The Department of Composition and Music Theory at the Shepherd School of Music offers Bachelor’s, Masters, and DMA degree programs. Composers take a balanced mixture of analysis and craft courses in addition to their private lessons. A wide range of electives in musicology, performance, and ensembles are available, and students are encouraged to take courses in areas that interest them outside the music school.
The Shepherd School is considered one of the finest music schools in the United States. It attracts many of the brightest and most talented young performers and composers from around the world. The members of the faculty of the Department of Composition and Music Theory are all active, accomplished, and distinguished composers or theorists, and have received national and international recognition. Each is a dedicated teacher, and students usually study with several over the course of their degree, changing studios annually. This gives every student exposure to diverse teaching styles, focuses, and aesthetics. The number of students in the program is intentionally kept small, so each student receives a great deal of attention from the faculty, and has many opportunities to both participate in and contribute to the musical life of the school, the university, and Houston. Our composition graduates are among the most respected young composers in the country, and are employed at some of its finest educational institutions, as well as an array of other positions within the music community.
Students enjoy many opportunities to hear new music at the Shepherd School and to have their own compositions performed. The school's Contemporary Music Ensemble, directed by Jerry Hou, presents two concerts per year, focusing on important 20th and 21st century repertoire. Once each semester a "composers forum" concert features new works drawn from all of the composition studios. The members of our performance faculty encourage members of their studios to present student compositions, and many performance majors ask our composers to write pieces for their degree recitals and other concerts, both on campus and elsewhere. The Shepherd School Symphony Orchestra or Chamber Orchestra performs graduate thesis and dissertation works for orchestra. A student-run new music ensemble, Hear&Now, performs student works throughout the year. Collaborative projects through the Rice Art Gallery, Rice Theater and in conjunction with the undergraduate residential colleges, also present opportunities for creative work. The school’s award-winning recording staff professionally records performances of student work in our acoustically unmatched performance venues. Beyond the Shepherd School, our students regularly compose music for local theater, dance, orchestra, vocal, and chamber groups, and enjoy frequent collaborations with local filmmakers and videographers.
The Department hosts two residencies each year, one with an eminent composer and one with a leading contemporary music ensemble. Composers give private lessons, master classes, and seminars. In recent years our visiting composers have included Samuel Adler, William Bolcom, George Crumb, Mario Davidovsky, John Harbison, Krzysztof Penderecki, Shulamit Ran, Bernard Rands, George Rochberg, Steven Stucky, Augusta Read Thomas, Joan Tower, Chen Yi, and Yehudi Wyner.
The visiting ensemble presents a concert of music from its repertory and then reads and records student music written especially for them. Recent groups have included Prism Saxophone Quartet, Speculum Musicae, New York New Music Ensemble, California EAR Unit, Relâche, Zeitgeist, and the Enso and Flux String Quartets. In addition, acclaimed instrumentalists are frequent guests to the school and many, such as the Chiara Quartet, Daniel Druckman, Curtis Macomber, Ursula Oppens, and David Starobin, present master classes and seminars of direct interest to composers.
The Shepherd School also has one of the nation’s top electronic and computer music facilities, REMLabs, under the direction of Kurt Stallmann. It regularly engages in concert production, the sponsoring of colloquia, and the hosting of visiting composers and technicians.
Graduate students in composition are offered tuition abatements, scholarships, and teaching assistantships as part of their financial aid packages. In particular, stipends for teaching at the doctoral level are extremely competitive nationally. For more details about the Shepherd School’s unique doctoral program, visit its website
Our graduates are not just well trained, but well rounded; not just artists but practitioners of the art and craft of music. If this is a career objective for you, then we hope you consider becoming a part of our department.