The Catholic University of America

Composition at CUA

Whether you are interested in pursuing music composition as a profession, as one component of a multi-faceted professional career in music, or as an enriching secondary area of study, we offer a variety of majors and minors in Composition which fulfills each of these profiles.

We offer undergraduate (BM) and graduate (MM Stage Music, MM Concert Music, DMA) degrees in Composition, as well as an undergraduate minor in Composition for Music students majoring in another area of study. For more information about each of the degree programs, including curricula and degree requirements, please click on the links below:

Hearing your music performed

As a student in the Composition program at CUA, you have many opportunities to hear your works performed through department recitals, readings, and other performances. As a member of the community of composers at CUA, students in any degree program (be it undergraduate, masters, or doctoral) have access to these important opportunities.

Each semester, the Theory-Composition Division presents at least two departmental recitals of chamber music by Composition majors and minors in Ward Recital Hall, an intimate 120-seat proscenium theater. One of these recitals is devoted exclusively to stage music. These recitals are also recorded, an additional benefit for you.


The CUA Symphony Orchestra holds student composer orchestral readings at least once per semester: these reading sessions, which are recorded, provide invaluable training for Composition students. Not only are you, as a student composer having a work read, able to hear that new piece and directly assess your orchestrational skills, but you also learn a great deal about the practical business of preparing score and parts, and the courtesies of good rehearsal etiquette.

The CUA University Chorus also offers student composer choral readings pending availability of student scores.

Each year, a graduate student composer in the Composition program is awarded a commission to compose the opening choral/orchestral fanfare for the annual CUA Christmas Concert, held in the Great Upper Church of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception (see photo at right).  
The CUA Symphony Orchestra and Chorus performs during the annual Christmas Concert at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. Each year, a student or faculty fanfare for chorus and orchestra is premiered at this concert.

The Christmas concert, televised internationally by EWTN, represents a very important opportunity for a student composer to have his/her work performed before a vast audience (the Christmas concert's live audience alone, which fills the Basilica, is several thousand strong, not counting the potential worldwide television audience).

Our chapter of SCI (completely student-run), also presents two yearly concerts of works by student and faculty composers at CUA, regardless of major (these concerts traditionally feature a wide variety of student compositions, ranging from classical chamber music to music theater, jazz, folk, or rock, from students in such disciplines as Philosophy, Physics, and Education). CUA's SCI chapter webpage can be viewed here.

If you are a composer in the MM Composition, Stage Music Emphasis program, you will be encouraged to collaborate with your colleagues in the CUA Department of Drama to create incidental music and/or sound design for theatrical productions. During the 2005-06 academic year (the first year of this new graduate program), two of our MM Stage Music majors collaborated with MFA student directors and a playwright in the following productions:

The Inspector General (Nikolai Gogol), directed by MFA Directing student Jamie Phillips (Music by Gregg Martin, MM Composition, Stage Music Emphasis)

The Death of Memory, an original play by MFA Playwriting candidate Glen Mas (Music by Kyle Gullings, MM Composition, Stage Music Emphasis)

Doctor Faustus Lights the Lights (Gertrude Stein), directed by MFA Directing student Carrie Klewin: CUA Experiments, student-directed productions in the Department of Drama (Music by Kyle Gullings)

During the 2006-07 year, MM Stage Music composers provided music for both MFA directing projects and mainstage Drama Department productions directed by CUA Drama Department faculty.

In the fall 2007 semester, MM Stage Music composers are collaborating with MFA Directing students in new productions:

Frogs (Aristophanes), directed by Jay Brock (Music by 1st-year MM Stage Music composer Michael Oberhauser)

The Doctor in Spite of Himself (Moliere), directed by Ryan Whinnem (Music by 1st-year MM Stage Music composer John Diomede)

Student composers have also had their music performed by the School of Music's Instrumental Ensembles, a chamber group of diverse instrumentation, as well as by individual student and faculty performers.

The Washington, DC metropolitan area offers many additional opportunities for student compositions to be performed. CUA students have had their music performed by such ensembles and organizations as 21st Century Consort, Washington Musica Viva, the Capital Composers Alliance, and many others, at such venues as the Corcoran Gallery of Art and the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. A special relationship with DC's Great Noise Ensemble has existed since the fall of 2008: as CUA's contemporary ensemble in residence they read and coach our composers music, and they perform most of their concert season in Ward Recital Hall (CUA students are admitted free of charge).

Additional commission opportunities for student composers

Click here to read more about special commission opportunities for composers.

