Yale's DMA: A Progress Report

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In 1974, a Presidential Advisory Committee Report raised basic questions about the purposes of a contemporary college education. Certainly the level of informational competence in our graduates has risen higher and higher. However, the level of professional knowledge necessary to the practice of the professions, determining what knowledge is useful and how it should be applied as behavioral performance, may be low. Education has the responsibility, therefore, in this day and age, for the application of supplemental out-of-classroom learning.

A movement known as College Sponsored Experiential Learning has addressed itself to assessing interpersonal skills appropriate to specific goals necessary to the adult community, which has become so large a percentage of the undergraduate as well as the graduate student population, now involved in life-long learning.

In the light of such a general movement throughout all areas of education, the Editor of SYMPOSIUM welcomes this particular evaluation of innovation in a graduate program of our own discipline, an innovation which pioneered in a much earlier application of Experiential Learning, as it is now entitled. Here is a report on the progress of a well-known degree carrying the requirement of experiential learning at the doctoral level.

—The Editor

Luther Noss, then Dean of the Yale School of Music, announced in the Fall, 1968, issue of this journal (Vol. 8, pp. 42ff.) "a new program of graduate professional studies for performers and composers leading to the degrees of Master of Musical Arts and Doctor of Musical Arts. A unique feature of the program is the recognition given to professional achievement as a decisive factor in determining the candidate's qualification for admission to the higher degree." In brief, after completing a three-year residency requirement and reaching a high level of performance ability, the student would leave Yale and would be required to submit within two to five years evidence of professional achievement in lieu of a dissertation before being admitted to candidacy for the DMA. Upon admission to candidacy, the student would return to the campus for a single recital which, if judged successful by the faculty, would be the final qualification, and the student would be awarded the degree.

That was the basic plan put into effect in 1968. Looking back on it now, ten years later, how has it worked? What, if anything, had to be changed? What are the results? Yale was forced into a DMA program, of course, by the competition for the best qualified students, who had come to believe that a doctorate was a necessary passport to employment. Should Yale have undertaken the innovative program, or should it have adopted the DMA requirements already established at other schools?

The following survey traces the graduate student from application to Yale to completion of the DMA.

The total enrollment of the School of Music is from 131 to 153 students distributed as follows:


WINDS/PERCUSSION

STRINGS
KEYBOARD, VOICE,
COMPOSITION, AND CONDUCTING
5 flutes 22 violins 15-18 piano
5 oboes 10 violas 3-6 harpsichord
5 clarinets 10-12 celli 6 organ
5 bassoons 6 basses 12-18 voice
6 horns 2 harps 8-12 composition
4-6 trumpets   4 conducting
3-4 trombones    
1-2 tubas    
5 percussion    
     

The competition for these spots is often intense. In a recent year, for example, sixty applicants competed for three openings in voice, and twenty-five competed for a single opening in flute. The School normally has about 400-500 applicants for the 70-80 annual openings. All students are admitted to a two year Master of Music program. Upon arrival the student is tested in essential musicianship, and any deficiencies must be overcome by the end of the first year. Also by the end of the first year a reading knowledge of a foreign language must be established by examination.

In the third semester the student can apply for admission to the Master of Musical Arts program, which requires a third year of residency and is a major step towards the DMA. (Persons already holding a master's degree upon admission to Yale are admitted as MM candidates and apply for admission to the MMA program in their first semester. If admitted, they are in residence for two years; if not admitted, they receive the MM upon completion of one year.) Admission to the MMA is determined by the applicant's course work during the first year, a written examination in history and theory, an audition judged by the School's entire faculty, and recommendations by the major teacher and department head. The final decisions are made by the School's Permanent Officers in a conference with the Dean of the School.

The third year allows further course work, studio lessons, and performances, including an additional annual formal recital. Furthermore, at the beginning of this year the MMA candidate selects upon approval of the School's Steering Committee a topic of research appropriate to his or her major interest and devotes about a fifth of the year's time to this research. The results are presented late in the year both orally and in writing, allowing the faculty to judge the student's teaching as well as writing abilities. At the close of the third year, the MMA candidates have seven-hour written and one-hour oral examinations. When all of these requirements are met, the student is awarded the MMA and enters the professional world in search of achievement that will provide qualification for candidacy in the DMA program. During these years away from Yale the student is said to be "in the DMA program," not "a candidate for the DMA."

If within a period of not less than two or normally more than five years after receiving the MMA the student believes he has reached a level of distinguished achievement in the profession, he can apply for admission to nonresident candidacy for the DMA. The formal application is accompanied by supporting evidence such as programs, compositions, reviews, publications, recordings, and any other materials the student considers pertinent, and by a list of five names of individuals professionally qualified to appraise the applicant's work and not current members of the Yale faculty. Letters from these persons are requested directly by the School of Music. The annual deadline for applications is April 15, and soon thereafter the faculty DMA Committee either approves, rejects, or postpones each application. Over the years a general policy had been established that a second rejection will eliminate a student from the program (this has not yet occurred). A decision of postponement (normally one year) might be made if the Committee wishes to suggest, say, more out-of-town recitals or a composition of larger dimensions, or to await the results of a significant forthcoming recital or performance.

