The Birmingham Conservatory of Music was opened in 1895 by Benjamin Guckenberger, his wife, and a violin instructor. They were, at that time, the only three faculty members. William Gussen was the second owner/director of the conservatory beginning in 1903 until his death in 1920. His wife, Edna Gockel Gussen, was the conservatory's first graduate and went on to compose the music for the Alabama state song. After her husband's death, she took over as director and owner until 1930. She was the original founder's teenage assistant (having trained under him in at the College of Music in Cincinnati, Ohio).
The conservatory moved onto campus of Birmingham Southern College in 1940 after being located across from Philips High School downtown on 7th avenue North (and before that it was located on 2nd Avenue North). It fully merged with the school in 1953, becoming the home of the university’s music department.
The conservatory has had some successful students in its history. Hugh Martin was enrolled in the conservatory by his mother in 1919. His specialty was piano, which would lay the foundation for a career as a composer. He would go on to work on Broadway and in Hollywood for some of the early 1900s most impressive musical minds.
The conservatory not only taught famous musicians but also other successful individuals as well. Condolezza Rice, the former US Secretary of State, also attended the conservatory in her teenage years while her family lived in Birmingham. She took piano lessons.
Today, the Conservatory of Music at Birmingham Southern still offers private instruction for voice and instruments to students of all ages. Currently, the program boasts over twenty faculty members and over three hundred students. The Birmingham Southern website has information on how to apply for classes at the conservatory.