Studying Composition at Luther College

Luther College proudly supports a composition program that fosters, encourages, and grows young composers who are interested in making their mark. Students who choose to specialize in music theory and composition take courses in counterpoint, analytical techniques, orchestration, electronic music, and more. Composers at Luther enjoy immersive opportunities to have their original works performed in public, to interact with other students in the same discipline, and to learn from visiting professionals through regular events on Luther’s campus.

The composition program at Luther College empowers students to hone their craft and garner invaluable skills that will prepare them for a lifetime of rewarding experiences in the composition field. Alumni of the composition program have gone on to maintain exceptional careers as composers and educators around the United States and beyond.

Whether you’re a seasoned composer or just wanting to dip your toes in composition for the first time, there are opportunities for you to start shaping your journey at Luther in our composition program!

How to Become a Composer

The composition faculty is frequently asked for advice from both prospective and current students about steps they can take during their college years to become successful composers, whether their immediate goal is graduate school, additional professional training, or freelance work. Here are some of the ideas we often share with students:

  • Write lots of music.
  • Write for instruments and voices with which you are familiar, then branch out to less familiar territory.
  • Always write for specific people/ensembles—it is much more rewarding and beneficial to engage in collaborations.
  • Set aside blocks of time to compose—avoid squeezing composition into cracks in your schedule.
  • Listen to all varieties of music.
  • Learn as much repertoire as possible—from Hildegard of Bingen up through Jonathan Bailey Holland—by listening with a score whenever possible.
  • Listen to as much “new” music as you can—whether or not you like all of it is beside the point—you need to be familiar with all kinds of contemporary music making.
  • Finish your compositions well before the performance so that you have time to rehearse and revise.
  • Make good, clean, readable parts and scores.
  • Take an active role in coaching and rehearsing your music.
  • Schedule a dress rehearsal and record it.
  • Be well-prepared when you come to your composition lesson or seminar. Be ready to ask questions, able to handle criticism, and eager to learn new ideas.
  • Don’t over-commit yourself! It is tempting to take advantage of all the musical and extra-curricular offerings in college, but composers need to focus and dedicate their time to developing their craft and finding their voice. One applied lesson and one ensemble should be the rule.
  • Go to a summer festival. Many serious student musicians spend at least one summer in college at a festival. There are plenty of opportunities for composers—keep an eye out and begin planning.
  • Enter competitions. The more you enter, the better chance you have of winning. One of the best ways to get recognition in this field is through performances and prizes, which often are the result of competitions.
  • Join a new music society. All serious composers join either BMI or ASCAP. Locally, we also have the ACF in Minneapolis and the ICF here in Iowa. It’s never too early to start behaving like a professional!

By graduation, the ideal composer has in their portfolio:

  • 1-2 solo works
  • 1-2 pieces of chamber music
  • 1-2 choral works
  • A work that involves technology
  • A large ensemble work
  • A multi-disciplinary collaborative work (theater, dance, art, etc.)

Music in the Shape of a Pear (MITSOAP)

Each semester, the composition studio produces a concert of contemporary music, featuring faculty, student and guest performers. Often, the concerts include music by guest composers who also present colloquia and masterclasses for the composition studio. Recent concerts featured music in remembrance of 9/11, an original silent film score collaboratively composed by members of the studio, and the Greek contemporary music ensemble Galan Trio. A complete list of MITSOAP concerts dating back to 2005 is here.

In addition to the concert series, composition colloquia and masterclasses are frequently offered by visiting composers. In recent years, guests have included Karen Walwyn, Lisa Bost, and Jonah Elrod. A complete list of guest musicians who have visited since 2005 is here.

Watch & Listen

A selection of student compositions and informational videos is available on YouTube.