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Final Decision - Undergraduate Composition

SmallShermSmallSherm 2 replies1 threads New Member

I'm a high school senior and prospective music composition student with three school choices remaining. The remaining contenders are: Temple University (Boyer College of Music and Dance), Gettysburg College (Sunderman Conservatory), and Susquehanna University. All three are [initially] financially comparable, within $2.5k of each other with all costs factored in, and under $10k.

Temple is narrowly the least expensive, but has the added benefit of having offered scholarships in the form of full tuition, so future tuition increases would be negated. It also offered stipends for educational "research" use over the summer. Boyer College is well-established and essentially a rebadged and fully incorporated New School of Music, which was founded by Curtis faculty back in the day. Of course, it is foolish in this day and age for most prospective music students to charge into a musical education without evaluating a backup option; else I would have applied to standalone conservatories. Temple offers many classes between their Science and Technology department and the Tyler School of Art that would satisfy my desire to pursue web design as a secondary interest (which has, for the past several years, been a hobby of mine). I'd confidently be able to pull these classes into an interdisciplinary minor. The city's opportunities are stupendous, with access to the Philadelphia Orchestra being chief among them. However, I'm not thrilled with Temple's setting; I'm from a rural-ish area, and I've found that as a composer I work best in quieter, more natural environments. Accordingly, I have some concerns about whether or not I'd really be at my creative best at Temple. Furthermore, I have a hard time getting "excited" about the school.

Susquehanna is the only option of the three that does not have a discrete music school; what they have instead is a locally reputed music department which has been producing musicians for a fairly long time. This is my greatest concern about the school: it doesn't give me the impression that it would competitively be the best at preparing me for a graduate education. Music students are pretty much treated the same way as any other students from an academic point of view, having to fulfill all of the same core requirements, etc. It does offer a graphic design minor which puts sufficient emphasis on web design specifically, however. Violin lessons are required, as is participation in the orchestra, which is fine for me as I planned to do both anyway. The setting on the fringes of PA coal country is quite lovely, and Selinsgrove is pretty far-removed from most of the civilized world. This has obvious disadvantages, but I'm more prone than most to benefit from it.

Gettysburg's Sunderman Conservatory is a fairly recent establishment at roughly a decade old, but has an impressive array of faculty. Of all the schools, I easily felt the most drawn to the music of the composition professor here, and even the short track record of students who have gone before me seems impressive. Web design is where this school falls the farthest short, as it offers virtually no classes on the subject. In fact, it was for this reason that I only applied to the school last minute. There are a couple classes in business/marketing/entrepreneurship and data systems in computing (SQL experience would help) that I'd be able to pick up, but that's it. The question remains concerning whether or not I could forge my own path in the field without the assistance of solid classes, as the industry is so new that basically everyone in it has succeeded there without any formal education. My own experience in the field is not negligible either, and my prospects of striking out and working freelance are actually not too discouraging (that's where the marketing skills would help!). Almost needless to say, this is not very reassuring for my parents, who are looking for a more apples-to-apples comparison with Temple. I'm kind of getting the idea that a liberal arts education has a lot more to do with the experience you acquire than the classes that you take. That statement may be redundant, but take it as you may. Like Susquehanna, violin lessons and orchestra participation are required, which is good. Another potential knock against Gettysburg, though, is the degree I'd come out with. The other two schools offer a B.M. in Composition, while Gettysburg offers a B.A. in Music. Composition isn't even an official major, offered instead as an "emphasis." When I posed the question to faculty, they assured me that it has to do with the way that the conservatory is structured and the requirements for degree accreditation; they deemed it was not worth the restructuring they would have to perform in order to offer a B.M. in Composition, since the course path and practical student experience would end up being virtually identical. On the flip side, because the composer's degree is a B.A., the requirements for graduation are less demanding. This offers some curricular flexibility, which in my case could be allotted to taking more music classes, pursuing web design on my own terms (it's not like the internet is short on resources here), or, more critically, actually composing. The location suffers very much like Susquehanna considering proximity to cultural centers, but I completely fell in love with the setting at first sight. The town is adorable and full of history, the battlefields are gorgeous, and the Appalachian Trail plus a sizeable state forest are not too far off.

