Historical performance degree vs. performance
  • PaixGioiaAmorPaixGioiaAmor
    Posts: 1,473
    I have a question for those of you who have went through graduate school.

    I am pondering a historical performance program that puts a heavy emphasis on music of the renaissance and baroque eras. I understand that such a degree involves quite a bit of study of musicology in order to perform in a historically informed manner. But my question is, "What are the major differences between studying in a traditional program and this?"

    For instance, in a traditional program (MM in organ performance/choral conducting) when you study repertoire you surely learn it from a historical perspective; I learned about baroque articulation vs. romantic during my undergrad, for example. So in this regard, isn't EVERY performance degree somewhat of a "historical performance" degree?

    If any one can shed any light on some of this - as well as your perceived pros and cons - I'd love to hear from you.

    It seems to me that a historical performance degree would be ideal for a church musician, but not a ton of church musicians seem to have them (although I've found a few in high places who do).
  • SkirpRSkirpR
    Posts: 853
    My thought on the matter is that nowadays any well-rounded musician - and hopefully any well-rounded performance degree program (in any instrument) - will spend at least some time on historical performance practice.

    I found it intesting as a student that there were certain older faculty who lived or grew up in the beginnings of the early music "movement" were very militantly trying to convince us we should use appropriate performance practice in older repertoire. The interesting part was all of us younger students already seemed to be on board with that - at least as much as it would be practical in various performing situations.

    I imagine those schools with degrees specifically labelled historical performance practice are aiming to develop scholars/performers at the forefront of researching the actual performance practice vs. simply performing with a working knowledge of it. I imagine those coming out of those programs would aspire to travel, play in and/or lead various professional early music ensembles around the world.

    While it's true I suppose that a lot of sacred music is early music, my personal thoughts are that the broader skills gained from a standard performance program would be more practically helpful in the average musical landscape of a church musician who is not always making music with an entire group of professional singers/instrumentalists and not always performing early music.
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 10,034
    I am always a bit leery when I hear, "historical performance practice." It's at best, an educated guess. Does anyone really know how music was done in the centuries before audio recordings? If you think the recommendations of current experts can't be wrong, just wait a few years. The then current experts will condemn the former experts as ill-informed and ignorant.

    Study what you love and enjoy, and use your own best judgement when bringing music to life. It's called interpretation - not a sin in music.
  • CHGiffenCHGiffen
    Posts: 4,130
    Period pronunciation of Latin, French, German, Italian, English and other languages of early music is itself an almost labyrinthian challenge for historically informed performance practice, and it would be something one has to study extensively in any historical performance program. Within choral/vocal one would not be concentrating just on sacred works either, but also on a huge secular repertoire, both accompanied and unaccompanied. As a couple of examples (well-known to those who know it well): (1) Performing, say the John Browne O Maria, salvatoris Mater with Tudor Latin pronunciation is a revelation (for example, "His iam, sanctis iubilemus" - spelled this in the Eton Choirbook, but pronounce roughly as "Hiss jahm, sanktiss jubilehmuss" with voiced "j"). (2) The not uncommon butchering of the pronunciation of the lovely carol "Ther is no rose of swych virtu as is the rose that bar Jhesu" which we so often hear is unfortunate (I grate every time I hear "the" pronounced as "thuh" instead of "theh") - better they simply use a modern English rendering. This is an area where much is known, and it is up to the period performer to learn it - or research it thoroughly - before attempting.

    Another aspect requiring intense study (and research) is the matter of various melodic and modal idioms of different cultures (even within western music). Notation and the application of musica ficta rightly varies from region to region (I've seen too many franco-flemish pieces distorted by application of rules that apply properly to, say, Italian or English music).

    Proper instrumentation and use of period instruments (or replicas) is another sticky wicket. For example, performance of a Bach work (eg. the Christmas Oratorio or the St. Matthew Passion) calling for "oboe da caccia" is not truly historically informed if it is played on a Baroque English horn (even though both are written as transposing instruments in F).

    One could go on and on, even with western music, and it only becomes more complex the wider one casts the net. On the other hand, for some, this is truly fascinating work, and the benefits for the proper understanding of historical performance and how historical performance illuminates modern performance should not be undervalued.
  • canadashcanadash
    Posts: 1,404
    It seems to me that a historical performance degree would be ideal for a church musician, but not a ton of church musicians seem to have them (although I've found a few in high places who do).


