Graduate Study in Composition

The Doctor of Musical Arts degree is awarded by the Graduate School of Arts & Sciences. The DMA normally takes five years to complete. One can apply for and enter into the DMA program with an appropriate bachelor's or master's degree; degree requirements can be found here. For queries about the program, please contact the Chair of the Composition Area.

Composition lessons and seminar

Students take individual composition lessons weekly for three years. Usually they are encouraged to change teachers after a year's study, so as to benefit from the faculty's diverse orientations. After completing three years of formal lessons, students work informally with the composition faculty.

In addition to lessons, sections meet together in a weekly two-hour seminar to hear one another's music and to engage aesthetic, technical, and professional issues. Colloquia with visiting composers also take place during the time of this combined meeting.

  • 2018-2019 Guests:
    Ruben Seroussi, Thomas Schafer, Judith Shatin, Tyondai Braxton, Mendi and Keith Obadike, Bryn Harrison, Yvette Janine Jackson, Kristin Norderval, Sandeep Bhagwati, Christopher Swithinbank, Yumi Saiki, Nirmali Fenn, Daniel Kidane, Jennie C. Jones, Thomas Larcher
  • 2017-2018 Guests:
    Amnon Wolman, Marcos Balter, Dafna Naphtali, Richard Causton, Tanya Kalmanovitch, Zeena Parkins, Magda Mayas, Du Yun, Max Murray, Huck Hodge. Raphael Cendo, Tokuhide Niimi, Ann Cleare, Frederic Rzewski
  • 2016-2017 Guests:
    Philippe Leroux, Jeffrey Holmes, Nils Schweckendiek, Miller Puckette, Patricia Alessandrini, Missy Mazzoli, Lei Liang, Liza Lim, Kenji Sakai, Clara Iannotta, Ilan Volkov, Tania Leon, Michael Harrison
  • 2015-2016 Guests:
    Simon Steen-Andersen, Oscar Edelstein, Jay Schwartz, Diego Romero Mascaró, Aaron Cassidy, Elizabeth Hoffman, Roger Reynolds, Lucie Vitkova, Diego Espinosa, Annie Gosfield, Misato Mochizuki, Iancu Dumitrescu, Heiner Goebbels, Francesca Verunelli
  • 2014-2015 Guests:
    Matthias Lošek, Sean Griffin, Charles Gaines, Marcela Rodriguez, Alvin Curran, Chaya Czernowin, Chou Wen-Chung, Petr Kotik, Rand Steiger, Keeril Makan, Weiya Hao, Franck Bedrossian, Michio Kitazume, Yoichi Sugiyama, Jean-Charles François, Stefano Gervasoni, Kaija Saariaho, Augusta Read Thomas, Jay Schwartz, Anna Clyne, Klaus Lang
  • 2013-2014 Guests:
    Thomas Buckner, Giacomo Manzoni, Cindy Cox, Anna Thorvaldsdottir, Mark Applebaum, Roger Reynolds, Unsuk Chin, Jean-Baptiste Barrière, Oscar Bianchi, others.
  • 2012-2013 Guests:
    Ondrej Adamek, Steven Takasugi, Jaroslaw Kapuscinski, Chris Paul Harman, Christian Wolff, Richard Carrick, Mesias Maiguashca, Tomiko Kohjiba, Enno Poppe, Julio Estrada, David Fulmer, Rebecca Saunders, Betsy Jolas, Oliver Knussen, others.
  • 2011-2012 Guests:
    Hans Thomalla, Karin Rehnqvist,Akiko Yamane,Jummei Suzuki, others.
  • 2010-2011 Guests:
    Kaija Saariaho, Matthias Pintscher, Ken Ueno, Miller Puckette, Hans Abrahamsen, Julia Wolfe, Norio Fukushi, Kikuko Massumoto, Unsuk Chin, Marcelo Toledo, Benjamin Patterson, Chaya Czernowin, Aaron Einbond.
  • 2009-2010 Guests:
    Beat Furrer, Cia Toscanini, Magnus Lindberg, Hitomi Kaneko, Lou Karchin, Pierluigi Billone, Yasuko Yamaguchi, Mauro Lanza, Bernhard Lang, Toshio Hosokawa, Evan Parker, Ed Campion, Paul Chihara.
  • 2008-2009 Guests:
    Georg Friedrich Haas, Elena Mendoza, Kumiko Omura, Joshua Fineberg, Allain Gaussin, Claus-Steffen Mahnkopf, Martin Matalon, Reiko Füting, Stefano Gervasoni, Marc-André Dalbavie
  • 2007-2008 Guests:
    Helmut Lachenmann, Robert Sirota, Yumi Saiki, Stefan Streich, Morris Rosenzweig, Masakazu Natsuda, Georgia Spiropoulos, Simha Arom, Gérard Assayag, Daedalus String Quartet, Peter Ablinger, Vijay Iyer.
  • 2006-2007 Guests:
    Noel Zahler, Wu Wei, Hanspeter Kyburz, Petr Kotik, Olga Neuwirth, Joji Yuasa, Julian Anderson, Nils Vigeland, Hans Tutschku, Roger Reynolds.