Of the three, I have been able to meet up with and speak with students at Gettysburg (the impression was quite positive) and Temple (the impression was also very positive; taking another trip down to Susquehanna to sit in on a class is a current priority. Cost due to yearly inflation is of some concern at both Susquehanna and Gettysburg.

Needless to say, this is a very difficult decision. Could anyone offer insight into any of these schools specifically to help stack the odds? If anyone has experience with composition students, is there any advice you could offer me about what my priorities should be?

Thanks for reading this very long post - I waxed on for a bit longer than I intended.
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Replies to: Final Decision - Undergraduate Composition

  • glassharmonicaglassharmonica 3300 replies54 threads Senior Member
    One of my kids graduated from Tyler (after transferring from another art college.) If you want to ask me about the setting you can send me a PM. I think you may need to have more posts before you are allowed to make private messages, so let me know if that is a problem.
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  • compmomcompmom 11754 replies81 threads Senior Member
    In order to get into grad school, you will need a portfolio and recommendations. Honestly, the music is still the most important factor at that level. I think you should go wherever it is you really want to go, based on faculty, location, size, course offerings and "vibe." I don't think you need to make grad school a factor right now. Temple is a great school but if you prefer the country, go for it (finances allowing).

    Make sure to have opportunities to get pieces played, or make them yourself, and try to do some summer programs to get recordings and meet people. There are good ones in Europe as well as the US.

    In a rigorous BA program, it is true you will have less time to compose, and may not have weekly lessons the first couple of years. Check that out. But you can get a broad education that can help you later, in the visual arts, history, poetry, whatever else interests you.

    Alternatively, if you are anxious to really focus on composing now, then a BM program might work better.

    The thing is, it can work out either way.

    Oh- and a general music program with an emphasis on composing is fine. In fact, some composers don't major in music at the undergrad level, or double major, or do a general music BA. The choices are more flexible for composers I think. Keep in mind that your development as an artist will be over many years :)
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  • beenthereanddonebeenthereanddone 418 replies2 threads Member
    I don't know how important this is for you but.... the social scene at Gettsyburg revolves around Greek life in a major way. For some students, this isn't a problem or a consideration, but for others it matters. Best of luck to you!
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  • SmallShermSmallSherm 2 replies1 threads New Member
    @compmom and @beenthereanddone, thank you both for the helpful advice; all of those things will likely factor into the decision. @glassharmonica, thanks for the offer; I have been onto Temple's campus three or four times now at both Rock and Presser (next to the Tyler School) Halls, but if you have any specific pieces of information that you think might be helpful, I'd be grateful to hear them!
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  • honestmomhonestmom 421 replies7 threads Member
    Boyer's composition program is very competitive, (or at least it used to be!) so congratulations on your acceptance and full tuition scholarship! My S applied there in 2011 and was not accepted into the comp program. We were told they only took 7 out of 30 that applied that year. My D will be attending the Tyler School of Art this fall, and my best friend's S is graduating from Tyler in 2 weeks. So I know a LOT about Temple. I would recommend it over the other schools on reputation alone. In recent years some honor students have developed a new program that allows Boyer student composers to have their works performed by area high school orchestras. There is also a good core group of musicians within Boyer that can play your compositions too. The school is connected to the Tyler School and that makes for a neat sort of "arts campus" which Temple is working to integrate more. I think this is a great advantage as well. The musical performances at both Temple and in Philadelphia are far superior than what you will find at the other schools too. TU students get major discounts at the Kimmel Center and the many art museums around Philly.

    The stipends for additional research at Temple should not be sneezed at, either. My D got one of those and it was a big reason she chose Temple. You can use them to study abroad or go somewhere like L.A. or New York for a semester to study with a composer.

    Best of luck to you. PM me if you want more specific info about Temple. I don't know as much about Boyer.
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