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Wednesday, October 20, 2021

A look into UC Davis’ graduate program for music

Editor’s note: Today MUSE begins an occasional series that takes an in-depth look at UC Davis’ graduate programs in the arts. Look for features about theater, dance, art and more in upcoming issues.

Musicians around the country are beginning to take notice of UC Davis’ graduate program in music, a highly selective and rigorous program of study for those with serious musical ambitions.

The National Research Council (NRC) has ranked UC Davis’ graduate music program as one of the top graduate music programs in the nation – a big deal considering that while most universities have an entire school devoted to music, in which a graduate program is included, UC Davis only has a small, yet distinguished department of music with about 25 graduate students per year.

There are three areas of study in which a student may choose to work: composition, musicology and ethnomusicology.

Despite smaller numbers, the program’s small-scaled size has its advantages. Garrett Schatzer, who studies composition, described some of the benefits associated with a department, rather than a whole school.

“The professor to student ratio is highly in our favor,” Schatzer said. “In composition, there are five faculty members to seven students, so it’s very intimate. They know us so well. We get a lot of one-on-one time.”

This is especially rewarding for the students because the faculty members of the music department are more than partially responsible for the high rankings.

Beth Levy, the graduate academic advisor, said with a touch of modesty, “The biggest factor in our rankings was the strength of our faculty. They’re distinguished in the field and they produce really strong books and articles, so that collectively our work is out there for other scholars to know about. That’s a huge factor if you’re deciding where to go to grad school.”

Christopher Reynolds, the department chair, also modestly attributed the program’s notable recognition to the work and success of its faculty.

“The main reason for this is the strength of the faculty. We are all active, productive scholars. The number of awards received by faculty members in this department is very impressive,” Reynolds said.

The faculty does not only produce impressive bodies of work, but also enjoy teaching undergraduate and graduate students.

“I really like teaching grad seminars and kind of modeling, for students, academic conversation,” Levy said. “This is what they are going to be doing for their career.”

Reynolds also expressed a similar passion for teaching, which he has been doing since the program’s inception in the 1980s.

“At this point it is gratifying to see former students in our program succeeding, working in good jobs of their own, writing interesting articles and composing beautiful music,” Reynolds said. “In this last year I published an article together with a former student. That was a thrill.”

With such faculty and the intimate environment of the program, the students accepted into the program reflect the devotion to scholarship of the professors.

“We are very selective who we bring in and we try to support all the students in the program so they can do all these things that we are asking them to do,” Levy said.

What graduate students are expected to accomplish is no easy task. Levy explained that students have to learn many new skills at once, including how to research their own topics, how to become professionals in their field and how to approach assigned readings with a scholarly position.

“It won’t be up to a teacher anymore to tell them what to write about, they need to decide how to articulate what is interesting,” Levy said. “Grad students should be taking [readings] as an example of scholarship. Techniques for writing, situating a new idea in relation to scholarship that’s already been done, but to think about what scholarly work went into it.”

Students usually tend to teach or assist in undergraduate music classes, which is perfect since many of them want to teach later, like Schatzer.

“I get to teach so many classes that I would never get to if I hadn’t gone here,” Schatzer said.

Beverly Wilcox, who is currently conducting her research on 18th-century concerts in Paris, is also grateful for the teaching opportunities at UC Davis.

“When I graduate I want to teach,” Wilcox said. “I have loved being a teaching assistant for Music 10 and the intensive history and theory courses for music majors because of the truly wonderful discussions.”

The recognition gained by the high rankings has already begun to show its affects in the department. Usually, they can only accept about six students every year, especially since they are such a small department with very limited funding.

“Compared to older and private schools we struggle for funding. We are relatively new, created in the ’80s, so quite a young program,” Levy said.

Hopefully, this new recognition will help eradicate this problem in the near future.

“It has already greatly increased the number of applications to our program,” Reynolds said. “I hope in time that this will also help us get more funding for our graduate students.”

Want to know more about the graduate program in music? Go to music.ucdavis.edu.

BRITTANY PEARLMAN can be reached at arts@theaggie.org.

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