The composition major at Oberlin is based on the primacy of performance in musical creation.
Western notated music has long been about the confrontation with the written page, thus the goal of the Composition Program is to train aspiring composers to hone their skills at presenting their musical ideas as clearly and efficiently as possible through written notation, and to broaden their creative horizons through the close examination of a broad range of musical repertoire, both Western and non-Western, embracing all eras.
Students have many opportunities to perform—from regular student composition recitals, readings, and performances by the Contemporary Music Ensemble, Sinfonietta, and Oberlin Orchestra, to ad hoc student-organized presentations in just about any medium that can be assembled.
Composition is closely linked to the Technology in Music and Related Arts (TIMARA). All composition majors have access to instruction in and use of the TIMARA Lab.
Introductory courses in composition, technology, instrumentation/orchestration, counterpoint, and form during the first two years provide intensive training in the fundamentals of the craft of musical composition. These courses have a variety of instructional approaches, including seminar-style classroom instruction, frequent performance/critique sessions, and supplementary private lessons.
For their third and fourth years, composition majors receive private instruction in composition with the professor(s) of their choice, culminating in a senior-year recital consisting of 50 minutes of music. Additional courses available to composition students include advanced counterpoint, as well as electives in technology, jazz arranging and composition, choral arranging, music theory, and music history.
In addition to these core courses and electives, the Composition Seminar, open to majors in all years, is a free-ranging class that delves into specific issues chosen from a wide variety of compositional, historical, and aesthetic topics, informed by expressions of interest by current students.
All these activities are supplemented by regular studio classes that bring composition majors together to share work with each other and to hear presentations from visiting composers and performers.
The studio format also allows for discussion of topics ranging from the latest technological developments to summer composition programs and graduate study to general professional development.