Upon acceptance as a candidate, the student is assigned a date to return to the campus for an informal afternoon recital and an oral examination. A composer's "recital" consists of his or her own works written after leaving Yale and presented either on tape, live, or a combination of the two; the composer is encouraged to participate in the performance. (A conducting major, added recently to the program, has not yet had a candidate, so the faculty has not yet considered an appropriate content for a conductor's "recital.") Candidates plan their own program and are judged in part on how well they have designed it, both as an interesting musical event and as an effective demonstration of their professional specialty or specialties. After the recital, on the same day, the candidate meets for about two hours with a faculty committee of from six to ten members, often including guests from outside the University. At the start of the meeting, the student is asked to describe briefly whatever features of his or her professional work have a direct bearing on the qualifications for the degree. The Committee is particularly interested in hearing about innovative achievements, whether in performing, teaching, writing, research, or any other professionally related activity. This brief formal presentation is to be understood by the candidate as essentially a defense of the "dissertation," that is, of the professional achievement. During the remainder of the meeting, the Committee questions the candidate on his professional work, his thinking on matters of general musical, artistic, and esthetic significance, and specific information about the literature, sources, performance problems, historical development, and the like from the candidate's own field and sometimes stemming from the preceding recital. In making its judgment of the candidate, the Committee gives equal importance to professional achievement, the recital, and the oral examination, and also takes into account the candidate's potential for future growth. The Committee's decision is passed on to the Dean of the School of Music, who can accept or reject it before submitting the results for the approval of the full faculty.

That is how the program has been conducted—not deviating from the original general design but of course adding details and refinements that could not be anticipated. The most prominent addition was the final oral examination following the recital. The original plan called only for the latter. Beginning in 1974, the second year the DMA was awarded, Philip F. Nelson, who in 1970 succeeded Luther Noss as Dean of the School of Music, initiated the oral examination as a defense of the "dissertation." Students in the program were quick to accuse the School of changing the emphasis of the degree from performance to scholarship. The oral examinations in 1974/75, however, soon suggested that students had not been sufficiently screened prior to admission to the MMA and not adequately tested before receiving that degree. This led to a tightening of those procedures. In each of the last two years about thirty-five students have applied for admission to the MMA program and only about twelve have been accepted. A further refinement began in the fall of 1977 when students entering the School were given placement tests not only in essential musicianship but also in history and theory and, where necessary, were directed to appropriate courses to overcome deficiencies.

As would be expected with the small number of students enrolled at the School, awkward human situations arose as a result of the desirable close bond between the major studio teacher and the pupil. The teacher's devotion sometimes gained a place for a student in a program beyond his or her capabilities resulting in a broad embarrassment when the student was dropped. Then, too from time to time a borderline student was allowed to go on, only to suffer later as it got hotter in the kitchen. The major difficulty, however, was a misinterpretation of the MMA program as a third year in residence, rather than as a year of advanced studies preliminary to the DMA. Especially string and vocal students can often benefit greatly from a third year with the major teacher, providing an opportunity to synthesize the many technical and esthetic details learned during the previous two years. This confusion was overcome by allowing such special cases to remain in residence for a third year, but to receive not the MMA but the MM—what has come to be called locally "a third-year MM."

Obviously Yale's DMA program puts a great burden on the faculty, perhaps more so than other doctoral programs, due to the many checkpoints along the way, the involvement of a large number of faculty members, the subjective evaluation of the student's achievement away from the campus, and the great importance given to the final recital and oral examination. In the early years of the program, faculty participation was not consistent from student to student for their final recitals and examinations, and this could have led to an unfair treatment of the students: "last week's examiners were tough, this week's were easy." In recent years the DMA Committee has had a large carryover of members, giving a better assurance of fairness to the students and proper standards to the profession. Surely a faculty's most odious task and yet a central responsibility is to deny a degree to an unqualified student; yet we all know cases where this has saved a student from an unsuccessful and therefore unhappy career in music and has led him to a more fruitful occupation. Yale's program gives rise to a particularly awkward situation in which the student is already employed and is told by the department chairman that promotion will come only upon receipt of the doctorate. But that problem stems more from our educational system than from Yale's program. Unfortunately it is sometimes the student who suffers.

The students have not been without complaints over the years. As noted above, there was fairly widespread concern over the initiation of the final oral examination. Much of the concern stemmed from the fear normally associated with examinations ("Will I have to describe mensural notation?"). While the general design of the program remained consistent, each new refinement brought the charge that the requirements for the degree were being changed, especially that a degree for performers was being turned into a scholarly program. The original design of the program had assumed a high level of competency in history and theory but had simply not initiated details that would assure it. Today's job market calls less for a performer or for a scholar than it does for an educated musician whose training emphasizes one or the other area. It has been Yale's experience that, normally, an outstanding recital is followed by comparable results at the oral examination. Since the final oral examinations were established in 1974, there has not been a single instance where a candidate has given an outstanding recital but has been denied the degree because of a poor oral examination, though there have been instances of less-than-outstanding recitals being counterbalanced by excellent oral examinations.

