<p>Many academic music programs are oppressively dogmatic with their aesthetics and ideologies. This is one of those programs. If you are thinking of studying music composition at BGSU, please, PLEASE do yourself a favor and read the entirety of my review!</p>
<p>Avant-garde reigns supreme at BGSU. Anything else is not only discouraged but DISCRIMINATED against. If avant-garde is your aesthetic, then you just might love it here. They have cultivated an atmosphere that is nurturing and beneficial SOLELY to students whose aesthetic fit the faculty's aesthetic and ideology; anyone and everyone with a mind of their own who would fall out of the lock-step will have an exceedingly difficult and aggravating experience here. The narrow scope of the faculty's view of what New Music should be will become all too evident within a month of studying here. God help you if you want to do something besides avant-garde/experimentalism.</p>
<p>BGSU has a fantastic, top-of-the-line music technology lab... but even I was never allowed inside! A grad student in composition, I wasn't allowed access to the more advanced tech studios because I wasn't committed to avant-garde electronic music. Only the students who are devoted to using the high-end software for electronic avant-garde as preferred by the professors are given access. Most of us weren't even allowed into the room! Only a handful of the professors' chosen few could experience BGSU's music technology to its boasted potential. That, to be plain, is FALSE ADVERTISING; the boasted caliber of BGSU's music technology is irrelevant to the vast majority of music students.</p>
<p>BGSU is an extremely dogmatic environment. Master classes focus ONLY on the avant-garde, to the point of redundancy. Example: Twice in one semester, entire master classes were devoted to John Cage, attempting to drill the importance of his aesthetic into us. That time could have been spent looking at a composer with a different aesthetic, thereby making the master class more well-rounded over the course of the semester, but because John Cage is a god to the faculty of BGSU, they wanted to double up on presenting on him.</p>
<p>From the point of view of the faculty, their purpose and mission is to groom you for further "success" in academic music. They strive to produce graduates who reflect well upon the music program at BGSU and the aesthetic ideology thereof. From their point of view, either you are going to go on to pursue doctoral-level studies or you are going to be some sort of independent member of the New Music community at large, but they can't imagine allowing you through the program without making CERTAIN that you are committed to perpetuating their aesthetics with your future career.</p>
<p>And so they must convert you. If you have a different aesthetic, you are a dissenter and, as such, will be broken down until you see things their way. You will be silenced, neglected, ignored, and even insulted... unless and until you adapt to avant-garde.</p>
<p>Sometimes the faculty are subtly insulting or condescending, sometimes passive-aggressive, and one particular professor has a way of silencing dissenting viewpoints by exasperatedly dismissing them outright. Example: In one master class, everyone in the composition department gathered to spend an hour discussing a published essay in the vein of their exact brand of aesthetic. About forty people were sitting in a large circle of chairs, supposedly expected to have an open and equal discussion on the topic. A fellow grad student of mine brought up an interesting question about the latent hypocrisy in the essay, and this professor tersely retorted, "Well then you need to read the essay again." So much for an open discussion, huh? He was a grad student who happened to compose music largely in the Baroque style, which is all but abhorred by the faculty, and because he had a logically sound argument against the writer's point, the professor verbally slapped him down with an irritated and dismissive, "Well then you need to read the essay again." (Although he had already read the essay more times than anyone in the room.) Stunned, he said nothing for the rest of the "discussion," and the only dialogue for the remainder of the meeting was from the more obsequious students, those who wouldn't employ critical thinking to dare oppose the accepted ideology. You see, the composition department at BGSU is all about their-way-or-the-highway. Silence all dissenters seems to be their motto.</p>
<p>I can think of countless instances in which I was treated like a second-class citizen because I didn't want to just be another avant-garde clone. I wanted to GET something out of my two years as a grad student, but I was denied much of the equal treatment and attention many of the other students received.</p>