    This is something to think about. Do you want to have something most people do not have? The reality is though, that many "regular" church musicians don't have the first degree either, but having the "historical performance program" would really set you apart. I suppose, in the end, think about your goals and where you wish to end up, as it were. Some great information above!
  • Richard MixRichard Mix
    Posts: 1,859
    Which program would that be? I imagine a traditional performance degree would be about applying current notions of style, rather than studying the sources and then trying to form one's own taste consistently with the evidence. But in some musicology programs you might be lucky if the subject of taste even comes up. If the object isnt getting a sheepskin, do as a friend of mine did and apprentice to a British cathedral choir.

    If your focus is chant you might look for a school with some ethnomusicology program where you can study another oral tradition, even if you dont follow the whole Marcel Peres program of living without electrical lighting for a year.
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  • There are good programs out there (Oberlin, CIM, Longy, North Texas) but a serious period-performer would go to Europe and study at the Hague or in Basel. That's where your best competition and all the work is. I would only seek this type of study if you really want to be a part of this community of performers. If you are hoping to improve your sacred music skills there are places that have good early music programs (but no degree) that could offer you resources in this area.

    I disagree wholeheartedly with CharlesW on this one. Performance Practice study has given baroque music, especially, a whole new life. It is no longer the "sewing machine" music of early last century. No, we can't know exactly how it was performed, but the learning process and the results so far I think are very convincing. We may never cure cancer, but should we stop trying?

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  • PaixGioiaAmorPaixGioiaAmor
    Posts: 1,473
    Thank you so much to everyone for your food for thought.

    My dilemma, really, is that due to family circumstances, it is absolutely NOT an option for me to study outside of the Cleveland area.

    So - my options for grad school are an organ MM from Cleveland State University, a choral conducting MM from Kent State University, an organ MM from CIM, or an MM in historical performance from Oberlin or Case Western Reserve.

    I'm afraid that if I do a degree at a state school that does not have an AMAZING reputation (like Indianna or University of Michigan) the degree won't be worth the paper it's printed on.

    Any additional thoughts?
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 10,034
    Michael O'Connor, you may have guessed that I am not overly fond of Baroque music - well, German Baroque, at any rate. I do like the French music of that period. Most of the performance practice in these parts has only given us genuinely ugly, unpleasant instruments. Some of them shriek and grate so badly, I won't even attend AGO performances at those churches. Interestingly, they tend to mostly be Presbyterian churches, for some reason. I haven't figured out the "why" of that one yet.
  • CHGiffenCHGiffen
    Posts: 4,130
    German Baroque? Now that would include Johann Sebastian Bach, wouldn't it? (and Heinrich Schütz, and Johann Hermann Schein)

    So much for the St. Matthew and St. John Passions, the Magnificat, the Christmas Oratorio, the motet "Jesu, meine freude", the Passion Chorale which will be sung in countless Catholic churches on Good Friday.

    I'm saddened.
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 10,034
    I like the choral music better than the organ music. When I studied for my organ degree, I sought out organ departments that were not obsessed with German Baroque literature. Much of this literature is Lutheran and I question whether it even belongs in Catholic churches.
  • SkirpRSkirpR
    Posts: 853
    I'm afraid that if I do a degree at a state school that does not have an AMAZING reputation (like Indianna or University of Michigan) the degree won't be worth the paper it's printed on.


    For a MM, I think your actual abilities generally outweight the school's reputation in most cases and most circles. I guess it depends on what you want to do with it. Only when using your degree to get a teaching position in higher ed would your degree's institutional pedigree start to matter more -- but in such a situation, you'd likely be talking about a terminal degree (a DMA vs. a MM).
  • marajoymarajoy
    Posts: 781
    What do you *want* from your degree? Just to be a better church musician? To have a piece of paper that will help you get better jobs? To have additional skills that will help you get better jobs?

    I think any degree that is more performance-oriented, whether "historical" or otherwise isn't all that useful for someone who isn't intending to be primarily a concert performer. (With the exception of a performance degree at a school which has enough options that you would take classes that involved a lot more than just performance; a school that had a big enough class variety of options and room in your academic schedule that you would take classes like composing, conducting, improvising, etc. )

    From my own experience with a MM in church music from UM, that was exactly what I wanted- I took classes that ranged from improving my organ skills, to explicit church music-related courses, as well as the faculty working with me to provide options that weren't even part of the curriculum, but were what would help round out my skills. So, I would recommend a church music-related degree over any of the ones you listed, but again, I don't know exactly what your long-term goals from your degree are.

