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The Conservatory has a bright future and storied past, dating back more than 100 years. In 2019, the Conservatory and UMKC Theatre merged, beginning a new performing arts collaboration that will educate, enrich and inspire performers for years to come.

Conservatory History

Important people and events that shaped the history of music, dance and theatre at UMKC through the decades.

  • 1900–1919

    • The Conservatory was founded first as the Kansas City Conservatory of Music by John Cowan in 1906.
    • In 1916, Cowan turned over the original Conservatory to the City of Kansas City, Missouri, making it the first publicly owned and supported music conservatory in the country.


  • 1920–1939

    • On July 1, 1926, the Conservatory merged with the Horner Institute for Fine Arts, founded in 1914 by Charles Horner (1878-1967).
    • With nearly 4,000 students, the Conservatory became the third largest music institution in the country by 1929.
    • In the early 1930s, the English department at the University of Kansas City (UKC), a private university and predecessor of UMKC, sponsored plays in association with community groups in off-campus venues.
    • Conservatory director John Thompson, pianist, teacher, composer and author of the John Thompson’s Modern Course for The Piano series, published his most well-known pedagogical book, Teaching Little Fingers to Play, in 1936.


  • 1940–1959

    • Archie Jones, Conservatory dean, was instrumental in the creation of the American Choral Directors Association, founded in 1959.


  • 1960–1979

    • In the early 1960s, theatre professor Dr. Patricia McIlrath began bringing in an impressive succession of guest professional artists, including international directors, to work with students on academic theatre productions.
    • Vincent Scassellati came to the university as a full-time costume designer in 1962, and his creations appeared in hundreds of academic and professional productions.
    • UKC became the University of Missouri-Kansas City (UMKC) when it joined the University of Missouri system in 1963.
    • Wanda Lathom-Radocy, professor emerita and founder of the UMKC music therapy program, played a leading role in developing higher education curricula for the emerging music therapy profession in the 1970s.
    • Theatre became a separate department at in 1972, with two rotating professorships that brought distinguished professional theatre artists to campus for one-semester appointments.
    • Conductor Eph Ehly, professor emeritus, founded the International Choral Symposium in 1975.


  • 1980–1999

    • The Conservatory’s classical dance program began offering a dual-emphasis program of ballet and modern dance in the 1980s, becoming one of the first institutions to provide this dual-emphasis preparation.
    • In 1981, the UMKC Department of Theatre was granted authority to offer the only Master of Fine Arts degrees in theatre in Missouri. The two new Master of Fine Arts degrees were in acting/directing and design/technology.


  • 2000–Now

    • Sound designer Tom Mardikes rebranded the department as UMKC Theatre in 2001. He also initiated co-productions with the Coterie and Unicorn theatres.
    • Conservatory students began regularly performing at the world-renowned Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts after it opened in 2011.
    • The M.F.A. acting program was named one of the top 25 programs in the United States by The Hollywood Reporter in 2019.
    • In July 2019, UMKC Theatre joined the UMKC Conservatory.

Noteworthy alumni and guest artists

The Conservatory has been the academic home for acclaimed alumni and guest artists alike.

