Academic journal article Journal of Historical Research in Music Education

The Nation's First D.M.A. in Choral Music: History, Structure, and Pedagogical Implications

Academic journal article Journal of Historical Research in Music Education

The Nation's First D.M.A. in Choral Music: History, Structure, and Pedagogical Implications

Article excerpt

The Doctor of Musical Arts degree (D.M.A.), which evolved and proliferated during the third quarter of the twentieth century, has become a mainstay for academic preparation of college and university professors in music performance areas. The University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) School of Music and Harold A. Decker, UIUC Director of Choral Music (1957-81), are widely credited with the seminal D.M.A. degree in the area of choral music. (1) For example, Don V Moses, Director of the UIUC School of Music (1988-97), said it was "the first in the United States, and a brilliant response to the need for better preparation of choral conductors." (2)

But the UIUC choral D.M.A. did not occur spontaneously or without precedent. Like the many terminal performance degrees now accredited by the National Association of Schools of Music (NASM), apparently it was the result of the efforts of numerous music educators whose aim was to attend to a void left unfilled by its predecessor, the Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Music degree.

Though the D.M.A. remains one of academe's significant twentieth century curricular developments, little research has addressed its origin, growth, and current status. (3) Therefore, this article seeks to add to current scholarship by documenting the history and structure of what became one of the more far-reaching and influential of such degrees, the UIUC D.M.A. in Choral Music. It will ask the following research questions: (1) What were the historical events nationally and at UIUC specifically that led to the UIUC D.M.A. in Choral Music being instituted? (2) What were the degree's prerequisites, requirements, and salient characteristics? And (3) what changes in choral pedagogy resulted from the development of the UIUC D.M.A. in Choral Music and the numerous terminal choral degree programs that followed nationwide?


In 1934, NASM and the Music Teachers National Association formed a "Graduate Commission." Chaired by Howard Hanson (1896-1981), Director of the Eastman School of Music at the University of Rochester (1924-64), the Commission's initial charge was to study, over a period of several years, the Master of Music degree, the Master of Arts in Music degree, and the Doctor of Philosophy in Music degree. At that time, the Ph.D. was a research degree awarded in psychology of music, music education, composition, and musicology. (4)

Having served as Dean of the Conservatory of Fine Arts at the College of the Pacific in California prior to his appointment at Eastman, Hanson had observed that college and university administrators were exhibiting an increased "fondness for advanced degrees." (5) Within this shifting paradigm, according to Hanson, even an exemplary performer who did not possess a doctorate might be denied appointment or tenure. (6) He speculated that the German university model, emulated in many American universities--a model that promoted a bifurcated relationship between scholarly activity and preparation of musicians--would eventually lead to a shortage of qualified music professors in performance areas. (7) Therefore, while he conceded that research degrees were important, he also argued the need for a different kind of terminal degree--one better suited to performing musicians. (8)

That degree, a performance doctorate, would advance a system of academic recognition for the performing musician similar to that of a medical doctor. Specifically, his/her acknowledgement would not be for scholarly activity alone, but would also include exhibiting proficiency as a composer, conductor, or performer. In 1951, after years of planning, the Graduate Commission recommended that a terminal performance doctorate be established to follow the B.M. and M.M. (9) The following year, NASM approved several requests for the granting of such degrees. The Universities of Southern California, Florida, and Indiana received permission to award D. …

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