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Curriculum Gets An Overhaul

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What began as a response to concerns about overscheduling and a lack of breathing room for students has transformed—almost two years and scores of meetings later—into a major overhaul of Juilliard’s curriculum. Initiated by President Joseph W. Polisi, the project has elicited a host of new educational ideas that will significantly enrich the learning environment for students in every department. 

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Among the many constructive recommendations and changes that have emerged from this effort, perhaps the most noteworthy is the restructuring of the 65-year-old Literature and Materials of Music (L&M) program, henceforth to be known as Music Theory and Analysis. Beginning in fall 2012, the core curriculum for this area will be two years rather than four; this will be followed by three semesters of required theory electives for all undergraduate music majors. (For core courses, there will also be a separate honors track for composers and other interested qualified students.) The new curriculum is organized as a sequence of theory topics (rather than by chronology and style period). All sections of the core courses will use Steven Laitz’s highly regarded The Complete Musician as a textbook. 

Designing the program was a true team effort according to Edward Klorman (B.M. ’04, Graduate Diploma ’08, viola), L&M’s associate chair and director of core curriculum. He’s especially excited about the new advanced electives, which let students to explore topics of special interest. “These will allow the faculty to frame music in fascinating ways, so The Rite of Spring might be approached one way in a course on rhythm and dance and completely differently in a course on nationalism,” Klorman told The Journal

Students currently in the first year of L&M will take a bridge sequence that provides a transition into the electives, which will be offered for the first time in 2013-14. And starting next year, new music majors will take a new three-semester survey of Western art music and then, during their junior and senior years, will choose three electives, each of which will meet twice a week for 75 minutes and generate three credits.

L. Michael Griffel, chair of the music history department, told The Journal that the revised curriculum would enable him and his colleagues to “spend much more time with students in developing their knowledge of music history—and history in general—so that they understand the context for the music they perform and become more fluent in speaking and writing about music, all necessary activities for musicians of the 21st century.”

Several other new courses are still in development, including a new orchestral seminar for first-year undergraduates that will integrate teaching and coaching more fully into the orchestral experience. 

In the Drama Division, which underwent its own curriculum revision from 2007 to 2009, modifications to the schedule have significantly reduced the number of hours students spend in the classroom without sacrificing the integrity of the training. Dance Division curriculum priorities include more active communication with the liberal arts and music faculties in developing the dance program of study. 

Another important result of multitude of curriculum committee meetings was the identification of four cross-curricular priorities that will benefit students in the future. These include writing and speaking skills (integrating standards more fully into the curriculum and using the Writing Center more effectively); information literacy (developing Web-based resources to help students access and critically evaluate information); technology (exploring how technology can enhance performance and classroom experiences); and entrepreneurship (encouraging out-of-the-box thinking and providing students with tools to help them navigate their own careers). Committee members are exploring creative ways to assimilate these elements into the curriculum without placing additional time demands on students and faculty.

This is the first time in at least 25 years that Juilliard has engaged in a comprehensive review of its curriculum, and the process has been intensive. Over the last 18 months, President Polisi and an administrative team have met with faculty members from each department or area of study at Juilliard to examine programs and explore ways to improve or enhance them. Since September 2010, there have been nearly 50 meetings with representatives from 15 areas, as well as joint meetings between two or more areas. Additionally, there have been two meetings of an interdepartmental conference committee, which will oversee the development of schoolwide initiatives and facilitate more regular communication between departments. 

In sum, the goal of the project has been to “develop a course of study that relates to the 21st-century needs of a performing artist,” according to Polisi. He added that he was deeply grateful to the members of our faculty, who “effectively approached this challenging set of issues and creatively developed exceptional solutions that have provided a transformative direction for how Juilliard will prepare its young artists in the future.”

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