Close [x]

From opera and jazz to recording technology, Western offers music education in many variations
WCSU department of music and music education

Jamie Begian can still recall times as a young adjunct professor in the 1990s when he and fellow faculty members were pleasantly surprised to encounter an aspiring applicant auditioning for admission to the WCSU music program who already possessed the technical skills to perform at the college level. Today he expects to hear the best — a reflection of Western’s emergence over the past two decades as one of the region’s premier centers for music performance and education.

“There has been a noticeable change in the students we see in auditions, the students we accept for the program and the students who commit here,” said Begian, who last year succeeded Dean of Visual and Performing Arts Dr. Dan Goble as chair of the WCSU music and music education department. Thanks to the sustained commitment of Goble and a strong music faculty who bring diverse performance and educational skills to the program, he observed, “we offer as much on the teaching level as any elite music school to provide students with a quality music education. It’s highly competitive to get the top students to come here, and I know for a fact that we compare very well.”

That comes as no surprise to Professor of Music Dr. Margaret Astrup, who for the past two decades has coordinated the department’s vocal area of studies. Astrup has witnessed how Western’s focus on undergraduate music education has challenged her students to develop their skills in demanding operatic and classical singing roles that they would not have had the chance to play at larger music schools.

“Here we focus on the undergraduate experience,” Astrup said. “Our students come out of Western with more performance experience than what their peers would have gotten at an elite music school with an intensive graduate program.” She has found the WCSU Opera’s production of Gian-Carlo Menotti’s one-act “Amahl and the Night Visitors,” an annual holiday tradition for 18 years, provides an excellent introduction for students to singing roles of increasing difficulty in later productions.

“I look at it as almost like a two-plus-two degree,” Begian remarked, noting that Western requires students in the music program to pass a rigorous proficiency test in their area of performance at the end of their second year of studies. “Some students are ‘plug and play,’ ready to perform when they arrive here, but others need more instruction and that’s what we do, we teach people,” he said. “After they pass the second-year exam, they’re so much more confident, they feel free to create and experiment. They’re really on fire!”

As Western’s reputation has grown for providing a strong foundation in music performance and education, the diverse experience and strengths of its music faculty also have allowed the university to meet the wide-ranging career objectives that students bring to the music program. The undergraduate program offers curriculum paths to earn the Bachelor of Arts in music, the Bachelor of Science in music education, or the Bachelor of Music degree in voice performance, instrumental performance or jazz studies. The university also offers graduate studies for the Master of Science in music education, and state certification is pending for the targeted launch in fall 2011 of a new Bachelor of Music degree program in audio and music production.

The range of these degree offerings only begins to suggest the considerable flexibility that Western students have to tailor their course work to meet the many variations in their career objectives. As the music department builds on its strengths, the possibilities continue to grow:

  • Western’s innovative jazz studies program, which has established a solid reputation for excellence in its field under the guidance of Goble and Begian, is poised for the next stage in its development with the hiring of a new full-time faculty member in jazz studies in fall 2012. Begian, an accomplished jazz guitarist, composer and founder of the critically acclaimed Jamie Begian Big Band, welcomed the fresh perspectives on jazz theory, composition and performance that his new colleague will bring. “It’s really important to have a diversity of views in any discipline, but jazz in particular,” he said.
  • The department also will hire a new full-time faculty member in choral music education to start in fall 2012. Begian views the hiring as an important enhancement to the breadth of an already strong music education program, which has established its role under the guidance of music education coordinator Dr. Wesley Ball as a leading program in training music educators for Connecticut schools at the elementary, middle and high school levels.
  • The department has curriculum preparations in place to launch the new bachelor’s degree program in audio and music production as early as fall 2012, after it receives final approval from state education authorities and accreditation by the National Association of Schools of Music. Assistant Professor of Music Dr. Douglas O’Grady will coordinate the new program, which will offer the first degree at a Connecticut state university designed to meet the growing need for music professionals to master the rapidly advancing technological tools of the recording industry. “This is the wave of the future,” Begian observed. “Our program will be tailored for people who want to create and promote their own projects as musicians and entrepreneurs. This will provide the solid skills in musicianship that a Bachelor of Music degree requires, combined with business-related courses that today’s aspiring musician will need to survive.”

Western’s music program has provided the training ground for promising young instrumental and vocal performers who have pursued graduate studies at elite schools such as the New England Conservatory, Manhattan School of Music and New York University, and gone on to perform professionally in opera, classical music, jazz and other genres. Yet Astrup emphasized that the music program offers many opportunities for students who do not plan to pursue professional careers in performance to develop important skills for a wide range of career opportunities.

“The majority of undergraduate music students will not go on to pursue professional careers in performance,” she observed. “They may go on to graduate school to pursue academic careers; many will go into practice as private music teachers. There are many other areas of work that a music degree will prepare students for, such as arts administration, music therapy, music business and music technology.”

Begian finds the quality of performance by Western’s music students often exceeds the typical expectation of undergraduate students — as in the original student compositions performed at a recent jazz ensemble concert on campus — but he said the faculty never lose sight of the fact that their students are still in need of instruction and searching for direction in their careers.

“We give them both the vocational and creative artistic tools to decide what they want to do with the music education they receive at Western,” he said. “The world may not be screaming for another jazz guitarist, but it surely needs more creative people. Our goal is to educate creative people who are informed about music history and well trained in musical skills. We seek to provide the foundation, the history and the creativity, and then we say, ‘Go get ‘em!’”

The prospect of moving the music program into the new building for the School of Visual and Performing Arts, now under construction and targeted for completion in 2014, will give Western an additional edge in attracting talented music students and offer state-of-the-art facilities for instruction and performance. “I see it as a place where there will always be activity, always something going on,” Astrup said. “I don’t believe we will ever be in want for new work to do!”

“My goal as department chair is to make sure that we go into the new building with the momentum we have been building over the past 10 years,” Begian observed. “I don’t see the building as the source of that momentum – I want us to go in there with a full head of steam, and then continue to develop our program from there.”

Contact us

Office of Institutional Advancement
181 White Street, Danbury, Conn.
(203) 837-8419
vontrappj@wcsu.edu