What I Didn’t Learn in Music School


In the trenches of balancing one too many ensembles, practice time, class, papers, group projects, and more practicing, it can be hard to stomach the thought of adding something else. But there are a few other things may want to make sure you learn while you’re still in school.

Courting the “Lay” Listener

dating music

What musicians create serves many purposes, but it is all in vain if we are not genuinely connecting with the listeners. We owe it to ourselves to deepen their listening and to maximize our communication.

A Few Things I Failed to Mention

The first two systems of the engraved score of Susan Kander's composition A Few Things I Failed to Mention

Just as these kids are not afraid of clicking this or that button on today’s technology (which both my husband and I very much are), they are not afraid of poking into any musical corner. There doesn’t seem to be any outside to the box marked Music. Everything is inside.

Where Is Do?

Walking Woman In Center Of Spiral Stairs

When presented with new music, there is a question my voice students ask in quiet panic: “Where is do?” According to the established choral curriculum, we just cannot agree.

Raindrops Keep Falling on my Head

A red umbrella in heavy rain

I have finished the first “student composition” of my life. Now the nine-minute piece goes to the musicians who will be playing it who range from freshman to graduate level and two are sort of on loan from the jazz department. At every lesson I worried aloud about the difficulty of some of the ensemble playing; I didn’t want to be setting anyone up for a terrible experience, myself included.

Con vibrato ma non troppo: Rethinking Sopranos

boys chorus

Why as professionals do we perpetuate, and why as composers do we imitate, the sound of a soprano section comprised of pre-pubescent boys? Why insist on the misunderstanding that adult female sopranos are able to or should sing strictly senza vibrato in the way children do?

The Long and Winding Road

A country road that twists and turns

I am expected to bring fresh music in every week. I have spent more than twenty years writing to deadlines and I am proud to say I’ve never missed one, but this feels different. I don’t know why. For each lesson, I bring in music.

Still B.A. After All These Years

A large clock displaying the time 5:32 in front of a building.

I’m staggering, this late December, to the end of my first semester in graduate school, pursuing a master’s degree in composition, but I am thrilled to report that my comrades in the department are just as worn out as I am. This counts as a win because I am 58, and they are younger than my own children.

Get Vulnerable

Matt Marks, Mary Kouyoumdjian, Lainie Fefferman, and David Smooke standing outside Peabody.

I’m hoping that the 2016 New Music Gathering can be a space where we can all shed the need to project individual strength and can take the time out of our shells to ask the questions and voice the concerns we might usually refrain from sharing.

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