<p>Even early on in my time there, October of my first semester, things were bad. It was the annual New Music and Arts Festival, a days-long gala of numerous concerts, seminars, and events. The composition majors were all conscripted to do various tasks to assist in getting the festival underway. Every concert/recital was considered a big deal, and it was even mandatory for us to attend them all, yet my professors somehow scheduled me to miss one of them while I was assigned to wait at the loading dock for a truck, to unload amps and other equipment for an upcoming concert. From what I'd heard, it was actually the most enjoyable and diverse (read: palatable) concert of the whole festival, but my professors forced me to miss it. And I was barely even given access to conversations with the guest composers, other than the airport runs I was required to make. When the composition students were treated to dinner at a Lebanese restaurant with the guest composers as a reward for our hard work during the festival, I didn't get to talk to any of them. Overall, both annual New Music and Arts Festivals were just horrendous experiences for me.</p>
<p>Even the student-run organization to promote New Music is mired in the dogmatic agenda of the faculty. This organization is called Praecepta, which is a pretentious composite of two Latin words that no one in the organization could even remember what they meant. So the pseudo-Latin "Praecepta" group was all about putting on concerts of students' compositions that would otherwise not be performed. But they programmed experimentalism almost exclusively. When I would try to program a piece, they always agreed that it was "the wrong time," or it was "not right for the theme of the concert," because it didn't fit with the homogeneous aesthetic agenda of the group. Eventually, I just stopped going to the meetings, when it became obvious that I wasn't going to get anything out of it.</p>
<p>Another organization, the New Music Ensemble, is likewise seemingly devoted to the destruction of tonal music. The professor in charge of the NME declared his intentions to punish the ears of the audience with one particular concert titled "Rhythm and Death," his objective being to anger the audience by subjecting them to a straight hour of excessively abrasive "music." His goal was to deliver a concert so unpleasant to the ear as to actually make people angry. (Incidentally, he succeeded.)</p>
<p>Important caveat to the would-be composition major: IF YOU ARE INTERESTED IN LEARNING ORCHESTRATION, don't bother even applying to BGSU. I was surprised to learn that it isn't taught there. It isn't even addressed. It is actually discouraged. They assume that you have a passing familiarity with the composer Maurice Ravel, a master orchestrator, but they NEVER address any music like that during the master classes. (Atonal composer Pierre Boulez, on the other hand, is considered a genius orchestrator worth studying. Convenient.) One of the composition professors would always say, about older composers' traditional styles, "It's already been done," instead looking only for new ways of experimenting, caring more about helping you to find edgy new ways to NOTATE your music than to actually compose it. But one of the professors (of the four available for composition lessons at the time) was known for her orchestration, and I naturally wanted to take lessons from her, but she flat-out refused to give me lessons. She didn't think I was worth her time to teach one-on-one, so she didn't even give me a chance. The main reason I was pursuing a Master's in the first place was so I could better learn to handle an orchestra, but orchestration is not taught at BGSU at all.</p>
<p>Furthermore, the faculty at BGSU are abysmally bad at communication. Consistently throughout my time there, my classmates would express the same frustration about the faculty's inability to give us any semblance of instructions or expectations. For any project, paper, or presentation, the composition faculty would never really give us parameters on ANYTHING, proceed to assure us "it will be fine," then fault us for not doing it right. Not only would they not give us ENOUGH guidelines, they repeatedly MISinformed us about details regarding the thesis defense, then got angry at us when we didn't magically prepare every detail and jump through every hoop in the exact way THEY envisioned us to do it. We would press for details, get not enough to go on, continue to press for information, and end up doing the best we could with what we knew they wanted, and, incredible as it may sound, the faculty ended up being irritated because we followed their poor instructions to the letter. Every time.</p>
<p>The two biggest examples of this would be the thesis defense (your grand finale to the program) and the big analysis paper-and-presentation project that all second-year grad students are required to do. I have much to say on the subject of the analysis project, but I will come back to that later.</p>
