The legacy and impact of women in the Florida State University’s College of Music
By Brenna Miller, College of Music Student
In celebration of Women’s History Month, the College of Music at Florida State University reflects on over 120 years of achievement by their students, faculty and alumni. As one of the original four academic units of the university, they are known to have talented women at the helm driving innovation and leading the charge in the areas of education, performance, research and entrepreneurship.
Ella Scoble Opperman (M.M. ’44) was the first dean of music for the Florida State College for Women, a role she held from 1911 until her retirement in 1944. Her 33-year tenure witnessed important growth in program offerings as well as exceptional musical and academic talent.
Opperman was a pianist and organist and held many leadership roles in accreditation and professional music organizations. This skillset served as a benchmark for faculty and students. Having paved the way for future musicians and reflecting on her hopes for the School of Music, Opperman wrote in 1945, “there is every reason to believe that it will continue progressive[ly] and become a great leader in the development of music for our young people.”
Audience members are reminded of her influence as they enjoy hundreds of concerts annually in the Kuersteiner Building’s Opperman Music Hall. The college continues to set the example for excellence and leadership in music education in America and garner recognition as one of the best music programs in the nation.
Woven throughout the history of the college, are women, who remained at the forefront of innovation and attainment as faculty members, students and alumni. Ellen Taaffe Zwilich (B.M. ’60, M.M. ’62), a Marie Kraft Distinguished Professor in music composition, attended FSU, and was active in all aspects of the school including the FSU Marching Chiefs. After receiving her degree, she went on to study at the Juilliard Performing Arts Conservatory and earned the first Doctor of Musical Arts in composition. She is now widely regarded as one of America’s leading composers. In 1983, She became the first woman to win the coveted Pulitzer Prize in Music. She has also received a prestigious Guggenheim Fellowship and four Grammy Award nominations.
The exceptional learning environment is also a launching board for students to excel and craft impressive careers for themselves in the music and performance industry after graduation. Jazmin Ghent (B.M.E. ’13), majored in music education, but her entrepreneurial spirit led her to pursue a career as a jazz musician. Now, six of her singles have landed in the Billboard Music Top 5 and she was awarded a 2019 NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Jazz Album.
FSU continues to lead in placement of women graduates to university teaching positions across the nation, including Devan Moore (MME ’16, Ph.D. ’22) as a band director at Oklahoma State University, Morgan Luttig (Ph.D. ’22), director of Choral Activities at the University of Alabama and Dawn Iwamasa (Ph.D. ’19), a music therapy professor at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. Not to mention Julia Baumanis (B.M.E. ’10, M.M. ’16, Ph.D. ’19), the assistant director of bands at Rutgers and the first female band director in the University’s history.
The university’s athletic bands, concert bands and symphony orchestras are leaders in their respective fields and set the example for many music programs across the country. This spring, the University Symphony Orchestra (USO) under the direction of Alexander Jiménez (M.M. ’88, M.M.E. ‘’90, D.M. ’99) will continue the College’s tradition of celebrating women pioneers in music. The USO will tour the state of Florida, the Dominican Republic and feature Violin Concerto No.2 by Florence Beatrice Price, the first African American woman to have a symphonic composition played by a major American orchestra. Shannon Thomas, Assistant Professor of Violin at FSU will join the USO as a featured soloist in performances in Sarasota, Orlando’s new Steinmetz Hall and several performances in the Dominican Republic.
Students are also impressive in their leadership and innovation in their personal musical artistry and in the professional arena. The College’s 21st Century initiative offers students entrepreneurial experience and incubation through coursework and real-world projects using provided funds and community support.
One such enterprise, HERo, works to connect women in the music industry and share women’s accomplishments in music. Project leader and doctoral student Darrian Lee (M.M. ’22) leads a collaborative team that mirrors private enterprise and philanthropic organizations including leadership, assessment metrics and job evaluation. The group also creates podcasts, performances and events that share music by women composers, and is currently planning a national conference that will celebrate and foster collaboration between women in music. The event is set to be held at FSU’s Tallahassee Campus in May of 2023.
The FSU College of Music remains a force, driven by the contribution, support and success of women both inside and outside of the classroom. With a storied legacy and tradition of excellence, the College celebrates their history and continuation of world-class music education.
This article previously appeared in the Spring 2023 edition of VIRES Magazine, the official alumni publication of Florida State University. To see more please visit gonol.es/VIRES23
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