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College issues: Number of Units for ensembles


Thank you for the many responses to my questions. I found them thoughtful,
well-reasoned, and helpful. I appreciate your input. The responses
represented perspectives from both students and professors. I have included
the original question followed by the responses.

Dr. Don R. Campbell
Southern Wesleyan University

-----Original Message-----
>The questions are these . . .
>1. How many units do other universities/colleges offer for there
>performing ensembles?
>2. How many times a week for how long do you meet?
>3. If you have time and choose to, please include any comments or
>rationale for your position/situation.
Sounds like everyone has to deal with this same issue sometimes. My
two ensembles at Missouri Baptist each rehearse 3 hours per week. The large
open-enrollment ensemble (Chorale) has between 50-60 members and travels
rarely and briefly (weekend in the Fall, weekend in the Spring, with
extended tours offered but not required. The Chamber Singers sing more
locally in high schools and tours for about a week in the Spring. We
occasionally hear these same complaints. I tell them what you did -- about
cost. For many of our students that's not really an issue, since our
pay one tuition rate for any lad between 12 -18 semester hours.
ensemble hours are not counted if those units put them over 18. Still, I am
not aware of any schools that offer more than 1 unit credit for ensembles.

Usually, it is the select groups that carry the greatest performing burden
in most cases, those students receive some kind of scholarship or stipend.
Additionally, since these ensembles are not "required" but "elective", they
accept membership with the understanding of the requirements.

The issue is a little different with the "required" ensembles. Our Chorale
the obligatory ensemble for music majors, meaning I have numerous members
are not particularly good singers (keyboardists, etc.) but are in the group
because of the degree requirement. They are mostly interested in credit and
sometimes bring up the subject. They are not on scholarship and receive no
"reward" for the additional things that are sometimes required.

Personally I don't have any problem with the concept of giving more than one
credit. I simply don't know how it would be done or whether it would really
worth the trouble. I often tell members of my select group, who are also
required to be in the Chorale, that they are getting 2 units credit or 6
a week of rehearsal. At ASU, we got 1 unit credit or a group that met 5
per week. I also tell them that at ASU, those undergraduates on choral
scholarships were required to be in at least 2 ensembles.

Dr. Larry Smith

>1. How many units do other universities/colleges offer for there
>performing ensembles?
> 1 or 1/2
>2. How many times a week for how long do you meet?
> 1$0 min. or 225 min/week; 1/2 = 150/week or less
>3. If you have time and choose to, please include any comments or
>rationale for your position/situation.
> If we gave more units, they would have to pay more and it would be
>harder to graduate with all the other requirements they have.

Dr. Keith Pedersen
Point Loma Nazarene University

Hello Don:
The way we've addressed the issue at CSU Bakersfield is this: students in
either University Singers or Chamber Singers (each of which rehearses 4.5
hours/week) may opt to register for an additional unit in a separately
listed course called Vocal Workshop. The rationale for the University
Singers is that it awards credit for somization instruction, sectional
rehearsals, and master classes; the Chamber Singers earn the extra unit
for their caroling work during the holidays and the spring tour. The
administration is happy for the added student credits in music, the
students are happy to have the option (they all do the work whether they
take the credit or not) and I'm happy to receive a little load credit
toward all the administrative work involved in running the choral/vocal
program. Hope this is helpful. BTW our campus is on an intensive quarter
system 10+10+10 in which a lecture course is typically 5 quarter units.

Robert Provencio, D.M.A.
California State University, Bakersfield

Chorale (Come one, come all) - 2x /week, 1 hour 20 minutes each, one or two
performances a semester, one credit.

Chamber Singers - auditioned, 2x/week for 1 hour 20 min, MANY performances
for a variety of things - concerts, nursing homes, campus functions, etc - 2
credits All of our ensembles are one credit except this one. Tours are
biennial, optional, partially supported by the university.

David Griggs-Janower

Your students have a good point and I used to make the same argument---when
was a student. I have taught in a junior college and in two colleges
the bachelor's degree. I now believe one credit for ensemble is
Here's why.