<p>As my time went on at BGSU, it got progressively worse for me. At first, I thought I was just imagining things. Eventually, however, it became more obvious to me, until finally one of the professors more or less admitted that the faculty were against me (I will come back to that later, as well). My second year, I started working on my master's thesis early. I started in the fall, months before some of my classmates, and I still ended up finishing AFTER them, because I was stymied at every turn. My thesis adviser would tell me to do one thing one week, then at the next week's meeting tell me to do the opposite, which just wasted time. Because I started my thesis composition so early, she seemed to think that that meant she could drag out the process until the very last second before the March deadline to apply for May graduation, but my intention was to have it DONE early so I wouldn't have to worry about it, so I could actually have breathing room and get something out of my last few months at BGSU. But both she and the other professor on my thesis defense committee procrastinated and postponed, so I ended up working on my thesis tirelessly, week after week, for nearly my ENTIRE second year, because I was constantly being juggled by my professors. Then, in March, when it was clear that my thesis defense schedule would push me back to an August graduation rather than May, I was immediately moved to the BOTTOM of their list of priorities so they could instead fast-track other grad students' theses in order to let THEM graduate on time, even though they didn't start theirs until after Christmas and I had been working on mine since early OCTOBER. Unbelievable! I should have been FINISHED, or at the very least, at the TOP of the pecking order, since I took the initiative MONTHS before anyone else and had been revising it nonstop! But no, because THEY failed to hold up THEIR end of the bargain in a timely fashion, and because my adviser refused to let me be FINISHED with the piece until it was too late, I was bumped to an August graduation and FURTHER ignored in favor of every other student after me. Outrageous. (I ended up not even walking for graduation, because my lease expired in July, so I had to pick up and leave Ohio to go back home, so I didn't even know until two years later that my thesis adviser dropped the ball on following through with my application for graduation. So I didn't even technically graduate until I applied retroactively, two years later. Yet another way that professor failed me.)</p>
<p>I have another example of how the professors treated me like a second-class citizen because I wasn't one of their pet avant-garde students. When any comp student or professor has a premiere, it is expected (mandatory) that everyone be present. I had a large choral work premiered at an off-campus venue, so it did not mandate everyone's attendance. While several of my classmates attended, NOT ONE of the faculty was in attendance at my concert! NOT ONE. That was during my last semester at BGSU, and by that point the professors had become much more transparent in their antipathy of me. This is yet another example of how some students are treated like second-class citizens: the faculty will break their own rules, just to snub or neglect you. If you dont want to learn to compose music exactly like theirs, they will not help you.</p>
<p>But it gets worse than that. </p>
<p>Let me tell you about the analysis presentations that all second-year grad students are required to perform. Each student must choose a contemporary composition and focus on a fairly narrow aspect for their analysis paper and presentation to the entire master class. The student must prove a graduate-level ability to analyze THOROUGHLY, demonstrating a complete theoretical understanding. But I can't explain it any better than that, because this was yet another example of how poorly the faculty would instruct us to do anything. Even they couldn't give us decent guidelines. I was in the first wave of presenters, so I didn't even have anyone else's project to compare mine to. Until that point, every year the project, while daunting, had been a mere formality, a mere hurdle to jump. It wasn't even pass-fail; it was pass-PASS. Everybody always passed, until the year of my class. Then the faculty arbitrarily decided to suddenly make it pass-fail, and because I was the first, they failed ME. But they didn't fail my presentation for lack of quality: they failed me because my analysis was "too deep." I ran it by my adviser beforehand, and she insisted that I was good to go, so I made SURE that I was doing EXACTLY what the faculty wanted me to do, and they still reneged and decided to fail me just to make an example of me so the other grad students wouldn't simply fudge their way through the project, as it had previously always been merely a rite of passage, not a potential graduation-blocker.</p>
<p>In fact, one of the professors even told me that when I spoke to him about writing an appeal letter. He ACTUALLY told me, "Your presentation was a lot better than those that shouldn't have passed but did. But you have to start cracking down somewhere, and where do you start?" Well, I would think you would start with one of the worse presentations! He proceeded to condescend to me by telling me that I had a second chance and needed to be "proactive about it," that they were doing me a FAVOR by "letting" me write an appeal letter to start the whole thing over from scratch, and that I shouldn't waste that opportunity.</p>
