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Known for its aesthetic diversity and openness to the ever-changing and progressive world of composition, the Frost School of Music’s Department of Composition and Theory has a long tradition of distinguished faculty and students.

We believe that for student composers to have something to contribute to society and to become distinctive it is essential that they have a deep understanding of music, culture, and the products of the highest forms of human intellectual achievement. While there is no possible way to predict what the career paths in music will be in the future our mission is to provide students with enough breadth so that they are able to adjust to whatever new musical pathways that emerge or that open up and enough depth that they are able to develop a unique style of quality.

In addition to its distinctive composition faculty is the unique and warm community that exists between the composers and our exceptional performers. When students graduate, they leave with profound and lasting relationships with conductors and performers that create the opportunities and career paths needed in the world of composition. 

Composition Programs

Simply put, composition is the creation of original music. Creating and scoring new music necessitates an understanding of the structure and inner workings of that genre and piece. Composers are the people who create original compositions. Their abilities become strengthened by studying the compositions of many others. This is where composition programs come in: attending school for composition hones your range of abilities to create solid, original music that can stand the test of time.

What is Composition?

Composers intimately understand the inner workings of music. With a deep understanding of musical theory topics such as chord progressions and intervals, composers create songs that fulfill genre conventions while remaining innovative. How do you create a piece of music that feels recognizable, but still contains delightful surprises? Composers can tell you.

Composers also understand the social contexts of musical structures. We all know that sonatas tend to sound much different from country music ballads. What composers know are the technical reasons that underlie these differences. Pitch, tone, scale, tempo, notation, instrumentation, and other principles join together to differentiate one piece of music from another.

A Short History of Composition Programs

Like many musical fields, aspiring composers have traditionally worked in an apprenticeship capacity with their mentors. In the past, the work of some well-known composers was funded by wealthy individual patrons. As access to higher education grew and instruments became more standardized, there was a growing need for formal composition programs through which composers could learn uniform approaches. These days, many musical composition programs exist around the country and the world. Composition students come from all backgrounds pursue goals that branch throughout all musical genres. With the ubiquity of recorded music, movies, and television, the audience for composers is larger than ever before.

How Do I Know If Composition is the Right Career Path for Me?

Though some think that composers are struck by a lighting bolt of inspiration, the truth is that this is rarely the case. Like any creative endeavor, composition is a skill that can be taught. Each person possesses their own brand of innate creativity, but the building blocks of composition can be taught to anyone.

Composition may be the right career path for you if you are interested in growing your creativity through learning new tools. Composition programs encourage you to develop your unique voice as you practice extensive skills that every composer needs to know.

Job Outlook Predictions in the World of Composition

Composers work in a variety of fields depending on their area of focus. Some composers work to create film and TV scores. Other composers work for advertising companies that focus on creating the music that underlies popular ads. Still other composers work in academic contexts, pursuing advanced degrees and teaching at a university, with private students, or in another academic capacity. Some composers even work as professional musicians who play their own compositions.

Top Five Characteristics of The World’s Best Composition Programs

There are a growing number of musical composition programs to choose from. As an applicant, here are a few of the top considerations to keep in mind as you determine which school to attend:

  1. Manageable Class Size

    1. In creative fields especially, it’s important that you do you work in classes that aren’t too big. Being part of a small cohort of students means that your abilities will have the chance to shine.
  2. Individualized Feedback

    1. One of the best parts of attending a composition school is that you will receive individual feedback on your compositions. Make sure that the school you choose provides plenty of opportunities to receive such feedback.
  3. Innovative Classrooms

    1. Though all composers obviously need regular access to instruments, composition students also need to be able to use the latest composition technologies. Notation software and other technologies make the tedious part of the work much easier, allowing you to focus on why you’re there: composing. Practicing with these technologies in college puts you in a position to use them to your advantage throughout your career.
  4. Opportunities that Extend Beyond the Classroom

    1. Whether it’s collaborating with other musicians or finding performers who can bring your compositions to life, opportunities that extend beyond the classroom are a prime chance for you to show the world what you’ve got. Quality composition schools provide you with a tableau of off-campus networking through which you will begin to build your pipeline to success.
  5. A Location Poised to Help You Make Your Mark

    1. It’s important that the school you attend exists in a location that lends itself to success. Established music programs in large cities offer a unique chance for collaboration, guest opportunities, and other networking. When considering composition schools, location is an aspect of the experience you can’t afford to ignore.

What Do I Need to Know Before Applying to a Program in Composition?

Before applying to a composition program, you will want to make sure the school offers a comprehensive approach towards composing. Not only will you need to become well-versed in a variety of instruments, but you will also want to gain additional skills in other areas. It’s important for any composer to know about business and legal issues like copyright laws. You may want to specialize in or compliment you major with another area like music technology, musicology, music history, and more. Every school cannot offer every single program, so make sure that the school does indeed have what you want before you apply.