Other requirements and procedures

Admission to graduate programs at Columbia requires documentation of proficiency in English; see the Language Exam page of the Graduate Handbook for further information. 

Columbia's graduate program in music follows a "rule of three" when assessing language capability. All students are required to demonstrate competence in reading and translating two languages other than their native tongue, by means of a Music Department-administered examination; successful completion of coursework is not accepted in lieu of the examination.  One language is required for the MA degree and a second for the DMA degree.  

Unless exempted, during the first two years in the program, composers in the DMA program must fulfill the MA requirements of two semesters of music theory (including anything from fugue-writing to a seminar on contemporary pitch or rhythmic organization to music cognition); two semesters of computer music; and a two-semester analysis course, "Music Since 1900." In their second year, students take a qualifying analysis examination, a 45-minute oral presentation on a tonal work before a committee of three faculty.

At the conclusion of two years in the program, students generally earn a Columbia MA degree.  

First-year students may receive Transfer Credit for graduate courses taken at other institutions that are considered equivalent in academic level and content to graduate courses offered by the Department of Music, and that can be submitted in partial fulfillment of specific academic requirements for the degree; undergraduate courses cannot be considered for Transfer Credit.

In their third or fourth year, students take a second qualifying analysis examination: an hour-long oral presentation on a contemporary work to faculty and students in the composition seminar.

Further required coursework after the second year includes electives; students are encouraged to take advantage of courses in the Department of Music's programs in Historical Musicology, Ethnomusicology, and Music Theory, as well as other University courses in the humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences.  In addition, students may take courses at other area universities via the Inter-University Doctoral Consortium.

Prior to beginning the dissertation, students submit to the composition faculty, for review, a portfolio of compositions written during their time in the composition program.

For more information on degree requirements see the website of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. 

The dissertation

  • A sponsor (doctoral adviser) and committee are established for the dissertation, which is comprised of two parts: (1) a composition or portfolio of works, and (2) a scholarly essay of around 8000 to 12000 words, which may be about the piece(s), or some other topic agreed upon by the candidate and the sponsor.
  • The doctoral defense committee consists of three members of the composition faculty and two music professionals not based at Columbia.  Examiners must have doctoral degrees, and are typically composers, conductors, or performers.

The music theory connection

  • In contrast to many other American graduate programs in music, composition and theory are closely interwoven at Columbia.

The Computer Music Center

  • The Computer Music Center (CMC), directed by Professor Brad Garton, is a major center for computer music in the United States, and computer music forms an integral part of the graduate composition program. CMC faculty and staff teach courses in programming, interactivity, recording, intermedia, and sound art topics.
  • The CMC is closely intertwined with the MFA Sound Art Program, directed by Professor Miya Masaoka, an interdepartmental program offered in association with the Visual Arts MFA Program, the Department of Music, and the CMC. 

Performance opportunities

Visibility of the composition program

  • The program has an international face, with students coming from around the world. A number of students have participated in the Cursus at IRCAM, and student participation at European and other international festivals and seminars is common. Exchanges and funded opportunities take place with institutions in Japan and Europe.
  • The program has a strong success rate in placing former students in academic positions. Moreover, composers from Columbia have garnered distinguished commissions, performances by renowned orchestras and opera companies, and major national and international awards. Both former students and active graduate students have won Guggenheim and MacArthur Fellowships, the Rome Prize, the Gaudeamus Prize, and others. Composers doing sound installation/video work have exhibited in major museums and galleries throughout the world.

