Wednesday, April 20, 2011

My Experience in Higher Education

I came to the United States Navy Band in 2004, having just finished a Master of Music at Indiana University. Prior to that, I completed a Bachelor of Music at the University of Michigan in music performance and education. It might seem odd for me to say this, but throughout the years of higher education that led me to this fine ensemble, I really enjoyed school! I took interesting classes, and if they had kept attendance records I probably would have had one of the best.

Prior to boot camp, I was instructed by Senior Chief Musician Stuart McLean (now a retired master chief musician) to, if nothing else, “take the G.I. bill!” Senior Chief McLean explained that the small investment of $1,200 could turn into approximately $54,000 in education benefits. I knew it would be a good opportunity to work on a doctoral degree after I joined the band, since I could hone my skills as a musician and not have to worry about rotating from school to school every two or three years. Since I was already thinking about pursuing a doctorate, I figured it was a winning proposition for me to invest the $1,200.

Two years after joining the Navy Band, I found myself newly married to a wife who worked about 80 hours a week. Because we did not have kids yet, I was frankly a little bored and thought it would be a good time to start my DMA. I applied to the Catholic University of America and the University of Maryland, the only area schools that offered the degree at the time. I was accepted to both but ultimately chose the University of Maryland; I thought it would be a better fit for me.

The first part of any doctoral degree is coursework. I took two academic years to finish the coursework, from fall 2006 to spring 2008. In that time, I took courses in bibliography, music of the Romantic period, music of the Renaissance period, and various independent study courses in tuba pedagogy and literature. Oddly enough, I found the course on the Renaissance period, a period many years prior to the invention of the tuba, to be the most interesting and most gratifying. I had studied some of the music of the Renaissance in a more watered-down form in my undergraduate studies but never completely grasped the specific terminology reserved for early music. In this class at the University of Maryland, I took special pride in delving deep into understanding the more mysterious aspects of Renaissance music and wrote a lengthy paper for which I received a solid A. During these years of coursework, I also performed two recitals, the second of which was a lecture-recital focused on the music for tuba by composer and tubist John Stevens.

The next step after coursework is quite a hurdle. The comprehensive exams are utilized to test each DMA student’s knowledge of music history, theory, literature, and pedagogy. This two-day test can be daunting to study for, as it covers over 1,000 years of music history and theory, in addition to questions regarding each examinee’s specific field of study.

The first day of the exam, each student is given 10 pages, each from a different piece of music potentially ranging from the year 900 to present. Each page is taken from a musical score and is without a title or composer. The examinee must address, in essay form, elements of the piece regarding texture, form, instrumentation, harmony, rhythm, melody and text (if any). While examining these aspects, the exam-taker must make an educated guess as to what type of piece the excerpt is from, what time period the piece is from (give or take 20 years) and who the composer might be.

The second day of the exam tests knowledge of a specific field of study. The format is in essay form, answering questions regarding literature, history and pedagogy of the examinee’s instrument of study; in my case, the tuba and low brass.

After passing the comprehensive exams, I advanced to candidacy, which essentially meant the coursework had been completed. I was now formally working on the dissertation. The dissertation requirements for a DMA can be very different at each university. At the University of Maryland, I had two options: either perform one recital and write a typical dissertation-sized document (usually between 75 and 200 pages long) or perform three recitals and write a shorter document that lays out the theme of the three recitals. I chose the latter, thinking that the performing experience would be better suited to what I wanted to accomplish. Consequently, I performed three recitals over the course of a year and a half while researching my topic of continuity for the music performed.

The title of my dissertation very clearly states my topic: “The Development of the American Solo Tuba Repertoire.” Without going into too much detail, I will give a brief overview of the significance of this topic. While the tuba was invented in Germany in 1835, it was relegated to fulfilling a role as only an ensemble instrument. As a result, very few solo pieces were written for it over the course of 100 years. Finally, in 1954 the famed British composer Ralph Vaughan Williams wrote the “Tuba Concerto in F minor.” In 1955, Paul Hindemith wrote his “Sonata for Bass Tuba,” completing his series of sonatas for all the orchestral instruments. These two milestones inspired more composers to write solo pieces for tuba. During this time, tuba performers and teachers became more adept and attempted to shake off the stigma of the tuba as simply an “oom-pah” instrument. Led by a few pioneers in the United States, the tuba community set out to have quality solo repertoire written for the instrument. Consequently, the tuba has seen a vast growth in quality solo and chamber repertoire over the past 60 years, particularly in the United States. I chose to perform a cross-section of this repertoire by American composers from the 1960s to present.

Once I completed the recitals and the document, my dissertation committee reviewed my material consisting of three recital recordings, program notes from each recital, a 17-page document tying the performed music together, a bibliography and a discography. The final step was to present an oral defense of the dissertation with the committee probing the nature of the topic and how it enhanced the academic research in the field. The committee decided I had done a thorough job and congratulated me on completing the Doctor of Musical Arts requirements.

What can I do with the DMA? After I finish my time in the Navy, I will hopefully be in a better position to teach at a university. I believe the degree, coupled with the experience of performing with one of the world’s elite concert bands, would be noticed by a university search committee.

Musician 1st Class Tony Halloin plays tuba in the Concert Band and Ceremonial Band.


julie said...

Thanks for sharing your inspiring experiences. My son plays trombone and is so passionate about it. He is 15 and would like to major in music. I plan to share your blog with him. I'm sure you will be recognized by many search committees, best wishes to you. Julie Wright

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