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The academic study of music encompasses musicology (i.e., thinking, talking, writing about music) as well as the more familiar applied areas (i.e., making music). Earlham offers a surprisingly wide variety of courses — open to majors and non-majors alike — in both of these areas.
Musicology may be divided into music theory, music history and ethnomusicology. In music theory, students are taught how music is put together from a composer's point of view. They learn about scales, chords, rhythm and the intricacies of music notation. They also try to understand what conventions might inform the process of composition in various styles, through compositional exercises and analysis. Especially in advanced courses, musical form is studied in detail, one goal being to understand what makes specific compositions tick, what gives them their aesthetic power. The Music Technology course affords students extensive opportunity to work creatively with digital media.
In music history, students learn about the succession of musical styles and the various influences that gave rise to them. These influences include previous musical styles, of course, but also trends in the other arts, sociological factors (who makes, listens to and pays for music, and why), changes in technology, political events, philosophical ideas and biographical details. As in music theory, emphasis is usually on the written tradition of Europe and its diaspora.
Ethnomusicology takes all of the world's musics as its object of study, which it usually approaches from an anthropological perspective (etymologically, it is the ethnology of music). Many of the same issues arise as in music history and music theory, but the emphasis is typically on currently performed, oral musics that function to create a sense of identity for a given ethnic group.
The Department also offers a series of courses that are not repertoire based, and which do not fit neatly into the three standard branches of musicology. These "Music and..." courses look at how music intersects with other aspects of life. Examples are Music and Morality, and Music and Gender.
Applied Music includes private instruction and ensemble experience. Earlham offers private instruction in voice as well as in nearly all orchestral instruments. The many choirs for students to join range from the small, highly selective Madrigal Singers to the much larger Gospel Revelations. The Concert Choir and Women's Chorus offer mid-sized choral experiences.
Instrumental groups also range in size from the smaller String Quartet and Earlham Rhythm Project to the larger Orchestra and Jazz Ensemble. The Hand-Drum Ensemble emphasizes African-based music, and Javanese music may be studied in the Gamelan Ensemble. In all of these applied offerings, the Music Department's philosophy is that performance opportunities provide students with challenge, growth and fulfillment at various levels of skill and experience.
Graduates of the Department have gone on to further study, with recent alumni attending Ball State, Florida State, Harvard, Indiana, Penn State and Yale universities; the universities of Chicago, Oklahoma, Texas at Austin and Wisconsin at Madison, as well as the University of Cincinnati College Conservatory of Music and the New York Cantorial School. Earlham Music alumni enter such fields as choral conducting, composition, ethnomusicology, instrument making and repair, musicology, music theory and performance.
Among the career choices of Earlham music graduates, teaching is popular, and Earlham musicians are represented on college and university faculties and in numerous secondary and elementary schools. Other occupations include church musicianship (conductors, organists and instrumentalists), professional singing, professional performance (including shakuhachi playing in Japan), music librarianship, music management (Chicago Symphony Orchestra office), recording studio management, publishing (Boosey and Hawkes) and instrument building, maintenance and tuning (Fisk Organ Company of Boston). Composition and arranging are also well represented.