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Willard Kimball

Director, Conservatory of Music

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Conservatory of Music

Willard Kimball was born in Columbus Ohio in 1854. His family later moved to Oberlin, Ohio, where Kimball eventually graduated with highest honors from the Oberlin Conservatory in 1873. He then pursued advanced studies in Leipzig Germany. When he returned, he taught briefly at Oberlin, and then, in 1875, moved to Grinnell, Iowa to establish a conservatory at what is now Grinnell College. Kimball enjoyed a successful career in Iowa for over 18 years

At the invitation of Chancellor James Canfield, Willard Kimball arrived in Lincoln in 1894 to establish a music conservatory, apparently tempted by the linkage to a large state University. Although Lincoln was in the throes of a serious economic depression, Kimball embarked on the construction of a new enterprise, the independent Conservatory of Music at the corner of 11th and R, directly across the street from the University campus. The Conservatory of Music and the University of Nebraska developed a symbiotic relationship that was not usual during this era.

The Conservatory of Music was particularly popular with young women, who could matriculate exclusively at the Conservatory, or in combination with University course work. Credits were readily transferred, and music courses were listed in University bulletins. This arrangement apparently brought new students to both enterprises and continued until around 1910, when the Regents elected to discontinue the formal arrangement with Kimball that had been developed in 1894. Kimball continued to operate the Conservatory at a profit until his retirement in 1917. Kimball sold the University School of Music, a name he had incorporated around 1900, for $125,000 to private investors. In 1930, the Board of Regents purchased the School for $100,000.
Willard Kimball continued to live in Lincoln and pursued other business opportunities. He died there in 1939.

In 1969 the University of Nebraska constructed a new recital hall on the site of the old Conservatory building. Kimball Recital Hall was named in honor of Willard Kimball, first director of the University School of Music.

Source Information:
Knoll,Robert. Prairie University.
Lefferts,Peter. PAL lecture series
Hammond, Marilyn, and Raymond Haggh. Willard Kimball: Music Educator on the Great Plains. Great Plains Quarterly, fall 1991.