Finding a Composition Program That is the Right Fit For You

As a musical composition applicant, it’s important to find a distinguished composition program that is large enough to provide you with a multitude of opportunities, but is also a nurturing community. As an artist, you need to be in an environment that encourages your creative spirit. The Frost School of Music at the University of Miami has pioneered The Frost Method™, a pedagogical approach that uses best practices to teach students how to compose quality music reliably. Founded upon research-based techniques, The Frost Method™ places you in a small group of your peers to learn in a hands-on way from an esteemed instructor.

Notable Alumni

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  • Steve Danyew, B.M. '06

    Steve Danyew, B.M. ‘06 was named the winner in the Brighton, MI Bands 75th Anniversary Wind Ensemble Fanfare Composition Competition for a fanfare based on his extended work Flash Back. The full version of Flash Black earned 3rd prize in the international wind ensemble composition contest held by Wegmans/Penfield Wind Ensemble in spring 2010. Danyew is currently busy composing new choral and wind ensemble music. He received his Master’s degree at the Eastman School of Music in May 2010 where he served as editor for the website, Polyphonic On Campus. He majored in music composition at the Frost School of Music.

  • Sylvia Constantinidis, M.M. '93, M.M. '08

    Sylvia Constantinidis, M.M.  ‘93 and ‘08, was the artistic director at Omorfia Contemporary Music Ensemble and Secco Southeast Contemporary Chamber Orchestra. She is a pianist, conductor, writer, music educator and composer.

    Throughout her career, she has performed and conducted in Ukraine, England, Norway, Canada, Venezuela, Germany, and Spain.

    She was elected as a member of the Officers Council for the National Advisory Board of the National Association of Composers of the USA in December 2011. She has received numerous awards, including the American Society of Composers award for concert music in 2010 and 2009.

    Constantinidis majored in piano performance and music theory and composition at the Frost School of Music.

  • Jim Papoulis, M.M. ’82

    Jim Papoulis, M.M. ’82, was named Frost School of Music 2004 Distinguished Alumnus. He composes, orchestrates, and conducts music for dance, film, symphonies, quartets, pop bands, gospel, and choirs. Paploulis’ distinctive style combines contemporary sounds with musical traditions from around the globe. His award-winning compositions are known for exploring new modes of musical communication by connecting classical and traditional forms with non-Western sounds and computer technology.

    Papoulis explores and creates sound for a global community. He has worked with such diverse international artists and ensembles as Tokyo String Quartet, Moscow Philharmonic, and London Philharmonic to Aretha Franklin, Faith Hill, Shania Twain, and Maroon 5. He has created original music for UNICEF, Dance Theater of Harlem, and Alvin Ailey Dance Company. His works have been performed by San Diego Pops Orchestra, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Blue Man Group, and at Carnegie Hall and Epcot.

    As an orchestrator, Papoulis’ works have been performed by The Paris Opera, Celine Deon, Christina Aguilera, Patti Labelle, Tony Bennett, and Natalie Cole, among others. His work with Martha Wash earned him two top spots on the Billboard Dance charts, with Listen to the People, and Feel the World Dancing.

    Papoulis is founder of Amphion Music in Manhattan, a full-service music production company specializing in composing and recording original music and orchestrations for several major corporations in retail, food, auto manufacturing, television, and business. As co-founder of The Foundation for Small Voices music project, Papoulis conducts songwriting workshops with children’s music programs in China, South America, Africa, Russia, Europe, and throughout the U.S.

  • Bruce Zimmerman, B.M. '81

    Bruce Zimmerman, B.M. ‘81, film and video composer, won his fourth regional Emmy for scoring Season 3 of Jonathan Bird’s Blue World, an underwater nature program airing across the United States on Public Television. He has won three Emmy Awards for Outstanding Individual Achievement in Original Music Composition for his work in Public Television.

    Zimmerman’s music can consistently be heard on networks such as MTV, History, Discovery, Lifetime, and PBS.

    He is the owner of Sound Productions, a film scoring studio located in Hartford, CT. The music library branch of his company, ZimMusic, places music cues around the globe. Zimmerman majored in composition at the Frost School of Music.

  • Joel McNeely, B.M. ‘82

    Frost School of Music’s 2005 Distinguished Alumnus Joel McNeely, B.M. ’82, is an Emmy Award-winning composer, producer, and conductor who works with many of Hollywood’s most influential producers and directors including James Cameron, John Lasseter, Seth MacFarlane, and George Lucas. McNeely received an Emmy Award for Outstanding Achievement in Music Composition, an ASCAP Film and Television Award, and a Gramophone Magazine Award. He was nominated for an Emmy for Outstanding Achievement in Music Direction, a Grammy for Outstanding Classical Crossover Album, and an Annie Award for Outstanding Music in an Animated Feature.

