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 school of music. 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 11 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. Entering students generally register for lessons at the 100-level; only the most advanced and motivated first-years will be permitted to take lessons at the 200-level. Since an extra fee is charged for 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 has an “overload” (18 credits or above). Entering students can compete for the Curd Scholarship to defray the cost of lessons; auditions are held at the start of the fall semester. Students can also compete for the Hill Scholarship in the spring; winners receive subsidized lessons. Students with demonstrated financial need may apply to the Financial Aid Office for help covering music lesson fees. Because music lessons are a required part of the major, declared music majors in their third and fourth years are eligible for one free half-hour of music instruction per semester. This may be taken either as a free half-hour lesson (MUS 120 or MUS 220 ) or as a reduced-rate hour-long lesson (MUS 221 or MUS 420 ). Most ensembles require auditions for placement purposes; these take place 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 to those with no previous musical experience.
Qualified nonmajors are welcome in all classroom-based courses. There are also three 100-level courses designed for nonmajors or prospective majors that 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, both Western and non-Western; 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 may be open to students with no previous background in music include MUS 201 , MUS 202 , MUS 203 , MUS 204 , and MUS 295; these are special-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 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 (six 4-credit courses, 4 credits of private lessons, and 8 additional credits) 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, and both MUS 112 /MUS 111 and MUS 213 /MUS 212 (spring only) are prerequisites for required courses MUS 261 –MUS 262 . The music department does not accept AP credit as a substitute for MUS 112 .