Considered one of the finest programs of its kind in Canada, the UBC composition division provides an array of opportunities for the creation, exploration and performance of contemporary music.
In addition to a variety of course offerings, the division sponsors numerous composition events, including regularly scheduled student composer concerts, seminars, workshops and collaborations with local professional ensembles, performances by the Contemporary Players ensemble, and annual readings sessions by the UBC Symphony Orchestra and the UBC Symphonic Wind Ensemble.
The composition division also frequently hosts world-renowned guest composers and performing ensembles from Canada and abroad. In addition, the School of Music houses a state-of-the-art electronic music studio for students interested in creating works which involve sound synthesis, digital audio editing, interactive computer music or multimedia.
The composition division is recognized for its rigorous training at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. It has a long tradition of producing many highly successful, award-winning composers. With its distinguished faculty, ample performance opportunities, and the resources of one of North America’s premier music schools, the UBC composition division offers a programme of exceptional quality to students wishing to pursue careers in music composition or music technology.
FAQs for Applicants
How will my submissions be evaluated?
Submissions are evaluated by an admissions committee composed of all members of the composition faculty. The committee members generally listen to and view scores for all submitted works. We are evaluating for musicality, compositional technique, originality and overall potential. Admission to the composition major is highly competitive, and in most years we are able to admit only the top few applicants. Your personal statement is an opportunity to express why you feel you would be a good fit for the program at UBC.
What kind of compositions do you want to hear? Is there a style or genre you prefer?
We would like to hear whatever you consider to be your strongest works. If your works are for acoustic instruments, recordings of compositions performed by live players are preferred over MIDI realizations, if available. There is no stylistic or genre preference, though the composition program at UBC currently focuses on contemporary concert art music, including acoustic, electroacoustic and computer music composition.
Where can I listen to your work?
Check out all of our faculty pages!
What kind of opportunities do composers have at UBC?
UBC Composition students are very lucky to have the number and range of opportunities to write new music for a wide variety of performers and ensembles. This year we will have a composer-in-residence with the Symphonic Wind Ensemble, new commissions for Dr. Hamm’s Piano Studio, the Violin studios and Song Interpretation Class, five different small ensembles from Contemporary Players and readings from both the Symphonic Wind Ensemble and the Symphony Orchestra.
What is a composition lesson like?
Your private lesson focusses on your creative work (not usually exercises). We agree on what pieces you will write and then try to develop a work schedule that will allow you to meet your deadlines. I usually ask my students to plug their laptops into my system and play me a midi version of their work (we have access to a piano if that makes more sense for the piece). After a couple of listenings I might suggest a few possible changes (shifting ideas around, reworking some voicings or pushing an idea in a new direction). Sometimes we will listen to other pieces from the repertoire that deal with similar ideas to get a sense of how other composers have handled the situation. We might discuss instrumental technique (can the violin really do that?) or how to make a part more interesting or idiomatic for the performer. It’s all about helping you to bring your ideas into the world in the best way possible.
How long do compositions need to be? How long is a portfolio total?
We will evaluate all the compositions you submit and there is no required length for each work. We do like to see compositions for a variety of instruments, and it is nice if you have some longer works (e.g. more than 5 minutes) in your portfolio.
How “complicated” do compositions need to be?
Compositions should show excellent control of the harmonic language, the melodic material, and a good understanding of the instruments for which the composition is written. The harmonic and/or melodic language does not have to be complicated to be effective, but they need to be well constructed. We are looking for quality in whichever style you are writing in, rather than looking for works that are written in a particular style.
What makes an application stand out?
An application that includes scores for a variety of instruments and ensembles, and which demonstrates a high level of musicality, and shows a good understanding of the harmonic language the applicant is working in will stand out when we review applications.
Do I need to send in a full score or individual parts or both?
We do like to see scores, but there is no need to send in parts.
Are submitted compositions original works, or can they be orchestrations?
Original works, please.
Dr. Keith Hamel