Music courses began to be offered at Northern Michigan University soon after its founding in 1899. Only two semesters after the opening of Northern State Normal, Annette Le Vegne traveled from the University of Michigan to teach classes in music and organize a series of summer musicals.
In 1900, Northern had its first full-time music teacher, Miss Sophie Linton (pictured left), a graduate of Wisconsin State Normal at Stevens Point. The state Board of Education approved a "life certificate" curriculum in the teaching of music; five instructors taught music courses in addition to regular teacher training classes.
By 1952, NMU offered its first Bachelor of Arts in Music degree, with both major and minor programs. Students participated in band, orchestra, string quartet, choir and collegiate chorale, all of which made tours to Upper Peninsula high schools. The department offered both performance and teaching degrees by 1961.
Several performance groups developed during the early 1960's: the Fine Arts Quartet, the Saturday Music Club and the Arts Chorale. NMU held summer programs, such as Music Camp, Adult Chorale Clinic, Piano Clinic for Teachers and Festival of Music. The NMU Marching Band, active since the very early days of Northern State Normal, acquired its nickname, "Pride of the North" in the early '60's.
The department was accredited by the National Association of Schools of Music in 1969 and has maintained full accreditation since that time. Ensembles have toured regionally throughout the midwest and Canada. Foreign tours have included trips to Europe and special performances in the Bahamas via invitation from the USO.
The Music Department Today
The department looks confidently toward the future as it continues to be a vital part of the cultural life of the university, community, and region. Faculty stability and experience is unusually high; all current faculty have been at NMU for at least 10 years with an overall average of 20 years of service. Current ensembles include Marching Band, Pep Band, Symphonic Band, Jazz Band, Jazz Combos, Percussion Ensemble, University Choir, Madrigal Singers, The Marquette Choral Society, Lake Effect Show Choir, University Orchestra and Opera Theatre Workshop. A complete renovation of Thomas Fine Arts building and opening of the Reynolds Hall in 2005 have provided premier facilities for teaching and performing. The music education degree continues to be the largest program, with graduates having excellent success in finding jobs in public and private schools. Other alumni pursue graduate degrees in music or enter music-related professions, Even if careers take them outside of music, music alumni report that their training has been a vital part of their success, fostering self-discipline and the ability to perform under pressure. Beyond the music major, the department continues its mission to all NMU students by encouraging university-wide participation in ensembles and attendance at musical events offered each semester.