Harp Dissertations and Theses: An Overlooked Body of Literature

By Moulton-Gertig, Suzanne L. | American Harp Journal, Summer 2014 | Go to article overview

Harp Dissertations and Theses: An Overlooked Body of Literature


Moulton-Gertig, Suzanne L., American Harp Journal


A passing glance at college and university course bulletins (or their website equivalents) reveals that the American system of education foists upon the developing artist an array of curricula steps in the process of earning either a masters or doctoral degree in music. For non-academic music degrees like the DMA (Doctor of Musical Arts), DA (Doctor of Arts), and MM (Master of Music) degrees, some candidates question the number and type of coursework and final projects associated with their degree programs. Mistakenly, applicants believe in a couple of fallacies:

FALLACY 1: Graduate performances degrees are allocated to candidates solely on their excellence in performance and ability to satisfy performance requirements required by the individual institution.

In many schools, performers have to satisfy graduate music core requirements much in the same mode that they did in undergraduate school. They are not "done" with music history or theory after all, much less with the history and pedagogy of their instrument.

FALLACY 2: Performance Majors never have to write a Dissertation or Thesis

While it is expected of students in MA (Master of Arts) and PhD (Doctor of Philosophy) programs to write a thesis or dissertation as the terminal project in their degree, some institutions require their performance majors to demonstrate the ability to communicate effectively in writing, as well. Depending on the degree granting institution, the performance major may have to write an extended essay or document, or even a thesis or dissertation.

Harp-Related Theses, Dissertations and Extended Essays

The comparatively small number of PhD, DMA (or DA), and MA dissertations and theses, as well as extended essays in harp written for final documents for their respective degrees, shows a clear preference for a similarly small number of subject sub-divisions associated with the instrument. Nonetheless, these studies provide a treasure trove of information for all harpists that is relatively untapped because many harpists are unaware of their existence, and/or access to them is not always easy to attain. Over the years, serial publications like The American Harp Journal and the World Harp Congress Review have taken advantage of this resource in requesting or being sent articles based on these documents by their authors.

With some exceptions because of institutional rules and decisions, most (but not all) dissertations and DMA documents and, in more recent years, some masters theses are filed in a large database called ProQuest Dissertations & Theses (PQDT). Individual, degree-granting institutions submit copies of dissertations and theses completed to University Microfilms International (UMI). Citations for these dissertations are included in the database and in the UMI print publication: Dissertation Abstracts International (DAI). While most institutions participate in sharing at least the citation to these documents, some institutions keep their candidates' documents in-house depending on a number of factors: their choice not to take part in this international program at all, their decision to report PhD and EdD dissertations only and not DMA or DA essays (regardless of length and content), their chosen exclusions of masters' documents, or the individual author's choice to opt out of the project for fear of intellectual property theft.

Taken as a whole, harp-related dissertations, theses and essays sort themselves into twelve basic subject groups. While they can (and do) show cross pollination in topics and subtopics, the following basic subject groups are as follows:

HARPIST-COMPOSERS: Ten documents

These documents cover composers who played harp as their primary instrument, and composed a significant portion of their works for harp as a primary or an important instrument in the ensemble. Some composers in this category appear in more than one dissertation as the focus, whether the main focus or in contrast with another (or other) composer(s). …

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