Throwback Thursday: We’ve Got the Music In Us!

Augustana College Band at a football game, circa 1928, in MSS 367 Martin M. Johnston papers, box 1.

Music is a time honored tradition at Augustana College, and over half of the current student body is involved in music in one way or another. This tradition is a bigger part of our campus history than people might realize. In its early days, Augustana had a prestigious Conservatory of Music, which was founded in January 1886. The Conservatory was a special school within Augustana that was founded to honor the Swedish connection with music, and thus bring our school even closer to its Swedish heritage. The Conservatory grew as the College did until they were merged 1932, at which time the Conservatory was considered one of the “Best Music Schools in the Midwest” (1932 Conservatory Catalog).


In Special Collections’ collection of academic papers and theses (MSS 240), researchers can find an essay written by Augustana student Julie Waetke in 1978 that gives a brief history of the Conservatory of Music. Waetke describes the founding of the Conservatory on January 18, 1886 in this passage, “The person mainly responsible for the birth of the Conservatory was Dr. Olof Olsson. On his legendary European tour, he was so impressed with the music he heard that he was determined to begin a conservatory of music at Augustana. He felt that it wouldn’t be right for the Swedes, a music-loving people, to neglect such an important area in their college” (Waetke 4-5). Dr. Olof Olsson and Dr. Gustav Stolpe are credited with the founding of the Conservatory, and without their dedication the Conservatory might not have reached the level of excellence Augustana’s music department has today. Students attended the Conservatory to become musicians— they earned certificates in music theory, music history and literature, music performance, and music education (Waetke 10-11). As the curriculum expanded, students enrolled in the Conservatory were required to take religion, literature, psychology, and physical education classes as part of Augustana’s Lutheran liberal arts education.


Image C-L39, music room in Old Main, circa 1893. Augustana College Photograph Collection.

The Conservatory (later the music department) changed locations several times throughout its history. It was originally housed in Old Main, which at the time held the library, museum, and humanities departments. It was then moved to a building called East Hall in 1928, which was located where the Brunner Theatre Center now stands. Finally, when Bergendoff Hall was completed in 1960, the music department found a permanent home of its own.

Augustana College Conservatory Rockety-I 1919 (C-L535)

Image C-L535, Augustana College Conservatory students, 1919. Augustana College Photograph Collection.

The music department at Augustana College has continued to evolve and expand since the closure of the Conservatory. The course diversity grew over the years in order to create intelligent interpreters as well as  cultured characters that live a fuller life (1916 Conservatory Catalog). Today the music program looks like a lot of programs here at our liberal arts college. Music students take English, science, math, physical education, and many other subjects to get a full spectrum of experiences and a multifaceted education. The college’s music program maintains an important and prestigious presence on campus. In addition to classes, Augustana offers a diverse sampling of performing ensembles, including two bands, an orchestra, and six choral ensembles. The music department organizes the annual “Christmas at Augustana” recital, bringing many of the groups together in one big celebration. Augustana also has chapters of Sigma Alpha Iota and Phi Mu Alpha, female and male fraternities for music students.


The Augustana Band poses on the steps of Denkmann Library, circa 1928, in MSS 367 Martin M. Johnston papers, box 1.

For more information about Augustana College’s Conservatory of Music, stop by Special Collections and request any of the collections described above, as well as the original records of the Conservatory of Music (MSS 230). To learn more about our campus history, visit Special Collections’ online exhibit, An Augustana Campus History.

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