Music 440 has a syllabus, an instructor and a grade. Unlike most other classes, however, it also draws an audience.
The course is also known as the senior music recital. Performance, church music, composition and electronic music majors must each organize and give a 60-minute recital, while all general and music education majors put on thirty minute performances.
“It’s the culminating professional experience at the undergraduate level,” music professor Ron Matthews said.
As such, the course is often the focus of music majors from early on.
“I’ve been excited since freshman year,” Cassie Perrett said. Her recital is May 6.
The recitals are designed to integrate everything students learn in their major. Students must perform songs that demonstrate a range of techniques, time periods and, for vocalists, languages, according to Matthews.
Students also choose music for more personal reasons.
Kristina Gehman said she will sing “Voi, Che Sapete” by Mozart and “L’es Clabe” by Edvard Grieg during her April 22 recital simply because she can.
“I’ve worked extremely hard to sing them well,” she said. “Now I enjoy singing them because it’s an accomplishment.”
Some, like Ashleigh Henderson, who gave her recital February 25, choose to make their recitals longer than necessary in order to include music that does not fulfill requirements.
Henderson used some of her extra half hour to allow the children’s choirs she has directed for the past three years to sing.
“They have become a very special part of my music,” she said. “I wanted them to share those songs.”
Many students said they practice over an hour a day for the recitals. According to Matthews, music majors must also practice at least four hours a week for every one credit class, adding up to hundreds of hours over four years.
In addition, students are responsible for organizing the recital, such as securing a location to perform, hiring an accompanist and advertising, according to Matthews.
Such intense preparation is equivalent to the senior thesis in other majors.
“If it includes a lot of work and stress and nervousness, and if you feel like you’re living for your senior recital, it is like a senior thesis,” Gehman said.
Three to four weeks before the recital, students perform before a panel composed of faculty members, where they receive a grade and permission to proceed with their public performance.
Public performances are open to anyone, and are often heavily publicized by students, according to Matthews. Some students give their recitals off-campus such as Perrett, who is giving hers at Upper Merion Baptist Church.
All the work is eventually worth it, according to Henderson.
“You have to get to a point where it’s not about getting it perfect, but putting everything you’ve learned together and offering it as a gift,” she said. “It’s such a liberating feeling, and I got that.”