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Ann Arbor as a Cultural Center

Ann Arbor is a major cultural hub for the entire Midwest USA, and home to the University Musical Society (UMS), one of the largest University-based concert presenters in the country. UMS not only provides us with an opportunity to experience creativity from all areas of the globe, but it has also participated in commissions of new works, and has drawn artists such as Meredith Monk and Laurie Anderson here to rehearse and premiere major new works, like Anderson’s opera Moby Dick.

Through 2019, U-M and UMS are hosting the New York Philharmonic through a residency that includes concerts, master classes, and entrepreneurship seminars. There are two professional theater companies in the area, several independent film series (including the Ann Arbor Film Festival), two independent professional dance companies, jazz clubs, and three professional orchestras in easy driving distance (Ann Arbor, Detroit, and Toledo). Detroit has thriving post-techno and rock scenes. The Ark, a major folk music performance venue in town, runs an annual folk festival. In fact, the state of Michigan is home to an incredible number of summer music festivals, like Electric Forest, Detroit Concert of Colors, Rootenanny, etc.

Museums like the Detroit Institute of Arts, the Motown Museum, and the Museum of Contemporary Art of Detroit (MOCAD) are not far away.

William Bolcom Residency in Composition

Each term, the Composition department invites a special guest artist(s) to spend a week on campus, and interact with students and faculty through lessons, workshops, meals, lectures, and performances. Previous Bolcom Residents: JACK Quartet, John Luther Adams, Conrad Pope, Derek Bermel, Gabriela Lena Frank, Martin Bresnick, Lera Auerbach, Sydney Hodkinson, Michael Gordon, and Julia Wolfe.

Studio Assignments

Prior to the new school year, students are invited to submit a first and second choice preference for studio teachers. We make every attempt to honor all first-choice requests, but if you do not receive your first choice during the first year, we do our best to accommodate your preference in the following year. Priority is given to graduating students who might not otherwise get a chance to work with a particular faculty member. Typically, students enroll in a different studio each year to ensure the development of a multifaceted perspective. Undergraduate students begin private study with a composition faculty member from their first semester.

Performance Opportunities

In every department of the University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre, and Dance are champions of originality, and creative interactions fostered in this community yield life-long collaborative relationships. The School’s applied performance faculty enthusiastically supports a culture of new music creation and performance, and both students and faculty commission new works for their own concerts. Many music majors at U-M are composers as well, and most student composers are accomplished performers on their primary instrument. It is not unusual for students to form their own groups, like The Once Festival, the Brave New Works ensemble, Khemia Ensemble, and the Suburban Piano Quartet.

University Ensembles frequently perform works by student composers. Each year, the University Symphony performs a concert of master’s student theses led by Prof. Kenneth Kiesler and his student conductors at historic Hill Auditorium in downtown Ann Arbor. The Chamber Choir and Symphony Band, Jazz Ensembles, Creative Arts Orchestra, Digital Music Ensemble, Contemporary Directions Ensemble, Gamelan Ensemble, Gospel Choir, and Glee Club also perform works by current students and faculty.

Local Ensembles and Orchestras frequently hold calls for works by U-M student composers and the Ann Arbor Symphony has a tradition of performing student works as well.

write HEAR / right NOW is the concert series that presents new student works, 4-5 times per year. Composers can serve on the write HEAR / right NOW committee in order to oversee the programming and publicity of each concert. All involved gain the valuable administrative experience that makes running an interdisciplinary concert presentation possible.

The Midwest Composers Symposium is held each year at one of its four member schools: University of Cincinnati, Indiana University, University of Iowa, and University of Michigan. 10-minute works that were composed in residence here at UM are submitted by students and subsequently programmed in an exciting full day of performance, panel discussions, and socializing.

SMTD@UMMA is the University of Michigan Museum of Art’s concert series, which frequently showcases works by current students, faculty, and alumni.

Brehm Prize in Choral Music is a choral composition competition open to current SMTD students. The winning work is performed by the U-M Chamber Choir, conducted by Prof. Jerry Blackstone, and comes with a $2,000 award. Previous Winners: Carolina Heredia, Greg Simon, John Boggs, Joseph Kern

Brehm Prize in Instrumental Music is an instrumental composition competition open to current SMTD students. The winning work is performed by a U-M ensemble, which changes each year. The 2016 competition will be performed by the Contemporary Directions Ensemble, directed by Prof. Oriol Sans, and comes with a $2,000 award. 2016 is the inaugural year for this competition.

Contemporary Directions Ensemble – This virtuosic new-music chamber ensemble was created in 1968, to perform challenging works of today. The ensemble is led by Prof. Oriol Sans and Prof. Roshanne Etezady.

EXCEL Entrepreneurship Program

The School of Music, Theatre & Dance EXCEL Program provides entrepreneurship training and career services for all U-M students engaged in the performing arts. Its goal is to enable all students to forge a viable career in the performing arts by exploring, developing and leveraging their talents, training, skills, and ambitions. Excellence in Entrepreneurship, Career Empowerment & Leadership (EXCEL) catalyzes success for U-M SMTD students and alumni through curricular and co-curricular offerings, ongoing mentoring, and an arts venture incubator. This brand new program hosts a full schedule of exciting events and course offerings throughout the year.

Interdisciplinary Opportunities

For decades, the University of Michigan has been renowned as a powerful center of creative interactivity. Students and faculty are constantly involved with projects that celebrate collaboration and challenge perspectives. Composers regularly write works for Dance Department productions, incidental music for Theater, and music for student Films and Video Games, and other indescribable interdisciplinary productions.

There are many student-produced Intermedia art shows on campus. In addition to interdisciplinary artistic fields, composers have recently engaged with scholarly interests such as Women's Studies, LGBTQ Studies, Screen Arts & Cultures, Engineering, and Computer Science.

Regularly-occurring Collaborative Courses:

  • Dance and the Related Arts, a production course in which students develop a performance with enrolled students from dance, music tech, art, and theater. Co-led by Profs. Bill DeYoung and Stephen Rush.
  • Words and Music, a course in which composers and poets collaborate on new works.
  • Special Topics course – each semester, one of the Composition faculty leads a course that focuses on an area of their creative interest. Thus far, topics have included Speaking from the Stage (Prof. Kristin Kuster), Arts and Environment (Prof. Evan Chambers), and Counterpoint: a 16th-20th Century Survey (Prof. Paul Schoenfeld)
  • World Music – there are many opportunities to learn about and perform music from other countries, i.e. Javanese Gamelan Ensemble, Michigan Arab Orchestra, Korean Music Ensemble (Sinaboro), Brazilian music (Vencedores), Afro-Caribbean dance and Congolese dance and drumming, to name a few.
  • Electronic Music – from basic laptop operations and Internet work to deeply detailed studio production, all composers are expected to have some experience in the world of music technology. From the interactive Audio/Video studios and Design Labs at the Duderstadt Center to the new Brehm Music Technology wing at Moore Hall, students will have ample opportunity to develop their skills in this innovative area.

Teaching Opportunities

Graduate Student Instructorships are available in: Composition, Theory and Aural Skills. GSI’s work together with professors to facilitate class activities, and develop teaching ability through weekly labs, lessons and lectures.

Additionally, there are often requests for composition lessons from people who live in the surrounding towns. Student composers who are interested can be included in a list of available instructors, which is publicized on our website.

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Photography Credits:

U-M Photo Services

Joe Welsh

Peter Smith

David Smith

Glen Behring

Tom Bower