Although distinct from the program offerings at other Big Ten schools and separate from Purdue Bands & Orchestras in practice, Purdue’s new music major has music leaders on campus excited about what it will offer to students.
The program, approved by Purdue's board of trustees in April and the Indiana Commission for Higher Education in May, is set to open enrollment in fall of the 2022-23 academic year and is offered through the Rueff School in the College of Liberal Arts. Consisting of 42 to 46 credits, it’s designed to be taken in tandem with another major, through the college’s Degree+ program.
The new major has two concentrations: music technology and general music studies. This contrasts with what other Big Ten schools typically offer students majoring in music, particularly in that it has a liberal arts emphasis that is more focused on academics rather than performance, which is the onus for students at music conservatories like Indiana University’s Jacobs School of Music.
Jay Gephart, the Purdue “All-American” Marching Band director and a professor in bands and orchestra, said other Big Ten schools offer multiple degrees in music ranging from music education to composition to performance and musicology. He said it’s often extremely difficult for a non-music major to participate in an ensemble because those spots are designated for music majors.
“That’s what makes Purdue so incredibly special,” Gephart said. “Our department is open to anyone who wants to play their instrument without having to compete against performance majors and music education majors.”
Throughout Purdue’s history, Gephart said band and orchestra members have come to Purdue precisely because of the fact that the school didn’t have a music major that they’d have to compete with, and he doesn’t expect that to change with the implementation of the new degree.
“They wanted to be able to play in high-end ensembles like the wind ensemble and the philharmonic without having to compete with music majors, and the reality is that will still be true,” Gephart said. “Our students will not be competing with performance majors.”
Gephart said this bodes well for the major.
“That’s why I think this B.A. in music as it’s set up right now can be a really good marriage between the academic side of music and Purdue bands,” Gephart said. ”The impact on our program will be nonexistent but the impact on the B.A. in music will be somewhat profound because of our students.”
Arne Flaten, head of the Rueff School, said Purdue’s music major is intended to be “broader in perspective” than conservatory-style music schools by focusing on developing scholars in music and industry leaders in music and technology.
“While music making will still hold an essential position in the development of the student’s understanding and experience of music,” Flatten said, “the thoughtful integration of musical knowledge, its meaning and its application will be paramount.”
Though band and orchestra members are able to apply to enter the major, it operates through the Reuff School and is separate from the bands and orchestra program. The major does require its students to participate in at least two two semesters of ensemble participation with either bands and orchestra, the Black Cultural Center, or Purdue Musical Organizations, Flaten said.
Gephart said bands and orchestras is an academic department by nature and that department faculty have provided academic instruction to students “for literally decades.” Students in each ensemble, from the marching band to the wind ensemble to the string orchestra, receive two credit hours per semester.
Whether or not band members flock to the degree, bands and orchestras has a musical pedigree that rivals conservatories across the country.
“I conduct the wind ensemble, which is the top concert band in our department, and I have students in that band who could be music majors at any school of music or conservatory in the country,” Gephart said. “They’re that accomplished a player.”