From humble beginnings in 1965, the School of Music – Conservatorium has grown into a major music school of international standing that continues to change and adapt to contemporary needs in tertiary music education.

2017 to present

In 2017, Professor Cat Hope was recruited as Head of School, bringing a focus on Australian music and socio-economic, gender and cultural diversity. In 2019, Hope merged composition and creative music technology into one stream, and a popular music studies stream was introduced in 2020 with inaugural coordinator being Rod Davies. A range of new staff joined the team, including the first Indigenous staff member, Aaron Wyatt. At the end of 2019, two major philanthropic gifts were announced at the school, resulting in the renovation of the music recording studio into a new Digital Hub, and the creation of the Margaret Kartomi Gallery, a new home for the Monash Archive of Musical Instruments (MAMU) in the school.


Associate Professor Thomas Reiner was appointed as Acting Head of School in mid-2009, overseeing the streamlining of the Bachelor of Music degree into Composition, Musicology (including Ethnomusicology) and Performance. The demand for our Bachelor of Music degree increased by 44%, the largest in our history. International engagement increased, seeing students travelling to such places as Brazil, USA and Italy to undertake part of their studies.

In 2011 Robert Burke was appointed Head of School and introduced the partnering of major festivals such as Melbourne International Jazz Festival and the Melbourne Arts Festival. Professors Tony Gould, Richard Divall and Paul Grabowsky – who later went on to be the executive director of Monash University Academy of Performing Arts – were appointed Vice Chancellor’s Professorial Fellows in the school and the Monash Orchestra was developing into one of the best university orchestras in Australia.

In 2012 the School of Music – Conservatorium changed its name to Sir Zelman Cowen School of Music.


Under Heads Peter Handsworth and then Associate Professor Craig De Wilde, the Bachelor of Music and double degree courses introduced instrumental and vocal pedagogy and professional practice. The Bachelor of Music Composition stream and the PhD in Composition admitted its first candidates. In 2002, the Jazz and popular studies program began under Rob Burke. In 2006, the Vice-Chancellor established the Monash University Academy of Performing Arts; oboist and conductor Mr Jeffrey Crellin was appointed the inaugural Artist Director. The inaugural Music in the Round festival was held in September 2007, and continued to be an annual fixture on Melbourne’s music scene for some time. In November 2007, the first music students participated in a 3-week study program at the Monash Centre in Prato Italy, a program that continues to this day.


Under the headship of Professor Margaret Kartomi, the school (or Department as it was called then) expanded to teach and research music performance and composition, as well as musicology and ethnomusicology. Research staff were appointed and the number of postgraduate students rose to 60. In 1993, a new Bachelor of Music and a range of double degree programs were established: Music/Arts, Music/Commerce, Music/Education, Music/Law and Music/Performing Arts. The double degree structure continues to this day.

The school's continuing international reputation in Asian (especially Southeast and South Asian) music research was complemented by emerging research strengths in historical musicology, popular music studies and composition. In 1994 the Australian Archive of Jewish Music was established as a joint venture between the School of Music and the Australian Centre for Jewish Civilisation. From 1995, the university established the Monash Arts Precinct on the Clayton campus with an expanded suite of fine concert and theatre venues in which to promote its musical and other performing arts activities. As the Precinct developed, funding was found to create the Performing Arts Centre, and in 1995 the school established itself in its current building, which facilitated many more performance opportunities.


Under Head Professor Trevor Jones, the Department concentrated on teaching and researching musicology and ethnomusicology (especially Indigenous Australian, Southeast Asian and South Asian music). Staff members, including Professor Jones, Dr Stephen Wild, Dr Alice Moyle, Dr Margaret Kartomi and Dr Reis Flora established the School’s international research profile. The Department also enrolled an increasing number of postgraduate students.