Music Composition, History, and Theory

General Remarks

The program in composition, music history and theory aims to develop the aural skills needed by all musicians, to provide the necessary theoretical knowledge for the continuing study and performance of music, to build an understanding of music’s function in society, to develop analytical and aesthetic understanding of music forms and styles and to foster the creative impulse in music.

Undergraduate Music History Curriculum

Music history is concerned with why music matters to us both aesthetically and socially, what the past can teach us about ourselves, and how we arrive at our understandings of the past. It asks such questions as: why did this style or trend occur at this time? Why do we consider this composer to be more important than another composer? What social or political ideas are incorporated into this music? How can music communicate social or political ideas and change society for the better or the worse?

All undergraduates are required to take the two-semester Historiography sequence, Music Since 1900 and a music history elective at or above the 400 level.  After completing the required courses, students will have:

  • gained a working knowledge of the history of Western Art Music,
  • some exposure to music of several other music cultures,
  • acquired information literacy skills that will allow them to conduct further research in music history,
  • improved their ability to read and critique academic writings and
  • completed at least one major research project.

Undergraduate Music Theory Curriculum

Required musicianship courses, Contemporary Trends, and elective theory courses form the core of the undergraduate music theory curriculum. All baccalaureate candidates must elect a level I theory course; Bachelor of Music candidates also must elect a level II theory course. All theory electives are defined as level I or level II under course descriptions. Also see “Music Theory Electives” below.

Incoming undergraduates take placement tests and may be required to take Introduction to Musicianship before beginning the core sequence of studies in musicianship. Exemption from and credit for required college-level courses may be earned by passing examinations administered by the department. These examinations are intended for entering freshmen and transfer students only.

Incoming undergraduates who hold scores of 4 or 5 on the Advanced Placement Examination in Music Theory will receive credit by examination for TH 141 Musicianship I. Students receiving credit for TH 141 are eligible to take a placement test to determine if credit by examination may be granted for additional theory courses.

Theory/Composition Major: Undergraduate

The curriculum for the undergraduate Theory/Composition major is designed to foster individual creative ability and to develop a broad and informed musicianship along with a knowledge of the literature of all periods. The department welcomes diversity of compositional styles and esthetic viewpoints and encourages exploration on the part of its students. The program culminates with a recital of original music written while a student is enrolled at Westminster.

Composition Major: Graduate

Composition majors are expected to write works for soloists, for chamber ensembles, and for large wind or orchestral ensembles. The department welcomes diversity of compositional styles and esthetic viewpoints and encourages exploration on the part of its students. The program culminates with a recital of original music written while a student is enrolled at Westminster.

Composition Primary: Graduate

Graduate students majoring in Sacred Music or Music Education may be admitted with a composition primary. Such a student must complete three semesters of Composition Primary and must present a composition recital as a conductor, accompanist, soloist, or ensemble performer. For Sacred Music majors, the composition recital is distinct from the required conducting recital.

Music History Elective

The Music History elective (MH 433MH 733MH 635, or MH 734) is an in-depth exploration of a single topic (e.g., a composer, a genre, a country). Topics will vary from year to year.  Generally, offerings include at least one course in Western Art Music before 1800, one course in Western Art Music since 1800, one course in Asian, Latin American or African music, and one course in Popular Music (broadly defined) on a regular basis. The goal of the elective is not only to teach students about the specific topic of the course, but also to develop students’ research skills so that they can teach themselves about any topic in music history in the future. The Music History elective includes a significant research paper (2000+ words at the 400 level; 3000+ words at the 600 or 700 level).

Music Theory Electives

Elective courses provide students with opportunities to apply their skills to specific areas of inquiry after satisfying specific prerequisites. The core requirements for Bachelor of Music students include two music theory electives. Bachelor of Music students may meet the theory requirement by taking one level I elective (preferably after completing TH 142 and before taking TH 241) and one level II elective, or else by taking two level II electives.

Level I theory electives include:
TH 237Composition Class3
TH 251Analytical Studies I3
TH 253Orchestration3
TH 255Song Writing3
TH 259Electroacoustic Music3
Level II theory electives include:
TH 424Choral and Instrumental Arranging3
TH 431Form and Analysis3
TH 432Contrapuntal Techniques3
TH 433Special Topics in Theory3
TH 452Analytical Studies II3
TH 550Keyboard Harmony3

Music Computing Center

Westminster maintains a music computing facility in which students can compose, orchestrate, and print their compositions in publishable quality using computers interfaced with sampler/synthesizers as well as sequencing and music printing software.


Sharon Mirchandani (chair) • Professor, Music History/Theory, 1997. B.M., Bowling Green State University; M.M., Temple University; Ph.D., Rutgers University.
Christian Carey • Associate Professor, Theory/Composition/Music History, 2004.  B.M., Juilliard; M.M., Boston University; Ph.D., Rutgers University.
Charles Frantz • Adjunct Associate Professor, Music History/Theory, 2000. B.M., M.M., Temple University; Ph.D., Rutgers University.
Ronald A. Hemmel • Professor, Theory/Composition. B.M., Westminster Choir College; M.M., James Madison University; M.Phil., Ph.D., Rutgers University.
Jay Kawarsky • Professor, Theory/Composition, 1989. B.M.E., Iowa State University; M.M., D.M., Northwestern University.
Anthony Kosar • Professor, Theory, 1984. B.M., West Liberty State College; M.M., Southern Illinois University; Ph.D., The Ohio State University. 
Joel Phillips • Professor, Theory/Composition, 1985. M.M., Eastman School of Music, University of Rochester; B.M., D.M.A., University of Alabama.
Stefan Young • Professor, Theory/Composition, 1979. B.M., Rollins College; M.M., The Juilliard School; Ph.D., Rutgers University.