<p>I met with one of the other composition faculty, my adviser for my thesis and for this project, and after pressing her for information, she revealed to me that the reason they failed me was because at least one of the other professors thought I plagiarized because my writing was too eloquent (much more eloquent than this review, I assure you). I'll repeat that: they failed me because they had such a low opinion of me that they believed my writing was simply too GOOD to be my own. What an insult! My language in academic writing is much better than it is elsewhere, which I would think is a given with everyone, but in my case it caused them to disbelieve both my intelligence AND my integrity. I was shocked. </p>
<p>My professor was unfortunately out of the state during my presentation, so she wasn't able to defend me when they decided to fail me, and she certainly made no effort to vouch for me AFTER the fact. When I told her that I felt that the other professors had a very low opinion of my intelligence, INSTEAD of denying it, she looked me straight in the eye and conceded, "Then you'll just have to prove them wrong." </p>
<p>This was late April, two months before I finished my entire degree, and I was actually seriously considering just dropping out of the graduate program, so close to the end, because I was convinced at this point that the faculty would just continue to find excuses to delay my degree completion until I finally conformed to what they wanted me to be as a composer.</p>
<p>I wrote my appeal letter, and they scheduled my make-up presentation during finals week, also the same week as my thesis defense. I think they were purposefully trying to overwhelm me by scheduling ALL of my tasks back-to-back (no one else had to do that). But I did it. I dumbed down my analysis project for them so they wouldn't think that I plagiarized. I also dumbed it down because my adviser thought my original analysis "had too much meat," though she once again neglected to help me meet her arcane expectations in the many meetings leading up to the presentation. Everything she would tell me to do, she would contradict when she would later elaborate on it. (Again, the terrible instruction and communication on behalf of the entire faculty at every turn.)</p>
<p>What all of this means is that I did TOO good of a job and the faculty didn't expect it coming from me; because I didnt fall in line with the facultys dogmatic view of what a proper academic composer should think, they looked down on my intelligence. Fact.</p>
<p>Several other students were outraged on my behalf, but nothing came of it.</p>
<p>The music faculty have proven time and again to be SELF-SERVING, NARROW-MINDED, DOGMATIC, CONCEITED, and DISCRIMINATING... but they are also CORRUPT. Next, I will tell you about their bullying and corruption...</p>
<p>Praecepta, the aforementioned student organization to promote "New Music," had a few thousand dollars in funds by the time I arrived for my first semester at BGSU. A couple of my predecessors had put together a competent budget proposal to the student organization board, procuring funds specifically for the purchase of sound equipment to support off-campus performances. However, with those two grad students no longer around, one of the professors saw an opportunity to requisition those funds to promote his own work on a national tour. This professor had plenty of his own money (or grant money) to use, but he decided he had a right to take all of our organization's funds. The piece was a stage production, incorporating acoustic as well as electronically manipulated instruments, narration, video, and interpretive dance. His wife, the dancer, gave a presentation (sales pitch) at a Praecepta meeting, formally requesting the funds to promote a national tour of the piece.</p>
<p>Personally, I didn't feel any particular claim to the funds because it was my first semester there and I didn't want to stir the pot (and I wasn't even sure I wanted to BE in the group since they were only interested in promoting experimental music), so I abstained from voting, but the others voted to give the professor HALF of what he requested, saving the rest for equipment purchase as was originally intended. Many of the second-year grads had an agenda: to spend it all on a new sound system and new equipment for the digital studio (remember, the one that not even all the composers are allowed into). Essentially, they wanted to blow all the money on things that only a select few individuals could even benefit from. Needless to say, they didn't want to surrender ALL the money to our professor, whose self-serving proposal was staggeringly bold. So they voted to give him HALF.</p>
