MA and PhD degrees in Composition
This document lays out academic requirements and policies for the MA and PhD degrees in Composition at the Eastman School. A companion document provides similar information for students pursuing MM and DMA degrees in composition.
Entering graduate students must take a Music History placement test and a graduate Theory placement test, which both are offered during the week before classes begin. These tests are evaluated, respectively, by the Music History and the Theory Departments. On the basis of their evaluations these departments may recommend or require that you take certain courses in their department during your studies at Eastman to redress areas considered weak or deficient. Results of these exams are made available to your academic advisor.
Oversight of all Eastman MA and PhD degrees is provided by the Associate Dean of Graduate Studies, currently Marie Rolf, and the Graduate Research Committee, which consists of one faculty member from each major department, including Composition. Dean Rolf’s office is in room 103. Information in her office includes deadlines and forms for various tests and requirements. The Graduate Handbooks, Policies, and Forms page of the Eastman Graduate Studies web page includes guidelines for submitting a PhD Program of Study or dissertation proposal as well as various other forms and documents that you will find helpful.
To be considered a full-time student (for student loan and visa purposes) graduate students must enroll for 12 credit hours per semester. For students holding graduate awards, this requirement is 9 credit hours per semester. International students should refer visa questions to the office of the Associate Dean of Graduate Studies or to the International Services Office.
You must enroll continuously, every semester (excepting summers) from the time you enter Eastman until the date on which you graduate. Students who have completed all course requirements, but not all degree requirements (such as their PhD dissertation, MA thesis, or a language requirement) can register for Eastman course number 999 Continuation of Graduate Enrollment (Full Time) or 995 Continuation of Graduate Enrollment (Part Time) while completing unfinished work. Note that these courses carry a fee.
Descriptions of Eastman courses can be found online at https://www.esm.rochester.edu/registrar/courses. However, you must consult the course description guide that is included in your registration materials for each semester to determine which courses are offered during the current term. 200 level courses are considered undergraduate courses and generally cannot be counted toward an MA or PhD degree. However, there are exceptions, such as CMP 225-6, Introduction to Computer Music Techniques, which can carry graduate credit. Entering MA and PhD students with no or minimal experience in electroacoustic music are advised to enroll for CMP 225-6 as an elective during their first year at Eastman, then register for the required CMP 421-2, Advanced Computer Music Techniques course during their second year. 400 level courses are designed primarily for Masters students and 500 level courses almost exclusively for doctoral students.
All Eastman composition majors are assigned a faculty advisor (or mentor) and must meet with this advisor when first entering Eastman, before registering for classes for their initial semester of study. The academic advisor for all MA and PhD students currently is Robert Morris. Students are encouraged to meet with their academic advisor periodically during their course of study, especially before preparing a Program of Study, but also to discuss procedures for submitting a dissertation or thesis proposal to the Department or to discuss questions or problems that arise at any time during their course of study. Many such questions can be handled by means of email correspondence. However, your advisor is ready to meet with you at any time to discuss more complex issues.
This document lays out academic requirements and policies for the MA and PhD degrees in Composition at the Eastman School. A companion document provides similar information for students pursuing MM and DMA degrees in composition.
Timelines for Completion of Degrees
Graduate degrees at Eastman must be completed within a prescribed period of time.
- For MA students this deadline is 5 years from matriculation at Eastman
- For PhD students the deadline is 6 years after entering Eastman with a masters degree or 7 years after entering Eastman with a bachelors degree
If you realize that you will be unable to meet this deadline, you must submit a letter to the Graduate Research Committee electroncially, annotated by your department chair, academic advisor or dissertation advisor(s) (whichever person is most qualified to speak to the reasons for the extension), stating the reasons for your request, a proposed new completion date (typically between one year and a year and a half after your original seven year expiration date), your outstanding requirements and your progress in completing these requirements. The form for submitting this request is available at https://www.esm.rochester.edu/grad/files/Request-an-Extension-of-Time.pdf.
After filling out this form with computer software such as Acrobat Reader, email it to your department chair, academic advisor or dissertation advisor, who, if (s)he supports your request, will complete and digitally sign the form and forward it to the Graduate Research Committee for consideration.
The MA degree in Composition normally can be completed in two years, and if you are receiving financial aid this typically will be available to you only for a two year period.
