Music dept will offer courses for half-credit

By a unanimous vote at their monthly meeting on November 17, the faculty approved a Committee on Educational Policy (CEP) proposal allowing the music department to offer half-credit courses in vocal and instrumental instruction. The courses, which will be numbered in the 100-200 range, can only be taken in addition to a full course load of four courses.

The proposal explained that “the awarding of course credit for instrumental and vocal training by professional instructors will bring practices at Williams into line with those of most other liberal-arts colleges and universities, which commonly offer partial credits for such training.”

Introducing the motion at the faculty meeting, Professor of anthropology and Chair of the CEP Michael Brown mentioned a number of colleges similar to Williams, including Amherst, that already offer similar opportunities for instrumental and vocal instruction.

The CEP pointed out that it supported half-credit courses in the specific cases of individual lessons. The proposal stated “The CEP takes no position on half-credit courses that might be proposed by other departments or programs. If such proposals are brought forward, they will be judged on their own merits.”

The CEP explicitly stated that it would oppose the creation of 1.5 credit courses by “piggybacking” half-credit courses onto full credit courses. Such a practice, the proposal explained, would threaten the college-wide treatment of all courses as equivalent. The CEP felt that the case of instrumental and vocal instruction was unique and should be supported.

It is unclear how popular the new half-credit lessons will be, because in the past lessons could only be taken for full credit or no credit and the requirements for lessons-for-credit were quite stringent. Professor of Music and Chair of the Music Department David Kechley explained that although typically only five or six students take lessons for credit in a given semester, there might be 70 to 80 students taking lessons not for credit.

Due to the fact that half-credit lessons will be available for several levels of musical proficiency and because they do not require the same amount of work as a full credit course, they might appeal to the many students already taking lessons who either do not want to or cannot take lessons for full credit.

Private lessons currently cost the music department $450 per student per semester. The department is able to subsidize $150 of this, making the cost to the student $300. The new proposal does not affect the cost of lessons, although the department is currently looking for ways to reduce the cost for all students who take lessons.

At most institutions students have to pay extra for private instruction in music, Kechley said, “but we would like our fees to be lower than most if that is possible. They are certainly on the high end at this point.” Kechley added that the cost of lessons would be the same for all lessons, regardless of whether they are taken for credit. “We do not want to create financial incentives for taking lessons for credit or not for credit,” he said.

The proposal is indicative of a renewed commitment by the music department and the College to musical performance. “Music is one of those fields which can be both intellectually stimulating and physically challenging at the same time,” Kechley said. “However, it is important for a department like ours to strike a proper balance between the theoretical and the practical side of this art form.”

Traditionally, the music department has focused more on the purely intellectual study of music. Recently, however, several changes in the department have solidified their support for performance, including additions of full-time Artists in Residence in jazz, choral and orchestral music, and most recently the half-credit lesson proposal.

“The music faculty has always felt that performance was equally important, but it is more recently that there have been institutional changes that show this to be true,” Kechley said.