Founded on the principle of access to excellence, the Colburn School has remained committed to providing the best possible performing arts education to dedicated students for nearly 70 years. Under the care and guidance of an exceptional faculty, generations of students have discovered and expressed their passion for music, dance, and the performing arts.
The Colburn School provides the highest quality performing arts education at all levels of development in an optimal learning environment.
In the fall of 1950, the University of Southern California (USC) established a small preparatory school offering school-aged children piano lessons. The community welcomed the idea, and within five years, the program supported 50 faculty members and class selection broadened to include strings, winds, and voice instruction.
A successful businessman, Richard D. Colburn also was a violist and had a passion for classical music. When the future of the USC community school came into question, Mr. Colburn stepped in as its benefactor, and in 1980, the Richard D. Colburn’s California Foundation assumed the day-to-day operations of the Community School of Performing Arts, with Toby Mayman at the helm. Mr. Colburn’s vision was to further the school’s efforts as an independent, not-for-profit institution so that children throughout Los Angeles could continue receiving an exemplary performing arts education.
Herbert Zipper, considered the founding father of the community arts movement in the United States, was also a friend and advisor to Richard Colburn. A Holocaust survivor, Mr. Zipper came to the United States after World War II and founded the National Guild of Community School of the Arts. He championed the notion that a performing arts education should be available to everyone, a view that influenced Mr. Colburn as he developed his vision for the Community School.
The 1980’s was a period of significant growth. The Friday Night Recitals were established, more ensembles were formed, and students had greater performance opportunities outside the classroom. In 1983, Joseph Thayer joined the School as dean, and in the decades which followed Colburn added jazz and chamber music to the curriculum, restructured the Suzuki and music theory programs, established an orchestra, and added community outreach programs, among other developments. Additionally, the Friday Night Recitals were established and more ensembles formed or grew in size so students had opportunities to perform outside the classroom. During the 1988–89 school year, the School’s name was changed to the R.D. Colburn School of Performing Arts.
Although the school outgrew its original setting by the late 1970s, toward the end of the 1990s, the Colburn School was ready to move into a new, modern home. On June 30, 1998, school leaders welcomed students, parents, and the community to its current campus on Grand Avenue. The campus became the anchor of a revived downtown cultural corridor. It soon was joined by the Walt Disney Concert Hall, the Broad museum, and other venues showcasing the reinvigorated LA performing arts scene. This campus was designed to encourage students’ studies by offering professional-level rehearsal spaces and performance halls, including the 400-seat Herbert Zipper Recital Hall.
Around the same time, Mr. Colburn established the Colburn Music Fund to help cover the tuition and housing costs for students attending the newly established Colburn Conservatory of Music. In 2004, under the leadership of Dean Joseph Thayer, the Colburn Conservatory of Music matriculated its first class and in 2007, a 12-story residence hall was added to the campus.
In 2008, Colburn established the Trudl Zipper Dance Institute, a comprehensive dance program from beginning through pre-professional. In 2014, it grew to include the Colburn Dance Academy, a pre-professional program for high school-aged students led by Jenifer Ringer, former principal dancer with the New York City Ballet, with guidance from acclaimed dancer Benjamin Millepied.
In 2010, the Colburn Music Academy was created, intended as a highly selective training program for gifted young pre-collegiate musicians and designed to prepare students for conservatory study and performing careers at the highest levels of achievement.
To help prepare students for sustainable careers and nurture their passion and ability to serve their communities, the Center for Innovation and Community Impact was created in 2018. Serving all units of the School, the Center promotes creative thinking among musicians and dancers in a supportive environment that embraces the development of new ideas.