The MA degree at Eastman consists of between 31 and 35 academic credit hours. Degree requirements for the MA in Composition are listed at https://www.esm.rochester.edu/registrar/policy/07-00/#07.02.04 and a checklist of required and elective courses and requirements can be found at https://www.esm.rochester.edu/registrar/files/2014/05/MA_Composition1.pdf .Electives can include 3 credit hours of CMP 591 (Composition Research Seminar). At least 9 hours of your 9 to 12 hours of elective study must be in areas other than composition and applied study. Most elective credit hours typically are concentrated in 400 level music theory and history courses. Most Composition MA students register for 6 hours of CMP 495 (MA Thesis) during the second year of their MA residency, but it is possible to include up to 8 hours of CMP 495 credit in your program if your thesis is more substantial, or requires more research, than is typical. If you register for 10, 11 or 12 hours of elective study, you probably will register for fewer hours (5, or at most 6) for your MA thesis work.
If at any time you have any questions concerning course registration or your academic studies do not hesitate to consult with your academic advisor.
M.A students in Composition are required to complete a thesis that has two components: (1) a large-scale musical work, whose specific length, instrumentation and scope should be discussed with and approved by the designated advisor, and (2) an essay of publishable quality. Both components of the thesis are completed under the supervision of faculty advisors, usually during the student’s second year at Eastman. There are often separate advisors for the composition and paper portions of the thesis.
Before work on the thesis can begin, the student needs to find a thesis advisor for each component of the thesis. The thesis advisor for the composition component will be a member of the composition faculty. The thesis advisor for the written component may be a faculty member outside the composition department, or a member of the composition faculty. In some cases, one member of the composition faculty will act as the advisor for both components of the thesis.
In consultation with her thesis advisor(s), the student will prepare a brief (maximum one-page) proposal of her thesis essay. This proposal must be submitted to the Composition Department faculty by April 1st of the student’s first year of study. The composition faculty will determine the viability of the essay proposal by April 15. If modifications to the proposal are deemed necessary, the student should re-submit the modified proposal by April 22.
The thesis needs to be approved by a reading committee. The reading committee will consist of three members, who will be the thesis advisor (or advisors) and one (or two) composition faculty that will be appointed to serve. The thesis advisor(s) will determine when the thesis is ready to proceed to review by the full committee.
M.A. students planning to graduate in May, must submit both parts of their thesis for review to the reading committee by March 1. Failure to do so will result in a delayed graduation date. Please submit two copies of both the composition and the research paper for the reading committee review. Any corrections and revisions suggested by the reading committee will be implemented under the supervision of the thesis advisor(s). The revised and corrected documents will be submitted for approval to the thesis committee by April 1.
The PhD degree in Composition consists of three years of course work and additional requirements, such as a doctoral dissertation and proficiency in two foreign languages. Most of our students take four or perhaps five years to complete all of these requirements. For financial or professional opportunity reasons some students choose to accelerate completion of their degree requirements to less than four years. Conversely, in order to take fuller advantage of performance opportunities for their compositions at Eastman, or to create a larger or more varied corpus of compositions before entering the job market, or for medical or personal reasons (such as having a baby), other students choose or need to stretch out completion of their degree by a year or two.
If you are receiving financial aid in the form of an Eastman Graduate Award, note that at present such award offers to doctoral composition students generally are made only for a period of
- four years for students who began their PhD studies after August 1, 2011
- three years for students who began their PhD studies before August 1, 2011
Plan your entire degree requirement schedule carefully, so that you can complete (and pay for) all of your required academic course work during this period of financial support.
Requirements for the PhD degree comprise 60 credit hours beyond the Masters degree and include:
- Composition courses:Two years of composition lessons; one year of Advanced Computer Music Techniques; one semester of Compositional Practices 1925-1955; 8-12 hours of dissertation credit;
- Four doctoral seminars at the 590, 591 or 592 level;
- Two 400 level or above music theory courses; and
- 10-16 hours of elective credit
At least 20 credit hours must be taken in areas other than composition and applied study.
See https://www.esm.rochester.edu/registrar/policy/grad_research.php#07.03.08 for the official listing of these requirements that is maintained by the Registrar’s Office.
Note in the link above that to fulfill the 12 credit hour doctoral seminar requirement you may choose either to register for two composition seminars (CMP 591-2) and two music history seminars (MHS 590), or else for one composition seminar and three music history seminars.
A suggested elective is CMP 413 Compositional Practices 1955-1980.
PhD students who also received their MA degree in Composition at Eastman already will have completed three of these course requirements ( CMP 421-422 and CMP 412). Courses applied to a masters degree cannot also be applied to a PhD degree, and students in this category will need to find substitute courses for these three in consultation with their academic advisor so that their total credit hours will add up to 60.
Beware of exceeding more than 62 total credit hours, as this can result in additional tuition charges. Plan your Program of Study (discussed below) carefully.
While it is possible to register for dissertation credit hours (CMP 495) during any semester — even your initial semester at Eastman — in order to fill out your load, dissertation credits typically are taken in the third (and/or fourth) years at Eastman, when one actually is working on the dissertation.
