August 29, 2016 at 4:19 pm #521008
As is the case with many small tuition driven colleges, the college that I teach at is always desperate for more students. As a result our administration has made if clear that they are not totally in favor of auditioning prospective music majors. They would like us to admit anyone and let them “weed themselves out” by their success or lack thereof in courses. I have a couple of problems with this. It can become a morale issue for those that do belong in the program to be “side by side” with those that have no business being there. Several of our current students have said that it is embarrassing to be a music major because “everyone knows that anyone can do that.” I also see it as an ethical issue. I cannot in good conscience take these kids (and their parents) hard earned money if I don’t believe that they have any chance of success. Has anyone else dealt with this issue and how have you navigated these waters. We’d like to come up with a way to allow the students to “give it a shot” without them being able to walk around and announce to the world that they are music majors and with a clear understanding that we are concerned about their ability to be successful in the program. By the way, we have students who want to be majors that play no instruments, can’t match pitch vocally, don’t know where middle c is on the piano, don’t read music at all, etc. All they know is that they like to “make beats” in garage band or some similar program.
Any thoughts, especially from those that have dealt with similar issues, are appreciated.
Dr. Kevin D. SmithAugust 30, 2016 at 8:39 am #521036
Kevin, I’ve been there and agree wholeheartedly with you! As you noted, even if the administration is truly willing to back you up in allowing you to eventually “weed out” those who are unqualified, then the students are being bilked out of their many thousands of dollars.
My case was even worse – the administration claimed that all these students needed was “nurturing.” No surprise what happened next – our students were awful, and our reputation declined to the point that no HS music teachers would recommend my school for their students who wished to major in music. And honestly, I never told students NOT to come to my school, but I couldn’t recommend it to them.
Attrition followed, and now we have no more music major. The administration still won’t accept that their thinking was faulty, and blame the faculty for the program’s demise.
Try to nip this in the bud ASAP!!!!August 30, 2016 at 11:57 am #521041
One way might be to establish basic prerequisites such as the ones you mentioned, to be verified by exam and/or audition, then offer a one-semester remedial course (Rudiments of Music 101) — possibly non-credit — for potential music majors that don’t meet one or more of the prerequisites. Being an official music major would then be contingent on either meeting the prerequisites or successfully completing the remedial course. That would open the door for students who might have the abilities but lack prior experience or training (coming from a school system with little or no music opportunities), while weeding out the truly unqualified ones.August 30, 2016 at 4:34 pm #521050
I am aware of a college near me that has at least one person majoring in music whose concentration is in “looping.’ I attended one of their concerts and it was one of the longest, most painful nights I’ve ever spent in a performance space. There was one vocal jazz group (acceptable) and three or four other that were weird rap/pop/emo combinations that exhibited little talent and no chance of getting a real job in music after graduation. That is,, as you said, a disservice to students. I The prerequisite idea is a good one and surely is already in place in other departments. I hope no one takes Accounting 4, Calculus 3 or Advanced Anatomy and Physiology without showing they’ve mastered the steps that need to be taken to get into an advanced course. No professor in a math class has to ask if everyone can count from one to twenty, but, in essence, that’s what the administration apparently thinks is acceptable in a music class – no assessment of even rudimentary knowledge is necessary? . Also, in my experience at two different colleges, few students want to take the remedial course work – they only want classes that “count.” Is there a way to create a certificate program, perhaps, in Contemporary Music Technology or some other title that encompasses “making beats?”
Jim DavisAugust 30, 2016 at 10:16 pm #521067
Where I teach is an “open admissions” community college. However: our institution also has what they call “select” degree programs where there are additional requirements for getting into a program—our two music degrees (performance & Sound Recording/Music Technology) fall into this category.
We also have requirements that certain classes (not enough, IMO) must be passed to gain admittance into the program—*in addition* to auditions for performance majors. in short: we have a system much like the one described by Anthony Doherty above.