Another anxiety for the student is whether his professional achievement will be judged adequate for admission to candidacy for the DMA. He has, of course, no list of items to achieve; he must simply "do his professional thing," and do it well. Upon leaving Yale after receiving the MMA, the student has the full responsibility for his career; he is not guided by a faculty committee, encouraging him to participate more or less in particular activities. Thus Yale's DMA program puts a great burden on the students as well as on the faculty, for the students must have high degrees of energy, initiative, imagination, and ability in order to grow in their professional positions and to influence the situations in which they work. Some students become uneasy that their positions are at institutions or with organizations not in the limelight of the professional world, and that this will prevent their acceptance to candidacy. Such a situation has not been considered a deterrent by the faculty, for a student's impact on a small, relatively inactive community can be judged even more remarkable than that on a well-established musical center: the number of private pupils can increase and they can show signs of successful instruction; concert series, new courses, and new ensembles can be established; the student's performances can attract audiences both on and off the campus; and the classroom teaching can be highly successful. Each faculty judgment is based on the student's individual situation. Some students, however, have submitted evidence of professional achievement largely in a field outside their major area, and this has not been acceptable to the faculty, though a wide range of professional activities is strongly encouraged. A singer, for example, might have had remarkable success as a choral conductor but have done little singing, or an oboist might be successful as an administrator but have neglected the oboe. In the few such cases that have arisen, the faculty has postponed admission to candidacy and has reminded the student that his or her degree program is in voice, not choral conducting, or in oboe, not administration.

A major concern of the students and of the program generally is the competition for jobs with students who already have doctorates from their institutions. A familiar phrase in the job openings announced by the College Music Society, for example, is "doctorate required." Thus Yale's MMAs rightfully worry that without a doctorate doors will be closed to them, and without a job they cannot accomplish the necessary professional achievement required for candidacy to the DMA. While the concern is understandable, the lack of a doctorate has not been a major problem, for the Yale students have had three years of advanced study, they should be top performers in their field, and the potential employer can be told: "If Robert does distinguished work for you, he will in all probability receive a doctorate within two to five years; if he does not do well, you will not want to keep him on, and he will probably not receive a doctorate." The student has the full responsibility to prove himself in the profession.

What have been the results of Yale's DMA program? How many degrees have been awarded? The MMA program had its largest enrollments in its first two years, 1969 and 1970, as recent graduates of the former two-year program were allowed to apply for the MMA and return to the campus for a single MMA year. These large enrollments are reflected in the exceptionally large number of DMAs awarded in 1975. The following lists give the number of degrees conferred from 1969 through 1977:

MMAS CONFERRED   DMAS CONFERRED
1969 23   1973 3
1970 24   1974 3
1971 17   1975 13
1972 23   1976 6
1973 18   1977 3
1974 15   TOTAL 28
1975 11      
1976 20      
1977 11      
TOTAL 162      



The following figures relate the DMAs with their MMA-class year. These figures will change of course as DMAs are conferred in the future (thirteen students, from a variety of MMA-class years, have been accepted as candidates for 1977/78).

1969 with 23 MMAs has 7 DMAs
1970 with 24 MMAs has 9 DMAs
1971 with 17 MMAs has 6 DMAs
1972 with 23 MMAs has 5 DMAs
1973 with 18 MMAs has 1 DMA

Of the DMA recipients, the average time that elapsed between receiving the MMA and being accepted as candidates for the DMA is as follows (degrees were conferred a year later):

1973—2.3 years
1974—3.5 years
1975—3.1 years
1976—4.8 years
1977—4.1 years

Considering the newness of the program, the DMA recipients to date represent a large number of fields:

5 oboe 6 piano
2 clarinet 1 harpsichord
2 violin 1 organ
1 viola 3 voice
1 bass 4 composition
3 trumpet  

As to be expected, the largest interest in the DMA program is from students aiming for a position in higher education. Relatively few of the students determined to have a career as orchestral, chamber, or solo performers apply for admission to the MMA program. Nonetheless, of the twenty-eight DMA recipients to date, five are professional performers, and almost all of the remaining twenty-three have professional earnings outside their academic positions. While all twenty-eight should be, and perhaps are, capable of a career either in academia or as professional performers, our campuses offer more job opportunities than do our concert halls.

Essentially, Yale's DMA program has in addition to the conventional requirements the feature of professional achievement. One cannot be associated with the program for long without admiring the imagination, venturousness, and sincerity of its founders, led by Luther Noss, and the successful solution of a "dissertation" requirement for a professional doctorate. Particularly appealing is the premise that the degree is awarded not on promise but on accomplishment. Such a program goes far in assuring the integrity of the degree and thus the health of the profession.

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