The VMAA Music Department provides students with the practical and theoretical foundation to succeed in the music world, whether at conservatory or university music school. Students augment performance classes with study of music theory, history, and independent research. Performance requirements include individual instruction (Applied Music), as well as both small and large ensemble, including orchestra, chamber music, and chorus. Aware of the time required to reach proficiency on any instrument, sufficient practice time is built into every VMAA music student’s day and into their evening self-study time by offering enrollment in up to three sections of Applied Music per semester. Academic instruction includes a three-year introduction to music theory culminating in the AP Music Theory exam, a two-year survey of European cultural history, and a capstone project in which students complete in their final year. Skills are emphasized throughout all academic courses, including text and score analysis, creative problem solving, collaboration, English language learning, and logical argumentation.
Each student receives individual instruction with our master artists in weekly private lessons. In Applied Music, students practice applying their knowledge, skills, and understanding to the process of learning and performing music. Applied Music comprises several elements: daily instrumental practice, weekly individual instrumental lessons, weekly studio classes, end-of-semester juries, and annual recitals. Weekly studio classes, in which all students of an instrumental teacher meet and perform for each other, afford students the opportunity to develop critical thinking skills—notably evaluation and analysis—in giving each other constructive performance feedback. Applied Music is required for all VMAA music students and open to VMA students with permission of the instructor.
19th-Century German Romantic composer Robert Schumann famously expected music students to “see with their ears and hear with their eyes.” Seeing with our ears enables us to hear music and write it down: like composers. Hearing with our eyes enables us to see written music and hear it in our heads: like conductors. In this course, students develop these essential aural skills through daily melodic and (four-part) harmonic dictations (seeing with our ears), and sight-singing (hearing with our eyes). Ear Training is required for all VMAA music students not enrolled in AP Music Theory, and open to VMA students with permission of the instructor.
Our theoretical classes instill in students a deep understanding of the historical context and theoretical underpinning of their craft. All VMAA students enroll in three years of music theory and ear training, and two years of history. In history courses, students learn the social and philosophical movements that gave rise to the art they perform and create. In theory classes, students learn how the language of music works: its patterns (words, phrases, punctuation, formal structures), grammar, and syntax. With an understanding of theory, musicians are able to learn and memorize music more quickly, remember it longer, sight-read better, and understand on what basis to make interpretive decisions. With an understanding of history, students can contextualize and inhabit their pieces. Theory comprises three essential areas of study: analysis, aural skills, and composition. History classes focus on developing critical thinking, argumentation, and conversation skills.
VMAA emphasizes the collaborative skills central to music-making. Therefore, students participate in two types of ensemble throughout their study. In chamber music, they learn to work in a small ensemble, discussing and creating music with their peers under the guidance of an instructor. In Chorus or Orchestra, students learn to follow a conductor, keep a common tempo, and create large-scale artworks. In both courses, students expand their knowledge of the repertoire and experience the beauty of canonic works beyond their own primary instrument.
How to transform the graphic description of a page of note into a meaningful music that expresses and stimulates human emotions? Music performance is a process that the performer gives the character of the work, and each player may have a very different interpretation of the same piece of work: they can decide to be louder or softer, faster or slower in a certain piece of music, and more emphasis or weaker. So what is the basis for a performer to make such a decision? And our classroom is to combine theory with practice.