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MM in Music Education vs. Choral Conducting

Greetings choral colleagues-
I am looking for information and advice on the pros and cons of choosing a Masters of Music degree in Music Education (choral track) as opposed to an MM in Choral Conducting. Most threads I read about a Masters are either on conducting only or summer masters programs. While I can see the benefit of completing a degree in the summer, I am looking for a full-time 2 year degree. Schools I am interested in are Westminster Choir College, Florida State, Yale (conducting only), Temple, Univ. of Washington.
For the longest time I have been interested in a MM conducting degree- thinking that my ultimate career goal would be conducting at a collegiate level, but lately I've been intrigued with the education degree and focussing more on the pedagical side- thinking I can enjoy a career in a high school, community or church setting. Some hesitiations I have with choosing the education degree is would I lose out on conducting opportunities such as assistanships with college choirs, personal conducting lessons, score study and literature classes, etc...? Would a MM in MusEd look as good if applying for a DMA in conducting? Also once a MM degree is attained, would applying for jobs with an education degree work as well for community choirs or church jobs as opposed to applying with a MM conducting degree?
Obviously there are a lot of specfics that can be talked about within each Master's program, but if there is any general advice or recomendations to be given- it would be much appreciated.
Thanks for your time,
Brennan Michaels 
Replies (8): Threaded | Chronological
on September 28, 2014 5:32am
Dear Brennan,
Ultimately the choice is yours, and you need to decide what you want from a degree. In my research, a MM in Education contains a lot of the same aspects as an undergraduate degree in education. It will make you a better teacher, but not necessarily a better conductor. If you want to teach on the collegiate level, which is my goal as well, I recommend the conducting degree. Ultimately, this path will make you a better teacher and director because it enables you to get what you want from your ensembles without having to ask it. Gesture is a skill that can be mastered. Personally for me, I teach MS and HS choir, and have just come from a MM Conducting program, and it has drastically made a difference in the way I teach. I find myself better able to hear and anticipate problems in my groups, and address them efficiently. Again, it's your call. My best advice is to do some soul searching and discover what you think is lacking in your education, and shoot for that!
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on September 28, 2014 6:18am
Dear Brennan,
Here at Bowling Green State University we offer both the M.M. in Choral Conducting and in Choral Music Education.  The core choral classes are the same for both programs: three semesters of choral literature and one semester of choral conducting.  If you were to opt for the choral conducting degree you would also take orchestral conducting and score reading, and you would prepare a conducting recital.  If you were to opt for the choral music education degree you would take the graduate courses in psychology of music and curriculum, and you would either write a thesis or take a comprehensive examination. If accepted into either program you would be eligible for one of our choral graduate assistantships which would afford you the opportunity to receive individual coaching, conduct your own chamber group, and on occasion, conduct one or more of our major ensembles.  And, if you really can't decide which program, you could major in both concurrently and still graduate in two years!
on September 28, 2014 8:47am
Since you mentioned Florida State, I will tell you my experience, even though it was about 20 years ago.  I received my MME with a conducting emphasis in the summer of 1993 after having been at FSU in Tallahassee for about 2 years.
I took about 90% of my classes with DMA and MM-Conducting students.  The conducting students took many music education classes, and I took many conducting classes.
The only real difference in my estimation was that MM-Conducting students did a conducting recital, and I was to write a Thesis (I ended up going the non-Thesis route, but that's an irrelevant story).  Everything else was virtually the same, and I enjoyed it immensely.  Barely a single day goes by that I don't think about the things I learned there.
As for employment, I knew I wanted to teach at the high school level, so an MME was the perfect degree for me.  Many of my friends and colleagues who are teaching at major Universities now went the performance route, but like I said, we took virtually the same classes in education, research, philosophy, and conducting.  I believe most Deans will look at your transcript for the classes, not necessarily the name of the degree, particularly where a Master's is concerned.
Of course, the requirements may have changed over the last two decades at FSU, and I will let someone else expound on whether an MM or MME will help you get into a doctoral program or into a choral program at the collegiate/university levels.  But in my experience, the difference in the actual degree conferred was negligible.  Good luck!
PS:  Go 'Noles!
on September 28, 2014 11:24am
Brennan, let me jump in with the argument that doing BOTH is an option, especially since you're looking at doing the traditional, two-year residency. I did my DM at Northwestern University, which is on a quarter system, so two years is actually the equivalent of six semesters. So several of the master's conducting students during my time also tacked on the music ed degree. (I don't know about other schools, but Northwestern has a MM-Music Ed program that is only one year if you're already certified.)
If you must choose one or the other, I might steer you toward the music ed degree, provided you choose one that will give you decent choral experience, and then conducting for your DMA. A huge number of the jobs I've looked at in the last couple years are seeking to couple the choral postiion with music ed, and they're requiring that applicants have a graduate music ed degree (which I do not -- WISH I'd been as smart as our master's students when I was doing my DM coursework...!) So I think you'll be much more marketable with one grad degree in music ed and the other in conducting.

on September 28, 2014 12:28pm
I highly recommend the masters degree in music education at University of Kansas, studying with Dr. James Daugherty. Music education degrees at KU are actually beyond the leading edge of knowledge and experience in the choral music/conducting profession. That's not hyperbole, I assure you. Not only is there an emphasis in conducting choral ensembles, but the program also richly emphasizes evidence-based voice education for singers of all ages, and evidence-based learning capabilities among human beings throughout the lifespan--processes that are referred to as human compatible learning and teaching. I assure you that there is no graduate program like this anywhere in the world, and I say this without any hubris whatsoever. It's that good.
