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Department of Composition FAQ

What are the performance opportunities for composers at UM?

Performance is at the heart of the composition program at University of Michigan. Each year, the University Symphony Orchestra performs a concert of master’s student theses at historic Hill Auditorium in downtown Ann Arbor. Local orchestras frequently hold calls for works by UM student composers and the Ann Arbor Symphony has a tradition of performing student works as well. Renowned University ensembles including the Chamber Choir and Symphony Band also frequently perform works by current students.

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 socialization.

There are performers from all studios are champions of new music, and relationships fostered here at UM will yield life-long collaborative relationships. The School’s applied performance faculty enthusiastically supports a culture of new music creation and performance, and will occasionally commission student works for their own recitals. Many performance majors at UM are composers as well and most student composers are accomplished performers on their primary instrument.

write HEAR / right NOW is the concert series that presents new student works four times per year. Composers can serve on the write HEAR / right NOW committee, advised by Professor Bright Sheng, 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.

Is it possible to pursue interests in other fields?

Our students are encouraged to take advantage of all the University has to offer. Composers frequently collaborate with artists in other fields through specific courses such as: Dance and the Related Arts, a production course in which students develop a performance with enrolled students from dance, music tech, art, and theater; Words and Music, a course in which composers and poets collaborate on new works; and Music and Media, a class taught in conjunction with the art school on sound and multimedia; Music and the Environment, administered by Professor Evan Chambers each year. There are two faculty members in the School with joint appointments in the School of Art (both are composers in the Music Technology department). Our students regularly write works for Dance Department productions, incidental music for theater, and music for student films. There are two annual student-produced intermedia art shows on campus. In addition to interdisciplinary artistic fields, composers have recently engaged with outside scholarly interests such as Women's Studies, LGBTQ Studies, Screen Arts & Cultures, Engineering, and Computer Science.

How are studio teachers assigned?

During the summer prior to the new school year, you will be asked to submit a first and second choice preference for your studio teacher. We make every attempt to honor all first-choice requests, but if you do not receive your first choice during the first year, we home to accommodate your first choice 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 rotate teachers each year. Undergraduate students begin private study with a composition faculty member from their first semester.

What is the arts scene like in Ann Arbor? Are there many cultural events?

Our standard answer to these questions is that when it comes to arts events, Ann Arbor is a town that lives more like a city when it comes to cultural events! Ann Arbor is the home to the University Musical Society, one of the largest University-based concert presenters in the country. UMS has also participated in several commissions of new works, and has drawn artists like Meredith Monk and Laurie Anderson here to rehearse and premiere major new works, such as Anderson’s opera Moby Dick. Over the next five years, UM and UMS are hosting the New York Philharmonic through a residency that includes concerts, master classes, and entrepreneurship seminars. The Metropolitan Opera touring company presents here nearly every year, and the Royal Shakespeare Company is in residence every year as well. There are two professional theater companies in the area, several independent film series including the Ann Arbor Film Festival, and two independent professional dance companies. There are jazz clubs, and three professional orchestras in easy driving distance (Ann Arbor, Detroit, and Toledo). There is a thriving post-techno scene in Detroit, and a thriving rock scene as well. There is a major folk music performance venue in town (the Ark) that also runs an annual folk festival. There are three big dance clubs in the immediate area. One index of musical life here is that when the Vienna Philharmonic took two tours of North America in the 1980s, they traveled to New York, Los Angeles, Montreal, and Ann Arbor.

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