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Graduate Program Chair in Composition and Theory, David Rakowski

Graduate Program Chair in Musicology, Eric Chafe

Joint MA Advisor in Music & Women's and Gender Studies, Allan R. Keiler

For more information about admissions, financial aid, and student services, please visit the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.

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Composition and Theory MA/MFA

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The Brandeis Music Department is unique in offering both a one-year M.A. program and a two-year M.F.A. program in composition and theory. The one-year M.A. program provides an opportunity for students to engage in beginning graduate study without making a multi-year commitment. The two-year M.F.A. program offers more in-depth study, including the writing of a masters thesis in the form of an original composition. Students are given the opportunity to have their compositions performed and recorded on the graduate student composers concert series New Music Brandeis. They may also have their compositions read by the Lydian String Quartet, whose members are Professors of the Practice in the music department, and by ensembles-in-residence that are invited to Brandeis by the music department. Ensembles have included the New York New Music Ensemble, NotaRiotous, the International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE), Talea Ensemble, and Speculum Musicae. The Slosberg Music Center houses the Brandeis Electro-Acoustic Music Studio (BEAMS) where composers can work with analog and digital equipment. There is also an extensive collection of period instruments including two harpsichords and an historic Viennese fortepiano, which are kept in the Jencks Early Music Room.

Students who are successful in the one-year M.A. program often choose to continue for a second year in order to complete the M.F.A. Prospective applicants are encouraged to contact the Graduate Program Chair in Composition, David Rakowski, to discuss which of the two options would be appropriate.

The basic requirements for the one-year M.A. in composition and theory include:

  • Seven and one-half courses at the graduate level: seminars in composition, proseminars in tonal writing; proseminars and seminars in tonal and nontonal analysis. MUS 172a: Proseminar in Theory and Composition is required. Private instrumental or vocal instruction and ensemble performance may be counted for credit with permission of the program chair.

  • A composition that is begun during the first semester, completed in time to be performed in the spring graduate composers' concert (New Music Brandeis).

  • One year of residency. The program may take an additional one or two semesters to complete as an Extended Master's student.

  • Attendance at departmental composition colloquia.

The basic requirements for the two-year M.F.A. include:

  • Twelve courses at the graduate level: proseminars and seminars in composition, seminars in tonal and nontonal analysis, a course in electro-acoustic music (or demonstrated proficiency).

  • Examinations: demonstration of competence by means of a portfolio review and written general examination at the end of the second year of study.

  • Thesis: an original composition, the scope to be approved by the faculty in composition, to be performed on one of the graduate composers' concerts (New Music Brandeis). The thesis must also be submitted to University Archives.

  • Two years of residency.

  • Attendance at departmental composition colloquia.


Boston Area Graduate Consortium: for cross registration at other institutions

This consortium allows for Brandeis graduate students to take graduate level courses at Boston College, Boston University, and Tufts University as part of their tuition at Brandeis. A full-time graduate student in the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences is permitted to enroll in no more than one graduate cross-registered course each term. This should be viewed as an opportunity to enhance their graduate experience, and not as a substitute for courses already offered at Brandeis. Graduate students wishing to consider this option must first discuss it with their Graduate Program Chair. Learn more about the Graduate Consortium.

Financial Aid

Partial need-based tuition scholarship is available from the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. Information about this and other sources of funding may be found on the GSAS website. The Music Department may also recommend additional merit scholarship, determined on a case-by-case basis.

Application Procedure

Applicants are asked to apply directly to the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences using the online application procedure Apply Online. For fall admission, the application deadline is rolling until the class is full; classes begin in late August. For spring admission, the application deadline is November 15 for the semester beginning in January. GRE scores are recommended, as well as English proficiency exam scores when applicable.

Application Fee: check the GSAS Admissions site for the fee, which must accompany the application. Applications will not be considered without payment of the application fee. Current Brandeis students are exempted from paying the application fee.

Statement of Purpose: in essay form, state reasons for undertaking graduate study. Please describe your qualifications for the academic program to which you are applying and your objectives in undertaking this program.

Applicants should clearly outline their research interests. The statement should also indicate how the applicant’s research interests would complement those of the faculty. Applicants should discuss their plans for their academic and professional career and how the particular graduate program will help them attain their goals.

Written Work: You are required to submit at least three original scores, with corresponding audio files of performances of those scores, if available. These are to be submitted as digital files; information about acceptable file formats is provided in the application instructions on the GSAS application website. You may specify a URL where your score file or audio file is located (i.e. on youtube or vimeo) but you must make sure that the link is active and as specific as possible so that your work may be easily reviewed without searching a website. Do not send native notation program files (e.g. .MUS, .SIB). If you wish to submit non-digital files you must contact the music department (kagan@brandeis.edu) first to request an exception.

Music Composition Exam: The Department of Music employs an informal testing procedure designed to assist the admission committee in reviewing applications to the graduate programs in Composition and Theory. Upon submission of the online application, please submit this exam via the applicant self-service status page.

  • There are two short exercises in tonal music. You are asked to spend up to, but under no circumstances more than, four hours (including copying time) in the preparation of your answers. Please note that your application will be considered incomplete without this exercise.
  • Upon completion of the test, you are asked to sign the appended statement affirming that you have received no outside assistance in preparing your answers. You should then upload the exam directly to your applicant self-service status. It is highly advised that you keep a copy of your exam for your own personal records; electronic submission of this exam is strongly preferred.
  • Sample Exam.

Two Letters of Recommendation: submitted online. At least one should be from a faculty member.

GSAS will continue to accept hard-copy letters of recommendation from those referees who prefer this method. All letters should be mailed directly to GSAS.

Transcripts: from all universities and colleges attended must be uploaded to your application; do not mail official transcripts. For more information, visit Frequently Asked Questions

Graduate Record Examinations General Test: the GRE General Test is recommended, but is not required. The ETS code for the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences is 3092. For more information about the GRE, visit www.ets.org/gre.

Non-native Speakers of English: international students should visit the international admission section of the GSAS website for information on TOEFL, IELTS, and PTE requirements. The GSAS TOEFL school code is 3261.

Application Deadline: online M.A. and M.F.A. applications are accepted on a rolling basis from late August through early March.  However first consideration will be given to applications submitted by January 15. Admission to the program is for the following fall semester. Applications submitted for mid-year admissions may be considered on a case-by-case basis and should be discussed with the GSAS Director of Admissions.

Tracking the Application: GSAS will provide information for tracking the application online in the form of a checklist. Data is updated daily.

Visiting Brandeis: applicants are welcome, but not required, to visit Brandeis and interview with faculty during admissions time, or at another time during the academic year if more convenient. Interviews can be arranged directly with the individual faculty members by email or telephone. Attending seminars and meeting with current graduate students can also be arranged. A complete list of concerts is available online at www.brandeis.edu/arts/concerts. Tours of the Brandeis campus are conducted daily.