The number of credits for ensemble is really unrelated to the amount of work
expected of students. If it were purely up to me, I'd give them at least
credits for rehearsing five hours and going on tour. Frankly, the students
much more than that. Under current conditions (We grant one credit hour for
participation in ensembles. Students choose whether they take ensemble for
credit. Rehearsals range from 3 hours/week to 5 hours/week, depending on
ensemble. Some students participate in as many as three ensembles.),
may actually receive at least eight hours of ensemble during four years at
college. Music majors may actually receive more than eight hours of credit
during their time here. If any of our ensembles were worth two credit
hours/semester, students might receive 16 hours of credit in four years.
this may be, and generally is, applied to the elective portion of a degree
these credits add up very quickly. As we develop our department (we've only
offered the music degree for two years now) and add teacher certification,
are finding a severe crunch with regards to the number of credits we would
to require as opposed to the number we reasonably can require. By awarding
one credit/ensemble, we are better able to control the total number of
required of a student.

So, in a very real sense, by awarding only one credit, we are doing the
a favor. They can have their cake (perform in an ensemble) and eat it too
additional electives). Additionally, they don't have to pay for the
number of credits.

When I worked in a junior college, the answer was more simple. We allowed
one credit/ensemble because that's all the senior institutions would accept
transfer. Students were generally satisfied with that answer.

I hope I've been clear with my thinking and what we do. Honestly, I doubt
we'll ever make a change to award more than one credit hour for any
But, we fully recognize that the students really earn more!!

Tony A. Mowrer, Ph.D
Rochester College

1 credit for four 50-minute rehearsals each week (for the "premier" ensemble
that tours, etc.) 1 credit for a come-one-come-all chorus that meets one
evening each week for 2 hours.

Terry Barham, Ph.D.
Emporia State University

Boy, I've heard this all my life- when I was a student and since I've
been teaching. I'm at Seattle Pacific University and I'll try to fill you
in a little about what's what here.

> 1. How many units do other universities/colleges offer for there
> performing ensembles?
> 2. How many times a week for how long do you meet?
Concert Choir (principal chorus)
3x week; 80 minutes each
2 quarter credits
Women's Choir & Men's Choir (two secondary "large" groups)
2x week; 80 minutes each
2 quarter credits
Chamber Singers
2x week; 80 min. each
1 quarter credit
Contemporary Ensemble
4x week; varies in time
1 quarter credit (but carries a substantial scholarship [much PR work])

> 3. If you have time and choose to, please include any comments or
> rationale for your position/situation.
I usually don't hear too much complaining; mainly because most students are
taking maximum credit load and if they got more credit for choir, they'd be
paying quite a bit of extra tuition $ for the overload. Since this is a
private school, the extra tuition is quite a lot.

David Anderson
Seattle Pacific University

The universal complaint! My response has always been that ensembles are
laboratory courses, and of course they have to be there more hours than the
credit reflects! (In my case this answer is also considered hilarious, as
my husband is professor of theoretical chemistry and teaches only REALLY
HARD upper-division courses--4 credits for three hours of lecture and 3-6
hours of lab--and there are chemistry majors in the choirs who have both of
us regularly.)

Answers below.

> 1. How many units do other universities/colleges offer for there
> performing ensembles?
Chorale (SATB): 3.5 hours/week, 1 credit per semester, must enroll both
Madrigal Singers (have to change that name: SSAA select chamber choir): 1
hour/week, 1 credit for 2 semesters, cannot do only one semester (the
computer won't allow it).

Concert Winds same as Chorale and Jazz Ensemble actually meets 2.5
hours/week for the 1 credit/2 semesters.

> 2. How many times a week for how long do you meet?
> 3. If you have time and choose to, please include any comments or
> rationale for your position/situation.
The laboratory analogy is the one that makes sense to me, because they are
graded on attendance and performance (including periodic part-checks) and
not on writing (although my students do a short 'response paper' each
semester. In terms of student tuition, if any ensemble is the student's
19th- or beyond credit, they are not charged the per-credit rate for credits
over 18; ensembles are free.

Patricia Romza Warren, DMA
St. Michael's College

At the college where I teach, the choir meets once a week for two
hours--far too little, in my opinion, but I just got here and the system has
been in place for decades--and the choir members receive one credit. It's
the same for all the ensembles. One credit was awarded for participation in
the ensembles I performed with and conducted at the University of Illinois
in Urbana, too, but those groups met for three or four hours each week.