  • Charles Bruffy (M.M. '88, choral conducting) directs the Phoenix Chorale and has multiple Grammy nominations and wins as director of the Kansas City Chorale.
  • Toccarra Cash (M.F.A. '08, acting) appeared in the Off West End play Half Me, Half You, February 2019. She had her Broadway debut as Annie in The Play That Goes Wrong, August 2018.
  • Youming Chen (D.M.A. '14, viola performance), who was a member of the Kansas City Symphony, was appointed to the viola section of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, under the baton of Riccardo Muti, in 2015. 
  • Scott Conner (B.M.'08, vocal performance) made his Metropolitan Opera debut in Der Rosenkavalier, April 2017. He has performed on stages around the world.
  • William Dawson, a 1923 graduate of the Conservatory's predecessor, Horner Institute of Fine Arts, was a world-renowned African-American composer and is most noted for his arrangement of spirituals. 
  • Allison Dillard (M.F.A. '12, theatre design) won in the category of Costume Design (Intimate Theatre) at the 29th Annual L.A. Stage Alliance Ovation Awards for her work on Priscilla, Queen of the Desert with Celebration Theatre. 
  • Patrick Du Laney (M.F.A. '19, acting) joined the Broadway cast of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, March 2019.
  • Amanda Frederick (M.M. '11, vocal performance) performed for Pope Francis at Saint Charles Borromeo Seminary in Philadelphia , 2015. She was also a semi-finalist in the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions in New York.
  • Alanah Garnier (M.M. '16, vocal performance), David Sanchez (M.M. '18, vocal performance), Suzanne Hendrix (D.M.A. '11 vocal performance) and Scott Conner (B.M. '08, vocal performance) each performed at New York City's Metropolitan Opera, 2019.
  • Hermon Mehari (B.M. '10, jazz performance) won the Carmine Caruso International Jazz Trumpet Competition at Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, Texas, 2015. The first-place prize includes an award of $10,000. He was a semi-finalist in the 2014 Thelonius Monk International Jazz Trumpet Competition and won the 2008 National Trumpet Competition. He founded the jazz group Diverse and recorded his first album, Bleu, as band leader, March 2017. It ranked as iTune's top jazz album.
  • Narong Prangcharoen (D.M.A. '10, composition) is a Guggenheim Fellow, Barlow Prize winner and founded the Thailand International Composition Festival.
  • Andres Salguero (D.M.A. and Artist's Certificate '11, clarinet performance), who studied with Jane Carl, won a 2016 Latin Grammy for Best Children's Album for his album Arriba Abajo. This was Andres' second nomination and his first win.
  • Leith Stevens, a 1927 graduate, was a composer of Academy Award and Golden-Globe nominated film scores.
  • John Swapshire (B.F.A., dance) toured nationally with Dirty Dancing: The Classic Story on Stage
  • Sandra Warfield, a 1941 graduate, and retired vocal faculty member Vinson Cole were regular performers at New York's Metropolitan Opera. 

  • Adonis Rose
  • Arianna String Quartet
  • Arnaldo Cohen
  • Benny Golson
  • Bobby Sanabria
  • Carole Vaness
  • Chicago Symphony Orchestra members
  • eighth blackbird
  • Harry Partch Ensemble
  • Jennifer Higdon
  • Jennifer Koh
  • Jonathan Biss
  • John Corigliano
  • Joseph Flummerfelt
  • Joyce DiDonato
  • Kevin Iega Jeff
  • Koresh Dance
  • Leon Fleisher
  • The Mason Brothers
  • Philadelphia Orchestra members
  • PRISM quartet
  • Richard Goode
  • Robert Mirabal
  • Roy Hargrove
  • San Francisco Symphony members
  • Stefon Harris
  • Stephen Hartke
  • Vadim Gluzman
  • Wynton Marsalis
  • Yo-Yo Ma

  • American Heartland Theatre
  • Bach Aria Soloists
  • Chamber Music Society of Kansas City - James Hall, alumnus (2003)
  • Civic Opera - Martha Longmire, professor emerita (1984)
  • Coterie Theatre
  • Gorilla Theatre Productions
  • Kansas City Actor's Theatre
  • Kansas City Ballet - Tatiana Dokoudovska, associate professor emerita (1957)
  • Kansas City Chorale - Jonathan Griffith and Charles Bruffy, alumni (1982)
  • Kansas City Philharmonic, which later became the Kansas City Symphony - Karl Krueger (1933)
  • Kansas City Symphony - Russell Patterson (1982)
  • Kansas City Youth Symphony - Glenn Block (1958)
  • KC Chamber Orchestra
  • Lyric Opera of Kansas City - Russell Patterson, alumnus and former assistant professor of music (1958)
  • Martin City Melodrama
  • New Theatre Restaurant
  • newEar - Pat Conway and Mark Lowry, alumni (1994)
  • Operakadopera - Anne DeLaunay (2002)
  • Puccini Festival - Andy Anderson (2000)
  • Quality Hill Playhouse
  • Summerfest - Rebecca Bell and Jane Carl (1991)
  • Unicorn Theatre
  • Wylliams/Henry Contemporary Dance Company