Establishing a Two-Year Masters Degree Program in Music Technology and Contemporary Media
I have always believed that the mission of a music conservatory was to prepare music students for a career in music in the real world. There have been incredible advances in technology, and specifically music technology, over the past 20 to 30 years, as well as other equally significant socio-economic developments regarding the nature of the music business and changing musical tastes. Because of this, the landscape for employment and creative opportunities for musicians in the 21st century is vastly different from that of 50 years ago. This is a concept which I’ve heard discussed at great length at many sessions of the CMS national conferences, CMS/NAMM Generation Next, and similar conferences over the past 10 years or more.
In order to address these issues, I designed a two-year masters degree program in Music Technology and Contemporary Media. A priority of the curriculum was that it be carefully balanced between the purely creative, concert music applications of technology (e.g. Max/MSP, Super Collider, Abelton Live among others), with more practical applications such as those related to film scoring, multimedia, and game music composition. The quality and standards for acceptance and study in this program are designed to be maintained at the very highest levels of musicality, in accordance with all other degree programs at the conservatory level.
I believe that one of the most important benefits of creating this curriculum is to create an opportunity for the conversation to move ahead and bring more awareness of the importance of such curriculum work to a greater number of faculty, students, and administrators. Over the past year, I have had the opportunity to meet with my colleagues and the provost at the Manhattan School of Music (MSM) in New York City to work on developing and fine-tune the curriculum. Although the degree program has yet to be implemented at MSM, I am continuing to work with my colleagues there to develop a curriculum that will be acceptable to the current administration. Table 1 represents an outline of the current proposed curriculum.
Proposed Degree Program for the Manhattan School of Music
Music Technology & Contemporary Media (MTCM) – 2 yr MM Course Grid
|Semester (A-D) and
Credit Hours (2-5)
|1. Music Technology Major Lesson||5||5||5||5|
|2. Advanced Electronic Music Composition||2||2||2||2|
|3. Advanced Performing With Electronics||2||2|
|4. Contemporary Electronic Music Ensemble||2||2|
|5. Film Scoring and Multimedia Applications||3||3|
|6. Advanced Orchestration||2||2|
|7. Music For Gaming & Multimedia||2|
|8. History of Electronic Music||2|
|9. Advanced Studio Recording and Production||2|
|10. Advanced Topics (Research Project)||2|
|11. Graduate Electives||2||2||2||2|
|Total Credit Hours: 64||17||17||14||16|
Below, I provide short descriptions of selected components of this curriculum.
Music Technology Major Lesson
Important are intensive private study in music technology composition and/or performance depending on the student’s primary areas of interest.
Advanced Electronic Music Composition
These are intensive, four semester courses of study in the art of music composition using electronic and computer based systems. The first two semesters will focus on advanced applications of DAWs such as Protools, Digital Performer, and Logic , and virtual instruments such as Omnisphere, Stylus RMX, NI Komplete , and the Vienna Ensemble Pro, while semesters C and D will explore the use of software based environments such as MaxMSP, Ableton, and Super-Collider. All semesters will emphasize the integration of electronic and acoustic sound sources, as well as digital signal processing of acoustic instruments.
Contemporary Electronic Music Ensemble
This will be an ongoing ensemble, which will explore the cutting edge of electronic and electro/acoustic music performance. The use of synthesizer keyboards, laptops, virtual instruments, various types of additional MIDI controllers (such as guitar controllers, EWIs, V-drums, and Theremins), as well as the processing of traditional acoustic instruments will be explored. Collaborations with the program’s composers, as well as examination of existing repertoire will be encouraged. In the 2nd year, interested students could continue to participate in this ensemble as an elective.
Film Scoring and Multimedia Applications
Included will be advanced study of the art and science of scoring to picture, culminating in a collaboration with student film makers from Columbia Film School, New York University, School of Visual Arts, and other film schools around New York City and the United States. Various multimedia applications, including interactive websites, games, and sound installations will also be explored.
Advanced Studio Recording and Production Techniques
This is coursework to study studio recording and production techniques from the musicians’ perspective. Principles of acoustics, microphones and microphone placement, signal processing, mixing, and various types of recording environments will be explored. Students will have access to professional recording equipment, and will produce several recording projects throughout the course of the year.
Students will take the traditional Advanced Orchestration course offered within the Classical Composition curriculum of the Manhattan School. Intensive study of the specific technical issues of all acoustic instruments. Weekly presentation by individual instrumentalists will be included.
History of Electronic Music
An historical survey of electronic music from the early twentieth century to the present is important to include.
I feel privileged to have had the opportunity to serve on the faculty of the Manhattan School of Music in New York for almost 30 years. It is truly one of the premier music conservatories in the world, and a very nurturing place for any aspiring young musician. I respect the decision of my administrators to delay approval of the proposed degree program, and know that they believe they are doing what’s in the best interests of the institution and its students.
However, this delay has brought into focus for me a larger, perhaps more important issue pervasive throughout much of the academic world. This issue was eloquently expressed in the recent report by the CMS Task Force on the Undergraduate Music Major, spearheaded by CMS president Patricia Campbell, and presented at the 2014 CMS National Conference in St. Louis. The report: Transforming Music Study from its Foundations: A Manifesto for Progressive Change in the Undergraduate Preparation of Music Majors, describes the need for a paradigm shift in our approach to teaching music in the 21st century. I believe the conclusions reached apply equally to graduate as well as undergraduate study.
One of these conclusions, and a theme I’ve heard discussed at many presentations by CMS and other organizations over the years, is the persistent resistance to change in the academic world. If our educational models are based on concepts that are 50-100 years or more old, then as educators, we may be missing important contemporary developments and elements necessary for us to fulfill are primary mission: the preparation of music students for successful careers in the real world.
I whole heartedly concur with the report of the CMS Task Force, and hope to have opportunities over the coming years to address these larger issues.
The curriculum is designed to offer a balance between important topics in recent technology and contemporary media and freedom for students to choose electives and advanced topics (research) depending on professional direction. It is hoped that such a design will take advantage of the diverse faculty at the Manhattan School of Music and the surrounding metropolitan area of New York City. I welcome comment on this design and hope to collaborate with others on similar design efforts for serving today’s music technology students.
Richard Sussman is a pianist, composer, music technologist, and professor of jazz composition at Manhattan School of Music in New York City.
Over the years, Richard has attained a high level of accomplishment and recognition as a jazz pianist and composer, both as a sideman with various artists, and more significantly, as a leader of various ensembles performing his own uniquely original compositions. His varied career has included performances and/or recordings with Lionel Hampton, Buddy Rich, Steve Slagle, Randy Brecker, Lee Konitz, Blood Sweat & Tears, David Sanborn, Houston Person, and Donna Summer, among many others. His jazz discography includes four albums of original music as a leader, including the critically acclaimed "Free Fall" (Double-Time Records), “Live At Sweet Rhythm” (Origin Records), and “Continuum” (Origin Records).
Richard has also achieved considerable success and recognition as a composer and orchestrator for large ensembles, with a particular focus on the integration of jazz rhythmic and improvisational elements with contemporary classical harmonic and structural techniques. Writing credits include a commission by the Manhattan School of Music ("Dialogue For Jazz Band & Orchestra" - 2003) and 2 NEA grants in composition for large-scale works for Jazz Band and Symphony Orchestra (Suites #1 & 2 for Jazz Band and Orchestra) as well as arrangements for Lionel Hampton, Blood Sweat & Tears, Mel Lewis, Randy Brecker, the West Chester Jazz Orchestra, the Metropole Orchestra (Amsterdam), the WDR Jazz Big Band (Cologne, Germany), and others.