Rodney Lister, Composition Department Chair

Faculty Directory: Composition

The composition department offers students a variety of ways to explore their interests in music composition. For students who think of themselves primarily as performers, but would like a taste of what writing music is like, we offer a Composition for Performers class. The Young Composers’ Seminar is for younger students (9 and older) who would like to learn both about making pieces and how to write them down. For older students as well as younger students with more experience or a more pronounced interest, there is the composition seminar, which includes students from a large age range, and, following an older sibling/younger sibling model, develops the student's ability to think about composition in cooperation with their peers in a very serious ways.

None of these classes have a theory prerequisite; all of them aim to meet the student at the student's level of interest and expertise and move from there. We seek to develop a community of composers. Private instruction is also available for students who desire more individual attention, and student composers interested in an organized, developed curriculum can participate in the Certificate Program.

Private Lessons

Private lessons of 30, 45, and 60 minutes are offered for Composition. Prospective composition students must set up an audition or placement interview with Rodney Lister, Department Chair, who will advise each student personally regarding an appropriate studio teacher placement. 

Sign up for a composition placement!


Elements of Composition

Ginny Latts, Instructor

Music theory subjects and musicianship skills are introduced and applied creatively in this seminar-style class. Students will learn to write, sing, and recognize musical elements at sight and by ear, including intervals, chords, scales, rhythmic and metric elements, and formal structures. Students will improvise and write pieces based on these materials, using a variety of compositional techniques. The course contains a listening component in which students will study musical examples written by well-known and emerging composers. Expect weekly skill-building homework as well as opportunities to collaborate and perform student works! Depending on eligibility, students may take this course prior to or concurrently with theory. The course may be repeated in subsequent years as a creative component.

Prerequisites: Students are required to be actively involved in instrumental study and learning to read music. This course is intended for students age 8-12. Instructor permission required for placement.

Saturday, 1:00 - 2:00 PM

Young Composers' Seminar

Ginny Latts, Instructor

Music theory comes to life as students explore and analyze varied musical repertoire and create their own pieces through compositional and improvisational techniques. Students will create solo and group pieces and explore and discuss ideas in class. Expect some listening and composition homework assignments. Composition performance opportunities are provided.

Eligibility: Students should be studying an instrument and be able to perform with basic technical and note-reading skill and have at least completed the equivalent of the Musicianship Class or Theory I-1. This class is intended for students ages 9 and up. The course may be repeated. For questions about placement, please contact the instructor. Placement is at the discretion of the instructor.

Saturday, 2:00 - 3:00 PM

Students interested in registering for this course must sign up for a placement meeting with the instructor on Saturday, September 8th. Sign-up link will be posted on the website on Wednesday, August 1st. For additional questions please contact our office at or (617) 585-1160.

Composition Seminar

Rodney Lister, Instructor

This class gives students the opportunity to develop technique in original composition. Compositions are performed and discussed in class. Performances are arranged at workshops and student composition recitals.

Saturday, 10:00 - 11:00 AM

Composition for Performers

(Not running 2018-2019)

Larry Bell, Instructor

A course designed to introduce the basic techniques of composition to performing musicians. Composition will be directed and motivated by a series of highly focused exercises. Each exercise grows out of the nature of the materials of music in relation to instrumental or vocal idioms. Students will perform their works in class four times each semester. A prerequisite for the class is the successful completion of Theory Level II or the permission of the instructor.

Saturdays, 9:00 - 10:00 AM

Text: Bell, Larry; A Workbook for Composition.

Intro to Composing with Electronics

(Not running 2018-2019)

Murat Çölak, Instructor

Composing with electronics aims to introduce the student to relevant concepts of acoustic and electronic music processes, in order to build knowledge on the use of new technologies in music, enrich their compositional vocabulary and aesthetics. We will make use of computers, recording equipment, digital editing software and sound analysis software. We will develop basic skills in synthesis, sampling, digital recording and mastering. All the tools acquired through the course will be employed towards realizing individual creative work. To this end, the course will provide the student with salient compositional concepts applicable both to the acoustic and electronic medium. The student will be exposed to the relevant repertoire of compositions from the traditions of musique concrete, acousmatic, mixed and live-electronic music. We will work to develop vocabulary and strategies for discussing and analyzing these repertoires. Everyone will be encouraged to do both theoretical and creative work and all students will gain hands-on experience working with the equipment.

Saturdays, 9:00 - 10:00 AM

Contemporary Music Festival

Today’s Youth Perform Today’s Music

February 1-3, 2019

Faculty members Rodney Lister and John Ziarko founded the annual Preparatory School Contemporary Festival in 1991, to give students and faculty the opportunity to study the performance skills needed for contemporary music. Featured composers work closely with students in workshops, seminars, and coachings. An integral part of the festival are the students who study composition and perform their own pieces and the pieces of their friends.

Artists in Residence have included Judd Greenstein, Philip Grange, Rolfe Schulte, Robert Helps, Milton Babbitt, Joel Smirnoff, Michael Finnissy, Judith Weir, Alvin Singleton, Donald Martino, Martin Bresnick, Gunther Schuller, John Harbison, Stephen Hartke, Yehudi Wyner, Chen Yi, Ethel String Quartet, Michael Gandolfi, Lee Hyla, Malcolm Peyton, Nico Muhly, Sebastian Currier, and William Bolcom.