The B.A. in music gets an unconventional makeover

Students perform traditional Ghanaian Dance at Lawrence University Percussion Ensemble’s fall concert. Lawrence Memorial Chapel November 6, 2022. Photo by Kai Frueh.

Lawrentians enrolled in the Conservatory of Music beginning this academic year have a brand-new path in front of them. The university already boasts three separate degree programs for students in the College or Conservatory, each with various majors available, but the 2022-23 catalog has seen some major changes to the B.A. in music program that further differentiates it from other music degrees at Lawrence. The unconventional new structure was developed to be more accessible to students and offer more flexibility, according to Associate Professor Julie McQuinn, who led the redesign effort and heads the current advisory group for the new major. 

Lawrence has long offered both the music major within the B.A. program and the Bachelor of Music (B.Mus.) as pre-professional degrees with a Western classical emphasis, and added the Bachelor of Musical Arts (B.M.A.) in 2019 to offer a focus on jazz and contemporary music practices. 

The old B.A. in music had been “in essence, a pared-down version of a B.Mus. performance-focused major,” McQuinn explains, “[and] often carried a stigma of a lesser-than version of a B.Mus.” The brand-new changes to the major, initiated behind the scenes two years ago by Conservatory faculty, work to create a diverse and meaningful experience that stands distinct from other available degrees. 

“The flexibility is foundational,” McQuinn says of the new major. With only three required courses, the rest of the 66 credits – down from the previous 90 – are up to the student, requiring “a very active role in curriculum design” with the aid of academic advisors. Decreased unit requirements in ensemble performance and individual instruction make the major accessible to those who do not play a Western instrument – or any instrument at all. As McQuinn highlights, “there is no single kind of experience that it is designed to provide.” 

The audience dances traditional Ghanaian dance on the Lawrence Memorial Chapel stage as part of the Lawrence University Percussion Ensemble’s fall concert. November 6, 2022. Photo by Kai Frueh.

With increased agency as one of the main goals of the new major’s design, students can center a greater variety of music and musicking practices (like dance, folk music and non-Western genres), or focus on preparing for careers outside the realm of stage performance (like songwriting, recording and producing). 

McQuinn emphasizes that “there are many spheres of professional musickings, there are many ways to make a living with music and there are many ways to contribute to society with music.” The previous B.A. in music and current B.Mus. programs focus on the narrow Western classical canon of 18th century white male composers; under the new B.A. in music, the study of underrepresented groups and the development of world music no longer has to be auxiliary. 

This increased flexibility also opens the multidisciplinary path to musicians in a format that won’t add an extra year to their time at Lawrence. McQuinn lays out the manifold availabilities: “So much is possible! The flexibility built into the major makes a space for students to forge a specific pathway in accordance with a specific career goal if they choose to,” she says. “Students can be preparing for so many life possibilities, and their experiences with the B.A. in music major could contribute so productively and powerfully.” 

Students can end up with accompanying degrees in any other field, designing their own course of study to formally combine other disciplines with music in ways that were much harder before (think global studies and ethnomusicology, acoustic physics and sound engineering). McQuinn also notes the exploratory potential for students still unsure of their academic or professional goals – “that too is an opportunity!” Students don’t have to compromise on any of their interests anymore. 

One of the courses that is required of the major is the brand-new MUSI 100: Experiencing Music, of which McQuinn has just finished teaching the first full term and describes as a crucial part of the new major. Just like the major, the course explores “different ways of conceptualizing and experiencing music” through unlearning and listening in order to honor perspectives beyond individuals’ assumptions or personal experiences.  

Students perform traditional Ghanaian Dance at Lawrence University Percussion Ensemble’s fall concert. Lawrence Memorial Chapel November 6, 2022. Photo by Kai Frueh.

The course includes weekly workshops from guest faculty that require “full body-mind participation” and range in subject from music-based activism and outreach to improvisation, Balinese gamelan music and Ghanaian dance. “This class gives students a chance to begin to see and experience so many of the musicking opportunities open to them at Lawrence,” McQuinn says. MUSI 100 emphasizes another major goal of the faculty who developed it: building a stronger and more diverse musical community at Lawrence. 

For those enrolled in the older B.A. in music, the new degree is a simple catalog year change away. Anyone currently enrolled at Lawrence can apply to fulfill the new requirements instead of the old ones through the form found on the Registrar’s webpage. 

While the new B.A. in music offers a dizzying array of musical experiences, the curriculum associated with the old B.A. is still available within its scope and a student can still follow the previously prescribed path of theory, musicology and repertoire study akin to the B.Mus. performance degree if they want to. The accommodating nature of the new B.A. allows more students, such as athletes or disabled students with reduced course loads, to still experience a rigorous pre-professional musical education – be it in a traditional or novel sense. 

In its first year, McQuinn reports that there are 40 students enrolled in the new B.A. in music, a number she considers “quite large and exciting.” She says, “I understand that this is already a significant increase in comparison with the old B.A. in music.” For a full breakdown of the music programs available at Lawrence, McQuinn advises visiting the appropriate LU webpage or catalog to get an understanding for their details and nuances.  

If you are interested in learning more about the new B.A. in music, McQuinn is holding an information session on Wednesday, Feb. 8 from 9 — 9:45 p.m. in Music-Drama Room 146. True to the new major’s aim of creating a sense of belonging for more students within the Conservatory, she is also excited to host a B.A. in music major (charmingly shortened to ‘BAMM’) party to kick off Spring Term, with more information to come.