Northwestern's Piano D.M.: A Three-Program Approach

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Early in the 1970s the School of Music at Northwestern University, at the instigation of a newly appointed administration, undertook a thorough, introspective reassessment of its longstanding, traditional undergraduate curricula. In keeping with the "comprehensive musicianship" philosophy so convincingly expounded by the Contemporary Music Project since its inception in 1959, the School, as a basis for all undergraduate programs, devised and implemented a core of integrated history-theory-performance courses to be required of all Freshman and Sophomore music students. Such a program has proven singularly successful over the past few years and, by all indications, Northwestern's B.M., B.M.E., and B.A. curricula are now, in 1977, functioning very well indeed.

During 1974-75 the School of Music, upon the recommendation of its Graduate Committee, voted to implement a competency-based curriculum for each departmental program leading to the M.M. or M.M.Ed. degree. Although such programs theoretically took effect in September, 1975, the primary thrust of the Graduate Committee during the 1975-76 academic year was geared towards clarifying and specifying the details of such curricula department by department. The Piano Department thoughtfully and enthusiastically accepted the mandate of the Graduate Committee and, by year's end, had devised a fair, thorough competency-based M.M. program in Piano. Distinctive features of the program included: (1) the availability of alternative programs in Performance and Pedagogy or Performance and Ensemble/Accompanying; (2) a two-hour departmental diagnostic examination administered at entrance establishing a candidate's initial competencies through the assessment of his knowledge in such areas as keyboard literature, stylistic analysis, bibliography, and piano history; (3) the articulation of individual competencies expected for each program1; (4) the further delineation of more specific behavioral objectives which demonstrate the attainment of each competency2; (5) the identification of instructional options for achieving each competency: recommended courses or departmental-designed self-study modules; (6) a battery of reexaminations establishing a candidate's successful completion of self-study modules. Such a program, now in its second year of implementation, has proven practical. Piano students view it as both thorough and equitable; even initially skeptical faculty members admit that the program is, at present, a model of clarity and efficiency.

In the spring of 1976 the department, with B.M. and M.M. piano programs now operating smoothly, needed to focus its major attention in 1976-77 on restructuring its D.M. program, thus bringing full circle the curricular revision begun almost seven years earlier. In early October of last year, it began its doctoral deliberations.

Northwestern University had been granting the D.M. in Piano for several decades and could enumerate, among successful graduates of the program, many notable performer-teachers on the American musical scene, past and present. Although listed as a D.M. in "Performance: Piano" with all the catholicity that such a broad title might imply, the lesson-project-recital oriented curriculum was and always had been, in truth, a degree program essentially emphasizing advanced piano solo performance. Although courses in important ancillary areas could be elected such work was not obligatory and, if only by dint of such omission, was relegated to a decidedly subsidiary role in the makeup of the degree.

In recent years the Piano Faculty at Northwestern had begun to observe a number of trends which surfaced dramatically during our discussion of imminent D.M. division: (1) an increase in the percentage of vacancy listings requiring or recommending advanced course work, if not an actual degree emphasis, in Chamber Music, Accompanying, and/or Pedagogy; (2) increasingly frequent unsolicited inquiries from potential doctoral candidates into the availability of programs in Piano Ensemble and/or Pedagogy; (3) statistically based predictions of a soon-to-be-witnessed dramatic proliferation of junior and community colleges, precisely those institutions of higher learning which might be expected to create a considerable demand for well-trained specialists in group piano pedagogy. Thus, the Piano Faculty came to the unanimous conclusion that our present D.M. in, essentially, solo piano performance was, indeed, too restrictive to meet the multiplicity of current and future student needs.

In assessing both the personal and programmatic resources and limitations of the department, the school, and the university, we were pleased to note that, with minor exceptions, we were well prepared to begin framing doctoral options in the long neglected areas of Ensemble/Accompanying and Pedagogy. As cited earlier, significant faculty research interest in these areas had been developing for years, much of it reflected in a diversity of interesting and, in some cases, truly unique courses already taught on a regular basis. What was wanting, however, was a concrete plan which would coordinate such curricular resources into solid, new terminal degree programs. In a few months of feverish activity such a plan was readily framed, received enthusiastic administrative support, and was unanimously approved by the School of Music Faculty in January, 1977.

