The Catholic University of America

The Bachelor of Music in Composition

  Kennedy Center Sunset
  Sunset, Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts

The Bachelor of Music in Composition is a four-year program which introduces you to the discipline of composition and prepares you either for a professional career involving composition, or for continued graduate study in the field. Because the BM program is often the first step beyond secondary school study, it is an important time of growth and transition, and our curriculum is designed to prepare you for the transition from relative novice to accomplished composer.

Our BM program features an extraordinarily strong curriculum designed to develop your compositional technique and academic skills. Featuring two semesters of counterpoint, orchestration, form and analysis, and conducting, as well as two semesters of private study on a principal instrument or voice and eight semesters of private composition lessons, composition students are provided with a rigorous and thorough grounding in the compositional craft and in performance, both of which are typically integral parts of a compositional career.

In addition to technical training, we also emphasize practical professional development skills, helping you to define and develop your place in the large, dynamic world of composition.  Our weekly Composition Seminar devotes at least one session each semester to such topics as the preparation of strong competition entries, creation of legible scores and parts, and rehearsal etiquette.  Other sessions provide introductory information about performance rights, copyright, royalties, negotiation commissions, and other aspects of the business of composition. 

More broadly, you are  both invited and expected to explore the musical landscape by attending as many performances and productions as possible, both of contemporary and traditional repertoire, on campus and in the vibrant Washington, DC metro area.  Familiarize yourself with all styles of music through regular listening and score study; be conversant with the most prominent current compositional trends, personalities, and literature, by regularly visiting online and hard-copy news sources such as the New York Times, American Music Center's New Music Box, the American Composers Forum and SCI newsletters, and others.  Develop good professional habits by striving to see and hear as much as possible; gain the broadest possible perspective of the field so that you, in time, may discover your own place within it.

Bachelor of Music in Composition Curriculum

(NB: Actual course sequence and, in some cases, content may vary.  Students work closely with their advisors to fulfill all curricular requirements, although it is the student's sole responsibility to ensure that his or her course schedule complies with the degree program's curricular requirements).

The Senior Recital (MUS 499)

The work of a senior composition major is directed towards their senior recital. Senior composition majors register for MUS 499B in the semester in which the recital takes place. This recital consists of original compositions, using a variety of instrumentation, with a combined duration of between 30 – 45 minutes; the candidate must participate in the recital either as performer or conductor, and one work on the recital should feature or be constructed using electronic elements. The program for the recital is always constructed in close consultation with a student’s studio teacher, and should reflect the highest quality work the student has completed during their study. Students should book their recital date with the production office as early as possible during the fall semester of their senior year (email to book a date). Students must notify the entire composition faculty of the date as soon as it is booked.
Once the program for the recital is settled between the student and their studio teacher, the student must email their proposed program (title, duration, and instrumentation in the body of the email, along with pdf attachments of all scores in their final form) to the entire composition faculty no later than 30 days in advance of the recital date. Faculty reserve the right to request changes to the program, and therefore students are urged to submit their work as early as possible, rather than waiting for the 30-day deadline.


Liberal arts component of a School of Music BM degree

The School of Music, as a dedicated professional school within The Catholic University of America, requires a central core of music and non-music courses related to the university-wide undergraduate study of the liberal arts.


Additional notes and requirements pertaining to BM Composition majors

Please note that initial admission to the School of Music as a Composition major does not automatically admit the student formally to the BM degree program in Composition. Typically, at the end of the first two years of study, Composition majors apply for formal admission to the BM degree program. This formal admission process is started by the student notifying the composition teacher of their intent to apply for formal admission, who in turn informs the chair of the composition division. At the final Composition jury in the relevant semester, the submitted portfolio of work (representing the student's work in all prior semesters at CUA) is evaluated for formal admission to the BM degree program. The Composition faculty, during this jury, reviews the submitted work as well as the student's overall academic progress to determine whether or not these factors warrant formal admittance to the degree program.

If the student is not formally admitted on a first attempt, he/she may make a second attempt. If the student is not formally admitted after their second attempt, they will no longer be eligible for formal admission to the BM Composition program, although they remain a student in the School of Music and may apply for admission to other majors within the School.

As an additional condition of formal admission to (and remaining in the program after formal admission), grades of B- or higher are required of BM Composition Majors in all required courses offered by the Division of Composition and Theory. If the student does not obtain a B- or higher in any of the required courses offered by the Division of Composition and Theory, she/he will be required to repeat the course until the requisite grade is attained.

At the conclusion of each semester of private composition study, the student submits a portfolio of their compositional work done during the semester to the Composition faculty for a jury, during which the semester grade is assigned by the faculty.

For at least the first year of study in the School of Music, the student will also pursue instruction on the principal instrument or voice (3 credit hours): a jury will be required at the end of each semester of applied study to be eligible for credit to be awarded. Note: if the student's principal instrument is piano, they must pass a keyboard proficiency establishing him/her as having attained Piano Level VI in order to graduate.  In satisfying the music elective requirements listed in the curriculum abode, the student may, with their advisor's approval, elect additional private instruction in piano.

A Minor in Piano is also available for those BM Composition students who may wish to pursue this option: students who pursue this option must attain Piano Level IX and must present a 60-minute recital.

You must take eight semesters of Composition Seminar, for a total of eight credit hours. (Transfer students or students entering the Composition major from another major must take Composition Seminar for each semester of study as a Composition major. If the total number of credit hours is less than eight, you must make up those remaining credit hours with coursework or applied music credits which can be substituted.

You must participate in a major performing organization (such as orchestra or chorus) during each semester of full-time enrollment, for a minimum of eight credit hours. Unlike Composition Seminar, however, transfer students need not make up the additional credit hours for semesters not spent at CUA.