<p>As a result, one of the other composition professors sent an email to the group LAMBASTING us for not giving the other professor every penny he asked for. She said she was disappointed in us, and she went on and on about how we should be ashamed for not "giving back" to the professor who had "done so much for" us. She demanded that we hold another meeting to RE-vote on giving him the funds. Let's not mince words here: a professor BULLIED her students into disregarding the official rules to hold a SECOND vote to give the funds from a STUDENT organization to a PROFESSOR to promote his own music. I call that corruption.</p>
<p>Of course, when we reconvened to vote again, we unanimously voted to give 100% of the requested funds to our professor. It was a kangaroo court, and we all knew why we were there: to vote unanimously in favor of the proposal. After that, the professor who had condemned our first vote emailed the group again, this time to thank and praise us for our wise and generous decision (which sounded disingenuous, as you can imagine).</p>
<p>That's pretty much how things are done at BGSU. Fear and intimidation are tools of the faculty, and the composition department has a bad habit of using Praecepta as a backdoor funding source. The ostensible purpose of any of Praecepta's fundraisers is just a front for promoting the professors' personal careers.</p>
<p>The faculty care only about perpetuating their dogmatic agenda, about supporting the egos in their circle, not about nurturing the students or really getting any of them to grow into their own, to find their unique voices. The faculty live inside a well-insulated bubble, a bottleneck culture, and the tiny sphere they have created for themselves is one that endlessly strokes and coddles their own egos like a feedback loop. Meanwhile, at least 50% of the student body reflects the self-serving agenda of promoting only avant-garde aesthetics, and students with other interests are repressed. One half of the student body is blissfully oblivious to the frustrations of the other half who just want equal treatment. One half of the student body thrives, because they allow the egomaniacal faculty to mold them into their image, while the other half has an uphill battle.</p>
<p>This is a TERRIBLE music program. </p>
<p>That being said, if you are interested in limiting yourself exclusively to avant-garde thought and do not want to even be exposed to anything else, then this is the perfect school for you as a composer. If you want a haven for experimentalism, if you love avant-garde but have been met with resistance or cynicism elsewhere and now you want to find a place of a sort of reverse-discrimination where you can flourish, then look no further, because BGSU is the place for you. If you compose primarily experimental or avant-garde music, electroacoustic or otherwise, then you will have an easy experience here but won't learn much else, and you CERTAINLY won't end up well-rounded in your musical knowledge.</p>
<p>If you dont conform to their aesthetics and ideology, they will treat you like a second-class citizen. If you arent a sycophant, if you don't feed the egos of the self-interested faculty, you will have an exceedingly difficult time at this program. If you have an interest in film music, concert band music, anything pre-20th Century, or even tonal music in general, you will wish you had studied someplace else.</p>
<p>Ultimately, the music program at BGSU is entirely narcissistic. They have established a reputation as a leading voice of New Music, though only of the avant-garde persuasion. They will absolutely NOT allow anyone to besmirch that reputation by pursuing or promoting an aesthetic or style outside the narrow scope of the avant-garde. It is a fiercely dogmatic environment, and they work hard to keep it that way. You would do well to apply to another university.</p>
<p>I didn't even get to fill out a single evaluation to express any of these grievances, because they knowingly scheduled my thesis defense for AFTER the evaluations were due. I was intimidated into silence, for fear of reprisal from the very professors who held my fate in their hands. By that point, I just wanted to SURVIVE the program, and escape with my hard-earned Master's Degree.</p>
<p>Thus I have given my remonstrance of the music program at BGSU with explicit examples of each grievance. </p>
<p>In summary, you should take away from this the following ten points:</p>
<p>1) Fiercely dogmatic ideology of what New Music should be.
2) Narrow scope of what skills and techniques are taught or encouraged (inadequate program for a well-rounded music education).
3) Favoritism and discrimination; students who don't feed the faculty's self-interest are treated like second-class citizens.
4) Exclusivity; only a select few avant-garde composers ever get access to all of the university's music technology.
5) Student body largely reflects the professors' ideology, promoting a hostile environment to the minority of tonal composers.
6) Repression; "silence all dissenters."
7) Faculty are terrible at communicating expectations or instructions.
8) Faculty embezzle funds from student organizations.
9) Excellent program only for those who wish to focus exclusively on elecroacoustic/avant-garde/experimentalist music.
10) If you insist on being an original composer, you might never graduate.</p>