Kirin Nielsen

I attended St. Olaf College in
Minnesota. The top choir meets five days a week for 90 minutes with no
course credit at all. They also tour two-three weeks out of the year, over
weekends and breaks. The other ensembles meet for lesser amounts of time,
but also receive no credit. (I think four choirs meet at roughly the same
time frame as yours-three times a week, 75-90 minutes. No credit anywhere.)

Josh Nannestad
St. Paul, MN

This goes back a number of years, but we rehearsed three times a week for 90
minutes and received one credit for first semester and two credits for
second semester which included the spring tour.

Jack Holmes

This is a perennial issue. At every institution I've attended or taught,
students have wanted more credit for ensembles than they currently get. My
understanding (and response to my students) has always been that credit
hours for ensembles are not solely determined by the institution but are in
part based on accreditation standards from SACS, NCATE, etc. One hour seems
to be the standard for most ensembles, although some institutions offer 1/2
hr credit, and others offer 2 hrs. credit for an ensemble that meets 5 hrs
or more per week. When I taught at Columbia College, my choir met for five
hours a week and received 3 hrs credit, which is HIGHLY unusual -- yet the
students thought they should get 5 hrs credit!

At my current position, all ensembles (which meet from 3-4 hours per week)
receive 1 hr credit with the exception of Jazz Band. We're talking about
adding credit for consistency's sake, but it raises another issue -- those
students involved in both choral and instrumental (taking 3-4 ensembles per
semester!) can rack up 25% or more of their 128 hrs required for graduation
in ensemble credits, and as it stands now, all those credits would count.
So we're thinking of adding Jazz Band for credit and allowing all credits to
factor into GPA (which is the main reason most students want the credit in
the first place) but only allowing a set number of ensemble hrs to count
towards the 128 for graduation.

Ross C. Bernhardt, D.M.A.
Lambuth University

I read your e-mail with interest. Here at Whitworth College, we rehearse
five days a week in 55-minute sessions. In addition, we have one-hour
sectional rehearsals once a week for the first half of each semester to
facilitate note learning.

I have always preferred daily rehearsals for choir as opposed to the three-
or four-day rehearsal scenario. In my experience, the students retain and
learn music better when they meet each day. Plus it helps with building the
vocal endurance required to perform the selected literature.

We tour every other year during Spring Break, and the college typically
pays--we normally coordinate our tour stops with the offices of admissions,
advancement, alumni and church relations.

And yes, I get the same complaints about the course only being 1 credit hour
for a lot of work. I simply reply that the Whitworth Choir is the "toughest
choir you'll ever love." The thrust of the choir is not so much about "me,"
but rather, "we." Students who are team-oriented really embrace this
concept. I have related to students that we could petition to raise the
number of credits for the class. However, they would have to pay the extra
tuition money. Put in this frame, they decided one credit was fine. :-)

For our other choirs--e.g. Women's Choir, Chamber Singers, and Vocal Jazz
Choir--rehearsal is much less, and the credit load is still one hour. Each
of these choirs rehearses two days a week in 1 1/2 hour sessions for a total
of 3 hours per week. They do not learn the extensive amount of literature
that the Whitworth Choir does. Typically, these ensembles combine with
other ensembles when they perform in public.

I hope this helps.

S. Bryan Priddy
Whitworth College

Choir meets three times a week for one hour and fifteen minutes. One
Your rationale is in line with mine.

Lynn Lamkin
Lee College, Baytown, TX

1 credit hour for 3 times a week for 50 minute class.
Plus concerts.
Students didn't "want" more credit as they would 1) have to pay for it 2)
couldn't fit it in with their schedule of other higher unit classes.

This is a community college.

Richard Garrin
College of San Mateo

I have attended both Western Michigan University and Central Michigan
University. At both universities choral classes have been only one credit
and have rehearsed four days a week for 50 minutes. Sometimes the student's
rationale for more credits is that it's an easy A and more credits means
of a percentage of A on their grade point. I, however, have been grateful
only pay for one credit. I am a non-traditional student and can't afford to
pay extra.