The School of Music's annual President's Festival of the Arts has produced opportunities for composers to have new works created and performed. The 2006 President's Festival, dedicated to the theme, "Aaron Copland's America," featured, among other events, the World Premiere of "New Old American Songs," a set of 10 new choral settings of American folk songs (in homage to Aaron Copland's "Old American Songs"), commissioned by the School of Music. CUA student and faculty composers contributed a wonderfully diverse set of songs. Among the student contributions were:

Come, Thou Font of Every Blessing Jason Lovelace (DMA)
La Cucaracha Robert Martinez (MM Concert Music)
Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child Stamos Martin (BM)

In 2005, the President's Festival presented another joint commission: "Songs of the Forgotten War." This project commissioned 19 composers, among whom were CUA Composition students, to compose a 1-minute chamber work based on one of the 19 bronze statues of soldiers at the Korean War Veterans Memorial in Washington, DC. The work, premiered in April 2005 at CUA, was later re-performed bythe Asian-American Music Society on the Kennedy Center's Millennium Stage in August 2005. Current student composers (now alumni) commissioned to provide pieces for "Songs of the Forgotten War" were:

Just Another Man Joelle Marston (BM Composition, 2005)
The Holy Mountain Anthony Randolph (DMA Composition, 2006)
A Moment's Peace Philip Carluzzo (MM Composition, 2005)

Click here to listen to an interview about "Songs of the Forgotten War" on WAMU radio's "Metro Connection."

The Composition division's new electronic studio offers student composers the opportunity to explore creating music and sound through digital media.

A community of composers and performers

As a student composer at CUA, you will also find that you are one member of a vibrant community of like-minded creative musicians with a variety of musical backgrounds. Most of our composers are also proficient performers on at least one instrument (BM Composition students must audition on an instrument or voice for acceptance, and must study that Principal Instrument or Voice for one year: to see more, click here), and the vast majority of our graduate students have extensive performing and conducting background. Many of our student composers perform in their colleagues' pieces, and the benefiting composers often return the favor: a collaborative and helpful environment is stressed, and a sense that everyone is on the "same team" is emphasized.

And, of course, the strong undergraduate and graduate performance programs at the Benjamin T. Rome School of Music offer student composers extended opportunities to have their works performed by outstanding student performers.

Student composers meet once a week as a group in the Composition Seminar, jointly taught by CUA Composition faculty members Steven Strunk, Stephen Gorbos, and Andrew Simpson. In the Seminar, student composers present work in progress (either recorded or with live performance) for feedback and critique. Conversations tend to become spirited and lively, but are always supportive. Additionally, the Composition Seminar is one of the times at which guests on the Visiting Composers Series present their own works and conduct master classes. Past composers have included John Corigliano, Joseph Schwantner, Christopher Rouse, Nicholas Maw, Libby Larsen, Martin Bresnick, Mark Adamo (a Music Composition CUA alumnus), and numerous others.


Professional development

As a student composer, you are encouraged to submit your work to competitions and participate in summer residencies. The Composition Seminar always features at least one session per semester on the practical aspects of composition: where to look for listings of calls for scores, how to assemble an effective submission portfolio, where to attend concerts of new music, and other relevant topics. It is important to submit your work to competitions and calls for scores so that, if nothing else, other people have a chance to see and hear your work. As a result, listings of competitions and festivals are posted outside the faculty members' offices, and email notices which come to the attention of the faculty are routinely forwarded to all composition students. You may also wish to consider becoming a student member of some of the largest US professional composer organizations. The American Music Center, American Composers Forum, and the Society of Composers, Inc. are three service (and presenting) organizations which are the main sources of information and professional knowledge for the field, and all offer student-discounted memberships.

For more information on composition and new music organizations, opportunities, and information sites, please click here.

An emphasis on developing technique

As important as career development is, however, even more important is our program's emphasis on developing your compositional technique and your deepening your familiarity with as broad a spectrum of music as possible: and not only new music. Composers inherit a great continuum of practice and creativity; and, while you will be forging - little by little - a distinctive and personal voice, that voice must also be grounded in a thorough knowledge of what has come before, and of what has relevance for your own work. Composition lessons (half-hour lessons once per week for Composition minors and freshman Composition majors, one-hour lessons once per week for other undergraduates and graduate Composition majors) focus not only on careful critique of your work, but include listening assignments and score study. Through concert-going and regular listening and score-study habits, it is important to encounter as much music as possible during your time as a student. The good habits which you develop in school will serve you very well in your later professional life, when you will be much busier, and will have to organize your time even more carefully!

And so, as a Composition student at CUA, you join a supportive and dynamic group of composers who work together to present each other's music and are successful in having their own works presented. Whatever your ultimate career goal, the discipline (composing every week, meeting deadlines), experience (producing performances, finding performers, organizing and attending rehearsals, preparing performance materials), and rewards (performances of your works, recordings, commissioning opportunities) gained through pursuing a Composition major or minor at CUA will serve you in very good stead.

Click here to return to the Composition home page, and to learn more about the program and its activities.

Click here to go to the Benjamin T. Rome School of Music home page.