Several important questions demanded resolution once the desirability and practicality of implementing D.M. programs in Ensemble/Accompanying and Pedagogy were determined: (1) Should the new programs completely replace the existing program in solo performance or should such a program be retained as yet a third option at the doctoral level? (2) Should the Ensemble/Accompanying and Pedagogy curricula require any solo performance as integral parts of the degree programs? After considerable discussion, faculty consensus on these points was reached: (1) Although our recently revised M.M. program upon which the new D.M.s were theoretically built required each student to combine studies in either Ensemble/Accompanying or Pedagogy with those in solo performance, the Piano Faculty decided to maintain the separate Solo Performance option at the D.M. level. While recognizing an obligation to divert at least a portion of a younger, perhaps less experienced, M.M. candidate's attention in directions he may have neglected previously (e.g., ensemble or pedagogy), the faculty nevertheless wished to preserve a specialized place for the more mature D.M. student whose talent and inclination might lead solely in the direction of solo performance. (2) Although a person may understandably wish to specialize in Ensemble/Accompanying or Pedagogy at the doctorate level, experience dictated that most teaching positions in piano normally require some solo performance, often at the interview level. Thus, the Piano Faculty felt compelled, in the best interests of the student, to maintain some solo performance component in all three degree programs. Upon resolution of these two questions, then, three separate programs leading to the D.M. in Performance: Piano were devised—a Solo Performance Program, a Performance and Ensemble/Accompanying Program, and a Performance and Pedagogy Program. All three are operating at the present time.

Several common features apply to all three programs. Prospective students must appear on campus for a solo piano audition, interviews, and written diagnostic examinations in history, theory, and piano. All candidates must complete a minimum of eighteen quarter-units of credit beyond the master's degree, demonstrate a reading knowledge of French or German, pass qualifying and final examinations, and finish all degree work within seven years of entering the program. Beyond this, the three programs differ in their requirements.

The on-campus audition for the Solo Performance Program consists of a well-balanced, memorized 75-minute recital. That for the Ensemble/Accompanying Program requires a 45-minute recital plus the submission of a minimum 30-minute tape recording of representative accompaniments and chamber music performances. A 45-minute recital by the prospective Pedagogy student must be supplemented by the submission of a paper on a pedagogical topic, an outline of the student's pedagogical background, and a list of piano literature and materials used in prior teaching. The Performance and Pedagogy Program is principally aimed at candidates having at least two years' full-time piano teaching experience, although applicants with less experience will be considered.

The D.M. in Performance: Piano (Solo Performance Program) continues the flexible design of the single D.M. Piano degree that existed prior to 1977:

Applied Piano 6 units
D.M. Projects and/or Major Document and/or Lecture-Recital(s) 3 units
Advanced course work (electives) 9 units
  18 units

Three short (minimum 45-minute) recitals are presented, each involving music from a different period in music history. A final (full-length) recital is designed by the student and prepared without coaching from teachers at Northwestern or elsewhere. Three projects are written, each related to one of the three short recitals. If desired, a major document may be written in lieu of the three projects, or lecture-recitals (75 minutes each) may be presented in lieu of either the second or third project or both.

The D.M. in Performance: Piano (Performance and Ensemble/Accompanying) is considerably more structured:

Applied Piano 6 units
D.M. Projects and/or Lecture-Recital(s) 3 units
Practicum (each unit will include studies in Piano Chamber Music, Interpretation of Vocal Repertoire, and, possibly, Advanced Accompanying) 3 units
Piano Repertoire (Chamber Music, Piano Ensemble) 1 unit
Introduction to Music Bibliography 1 unit
Advanced course work (electives) 4 units
  18 units

The project-recital component involves three different types of short recitals: one solo recital, one chamber music recital, and one accompaniment of a vocal recital. The final recital may be either instrumental chamber music or a vocal accompaniment.

"Practicum" is a title-of-convenience coined in the Graduate School several years ago to identify a unit course comprising two or more performance-oriented "mini-courses." In Piano Chamber Music, graduate piano majors meet several hours a week for rehearsals and class sessions coached by full-time members of the Piano Faculty. To provide a regular pool of qualified string players for such ensemble experience, the Graduate School, beginning in 1976, has annually assigned a number of graduate string assistantships directly to the Piano Department; without such generous administrative support the chamber music component of both the D.M. and M.M. piano programs would not operate nearly as efficiently as it now does.

Interpretation of Vocal Repertoire has, for several years, imaginatively served both the Piano and Voice Departments with a rotating, six-quarter course sequence covering all phases of lieder, the art song, and the solo operative literature. Advanced Accompanying, a quarterly course involving graduates and undergraduates alike, is required of D.M.s needing additional strengthening in this area.