The Eastman PhD degree requires a reading knowledge of one foreign language. In the past this language had to be some combination of French, German and Italian. Recently, however, Composition PhD students have successfully petitioned the Associate Dean of Graduate Studies to apply tests in such languages as Spanish, Russian, Norwegian and Czech to satisfy one of their language requirements. In such cases, the student, after consulting with his academic advisor, must petition the Graduate Studies Associate Dean in a brief letter requesting such a substitution.
The language exam consists of two parts:
- Translation of a one page text on music, often from a scholarly journal article; and
- Translation of a one page literary or general textThe use of a dictionary is permitted during the test. For more information on these tests contact Professor Reinhold Steingrover at firstname.lastname@example.org.If a student fails a test in a particular language twice, she generally will be required to enroll in a sophomore language course (without academic credit) and pass the second semester of this course with a grade of B+ or higher.Another option that has been exercised by many recent Composition PhD students is substitution of an original research project, employing one or more programming languages such as C, Java, Pure Data, MAX, Csound or SuperCollider, for the second language requirement. This research project should comprise at least 40 or 50 hours of work and should produce compositionally, musically or pedagogically useful source material or analyses in a manner not easily attainable with existing commercial or open source computer applications. (In other words, your project cannot simply duplicate resources available in existing applications.) Many other avenues of research also are possible, however, such as in-depth comparisons of the strengths and problems associated with various types of sound synthesis or processing procedures, or new approaches to sound synthesis or algorithmic composition.Students wishing to pursue such a project should discuss their ideas with the Director of the Eastman Computer Music Center. When the project is completed the student must document the project in a short (typically two page) paper.
Some time during their third or fourth semester — at a point where they feel confident in determining all of the courses they will take at Eastman — all PhD Composition majors must submit a Program of Study (POS) in consultation with their advisor. The POS lists all of the courses you intend to register for at Eastman, grouped by category: Composition, doctoral seminars, electives and dissertation credits. Your POS also should indicate which of these courses you already have completed, and which ones you currently are taking, as well as number of credit hours for each course and the total number of credit hours for which you intend to register.
The purpose of the POS, which is reviewed by the Graduate Dean and the Graduate Research Committee, is to provide an additional check, in case your advisor has missed something or there are questions about the appropriateness of one or more particular courses, that the courses you have selected will fully meet the academic requirements for your PhD degree. Before preparing your POS, you should consult with your academic advisor.
Instructions for submitting a POS can be found at https://www.esm.rochester.edu/grad/pos/. Your POS must be submitted online, and must be approved by your academic advisor. The PDF form on which you complete your program of study is available at https://www.esm.rochester.edu/grad/files/2010/10/PHD_Program_of_Study1.pdf. After completing this form, email it to your academic advisor, who will review it and, if everything looks kosher, digitally sign (recommend approval of) your submission and forward it to the Graduate Research Committee for consideration.
If at any point after approval of your POS you wish to make any changes in the courses for which you will register, you will need to write a short letter to the Graduate Research Committee, requesting approval for these changes, and include a revised POS. Email this letter and your revised POS to your academic advisor, who will digitally sign your submission and forward them to the Graduate Research Committee.
The PhD comprehensive exams, offered three times each year, are designed to assess the student’s breadth of knowledge and competency in music history in theory, primarily (but not exclusively) in Western art music from the medieval period to the present. These exams consist of two portions:
- a written exam, lasting two full days, consisting of essays, score and term identification and musical analyses, evaluated by faculty from the music history and theory departments; and
- an oral exam, usually scheduled between four and six weeks after successful completion of the written exam. During the oral exam, which normally lasts about two hours, the student will meet with four faculty members (two from the Composition Department), with a focus on major developments in 20th and 21st century music and the student’s ability to articulate his or her own assessment of several compositional issues.
Samples of past written exams are available in the Graduate Studies Office (room 103). Additionally, or alternatively, you may find it helpful to look at the study guides for the similar DMA Comprehensive written exam. You can request access to these study guides at https://www.esm.rochester.edu/grad/studyguides
Students who fail the written exam will be permitted to re-take it a second time. A second failure will result in termination of the student’s PhD program. Students who fail the oral exam may re-take it once, or, at the discretion of the examining committee, may be asked to fulfill a remedial project to address weak areas of the exam.
In determining how best to prepare for their comprehensive exams, students are encouraged to consult with their academic advisor. Fellow students who already have taken these exams can of course also provide valuable suggestions.
