More on Music

Guided by a principle that technique, theory and scholarship should be pursued in tandem with the immediate experience of making, the music program and its individual courses balances disciplined technical studies and practice with multiple opportunities for original work, collaboration and creative exploration.


From its beginnings in the 1930s, Bennington has been known for the vitality, distinction, and adventurousness of its composition program. Composition is taught holistically here, with no one idiom being regarded as sacrosanct, the goal being to foster and support the growth of each student’s musical voice. Composition is at the core of the music program is not only saved for more experienced musicians. It informs the teaching of music fundamentals and even the learning of notation. Composition students are encouraged to experience music outside of their comfort zones as well as what comes naturally, to study widely and deeply in both music theory and history, to develop as performers, and to think critically about their work in a broader context. Students are encouraged to create cross-disciplinary works and collaborations, and to experiment with different media, from improvisation to installation, songwriting to electroacoustic music.  Great emphasis is also placed on the student’s hearing their work performed, either by fellow students, faculty or visiting performers.


Everyone has a voice. But to sing freely with emotion and nuance takes discipline and practice, plus a trusted pair of ears. Voice study at Bennington is functional training: our goal is an instrument that remains true to the student and that can express any emotion, in any style, in a healthy manner. We begin by exploring sound, breath and body, and achieve further refinement through classical and contemporary methods while studying increasingly challenging and varied repertoire. In ensembles, group classes and individual lessons, students are challenged to learn the language of music, interpretation of text, and how to place songs in the context of the larger world of music, history and culture.


Percussion study is an integral part of musicianship at Bennington. Students learn percussion from West Africa, South America, the Caribbean, Southeast and South Asia. Bennington has West African, Philippine Kulintang and Javanese gamelan ensembles, and students regularly perform in concerts and community events. Drumset studies have developed out of Bennington’s rich tradition of Milford Graves and the Black Music division, and include jazz technique, history, and improvisation. Percussion students are encouraged from the outset to sing rhythms, sight-read, and master diverse rhythmic notation practices. Students learn how to set up and manage practice on their instruments as well as develop ensemble-playing skills, and percussion studies are also integrated in composition classes.


At Bennington, music theory is a natural extension of creative practice, and is taught hand-in-hand with performance, composition, and improvisation. Music theory here reflects a diversity of musical styles and cultures, while recognizing that grounding in notation, harmony, singing, and piano is necessary for musicians out in the world.  Courses cover everything from jazz theory, counterpoint. Schenkerian analysis, and rhythmic theory to experimental approaches, formal architecture, and dodecaphony. Rather than assume a centralized practice of harmony, each course feeds into the next, in a continuum of courses intended to stretch each student’s creative voice.


The Bennington music discipline has had a long history of teaching improvisation practice as well as collaborating with other disciplines, especially dance. Students are required to learn fundamentals as well as explore advanced techniques of improvisation. Courses help students understand historic practices and oral traditions, develop ensemble language, and create their own individual voice. Improvisation is a place where cross-collaboration projects of students emerge with acoustic and e music, dance, visual art, science, math, literature, theatre and languages.


Performance at Bennington is used to develop each individual’s creative voice, whether studying classical viola interpretation or singing in a funk band. In chamber performance configurations, ranging in size from 2 to 22, and covering jazz improvisation, drumset sextets, world vocal ensembles, improvisation collectives, balaphone ensembles, and Bennington’s own Sage City symphony, students learn all aspects of playing music communally. Students learn to create blend, groove, dynamic contrast, tension and release, while striving to achieve precise synchronization as well as the flexibility of spontaneous interactions. Students may elect to take individual lessons with Bennington’s extensive faculty, including a wide range of piano courses, or elect to have outside lessons for credit through a special program.


Music technology at Bennington is used a springboard for creative practice, from hands-on courses in studio recording, mixing, and production, to multidisciplinary approaches to electronic music. In the Jennings recording studio, understanding historical practice goes hand-in-hand with mastering vintage to cutting-edge technologies. Students recreate historic multitracks, mix their own songs, and create soundtracks for film and theater. Electronic music in the U.S. was pioneered in Bennington in the 1950s, and courses cover both historic stereo and surround sound pieces, to modern installations, sound art, physical computing, modular synthesis, and interactive programming.


The Music Library in Jennings supports the entire music curriculum, and provides comfortable spaces for study and listening. The library houses over 10,000 items including music scores, books on music, music DVDs, and an eclectic assortment of recordings on CD and Vinyl. It also maintains an archive of Bennington performances dating back to 1958.