Music Composition at ECU

[Questions? Contact Dr. Travis Alford, Professor of music composition, theory, Director of the North Carolina NewMusic Initiative.]

Thank you for your interest in the composition program at ECU! There are many reasons to choose the ECU School of Music for your studies in composition such as our outstanding faculty, the camaraderie among composition students, having your compositions performed at Premiere Performances concerts, and participation in the North Carolina NewMusic Initiative events and commissioning project.

Overview of the Program

The ECU School of Music’s Composition program [see Handbook for Composition Students] is devoted to helping students develop the skills necessary to pursue a professional and/or academic career in the composition of contemporary concert music. Our most successful students are highly self-motivated and show initiative by taking advantage of performance opportunities and pursuing the mentoring of a variety of faculty. We place emphasis on our students’ abilities to communicate effectively to their audience in professional and academic settings, both in writing and orally. Our faculty are dedicated to helping students develop their technical skills and compositional craft, with the ultimate goal of guiding students towards establishing their own artistic voice. Towards these ends, students are expected to explore a wide variety of musical styles, and to work on exercises designed to develop a wide variety of techniques–regardless of each student’s chosen or preferred style. In order to facilitate exposure to a broad spectrum of technical and aesthetic approaches and perspectives, ECU composers who have been accepted as composition majors at the end of their sophomore year will begin to “rotate” their study with several of our composition faculty.

Student composers at East Carolina University work with nationally and internationally established faculty composers. Students have the opportunity to hear their compositions performed by fellow students on our three-concert Premiere Performances Series each year; In addition, the University Symphonic Wind Ensemble, Concert Band, Symphony Orchestra and concert Choirs have read and performed student compositions. Students enroll in courses which provide access to the Center for Composition with Electronic Media (CCEM) allowing them to work in the medium of electronic music, and also use our MIDI lab to access computer engraving software (Finale, Sibelius) to prepare their musical scores for traditional instruments.

Many of our students have continued their studies in some of the finest doctoral composition programs in the U.S., and some, such as William Duckworth, Claude Baker and Ray Bunch have had very successful careers as composers.

Composition, MUSC 1326, 1336, is open to all students who have taken MUSC 1156 and MUSC 1176, or are taking MUSC 1156 and MUSC 1176 concurrent with MUSC 1326, 1336.

NOTE: Any student considering a Composition Major must submit an application to the Chair of the Theory, Composition & Musicology Department (see Application Guidelines and Procedures below). A strong applicant for the composition major will, by the end of the sophomore year, have had at least three of their pieces performed on the Premiere Performances Concert Series.

The continuing Composition Major is expected to have at least two works performed each year.

Application Guidelines for Undergraduates

Students typically submit application to the Composition major in their fourth semester of music study.
That is, we are happy to see what you’re writing with your initial application to the ECU School of Music; but an application for the composition major will usually be submitted in your fourth semester as a music major.

In order for an application to be seriously considered by the Department of Theory, Composition & Musicology, applicants are expected to consistently demonstrate substantial accomplishment in Theory, History, and Musicianship classes, as reflected by both grades and instructor recommendations.

As noted in the ECU Undergraduate Catalog: “For admission to the upper level theory-composition concentrations, a student must have a minimum cumulative 3.0 GPA in music courses at the end of the sophomore year.”

Acceptance to the composition major is contingent upon students’ successful completion of the Upper Division Qualifying Exam on their major applied instrument.

Application Deadline: By the first Friday in April (of one’s fourth semester as a music major) the prospective composition major should submit a dossier to the Chair of the Theory, Composition &Musicology Department.

Your Application Packet: The dossier submitted for application should include:

  • Scores, programs and, if possible, tapes of works performed at ECU
  • A “declaration of intent,” which should articulate your compositional goals, professional goals, and personal evaluation of your development since beginning composition study
  • A list of courses taken, and grades received, in the Theory, Composition & Musicology Department (Basic Musicianship [Music Theory], Basic Musicianship Lab [Ear-Training], Music History, etc.)

Application Guidelines for Graduate Study

Applicants for Graduate Study in composition should submit applications online through ECU’s online system, and also submit 3 scores, corresponding recordings, and a sample of an analytical paper.  Questions about the program, or about supporting materials?  Email Ed Jacobs at

As part of a complete application, applicants will take diagnostic exams in music theory, music’s history, and musicianship.  Please see this page, scroll down for more information about Graduate level assessments.

Curricular Requirements in Composition:

Questions? Email Dr. Travis Alford, professor of music composition, theory, Director of NC NewMusic Initiative