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Department of Composition FAQ

What are the performance opportunities for composers at UM?

The University Symphony Orchestra or University Philharmonia Orchestra does a concert of premieres of student orchestral works each year.  The Ann Arbor Symphony ha in the past performed one student work.

Large and small ensemble works can be submitted for inclusion on the Midwest Composers Symposium, a yearly gathering of the University of Cincinnati , Indiana, Iowa, and Michigan composition departments that rotates from school to school.

The choral and wind ensembles are open to performing student work as well; in recent years the chamber choir and symphony band each performed student works.

Numerous student works are commissioned by other students and performed on recitals; performance faculty have also sometimes performed or commissioned student works.

Composition students here have been very active and supportive in performing each other’s work, and frequently organize their own concerts in the community. Recent examples were a concert of orchestra works that was entirely organized by a student, yearly concerts by an organization supporting women composers, and concerts of organ music at local churces.

There are six composers’ forum concerts per year, two in the fall and four in the winter term. Students submit information about their piece, and it is programmed. Students arrange for their own performers (see the next item.)

Collaboration among departments is frequent yielding student scored films, musicals, and incidental music for theatre works.

This is only a sampling!

Will it be difficult to get performers to play my music here?

There is a strong culture of new music performance here among the performance faculty and students, so securing performers is not difficult. Studio teachers are extremely supportive of their students playing contemporary music, many student recitals have works by our students on them, and the large ensembles frequently perform contemporary works.  A recent trend in graduate student recitals is programming a concert of all new student works. 

How are teaching assignments handled?

You will be asked to submit a first choice and second choice for a private composition teacher. We try to honor all requests, but if you do not receive your first choice the first time, we will try to make sure you get your first choice the next time. Priority is given to departing students, who might not otherwise get a chance to work with a certain faculty member. You will generally work with a teacher for one year and then switch. Undergraduates begin private
study with composition faculty from their first semester.

How many students are in the department?

There are ca. 40 enrolled students; 16 undergrads and 24 grads.

What are the possibilities for collaboration with artists in other disciplines?

There are many, including coursework options: Dance and the Related Arts, a production course in which students develop a performance with enrolled students from dance, music tech, art, theater, etc; Words and Music, a course that creates collaborations between poets and composers; and Music and Media, a class taught in conjunction with the art school on sound and multimedia. 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.

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. We are the home to the University Musical Society, which is one of the largest concert presenters in the country. It brings in top artists on its yearly dance series, chamber music series, orchestra series, and world music series. It 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. The Metropolitan Opera touring company comes here almost every year, and the Royal Shakespeare Company is in residence every year as well. There was a major festival of Louis Andriessen’s music. There are two professional theater companies in the area, several independent film series, an annual 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. It’s a little staggering sometimes!

Take a look at the Ann Arbor Observer monthly calendar of events on to get
an idea what’s going on now.

Also see CompEvents

Who are the faculty?

Evan Chambers, Michael Daugherty, Kristin Kuster, Erik Santos, Paul Schoenfield and Bright Sheng.

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Photography Credits:

U-M Photo Services

Joe Welsh

Peter Smith

David Smith

Glen Behring

Tom Bower