The dissertation is the capstone of a PhD student’s work at Eastman. Although work on a dissertation typically begins during the student’s third or fourth year, while he may also be completing other degree requirements, a completed dissertation cannot be submitted until all of these other degree requirements have been completed.
A PhD dissertation in Composition is in two parts:
- a large scale composition, although not necessarily for a large ensemble.
There is considerable flexibility in media, including large or small ensemble, soloist, or an electroacoustic work. The Composition Department considers this composition to comprise about 75 % of your dissertation.
- a research paper of 30-40 pages, including bibliography, comparable to a lengthy article in a scholarly journal that presents original research. Here again there is considerable flexibility in possible topics. The paper might analyze a composition, or some aspect of a composition, or compare two or three compositions, or might examine some composer’s approach to particular compositional resources or issues. The paper cannot be primarily concerned with your own music.
As with the MA thesis, work on both components of the dissertation are supervised by a faculty advisor. Often there are separate dissertation advisors for the composition (a member of the Composition Department faculty) and for the paper (who may be a faculty member from any department).
Your initial task, typically undertaken during your third year of study, is to map out projections for both the composition and the paper. Your academic advisor or composition teacher may be able to assist you in clarifying and sharpening your ideas or in suggesting appropriate dissertation advisors.
Next you should arrange to meet with the advisor(s) with whom you would like to work in order to present and discuss your ideas, to determine if (s)he or they are willing to serve as your dissertation advisor, and, if so, to identify two other faculty members who may be willing to serve on your dissertation reading committe.
There will be either three or four members of your reading committee, including (1) your dissertation advisor(s); (2) another member of the Composition faculty; and (3) a faculty member from outside the department. University regulations specify that if the advisor for the essay portion of your dissertation is not a member of the Composition faculty, (s)he cannot simultaneously serve as your “outside” reader, and you will need to identify a fourth reader, also from outside the department, to serve on your committee.
Working with your dissertation advisors, identify two appropriate additional faculty members to serve on your reading committee. Contact these faculty and obtain their willingness to serve on your committee.
Working with your dissertation advisor(s) you then need to prepare a dissertation proposal that outlines your plans for both portions of your thesis. Your projections for the composition portion generally can be stated within two or three paragraphs, in which you specify instrumentation, number of movements and approximate total duration, generative compositional and stylistic procedures and resources that you intend to employ, and other salient characteristics of the work. The essay portion of your proposal probably will require three or more pages, within which you clearly present the nature and scope of your topic, make mention of related studies, delineate the unique aspects of your own proposed study (how it differs from related studies, and represents an “original contribution to knowledge”), and include a bibliography.
Additionally, your dissertation proposal needs to include a cover (or “title”) page. A sample cover page, along with additional guidelines for preparation of the proposal, is available at https://www.esm.rochester.edu/grad/pos/
When your dissertation proposal is ready, submit it to all members of your reading committee and obtain the approval signatures of your advisor(s), readers and the department chair on a single copy of the cover page. Then submit your proposal electronically to all members of the Composition Department faculty, or else submit hard copy of your proposal to the Composition Department office, for approval by the full Composition Department. After approval by the Composition faculty, your composition dissertation advisor will forward a copy of your proposal to the Graduate Studies office.
When you have completed a draft of both portions of your dissertation, your dissertation advisor(s) will determine when your composition and paper are ready for review by all members of your committee. However, to make certain that your dissertation will be completed and approved in time for your intended graduation date, be sure to consult the deadlines for submission of your fair copy and your “final” copy in the yearly Graduate Calendar, which is available in hard copy outside room 103 (the office of Associate Dean of Graduate Studies) and online at https://www.esm.rochester.edu/grad/calendar. For May graduation, both parts of your dissertation must be approved by your advisor(s) and officially submitted to the reading committee in early December. Another important deadline is submission of the so-called (but probably mis-named) final copy of your dissertation, which includes corrections and/or revisions, generally sometime around February 25 if you anticipate receiving your degree in May. During the weeks after this deadline your readers will peruse both portions of your dissertation, and may submit further questions, suggestions or corrections to you that will need to be addressed before your dissertation is judged acceptable.
When all of your readers have approved both portions of your dissertation a defense will be scheduled, in which you will be asked to summarize your work and your readers, along with a defense chair appointed by the University from outside the Composition Department, will ask you questions and engage you in discussions on topics pertinent to both portions of your dissertation. After passing the defense, you will have completed all degree requirements.
For a variety of reasons, but most often because they have obtained a teaching or other position, or wish to research the paper portion at some other appropriate location, some students request that they be allowed to work on their dissertation in absentia. If this is your intention, be sure to obtain approval from all members of your reading committee, and recognize that this can introduce considerable complication and delay in the process of completing your PhD thesis.