The Master of Music in Composition degree at Shenandoah Conservatory focuses on equal parts craft and the real-world practical knowledge crucial for survival and success in the field.
Grounded in its commitment to the creation and performance of new music in a variety of contemporary idioms, the Master of Music in Composition degree is designed to enhance the skills of the composer of serious art music, and to prepare students for professional work in composition, or for continued graduate study. The student’s creative skills are guided and developed through intense study in, and the practical application of, 20th and 21st century art music. The curriculum does not include significant study of, or work in popular idioms or jazz.
Creation and performance is at the core of the Master of Music in Composition. Through creation, performance, study, research, and direct interaction with the guest Pulitzer Prize-winning composers and guest artists of Shenandoah New Music, the graduate student composers advance their skills in the presentation of their music in professional and competitive venues.
In addition to academic degree requirements and study designed to advance skills in the presentation of new music in professional and competitive venues, composition graduate students complete a large-scale culminating project in their final year, and fulfill an oral examination and defense of project material.
Shenandoah New Music
Shenandoah New Music brings the best artists from the world of contemporary art music to Winchester, expanding the Capital Region’s already-vibrant new music scene throughout northern Virginia. A short drive from Washington, D.C., Shenandoah New Music features performances in multiple venues, featuring guest artists ranging from new music legends to up-and-coming talent, along with regular performances by our in-house new music specialists, EDGE Ensemble. Shenandoah New Music offers students in both composition and performance exposure and opportunities in the best of today’s contemporary concert music.
EDGE Ensemble is Shenandoah’s in-house new music ensemble. EDGE Ensemble presents a full season of concerts each year, and provides an opportunity for faculty to perform and coach alongside their students on cutting edge repertoire and world premieres. Directed by Jonathan Newman and conducted by Timothy J. Robblee, the ensemble is featured in the bi-annual Pulitzer Prize Composer Festival concert series.
Pulitzer Prize Composer Festival
Shenandoah’s Pulitzer Prize Composer Festival brings a Pulitzer Prize-winning composer to the Shenandoah campus every other year, to celebrate his or her work and interact with the student composers and performers. This series is a centerpiece of Shenandoah New Music, and previous guest composers have included William Bolcom, John Corigliano, Jennifer Higdon, David Lang, and Kevin Puts.
Phil Kline’s “Unsilent Night”
Phil Kline’s “Unsilent Night” is a new music sound installation and now a Shenandoah holiday tradition. The Shenandoah University community annually performs the work as a parade through Old Town Winchester, carrying mobile devices and boom boxes as new-music carolers broadcasting Phil Kline’s ambient score around downtown.
New Music in New York
New Music in New York is a special credit-earning course offered during spring break every other year. Led by Distinguished Guest Composer and Senior Lecturer of New Music David T. Little, New Music in New York offers Shenandoah Conservatory students the rare opportunity to go behind-the-scenes and experience some of new music’s most innovative performances and boundary-pushing leaders. Previous highlights include trips to some of New York City’s major cultural sites; tours of Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) and Park Avenue Armory; performances with International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE) at The Stone; and opportunities to meet representatives from Boosey & Hawkes, ASCAP, BMI and more.
Upon successful completion of this program of study, students will be able to:
- Demonstrate advanced knowledge of and high-level skills related to music theory, analysis, research, and technology;
- Compose large-scale original instrumental and vocal music with an advanced level of craft; and
- Demonstrate creativity, maturity, and artistic self-possession.
Learning support services are available to all students in every course at Shenandoah. Free peer tutoring with a student who has previously succeeded in the course is available for any course across the university. The Writing Center is available for every stage of the writing process from thesis development to proofreading and bibliography assistance. The Math Enrichment Center is available for math and science assistance. Professors and Academic Advisors across the university also have office hours and open door policies to ensure Shenandoah students succeed academically.
Performance Opportunities and Ensembles
- Readings and masterclasses with Shenandoah New Music guest artists and ensembles. Past Shenandoah New Music guests have included Matt Albert, American Modern Ensemble, Louis Andriessen, Oscar Bettison, William Bolcom, James Bonney, Julian Crowhurst, Jeremy Denk, Eighth Blackbird, Gaudete Brass, Philip Glass, Jennifer Higdon, Hudson Piano Trio, Adolphus Hailstork, Eric Huebner, Mellissa Hughes, Impatience Machine, Phil Kline, Kristin Kuster, Wynton Marsalis, Lars Mlekusch, Newspeak, Missy Mazzoli, Ursula Oppens, Carter Pann, Patchwork, Joel Puckett, Kevin Puts, Todd Reynolds, Rhymes With Opera, Erik Spangler, Alex Temple, Third Coast Percussion, Ken Thompson’s Slow/Fast, Stefan Weisman, Eric Whitacre, Dana Wilson, Daniel Wohl and ZOFO Duet.
- Student composer readings with the Shenandoah Conservatory Symphony Orchestra, Wind Ensemble and Conservatory Choir
- Department showings and recitals
- Shenandoah New Music Collective
Shenandoah Conservatory’s prestigious faculty is dynamic, creative, and passionately committed to the highest levels of artistic excellence. A deeply caring community, they mentor students with a wealth of professional expertise, balancing rigorous expectations with compassion and wisdom. At Shenandoah, you will study with, and perform for, award-winning composers, Metropolitan Opera singers, Grammy Award winning conductors and international competition winners. You will learn from leading scholars in music and premiere works created by accomplished dance artists and cutting-edge directors. Shenandoah Conservatory’s faculty embodies the highest levels of professional accomplishment and the deepest commitment to furthering the artistic growth and creative aspirations of students in every discipline.
Director of Composition; Coordinator of New MusicFull Biography
David T. Little
Distinguished Guest Composer; Senior Lecturer, New MusicFull Biography
Adjunct Assistant Professor, CompositionFull Biography
Application and Audition Information
Admission to Shenandoah Conservatory graduate programs is highly competitive and the audition schedule fills rapidly. Early application and audition registration is recommended.