughout this school year, several articles will be written outlining the history of the School of Music.  We are kicking off the Centennial this Monday evening with a special concert at 7:00 pm at the Missouri Theatre.  This concert will feature the brass choir, the saxophone ensemble, the graduate string quartet, the percussion ensemble, the cello choir, several vocalists, and a couple combined selections with all of the above!  The evening will end with a cake and punch reception for everyone.

Please join us for any or all of our Centennial events as we celebrate the past journey and anticipate the future journey of the School of Music!

September 25, 2017 – Happy Birthday School of Music Kickoff Concert in the Missouri Theatre, 7:00 pm  FREE ADMISSION

centennial kickoff

Other Centennial Events/Activities

1.  Be on the lookout for School of Music Centennial Exhibits placed around campus throughout the year.

2.  Tune in to our weekly segment on Mizzou’s KMUC, 90.5, where each week we will be discussing an event or aspect of our Centennial (

3.  Official Centennial Weekend Celebration, April 7-9, 2018

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