    McNeely’s repertoire of major motion picture and television scores include Disney's Tinkerbell films, A Million Ways To Die in the West, The Last Of The Mohicans, Holes, Mulan 2, Return to Neverland, Wild America, The Avengers, Air Force One, and Terminal Velocity. Some of his television credits include American Dad, James Cameron’s Dark Angel, Sally Hemmings: An American Scandal, and The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles. A frequent guest lecturer on the subject of film music studies, McNeely has presented at USC’s Thornton School of Music; the American Film Market; the Frost School of Music; James Madison University, and the Interlochen Center for the Arts.

    As a conductor, McNeely has led the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, BBC Concert Orchestra, Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, and London Philharmonic, among others. He has produced and arranged songs for such artists as Carly Simon; Crosby, Stills, and Nash; Linda Rondstadt; and Rosemary Clooney. At age 14, McNeely was accepted into the Interlochen Arts Academy studying composition and flute performance. While studying jazz composition and performance at the University of Miami Frost School of Music, he toured the world with legendary performers Tony Bennett, Peggy Lee, Al Green, Melissa Manchester, Chuck Mangione, Bobby Caldwell, and Jaco Pastorius.

  • Kenneth Fuchs, B.M. ‘79

    University of Miami Frost School of Music 2000 Distinguished Alumnus Kenneth Fuchs, B.M. ‘79, is an acclaimed composer of music for orchestra, band, chorus, and various chamber ensembles. He has received numerous commissions, achieving significant recognition through global media exposure. BBC Music Magazine called Fuchs “a master of orchestral writing.” His music has been performed in the United States, Europe, and Asia.

    With Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Lanford Wilson, Fuchs created three chamber musicals, The Great Nebula in OrionA Betrothal, and Brontosaurus, which were originally presented by Circle Repertory Company in New York City. His operatic monodrama, Falling Man, (text by Don DeLillo, adapted by J. D. McClatchy) was presented at the National September 11 Memorial and Museum in commemoration of the 15th anniversary of 9/11. The London Symphony Orchestra has recorded four discs of Fuchs’s music for Naxos American Classics. The first, released in 2005, was nominated for two Grammy Awards (Best Instrumental Soloist Performance with Orchestra and Producer of the Year, Classical). The third disc, recorded in 2011 at London’s historic Abbey Road Studios, was included in the 2012 GRAMMY Award nominations for the category Producer of the Year, Classical. The fourth disc, recorded at Abbey Road Studios in August 2013, featuring baritone Roderick Williams in a program of vocal music based on texts by Don DeLillo, John Updike, and William Blake, was released in August 2014. Gramophone magazine featured the disc in its Awards Issue (October 2014), stating, “Fuchs claims his own expressive warmth and colour…. The performances are exemplary, from baritone Roderick Williams’s commanding artistry to the bold, fresh playing of the London Symphony Orchestra under JoAnn Falletta’s sensitive direction.”

    Fuchs’s 2013 disc of chamber music includes Falling Canons (Christopher O’Riley, piano), Falling Trio (Trio21), and String Quartet No. 5 American (Delray String Quartet). The highly successful disc Kenneth Fuchs: String Quartets 2, 3, 4 was performed by the American String Quartet and released on Albany Records.

    Fuchs currently serves as Professor of Composition at the University of Connecticut. His music is published by the Hal Leonard Corporation, Edward B. Marks Music Company, Theodore Presser Company, and Yelton Rhodes Music, and has been recorded by Albany, Cala, and Naxos Records.

  • Charles Mason, B.M. '77

    Charles Mason, B.M.  ‘77, is the associate professor and chair of the Department of Theory and Composition at the University of Miami Frost School of Music, where he received the Distinguished Alumnus Award in 2009.

    He has received many awards for his compositions including the American Composers Orchestra “Playing it Unsafe” prize, the 2005 Rome Prize, the Premi Internacional de Composició Musical Ciutat de Tarragona Orchestra Music prize, and a National Endowment of the Arts Individual Artist Award.

    His music has been performed worldwide including the FORO INTERNACIONAL DE MUSICA NUEVA in Mexico City, the Quirinale in Rome, the Aspen Summer Music Festival, and the Nuova Musica Consonante in Romani and broadcasted over RAI radio throughout Italy and on NPR’s “Performance Today.” Dr. Mason has received commissions from many top-ranked ensembles including American Composers Orchestra, DUO 46, Miami String Quartet, Gregg Smith Singers, Dale Warland Singers, Corona Guitar Kvartet, ONIX (Mexico), Luna Nova, bassist Robert Black, violinist Karen Bentley Pollick, New York Golliard Ensemble, and cellists Madeleine Shapiro, Craig Hultgren, and Jeffrey Solow to name a few. He completed his D.M.A. and M.M. in composition at the University of Illinois and B.M. with honors from the University of Miami.

    In 2005, he was a composer in residence at the International Centre for Composers in Visby, Sweden, and twice sponsored by the Seaside Institute as an “Escape To Create” composer-in-residence.