The Spring Quarter of the departmental Piano Repertoire course is devoted to literature involving the piano and other instruments (e.g., chamber music, piano ensemble, and the concerto) and is required of all D.M. candidates in the Ensemble/Accompanying Program. In like manner, Introduction to Music Bibliography, a course designed by the Music History Department specifically to serve the needs of performance D.M. candidates, is considered a curricular essential both here and in the Pedagogy Program.

The third D.M. program, that in Performance: Piano (Performance and Pedagogy), is, like the Ensemble/Accompanying option, quite specific:

Applied Piano 3 units
D.M. Projects and/or Lecture-Recital(s) 3 units
Piano Pedagogy and/or Independent Study in Piano Pedagogy 3 units
Internship in Teaching 3 units
Seminar in College Teaching or Seminar on Music in Higher Education 1 unit
Introduction to Music Bibliography 1 unit
Advanced course work (electives) 4 units
  18 units

Since pure performance plays, quantitatively, a less strategic role in both the purposes and design of the Performance and Pedagogy Program, it was decided to require only three units of Applied Piano (rather than six) for Pedagogy. The project-recital component here differs substantially from its counterpart in the other degree programs. Only one recital (full solo or half solo/half duo-piano or piano four-hand) and related project are required. In addition, though, the candidate must present a lecture-recital at an advanced level and submit a written project on a pedagogical topic. The final, summary program requirement comprises not a full-length recital but a three-to-four-hour public workshop of a nature appropriate to piano teachers; this workshop, like the final recital in the other programs, is designed and prepared by the student without outside aid.

The six-unit pedagogy "core" of the program consists of (1) a basic three-quarter Piano Pedagogy course or, if the student has already taken the course or its equivalent in an earlier degree program, further Independent Study in this area and (2) Internship in Teaching, supervised graduate-level field work in class, group, and individual piano instruction. As participation in the D.M. in Piano: Performance and Pedagogy Program grows, it is anticipated that the Independent Study will be replaced by a regular D.M. Seminar in Piano Pedagogy team-taught by the Piano Faculty.

Both the university's inter-school Seminar in College Teaching, currently taught in the School of Education, and the School of Music's own Seminar on Music in Higher Education involve studies in curricular development and, in so doing, acquaint piano pedagogy D.M.s with organizational philosophies invaluable in future teaching careers.

Considering both the divergent inclinations and varied backgrounds of the D.M. piano applicants and the rapidly changing nature of professional opportunities in the field, we feel that our new, triple-option approach to the D.M. in Piano at Northwestern is both sound and realistic. While maintaining those standards which have constituted a hallmark of the program in past years, the new curricula provide the prospective student with a variety of options which we believe will better prepare him to meet the challenges of a diversified and ever more competitive profession.


1All students must "demonstrate solo performance ability at the graduate level," "know the standard piano solo repertoire," and "cite important piano solo bibliographic sources"; those electing the pedagogy route must additionally "apply pedagogical concepts in group and individual piano instruction" while those electing the ensemble/accompanying option must "demonstrate ability as ensemble player and accompanist" and "know the standard piano chamber music repertoire."

2I.e. under the competency "know the standard piano solo repertoire" a student must "identify major works in the standard piano repertoire," "recognize stylistic features in piano works of major keyboard composers," and "outline chronologically basic developments in the evolution of piano music from the eighteenth century to the present."

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Arthur R. Tollefson

Arthur Tollefson has performed as a recitalist, concerto soloist, and chamber player throughout the USA and Europe for over a half century. In addition to several solo performances with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, notable appearances with the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra included Tollefson's debut at age 12 and his West Coast premiere of Kabalevsky's Piano Concerto #3 . Holder of the first doctorate in piano awarded by Stanford University, he was invited back to his alma mater to perform in commemoration of the music department's 50th anniversary. After early studies with Adolph Baller, Rosina Lhevinne, Egon Petri, and Paul Badura-Skoda, Mr. Tollefson in 1975 began a seven-year term as Chair of Northwestern University's School of Music’s Piano Department. A former winner of the Kimber Award, he has recorded Virgil Thomson's piano music, gave the New York City premiere of David Maslanka's Piano Concerto, and has given master classes at the Ravinia Festival. He is a Steinway Artist and a National Arts Associate of Sigma Alpha Iota. Mr. Tollefson has served as President of the College Music Society, Chair of the International Society for Music Education's Commission on the Education of the Professional Musician, Chair of the National Piano Foundation's Education Advisory Board, and Chair of the Music Teachers National Association's College Faculty Forum. Upon his retirement after 17 years as Dean of the University of North Carolina at Greensboro's School of Music, he was named Dean Emeritus of the School.

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