Sounds like you’re dealing with an administration who themselves are in sore nee of some musical education. Be strong and find ways of fighting this!August 30, 2016 at 10:18 pm #521068
I teach at a community college and by virtue of being an “open access institution” we cannot bar students from becoming music majors. However, as mentioned above, we do have a screening process. Students must take a placement test to determine to which theory class they may be admitted (Basic Musicianship or Theory 1). They must pass each consecutive theory/aural skills/group piano class with a C or better to go on to the next level. Students choose an instrument and do a “hearing” (i.e. audition, but we don’t call it that to soften the blow). The hearing is to assess if they are ready to take private lessons which are required to graduate. If they do not pass the hearing, we encourage them to take private lessons outside of school and audition the following semester, but they are still allowed to take theory classes. These two barriers can be defended as assessment tools to determine proper class placement and do not mean we are turning students away. Also, find other examples within your school of minimum qualifications to enter into courses or degrees – modern languages? pre-reqs for sciences majors? Or show other similar institutions in your area that require auditions and placement tests for proof of their importance.August 31, 2016 at 12:16 pm #521086
The school I went to didn’t allow students to declare their major until halfway through sophomore year. Plenty of people came in intending to major in a particular subject but ended up somewhere else by the time they had taken a few semesters of classes, either because they discovered they weren’t prepared for college level work in the subject they thought they wanted to study, or because they had a great professor in a different subject and discovered a new passion. If you can’t audition students to be majors, can you require they pass a certain set of classes by the time they graduate, which are as rigorous as you feel necessary to prepare them for lives as working musicians? Is there any sort of an “add/drop” period for classes at the beginning of the semester, which allows students to try out a class and see if they are actually prepared for it before formally committing to their schedule for the semester?
If you need to really get your point across to the administration, I’d suggest a wee experiment. Bring them a printed piece of paper and ask them to humor you by reading it aloud. It can say something to the effect of “I can read fluently, and understand what I read. I am prepared for college level literature classes. I can discuss what I have read and write papers about the structural tools writers use in their work.” Then hand them a big fat score. A really thick one, so they get a sense of the scale involved, and ask them to hum the oboe part for you. Point out to them, that just as it took them years of education to learn to read fluently, it takes years of education to learn to read music fluently. And that without that basis, students will not be able to do college level work. Professional musicians don’t have other professional musicians who travel around with them and say, “here’s how your part goes, let me play it for you once.” They can read their parts for themselves. They can write parts for others. They can talk with other musicians using music vocabulary and be understood. That’s what makes them professionals.August 31, 2016 at 12:17 pm #521090
Don R. CampbellParticipant
Sounds like there was no “audition” process to become an administrator at your university.August 31, 2016 at 12:17 pm #521093
Allison R EnglertParticipant
Wow. Would the football team also be expected to let anyone play who wants to, even if they have never caught a ball or played football just because they like watching it on TV? Elementary Schools, Middle, and Upper Schools are the times for experiencing interests and discovering talents. When colleges practice the “everyone is welcome” philosophy, it creates a slipper slope where the college doesn’t stand out as having an attractive program. High School students who want to study music are interested in getting the best quality education possible. If colleges water down their entrance requirements, then the school will actually lose students, who will be attracted to other schools who offer strong programs.
I also believe there should be musical opportunities for non-majors to be in ensembles of a “lesser” calibre (i.e., choir, band, guitar class, electronic music, etc.) so that they have the opportunity for experiences to make their own decisions. These groups do not have to be based on as high a standard as similar groups for music majors. However, if a non-major is good enough to be in the top choir, then that is fine.
I certainly hope that colleges do not lesson their course offerings because it will eventually turn students away.
