Make the Doctor of Music an Earned Degree

October 1, 1963

This article was part of a Symposium entitled The Doctorate in Composition. Other contributors to this Symposium were Edward E. Lowinsky, Arthur Mendel, Robert Middleton, George Rochberg, Peter Eliot Stone, and Henry Weinberg. Their articles also appear in SYMPOSIUM Volume 3.


Although he was advised against stirring up a hornet's nest, the editor felt that the pages of SYMPOSIUM provided the proper forum for comment on this vexing and controversial subject. He therefore extended invitations for suitable articles with the intent of securing a consensus of current thought on the problem. The response on the whole was gratifying, except for some of the composers who could not find the time to submit their promised contributions. Since the economic issue was raised by several participants, the editor also asked for the statements of two student composers, directly affected by this aspect of the question. Letters arguing the matter pro or con will be welcomed for future issues of SYMPOSIUM.


The Professor of Composition and the Professor of Musicology should in equal measure maintain high standards of accomplishment, grasp the nature and obligations of a campus, and command the respect of colleague and student, of administrator and corner grocer. It makes no sense for one to be mister; the other, doctor.

There is no reason why a doctoral program cannot be devised providing for one, as well as for the other, the proper breadth, depth, shape, and direction. Either degrees don't matter, or they do matter—in both fields or in neither. Degrees are, or should be, the outward and visible sign of a fitness that is attested by those who know.

But the name of the degree should make manifest the kind of fitness that is guaranteed. The Doctor of Philosophy stands for creative research, but not for artistic creation. The doctorate in musical composition should be for artistic creation, but should include whatever other disciplines are requisite to make not just a composer, but a complete professor of the art of composing music. This doctorate should bear the name not of Ph.D., nor of any degree accorded principally for skill in performance, but its own distinctive designation. Despite the present practice of using it honoris causa, despite the objections of the Regents of the state of New York or any other official body, I recommend that the candidate successfully completing a rigorous doctoral program centered in musical composition be accorded the degree of Doctor of Music.

A primary objection to the doctorate in composition is the notion that dissertations can be objectively pronounced good or bad, and compositions cannot. My opinion that judgment is about as valid in one case as in the other comes from my experience in musicology seminars and from observing the various and varied composers who visited the Composers Council at the University of California, Los Angeles. I remember one of my students had written a setting of a poem by Shelley. I had said, "I like the melody, but not the prosody—It should be 'I arise from dreams of THEE,' not 'I arise from DREAMS of thee.'" She stuck to her inspiration, and when our distinguished visitor heard it, he said at once, "I like the melody, but not the prosody—it should be 'I arise from dreams of THEE,' not 'I arise from DREAMS of thee.'" At the next regular composition class my student exclaimed, "Oh, Dr. Clarke, after this, I'll do anything you say!"

The composition, like the dissertation, is only part of the entire doctoral program, but with the composition, as with the dissertation, hands capable of guiding graduate work are capable of allowing for matters of taste and personal style and distinguishing on the basis of intrinsic quality the sheep from the goats.

2081 Last modified on November 15, 2018