Last year, I decided to shop one of Yale’s “must-take” courses — “History of Western Music: Baroque and Classical.” Professor James Hepokoski is renowned as a brilliant lecturer, and as a non-music major, I was curious to explore the Music Department beyond the traditional theory courses. At the end of the day, I found myself staring at 158 tracks of over nine hours of music in an iTunes playlist. My classmates and I would soon be tested on the title, composer and date of those tracks, based on only 45-second clips of music. And that was only for the first quiz. What was this class?
For undergraduates, Yale College is primarily an academic institution. The students who major in music graduate with a bachelor of arts degree as opposed to the bachelor of music degree offered by conservatories. In fact, the college does not offer bachelor of fine arts degrees in any discipline. As a result, there is an inherent tension between performance and academia within the undergraduate music degree.
The School of Music stands out among other Ivy League institutions, considered an equal to the nation’s top music conservatories. Thanks to a generous donation by Stephen Adams ’59 and Denise Adams, all masters and doctorate students receive free tuition. With such an incredible powerhouse of performance on campus, many high school students, including myself, chose Yale because of its outstanding musical resources — for musicians majoring in any discipline.
But when it comes to actually majoring in music, the extensive theoretical prerequisites and requirements for the major can be a significant deterrent to students wishing to pursue performance after graduation. While there are many composition-minded students, a vast majority of music majors are also practicing musicians. Despite this fact, neither private lessons nor any other performance classes are a requirement for the major. Only two semesters of lessons-for-credit may be applied towards the major requirements, and an additional two may be used towards the graduation requirements. After four semesters of private lessons, students only receive credit at the graduate level. With students rushing to complete their major and distributional requirements, those who want to pursue performance may not even have the time to practice. “As someone hoping to pursue music professionally, I do not have the option of not taking lessons, and the extra course load leaves me constantly overworked,” commented Chelsea Lane ’14, a music major.
While the major does offer some performance courses, many — including seemingly essential ones like “The Performance of Chamber Music” — are offered at the 200-level. Considering that only one 200-level course can be applied towards major requirements, this is hardly a solution.
I am not advocating that Yale convert its undergraduate music major to an entirely performance-based curriculum or betray its liberal arts core. Many musicians on campus chose Yale over conservatories to pursue the academic degree and balanced education that conservatories lack. For them, a liberal arts education is an invaluable resource, even if it means less practice time. Still, Yale has much to improve concerning performance for credit, from instituting curricular orchestras to requiring instrumental professors to teach undergraduates.
On Cross Campus, Sterling Memorial Library faces the School of Music. For undergraduate musicians with their eyes on performance, the University still needs to resolve whether the two are opposites or complements.