Based on my recommendation, two former students of mine from Minnesota recently earned degrees there. One earned his masters degree and was so taken with the experience, that he continued and earned his Ph.D. The other student already had a masters degree, so she earned her Ph.D. with Jim. They both had teaching assistantships and other financial assistance. Just before Jeremy Manternach graduated, he was hired at University of Arizona, Tucson, where he taught and conducted for two years, and just a few months ago, he was hired away from Arizona to begin working at University of Iowa, Iowa City. And just before her graduation, Melissa Brunkan was hired at the University of Louisiana, Baton Rouge, where she is having a very successful career. Jim Daugherty makes sure his graduates get top-rank good jobs.
Before they began their extraordinary journeys, Jim Daugherty, Melissa Brunkan, and Jeremy Manternach all became members of The VoiceCare Network, and they all claim that the experience was a major "inciting" influence on their careers. Jim recommends that his graduate students attend VoiceCare's main summer course if they can. So, I also recommend that you consider attending VoiceCare's course before beginning graduate studies wherever you choose to go.
I wish you well, no matter what.
on September 29, 2014 3:37am
I think you will find that the differences between the MM-Ed and the MM-Cond vary significantly between schools; at some schools, there is little difference (as evidenced by the responses articulating that the biggest difference is a conducting recital) and at others there is a big difference. You might consider simply asking the faculty at the universities you are considering. "Dr. So-an-so, how would you articulate the difference between your MM-Ed and MM-Cond degrees" to hear how they'd articulate the differences.
Here are a few subsequent thoughts:
1) If you are interested in teaching university later, many positions (not all) require at least one degree in education. If you have a BME, you're set with that credential. If you aren't, then an MM-Ed could be very helpful.
2) In my experience, the differences between MM-Ed and MM-Cond degrees are regularly more acute than simply an applied conducting recital, and those differences were both "written and unwritten." I find it disconcerting to read that "an MM-Ed will make you a better teacher"...implying (unintentionally, perhaps) that the MM-Cond is a "lite degree." That is nonsense, but it is an opinion out there. An MM-Cond will make you a better teacher, too, and our students certainly don't need another choir director who is "a bad conductor, bless their heart, but they're a good educator." My point is that for the degress in which the classes are significantly different--you will learn very different things. The "unwritten" differences between programs, and I have seen this VERY first hand, is that the Ed students can be treated very differently from the conducting students. Not "personally" in the halls...that can happen, but isn't as prevalent; but rather, that in the classes they share with the conducting students (choral literature, applied conducting, practicum conducting, etc.), that they are not held to nearly the same rigor as the conducting students are. I have seen the Ed students float through their conducting and choral lit classes/presentations, not receiving the same level of criticism, not held to the same standards of rehearsing or presentation, not required to improve in their conducting as fast as their "conducting degree" counterparts--implying that "they're only 'ed' majors." That's very unfortunate--but it happens. (I'm sure someone will chime in, "not at my university, not at my university!")
3) At the risk of simplifying the degrees too much (opening my self up to "no it isn't, not here!" replies), I would suggest to you that a "basic" difference between the two degrees is that the MM-Ed vs. MM-Cond degrees are in focus of research. Note, that I'm not suggesting that MM-Ed majors do research and MM-Cond majors don't. Rather, that beyond the time "spent in a desk in class," the majors spend their out-of-class research time immersing themselves in very different things--and that's what you have to ask yourself what you want to immerse yourself in. The MM-Ed majors are generally researching learning theory, dealing with quantifiable field research tests, studying assessment results, in some cases voice science...all applied to how it affects teaching music. MM-Cond majors are generally researching choral music, composers, choral production, and conducting...all applied to how it affects teaching music. They both are teaching degrees (or, at least, good MM-Ed and MM-Cond programs are).
Based on the 3 points above, I'd ask yourself 3 questions:
1) Do you have a BE or BME? If not, you might want to condider an MM-Ed for university marketability later. Most of those universities are not requiring a graduate degree in education, simply a degree in education.
2) Do you plan on doing a doctorate? It might be too early to tell...but if not--this will be your last chance to get significant applied conducting training under rigorous supervised tutelage. If it appears that the MM programs vary significantly, think ahead that you might be 10 years in the future still relying on "undergraduate-plus" conducting skills if the MM-Ed degree you received did not require significant conducting chops (or apply rigorous expectations to one's conducting study).
3) What do you like researching and spending your "scholar time" doing? Are you drawn to science, learning theory, and statistics? Are you drawn to choral repertoire, historical performance practices, composition?
Answering these questions might help point you in the direction best for you. Cheers.
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on September 29, 2014 10:09am
Very good answer, Ryan. 
Many university level jobs request some type of ed degree.  The tricky part is finding an ed program that respects the tradition of rigorously trained (conservatory style) conductor training enough to challenge and demand that level of accomplishment from their ed students.  I agree with Ryan that is dependent on the traditions and "ethos" of any individual department.  After all, if a person can get a M M in education online or with a mere 3 week summer residency, it suggests that convenience is pushing the MM ed degree further and further away from the type of transformative growth that occurs with a residency. 
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on October 1, 2014 5:48am
Thank you all for your kind, thoughtful, and experienced insights. I'm finding that it truly does depend on the individual program and how their curriculum is spelled out. Certainly a lot to think about in terms of what the ultimate goals are for a masters program. If any further questions come up, I will bring them to the table.
Thank you,
Brennan Michaels 
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