Member of the Division of Humanities
Jennifer Williams Brown
Music, one of the original seven liberal arts, is an ideal vehicle for exploring the core values of a liberal arts education. Studying music at Grinnell College not only provides a rich array of performing opportunities, it also allows students to cultivate more diverse skills and modes of inquiry than usually possible at a conservatory. Courses in performance, composition, and improvisation train students in the arts of communication and critical thinking through creative expression and careful listening; they also provide hands-on application of concepts learned in other music courses. Conversely, courses in music theory, history, and culture challenge students to apply their musical skills: to mediate between the spoken/written word and the nonverbal world of musical expression, to use musical ideas to interpret data and solve problems, and to place music within intellectual and cultural contexts. Furthermore, as a fundamentally interdisciplinary subject, music can intersect with a vast number of other subjects taught at the College — in the humanities (e.g., art, theatre, dance, languages, literature, philosophy, religion), in social studies (e.g., history, anthropology, economics, gender and women’s studies, education), as well as in the sciences (e.g., physics, mathematics, psychology, computer science). Most of these intersections represent important subdisciplines within the field of music today.
With twelve faculty-led ensembles and private lessons in dozens of instruments as well as voice, the Department of Music offers students of all levels significant opportunities to hone their musical skills and participate in departmental performances. Music majors may take an unlimited number of lessons free of charge. Non-majors (on a trial basis for the 2013-2016 academic years) will receive scholarships covering up to 75% of the lesson fee. Students may also compete for approximately 30 merit scholarships to cover the cost of lessons (see Music Department website). Students who need additional help paying for music lessons are encouraged to apply to the Office of Financial Aid. Please note: credits earned in music lessons MUS 120 , MUS 122 , MUS 220 , MUS 221 , and MUS 420 ) are NOT counted in the number of credits that determine whether a student is liable for an “overload” fee (over 18 credits). Entering students generally register for lessons at the 100-level; registration at the 200-level requires permission of the instructor. Six ensembles (MUS 101 ) require auditions for placement purposes. These take place just before or during the first week of classes in the fall; individual ensemble directors can provide detailed information on auditions for their ensembles. There also are several ensembles open without audition to those with no previous musical experience. Winners of the Curd Ensemble Scholarships will receive free music lessons in exchange for participation in a Music Department Ensemble.
Qualified non-majors are welcome in all classroom-based courses. Three 100-level courses are designed explicitly for non-majors or prospective majors and require no previous background in music. Two are historical/cultural in emphasis: MUS 116 sharpens students’ abilities to interpret music’s complex interplay with other facets of culture in communities from around the world; MUS 110 provides a historical overview of Western classical music. Both courses require extensive listening to, and reading, speaking, and writing about music. The third course, MUS 109 , teaches the basics of music notation and music theory while developing practical skills. This course lays the groundwork needed for MUS 112 /MUS 111 ; it is also recommended for those enrolling in lessons and ensembles. Additional courses that are often open to students with no previous background in music include MUS 201 , MUS 202 , MUS 203 , MUS 204 , and MUS 295; these are special or variable-topics courses whose prerequisites change depending on the topic.
The music major curriculum provides a solid foundation in the theory and history of Western music, then allows students to explore more specialized topics. Students are encouraged to work with music department advisers as soon as possible to develop a coherent curriculum that is tailored to their interests and abilities and leads them toward mastery in a particular area (e.g., music history, music theory, performance, composition, ethnomusicology, jazz studies, etc.). Please note that the 36 credits required for the major represent a minimum; students considering graduate study and/or a career in music will need to take additional coursework. Music majors are expected to participate in a department ensemble for at least two semesters (note that ensemble credits do not count towards the major). It is also recommended that music majors take foreign language courses and participate in a semester of off-campus study.
To satisfy the core major requirements and prerequisites in the most efficient way and also obtain the greatest range of specialized advanced courses, music majors should register in the first year for MUS 112 /MUS 111 and MUS 213 /MUS 212 , then in the second year for MUS 261 and MUS 262 . Students who are not yet fluent in reading and notating music (treble and bass clef) should take MUS 109 (fall only) before MUS 112 /MUS 111 . Please note that MUS 112 /MUS 111 is a prerequisite for most upper-level courses. All students wishing to take MUS 112 must take the Music Theory Placement Test offered before the beginning of each semester. The music department does not accept AP credit as a substitute for MUS 112 .