    (And what Skirp said.)

    ETA: wait, I misread part of what you were saying- I thought at first that you were saying Michigan is an option. I suppose if you are truly limited to the degrees you listed, then I'm not sure what I'd recommend. But, really... you think you are good enough to consider that you might be accepted in the MM at CIM? wow...
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  • DougS
    Posts: 793
    I agree with Mara. The most important question is what you want to get out of the degree/program.
  • BruceL
    Posts: 1,004
    I would get the masters (in organ or church music) somewhere good and try for an AGO certification, too. I think that's the best way to cover all the bases. Of course, my experience in Catholic circles is that, unless the consultant for the job knows a lot, it is unlikely that the pastor or anyone else will seriously check out all your credentials! It's sad, but true. "Experience" seems to be what everyone wants, even when you could be very "experienced" at directing a terrible program!

    Regarding programs: the big state school programs are the best bet right now, along with your usual suspects like ESM, etc. The level of teaching at the state schools in the Midwest now is very strong, and I know UT-Austin is serious about getting a great replacement for the late Gerre Hancock.

    PGA, I'd say Todd Wilson is the finest (or at least in the top 3) organ teacher in the country right now, so don't knock CIM...
  • PaixGioiaAmorPaixGioiaAmor
    Posts: 1,473
    Thank you very much for the replies.

    And Mara, I'm not sure I'm good enough or not. But I don't close doors without trying; I let them be closed on me. My options may well be quite limited as far as to how "good" a program I can get into - but I refuse to have them limited by ME before I even get started ...
  • DougS
    Posts: 793
    You're right, PGA. You never know unless you try.

    In my experience looking for schools, it was useful to take a private lesson with the potential instructors. This is likely the most important relationship you will have while pursuing the degree. It also allows you to get some face time prior to an audition.

    I also know for a fact that the CWRU program is more a research-based degree despite its title, "... in performance practice." MA vs. MM is your clue there, as well.
  • It seems apt to me to suggest that one should take every opportunity to acquire 'historical performance skills' and to cultivate a deep appreciation for the music for which they are appropriate, and a commitment to their application in parish life and liturgy. Liturgy can only be enhanced, its message and worshipfullness augmented by appropriate interpretative ethoi. It is only by such artfulness that the full meaning and import of any chosen genre fully realises its spiritual, paedagogical, and worshipfull raison d'etre. The question is, simply, is God and his Church better served with this knowledge and understanding, and are those things offered to him and those lives impacted by them of greater value than would they otherwise have been. It seems to me that the answer is an unmistakeable 'yes'.

    P.S. - This topic was titled 'Historic Performance degree vs. Performance': if this suggests a dichotomy, it is a false one.
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  • PaixGioiaAmorPaixGioiaAmor
    Posts: 1,473
    Thanks to all, especially Skip and M. Jackson Osborn. I felt the same way, regarding there not being a dichotomy between the two - which is why I posed the direction.

    The (well known) director of the program said in an e-mail to me that "many organ students apply thinking that it is basically an MM in organ; it is not, it is much more involved than that." I think this translates into learning the musicology, the WHY of performance practice, but I wanted to put it out for discussion.
  • marajoymarajoy
    Posts: 781
    (ah, yes...my realism/pessimism... one of my faults... ;-) )
  • DougS
    Posts: 793
    PGA, in theory there isn't a sharp distinction, but at an institutional level there frequently is--and as Skirp pointed out, though he didn't use these words, there is a political dimension involved in the pursuit of HIP. One hopes that everyone would see it the way MJO does, but I can't stress enough that they don't.

    If you are at a place in your development as a professional person where you can take the time to consider your goals (and perhaps even articulate them on paper), I think you will have an easier time communicating with the various parties involved. It's one thing to say to an institution, "I want this. Give it to me." (Which is how most students approach the issue.) It's quite another to say, "This is who I am and what my goals are. How do you see someone like me fitting in to your program?" Without asking the question, how would you ever know?

    It sounds like you are already communicating with certain institutions, which is good. You just have to ask the right questions so that there aren't any surprises. Many graduate students come thinking they will get X, when in reality the institution --for whatever reason--can offer only Y, or maybe something a little like X.
  • PaixGioiaAmorPaixGioiaAmor
    Posts: 1,473
    Thanks, Doug. Good info. That was my hunch too, that it's better to find everything out in detail upfront.