New Music dean brings ‘vision plan’ to position

Sheila Burt

Toni-Marie Montgomery compares her position as the dean of Northwestern’s School of Music to a Beethoven piano sonata: It starts off slow, but usually ends with a bang.

The bang for Montgomery, NU’s first black female dean, is a fiscally stronger School of Music with improved buildings and a more focused curriculum.

“We want to be a leader where other schools throughout the nation, throughout the world, really look to us, to the Northwestern School of Music, as … the role model for this or that,” Montgomery said. “And the this or that has to be decided.”

Montgomery replaced Bernard Dobroski, who served as Music dean for 13 years, in July. A Philadelphia native, Montgomery most recently served as dean of the University of Kansas School of Fine Arts. There she increased annual gifts to the school from about $400,000 in 2000 to $2.8 million in 2002.

Montgomery said improving the School of Music’s existing facilities could cost between $40 million and $50 million — and finding the necessary funds to accomplish such a goal could take five to 10 years.

Possible changes include a new building connected to Regenstein Hall of Music and renovations to the Music Administration Building.

“Our facilities are simply not adequate,” Montgomery said. “They are not adequate for the high level of training that our faculty provides to our students. They are not adequate for the tuition that our students pay and the expectations that they have and that we have for them.”

Raising money for the school could be difficult. In addition to finding major donors to jump-start the effort, Todd Van Neck, an assistant director of the Office of Budget Planning who works with the School of Music, said the school faces a tough financial history.

“From the financial perspective, the basic issue they have is whether they have enough recurring revenue, meaning dollars that are guaranteed each year, to meet their recurring expenses,” he said.

Rene Machado, associate dean for administration and finance, said a new music facility requires specialized rooms, which would add to the cost of improvements.

Still, Machado said having a new administrator with new energy already has made a difference in the school’s atmosphere.

“She brings a lot of excitement,” Machado said. “She is very focused on addressing many of (the school’s) needs.”

Montgomery’s plan includes visiting other successful music schools. She plans to visit the University of Cincinnati’s College-Conservatory of Music, which recently underwent a $60 million renovation.

By January she hopes to create a plan showing potential donors how money will help the school.

“Because of the high ranking of our School of Music, because of our excellent faculty and our talented students, we deserve better,” Montgomery said. “So I’m going to do everything I can, and that does mean fund raising.”

Part of Montgomery’s “vision plan” for the school is to develop programs involving both the School of Music and other NU schools, a move that could increase the school’s number of grants.

She said she also plans to assess the school’s programs and determine which should receive more funds and which can be cut.

Montgomery said music is one of the main attractions that brings people to the university. She views Pick-Staiger Concert Hall as the NU’s “front porch.”

“(Music) is a part of everyone’s life,” she said. “For me, I can’t imagine life without music.”