Tuesday, January 26, 2010

One Word: Comps.

Hello faithful blogfollowers,

I am writing a quick note from the basement of Bridwell to explain my disappearance. I have been camped out here for the past month preparing for my Perkins School of Theology Master of Sacred Music Graduate Comprehensive Examinations - "affectionately" known as Comps. Four fellow classmates and I have been preparing since before the beginning of Christmas break - cruel timing, no? - for a gauntlet-like series of examinations to determine whether we have, in fact, learned anything over the past two-to-three years. In the case of myself and my friends Chelsea and Andrew (Choral concentration people), we had three separate tasks to complete from Drs. Hawn (hymnology), Anderson (music analysis) and Elrod (choral repertoire / score identification). My organ-oriented peers Megan and Ulston received a similar rundown, but with an organ-related score identification provided by Dr. Larry Palmer, their organ professor.

To cut to the chase, I finally wrote the big exam yesterday morning. Here is a rundown of what was required, from the official instructions we received (you may recall) right around final exam week at the beginning of December:

MSM Graduate Comprehensive Examination


MSM faculty will administer an evaluation that will integrate the major academic fields that constitute the MSM degree (church music history, music theory, the student's applied area—organ or choral conducting, theology, and liturgical studies) and the professional experience of the student with a local mentoring congregation (supervised practicum). The MSM faculty will constitute the student’s comprehensive committee as well as one other faculty member from Meadows chosen in consultation with the student, e.g., Director of Choral Activities or Organ Professor in Meadows or a member of the theory or history faculties.

The MSM Graduate Comprehensive Exam will be administered in two sections:

2) Section Two: Academic Evaluation. This will consist of a two-part written analysis in which the student will bring historical and analytical perspectives to bear on selected works. (**Me again: more on "Section One" later - that has to do with my Practicum Service, which is in February**)

In the first section, the student will be given a score excerpt from a major work studied in his/her curriculum, received a week in advance of the examination. The student will write a 7-10 page double-spaced essay which will integrate points of analysis, performance practice, and history necessary to the preparation and performance of the work. This essay is due to the MSM faculty at the examination period.

(**That was the Dr. Anderson part. I received the middle section of J. S. Bach's motet BWV 225, "Singet dem Herrn ein neues Lied". The middle section is titled "Wie sich ein Vater erbarmet" / "Gott nimm dich ferner unser an", an antiphonal chorale+aria movement. Good times, good times. I'm not supposed to know this, but apparently he liked my essay title - huzzah! The title was: SUBLIME AND MACABRE, INTERWOVEN: J.S. Bach's Musical-Interpretive Approach to a Theology of the Resurrection. Okay, back to the instructions.**)

The second section will be completed during a two-hour examination period. The MSM-choral or -organ track student will receive one unidentified score of a choral or organ work respectively and one unidentified hymn (text and music), on which he or she will produce separate essays. The writing should situate each work in its context (likely era, author of hymn text, composer, genre) and develop a supporting rationale that includes points of analysis and history.

(**We actually got a series of essay questions to prepare on hymnology, and got one essay to actually write on during the exam. Then, my score example was some kind of crazy 20th-century piece - I could tell that much from the extreme chromaticism, and at one point there was a pitched spoken word. Sprechstimme, anybody?**)

Here were the four essay questions we had to be prepared to answer:

Sacred Music Comprehensive Examination

January 2010

The Comprehensive Exam is scheduled for Monday, January 25, 2010 from 10 AM to 12 Noon in the MSM Room (Kirby Hall).

Hymnology Study Questions. One of these questions will be chosen for the exam. Each student will receive a different question upon which to write. A maximum of one hour should be spent on this question. Do not assume that you will receive a question that corresponds to your particular faith tradition. It would be wise to prepare to answer all of the questions. HINT: This is an impossible assignment to do in complete thoroughness. Look at the salient features and organize your thought well. Choose two hymnals that will benefit you the most. (See following note!)

You are entitled to bring one or two hymnals of your choice (no notes or inscriptions may be contained in the hymnals) to this session from which you may refer.

1) Discuss the contributions of the Oxford Movement to hymnody with brief allusions to worship and architecture. Who were the major proponents of the Movement? Briefly discuss six hymns by at least three writers who exemplify this Movement and the significance ofHymns Ancient and Modern as well as the reactionary hymnal The English Hymnal (1906).

2) Discuss the major contributions of Global hymnody since the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965). Include the most prominent sources, authors/composers from Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, and Central and South America, and their impact on North American hymnals. If you were to present an emerging “global hymnody canon” to a hymnal committee, which ten selections would you include on your “must have” list on the basis of global representation, the mission activity of your denomination, immigrant groups in your community, liturgical function, and common usage? Note: Global hymnody for this purpose will be songs that reflect cultures of origin beyond North America (though they may have immigrant communities here) in both text and tune.

3) Fred Pratt Green (1903-2000) and Brian Wren (b. 1936) have perhaps made the most significant contributions to English-language hymnody since the 1970s as a part of the “hymnic explosion” to date. Discuss the major themes in their hymns. Compare and contrast their texts, and choose four hymns by each that are representative of their theology, themes, and writing style. HINT: Include use of poetic devices, variety of meters, biblical and theological foci, as well as liturgical possibilities (Christian Year and Sacraments).

4) Choose one major theological concept, e.g., creation, providence, incarnation, passion, pneumatology, ecclesiology, etc., and trace it through hymnody from the 16th century to the present. Cite at least six hymns and discuss the changing theological assumptions through the centuries that each represents. The choice of theological concept is yours.


I was given the Global Hymnody question. It seems that in the end, our kind profs tailored the questions to fit people whose background went along with them. I.e., Megan has a previous Theology degree and got the theological question, Andrew is Episcopalian and got the Oxford Movement question, etc. etc.

So, that's a big hurdle behind me. Overall, I feel quite good about it. Cross your fingers that I passed!!

Oh, and finally:

Here's me studying for Comps in the basement of Bridwell, shielding myself from the insanity with the collected hymns of Fred Pratt Green:

1 comment:

Andrew Donaldson said...

I just found this. Nice to know it was all worth it:-)