APPLICATIONS AND FELLOWSHIPS

Applications

  • Applications, including supporting materials, are to be submitted to the Admissions Office of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, not to the Music Department.
  • Applications are generally due in mid-December for admission the following September.  For further information on applying, please begin by visiting the Admissions section of the Columbia University Graduate School of Arts and Sciences (GSAS) website. 
  • The primary criterion in judging applications is the talent and achievement shown by the music submitted. We seek composers with skill and imagination.
  • Applicants are requested to submit up to three work samples, each consisting of a professionally prepared score and/or alternative form of documentation of compositional process, and including a recording of the full work.  Online submission of these materials through the GSAS web application portal is required, but if the materials cannot be uploaded, please contact the Department of Music for guidance on where to send materials by mail. 

  • Students with a strong interest in computer music are encouraged to provide examples of their technological work along with the application.
  • Other important criteria in the evaluation process include the quality of the personal statement and the accompanying essay, recommendations, and Graduate Record Examination (GRE) scores, which are required by the University for admission.
  • For applicants whose native language is not English and who have received an undergraduate degree from an institution in a country where the official language is not English, or applicants who have received an undergraduate degree from a non-English speaking country and are now studying at the graduate level in the U.S. or another English-speaking country, documentation of proficiency in English is required by the University for admission.  The Graduate School of Arts and Sciences requires a minimum score of 600 on the paper-based test, 100 on the internet-based test, or a 7.5 for the IELTS.  Applicants who have studied for at least two years at a U.S. institution or at an institution in a country where the official language is English and earned the undergraduate (or bachelor’s) degree at that institution are exempt from this requirement.
  • All applicants must take the Graduate Record Examination, which is required by the University for admission.
  • Visits are welcome, but are by no means required for admission.  Visits are not regarded as formal or informal interviews, and confer no advantage upon applicants. The weekly group composition seminar at 3:10-5 pm on Wednesdays is an especially good time to meet students and faculty.
  • Applicants wishing to visit the campus should contact either the Chair of the Composition Area or individual faculty members to set up an appointment.  By custom, we do not examine scores or audio materials during visits; we can, however, answer questions about the program and the admissions process in greater detail than can be obtained by other means.

Fellowships

  • Columbia offers one of the top graduate (doctoral) programs in composition in the United States.  Admission to the program is extremely competitive; on average, we award up to four fellowships per year, from an application pool numbering in the hundreds.
  • Students on fellowship receive full tuition, health benefits, and an annual stipend, for a period of five years, provided that they maintain adequate progress toward the doctorate. We do not admit unfunded students.   
  • All full-time graduate students have access to Columbia housing, which provides good apartments in the vicinity at below-market rents.
  • The first year in the program is "unencumbered," i.e., there are no teaching requirements.  In subsequent years, students become teaching assistants for courses such as Music Humanities (Columbia College's core-curriculum introductory music course), ear training, the undergraduate theory sequence, undergraduate composition, conducting, and computer music.
  • The dissertation fellowship year can take place in the fourth or fifth year, following completion of all coursework, lessons, and examinations.  This is an "unencumbered" year, with no teaching obligations. Especially if taken in the fifth and final year of program support, it is strongly recommended that the student prepare to defend the dissertation around the conclusion of this academic year.

Location

  • The Music Department office and most faculty offices are on the sixth floor of Dodge Hall at Columbia's Morningside Campus.
  • The Music Library is on the seventh floor of Dodge.
  • The Computer Music Center is on the third floor of Prentis Hall, on 125th Street just west of Broadway. A smaller CMC facility is on the eighth floor of Dodge.
  • To visit the Music Department, take the #1 subway to 116th Street & Broadway Avenue. Dodge Hall is to the left of Columbia's main gate. Enter the campus, take the steps twice up to the left, and enter Dodge from the north side. Take the elevator to the sixth floor.