Cathy Kresh

Hi, Don: Just a quick response to a thorny issue. (I find the issue
recycles every 6 or 8 years, then dies until the next cycle.)

> 1. How many units do other universities/colleges offer for there
> performing ensembles?

One credit-hour per semester.

> 2. How many times a week for how long do you meet?

Two two-hour rehearsals (4 hours per week) in the choir and concert band;
marching band has two rehearsals of 1.5 hrs. each, and on weeks when
they're playing for a game, they have a third rehearsal.

Small ensembles meet for shorter times. Madrigal Singers, for example,
meet only 1.5 hours per week but are expected to do woodshedding on their

> 3. If you have time and choose to, please include any comments or
> rationale for your position/situation.

1. (As you said) They only have to pay for one credit.
2. They don't have homework. (Even our Sectionals come out of the
regular 4 hours.) Rehearsals are more like Labs than lecture classes, and
they're all used to putting in 3 or 4 hours in labs for one (or zero)
3. It's true they "give up" their Spring Break for tour, but it
costs them nothing and they see a lot of new territory, have a lot of fun,
they're doing what they love. (Because Geneva is a Christian college, we
also emphasize the "ministry" element: our concerts, including the ones
with "secular" music, minister to the emotional and spiritual needs of
4. Commitment--to music and to something bigger than themselves.
Bottom line (Last-ditch argument): Anyone who's in it just for the credit
hours probably is not a terribly valuable member of the team, and maybe
should consider dropping choir and trying out for the Tiddlywinks team.
This includes music majors; if all they're after is the credit, maybe they
should ask themselves if they really belong in music.

Robert M. Copeland
Geneva College

>1. How many units do other universities/colleges offer for there
>performing ensembles? For my choir which rehearses twice/week for two
>hours 2 units of credit are offered. For the other choirs all of which
>rehearse once a week, 1 unit is offered
>2. How many times a week for how long do you meet? see above
>3. If you have time and choose to, please include any comments or
>rationale for your position/situation. Some choir members sing as an
>activity because they already have too many units. But the two unit credit
>is good because unless they miss rehearsals or behave badly the grade is
>an easy A.

John Stewart
Washington University in St. Louis

1. How many units? one
2. How many times a week for how long do you meet? 5 (a) 50 minutes
3. comments or rationale

If more credits were offered, we'd have to raise the number of credits
needed for a music major accordingly. We are asked to keep all degrees
at 125 credits.

Robert Engle
Northwest College

Last year I taught at Fresno State University and here is what happened in
terms of units: The men's and women's ensembles rehearsed two days a week,
minutes, and received one unit. The Chamber Singers met twice a week as
for the same amount of time for one unit. No one paid their tour expenses,
either. You remember at ASU we received one unit for concert choir which
four days a week for 50 minutes each time and one unit for Graduate chorale
which met twice a week. At U.O.P. it was similar. I think it's extremely
to rehearse three days a week and receive one unit. They generally do very
little rehearsing on their own time even when asked, so I think the extra
involved in rehearsals is more than made up for by the fact that there is
little time outside of class, i.e., homework, papers, and so forth. As I
about it further, I remember taking piano in college and for each unit of
lesson time, it was expected that you practiced one hour per day. So that
would involve a whole lot more time for one unit than would 3-5 rehearsals
week in choir!

Good luck to you!

Dr. Julie Carter
Artistic Director Fresno Choral Artists and Director of Music at First Pres

>1. How many units do other universities/colleges offer for there
>performing ensembles?

Virginia Tech gives 1 semester hour credit for ensemble participation.

>2. How many times a week for how long do you meet?

That varies with the ensemble, from 150 minutes to 300 minutes, with no
change in credits. The average is probably 180 minutes.

>3. If you have time and choose to, please include any comments or
>rationale for your position/situation.

For years we labored under a restriction of only being able to count 50
semester hours in music toward graduation--in other words, we offered a BA
in music, but were trying to give our students as close to a BM as we
could. One way to fudge credits was only to require 4 hours toward the
degree, but require participation each semester of residence. Additional
credits would have gone unused.

Happily we are now under a different administrative structure and can offer
the equivalent of a BM with 78 semester hours in music, and we have
retained our 50-hour option as a liberal arts degree.

John Howell
Virginia Tech Department of Music