Good luck.September 1, 2016 at 10:22 am #521148
You teach. They come to learn. You take their talent and skill and help them improve. You show them how to live in the world through the discipline and literature of music. You do not care if they make money doing what you teach. If people are learning and growing you are succeeding. Some will come knowing much and committed to performing. Some will come knowing very little but wanting to explore. Give them a way to explore. They will take you and their more experienced peers to amazing insights. Listen to them, understand each one of them, and help them find their way.September 1, 2016 at 2:07 pm #521170
During my undergraduate studies (2000-2006), I attended a small university that had an excellent music program, but did not require an outright audition for an individual to declare a music major. However, they did have very high standards that everyone was required to meet.
There were two juries per year for music majors. Although anyone could declare a major or minor, one did have to formally apply for acceptance in a jury (until then, only a few classes and 100 level lessons were open to them). They would then receive basic music major or minor status upon acceptance. Most other juries were maintenance juries just to check on progress. In the jury process, besides performance by the student, one’s academics and practice records were examined by the entire music faculty. Poor juries (including the factoring of academics and practice record) could potentially result in demoted status (which never happened while I was enrolled). After a specified amount of time and credits were fulfilled, a major or minor with basic status could apply for upper division status, which was a more rigorous jury performance (some had to attempt this jury several times before achieving at-level-ness). If one passed, then they could enroll in upper division courses and prepare their junior and senior recitals (which were accepted formally, then approved formally by a committee).
While this process ensured the integrity of the program, and generally kept students from wasting money, the one fault (in my opinion) was allowing anyone to enroll in first year Theory without reaching a certain level on a placement test (There was a test, but it was just for the information of the teacher). The year long completion rate was around 50-70% in first year Theory. I think requiring a remedial course would have taken a lot of unnecessary burden off of the instructor and have been better for the struggling students (some of which were talented singers, performers, etc… but very weak in theory).
Many of the declared majors that were coming in with little to no experience in music (there were always some), if they were willing to work hard, eventually switched and became effective music minors that contributed to the music department culture, the ensembles, and fulfilled themselves musically. A few were determined enough to become excellent musicians and deservingly graduated with a degree.
The audition process is better, but this system preserved the integrity of the program, while still allowing all to attempt a music degree, while also having some blocks that prevented a massive waste of money by students.
Michael SandvikSeptember 1, 2016 at 2:07 pm #521173
I will risk swimming against the tide here and offer that while I have no objection to the practice of requiring students to audition to be accepted into a music major, I also do not believe that allowing students to self select a major need be a negative influence on the program. At Westmont College we do not require an audition or special entrance examination for any major. The liberal arts ethos respects the student’s journey of personal discovery, which legitimately allows for failure and change, in choosing a major field of study. We do, however, have a performance barrier exam at the end of the Sophomore year where the faculty must endorse the student for upper division study in the music major. It also does work out that students who cannot pass major level theory or present a major level performance jury exam in their first year realize that the music major is not for them. In fact most unqualified music major aspirants discover their limitations in the first week of music theory class. when they still have the opportunity to change their schedule. As is common in the liberal arts tradition many students do not declare a major upon entrance and are not required to do so until the end of the sophomore year. Explorations and changes are common. If the curriculum has integrity, that should be barrier enough for any major field to give students an accurate perception of their capacity to flourish in that field. If a student successfully passes two years of major level theory and 4 juried performance finals, along with gaining admission to the required major ensembles which are restricted by audition, then why would they not qualify to be a major? Something would be wrong with the evaluative mechanisms in multiple levels of the program if they were not. There are those majors at Westmont that students frequently intend to pursue but soon realize that they are not either prepared or gifted to be successful in. Among those that I see most frequently are those of the Pre-Med and musical variety. Often those who were thinking of music find ways to continue to be a part of the musical community without pursuing a major, and those who were thinking of med school find paths to fields that are allied with their interests in such things as physical therapy, research and the like. It seems to me that the reputation of the major is established in part by the reporting of those who have tried it, discovered its difficulty and moved on, as well as by the challenges shared by those who have continued to pursue it. I wish you the best in charting the course at LSU.
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