Ezra posted about musical theater at Bennington in 2012! That seems like so long ago! He didn’t even know how good those productions would be (and they were really good).
Despite the post’s age, I think it’s still totally valid today in that musical theater at Bennington is mostly student driven. Bennington is not a conservatory, there is no strictly defined musical theater program. This creates opportunities for completely original content that a wide variety of people can participate in. Students here find myriads of different ways to combine music, theater and dance resulting in really unique productions. Each student is allowed to find their own voice and aesthetic within these disciplines, instead of mimicking already established forms.
Start by listening to this Sharon Van Etten song because she just makes everything okay and really understands what it’s like:
No. Stop reading and listen to the music. I knew you were going to just play it in the background and then keep reading. But don’t do that. Listen to the music.
Okay, anyway: just hang tight. You’re still eligible for merit aid; and the good news is, we give merit aid out to people. Like actually. And because we get to know you as a person and not a number (from your tour, interview, portfolio, paper, essays, etc.) the aid decision isn’t based on arbitrary data like SAT scores. There is no use in worrying about the price — in my opinion — until you know what it will be for you. Make the call then.
Contemplating all the work we’ve encountered here at Bennington - in and out of the classroom - we decided to compile some of the work that gave us pause.
Alan suggests Craftsmanship by Virginia Woolf
Virginia Woolf articulates an enormous amount about the complexities of language (which is of particular interest to me), but rather than explaining solely through reason, she demonstrates by simply writing beautifully.
Carlos’s pick Slowness by Todd Williams and Billie Tsien
This photo is glorious, infuriating and thoroughly thought-provoking.
Sarah says Sergi Eisenstein’s Methods of Montage is a must read.
Eisenstein explains the effect of visual association on narrative. Its the most intuitive, human, process but hearing it articulated so clearly is earth shattering. Total inception.
Jeremy tells y’all to listen to Copland’s Piano Variations.
Just listen to it.
Jeremy would also suggest you all come visit Bennington, go to our library, and ask for Sarah Matusek’s devised theater piece Nome de Guerre.
She’s a brilliant theater artist that graduated Bennington College last year. Student work is alive and well here! :-)
Ananda suggests Gish Jen’s short story Birthmates
The story really exemplifies the concept of re-structuring short fiction in a way which centers the story on the character within the setting, not the setting surrounding the character. By delving into the human motivation of the main character, Jen conveys a story which is both resonant and compelling.
The Monday Afternoon Crew
In terms of composing specifically for film, Nick Brooke offered a course in the fall on Film Music composition with a focus on creating finished products. So we were able to work anywhere on the spectrum from scoring and recording live musicians to doing fully electronic scores, but we regularly showed our work in class paired with film for feedback. (It’s also worth noting that Nick has a huge soft spot for Bollywood). But that’s as specific as you’re going to get to film. Otherwise you would be taking a variety of composition classes with different goals, but you can usually choose your own focus for the majority of your projects as long as you meet certain requirements, so you could focus on film in most of your comp. classes.
As a student concentrating in music you’ll be asked to study some composition, theory and history, and then focus your time wherever you choose. Those classes can range from an in depth look at Miles Davis or Bernstein, to classes on Bach Chorales, to classes on Opera Composition. But you will be expected to experience a variety of styles and subjects.
Recording and Sound Design:
I have not taken any recording classes, but my understanding is that the focus is on gaining technical skill through personal projects. So in an introductory class you’ll be asked to basically replicate certain arrangements and mixing styles, and after that, it’ll mostly be about learning how to achieve your personal goals through fairly open ended projects.
The studio is open to be signed out by recording students 24/7. We have a production booth, a main recording room, and two isolation booths. We run pro tools and a number of e-music comp. programs and have a full physical mixing console with a number of outboard effects etc. That’s about the best I can do on the studio without tracking down a recording student.
Check out the courses offered here, and get in touch with me (email@example.com) if you’ve got further music questions.
And an additional note: classes aside, because of the way Bennington is designed - with an emphasis on interdisciplinary courses and unsegregated, clique-free housing - and because of its size, you will know a good number of film students and have a corresponding number of extracurricular opportunities to compose for actual films. What’s more real than that? In fact, if you make yourself available, you will probably not even have to seek out such opportunities; film students will be coming to you asking for some music. Or at least that’s my experience. It’s also not just limited to film, and if you’re interested in composing for film, I imagine you also might be interested in composing for other types of dramatic performance. We have tons of those, too, not to mention courses like Whose Opera (which Liam mentioned), where music students compose music based on a script for the goal of performing operatic sketches. You have a lot of opportunities to work on the skills required for film composition in and out of class.
It is, of course, different than studying performance. Your main man for classical composition would be Allen Shawn who teaches history classes on folks like Bernstein and composition classes where students focus on classical piano, string quartets, etc. I’m taking Comp. Intensive with him next term which will basically be one on one classical comp. lessons.
Then Kitty Brazelton and Nick Brooke both teach composition classes that are usually open to more experimental composers, but classical work is always welcome and they certainly have the expertise to critique it. (Examples that I’ve taken would be Whose Opera and Film Music - both composition classes where students worked in a variety of genres).
Finally, Nick teaches advanced theory where you get to analyze Bach chorals and other fun stuff, and Kitty teaches interesting history/theory classes. Next term I’ll be working with her in a class about the process of laying melody over a bassline/chords, (a practice that even a lot of classical music from the renaissance on adheres to) where it started, what music is like without it, etc.
I guess that depends what you’re into and what you’re looking for!
My first semester here, I was performing in the Jazz Ensemble, the World Percussion Ensemble, and the pit band for a student-run musical performance. I was also taking an introductory-level music course called Groundworks. Every term, Groundworks is a little bit different in both teaching style and focus, but it always culminates in a final performance of student-work.
I played two especially cool shows with the World Percussion Ensemble that first semester. One was in the courtyard of CAPA at the intermission of a public screening of the documentary “Half the Sky” as part of the class “Women and Girls.” The other was a collaboration with a large group of dancers (including the Bennington Movement Collective) as part of an event called Burning Questions. Improvising in an ensemble alongside a group of improvising dancers felt somehow very intimate to me, and it’s one of my favorite performances I’ve done here.
That’s just one semester in the life of a first-year music student. We have chamber music groups, improv ensembles, two Sacred Harp Singing Schools, vocal ensembles, and a traditional music ensemble - and this is all for credit. Music Workshop is a faculty-attended, weekly opportunity for students to perform whatever they’re working on and receive some advice and feedback from their peers and teachers.
On another note entirely, music students are always playing and performing music outside of the classroom. Whether it’s casual jamming in a common room or full-band rehearsals for someone’s senior show, there’s always an opportunity to perform.
Music performance is broad. As musicians, I would say we are all striving towards some form of performance, even if we’re not the ones necessarily doing the performing. These are just some examples of the ways in which you, personally, can be performing music at Bennington