Special Reports

MA Top 30 Professional: Toni-Marie Montgomery

December 5, 2023 | By John Fleming

Dean Emeritus and Professor
Bienen School of Music, Northwestern University

With a long record of achievement behind her at Northwestern University, Toni-Marie Montgomery stepped down as dean of the Bienen School of Music in August. Appointed in 2003, she was Northwestern’s first African American dean and the music school’s first female dean. “Being first has kind of been my life, simply because there have been so few African American women as university administrators,” says Montgomery, who considers her most enduring legacy to be the Patrick G. and Shirley W. Ryan Center for the Musical Arts. The $111 million building overlooking Lake Michigan and serving the Bienen School was completed in 2015. “I say that it was my 12-year-old baby, because the gestation process to get it built took that long.”

Other landmarks of Montgomery’s tenure were the establishment of a pair of biennial prizes: the Michael Ludwig Nemmers Prize in Music Composition, a $100,000 award that went to Tania León this year; and the Jean Gimbel Lane Prize in Piano Performance, a $50,000 award whose 2023 recipient was Maria João Pires. She is proud that the Institute for New Music was founded on her watch. She made a future bequest from her own estate to initiate the Toni-Marie Montgomery/Mattie Drayton Undergraduate Piano Scholarship to honor her mother “and all she did in furthering my musical career.”

Montgomery studied piano performance at the University of Michigan, receiving her doctorate in chamber music and accompanying in 1984. She looks back on that expertise as key to her career as an administrator, which encompassed posts at five universities over nearly 40 years.

“In accompanying and in chamber music, if my collaborator skipped a beat or a measure, then I had to follow. I think this kind of close listening helped me in administration, working with faculty and students, but also in fundraising, where really listening to what donors might be interested in supporting is so important.”




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