History of the Sir Zelman Cowen School of Music

From humble beginnings in 1965, the School of Music – Conservatorium has grown into a major music school of international standing that continues to change and adapt to contemporary needs in tertiary music education.

The History of the School comprises 5 phases.

Phase 1: 1965–1989

Under its head Professor Trevor Jones, the department concentrated on teaching and researching musicology and ethnomusicology (especially Indigenous Australian, Southeast Asian and South Asian music).

Staff members including Professor Jones, Dr Stephen Wild, Dr Alice Moyle, Dr Margaret Kartomi and Dr Reis Flora established the School’s international research profile. The Department also enrolled an increasing number of postgraduate students.

Phase 2: 1989–2001

Under its new head, Professor Margaret Kartomi, the Department expanded to teach and research music performance and composition as well as musicology and ethnomusicology. Research staff were appointed and the number of postgraduate students rose to 60.

A new Bachelor of Music degree (from 1993) and double degree programs were established: Music/Arts, Music/Commerce, Music/Education, Music/Law and Music/Performing Arts.

The staff’s continuing international reputation in Asian (especially Southeast and South Asian) music research was complemented by emerging research strengths in historical musicology, popular music studies and composition.

From 1994, the Australian Archive of Jewish Music was established as a joint venture between the School of Music and the Australian Centre for Jewish Civilisation.

From 1995 the university established the Monash Arts Precinct on the Clayton campus with an expanded suite of fine concert and theatre venues in which to promote its musical and other performing arts activities.

As the Precinct developed, funding was found to create the Department’s new home in the Performing Arts Centre (1995) which facilitated many more performance opportunities.

Phase 3: mid 2001–2008

Under heads Peter Handsworth and then Associate Professor Craig De Wilde, the Bachelor of Music and double degree courses introduced instrumental and vocal pedagogy and professional practice, and the Bachelor of Music Composition stream together with the PhD in Composition admitted its first candidates.

In 2002 Robert Burke started the the now highly successful Jazz and popular studies program.

The number of performance and academic staff grew to accommodate changes in curriculum and research growth areas. Research-active staff and students continue to publish in Asian, Jewish and Australian music; and the School’s Archive of Asian and Australian Music (run by Professor Kartomi and archivist/researcher Bronia Kornhauser) continues to attract international attention.

In 2006, the Vice-Chancellor established the Monash University Academy of Performing Arts with oboist and conductor Mr Jeffrey Crellin appointed Artist Director.

The inaugural Music in the Round festival was held in September 2007 and has become an annual fixture on Melbourne’s music scene.

In November 2007 music students studied a 3 week study program at the Monash Centre in Prato Italy. Jazz (2007, 09, 11, 13) Classical (2008, 10, 12)

Phase 4: 2009 onwards

With the appointment of Associate Professor Thomas Reiner as Acting Head of School in mid-2009 the School embarked on a number of new initiatives.

First among the new initiatives was a review of the BMus degree, which was undertaken to re-organise and streamline the course from 2011. Our new-look Bachelor of Music degree will allow students to elect a pathway in Composition, Musicology (including Ethnomusicology) or Performance.

The year also saw the establishment of three new scholarships and a closer relationship established with the School’s many donors.

2010 was a land-mark year for the School of Music: a new degree, a PhD in Performance, was submitted and approved and demand for our Bachelor of Music degree increased by 44%, the largest in our history.

As in previous years, our students have had the opportunity to travel to such places at Brazil, New York (USA)  and Italy to undertake part of their studies.

2011 and beyond…

In 2011, Robert Burke was appointed Head of School and introduced many new initiatives including the partnering of major festivals (Melbourne International Jazz Festival and the Melbourne Arts Festival).

New tenured staff appointments included musicologist Dr Paul Watt, trumpeter Paul Williamson, conductor Dobbs Franks and trombonist/arranger Jordan Murray. Professors Tony Gould, Paul Grabowsky and Richard Divall were appointed Vice Chancellor’s Professorial Fellows and many international guests visiting the school including Brazilian legend Hermeto Pascoal, 5 time grammy award winning artistTerence Blanchard, John Taylor and John Abercrombie. The Monash Orchestra also continues to develop into one of the best university orchestras in Australia under the baton of Fabian Russell.

In 2012 – Paul Grabowsky was appointed director of:  The Academy of Performing Arts.

June 2012 – The School of Music – Conservatorium changed its name to Sir Zelman Cowen School of Music

The future of the  Sir Zelman Cowen School of Music  is to continue to be progressive leaders of music performance, composition, ethnomusicology and musicology in the 21st century. This will be achieved by:

  • continuing to employ staff who are world-leaders in their field
  • leaders in music research 
  • a new state of the art building to open in 2017 
  • masters in orchestral performance
  • music technology – 2014 (new stream)