Mission Statement

The study of music in a liberal arts setting develops logical thinking, critical analysis, musical literacy, historical consciousness, cultural sensitivity, and aesthetic values. The human dimensions that music is especially capable of revealing--emotional nuance, beauty, and imagination--are also central to the liberal arts ideal. Creative musical activity cultivates feelings of accomplishment and facilitates the search for meaning. Many students with outstanding academic records believe their work as musicians is the most challenging they undertake as an undergraduate. Composing, performing, and writing about music require talent, initiative, risk, and reflection and demands the courage to stand up for a personal vision realized through exacting attention to detail. This process can stimulate personal, intellectual, and social growth and have a positive, lasting influence.


The Department of Music at Carleton College enrolls several hundred students every term, both majors and non-majors, in a curriculum that offers a balanced, integrated approach to the areas of performance, composition, theory, history, and ethnomusicology. Experience in all these fields is essential to the understanding of music as an artistic and intellectual achievement. Though students arrive at Carleton with a wide range of musical background and ability, all are encouraged to broaden, deepen, enrich and improve their engagement with music. In addition to music-making experiences in our performing ensembles and private lessons, the Department sponsors numerous performances by on- and off-campus artists. These often include student interaction with the music professionals involved in those events. Additionally, we offer an array of classroom courses that range from those designed specifically for the introductory-level student to advanced seminars for majors and those non-majors who devote a significant part of their time to music.

Majoring in Music

The goal of the Major in Music at Carleton is to give students a grounding in all aspects of the study of music: performance, composition, theory, history, and ethnomusicology. Our major provides an excellent preparation for graduate study in any of these fields. Specifically, the major requires our students to:

  • gain practical experience in performance, composition, theory, history, and ethnomusicology;
  • develop familiarity with musical traditions, genres, canonical repertoire, major artists, styles, and instruments in the musical cultures covered in the curriculum;
  • develop familiarity with major issues, central trends, modes of inquiry, and primary areas of controversy among scholars and performers, utilizing both primary source material as well as current scholarship;
  • be able to read a musical score with aural and analytical comprehension and be able to describe musical structures persuasively, both verbally and in writing;
  • be able to research, successfully develop, and convincingly defend a thesis about music, both verbally and in writing, from historical, analytical, and cultural perspectives;
  • improve their formal presentation skills as both a performer and a speaker;
  • improve their abilities to use library and on-line resources in all aspects of musical inquiry.

Successful completion of the major provides a basic musical competency, enriches students' other coursework at the College, and enhances their experience of their applied study. Music alumni are among the College's most distinguished, having achieved both academic and commercial success in music at national and international levels. For example, one of our music graduate's orchestrations and compositions have appeared in over 20 films, including the Academy Award-winning films The Lion King and Frida. Another graduate is a music executive at BMI. Others are currently professors of music at University of Texas Austin, and Princeton and Stanford Universities. More recent alumni have attended graduate programs at distinguished schools ranging from USC and the University of Illinois-Urbana Champaign to the University of Colorado at Boulder. Other music alumni have gone on to successful careers in law, medicine, and public service.