College Orchestra Director Programming Decisions Regarding Classical Twentieth-Century Music

Mark D. Taylor, James Madison University


College-level orchestra programming studies is still an emerging field of research. The hypothesis for this study is as follows: (1) college-level orchestra directors generally program newer music that is tonal, rhythmically straightforward, more-easily understandable on the first listening, and already-familiar; and (2) college-level orchestra directors are generally reluctant to program newer music that is post-tonal, psychological in nature, densely-written, containing enigmatic meaning, and unfamiliar. Twenty-one college-level orchestra directors belonging to College Orchestra Directors Association (CODA) were surveyed concerning (1) the repertoire composed between 1885 and 2015, referred to as newer music, that they programmed between Fall 2005 and Spring 2015 with their college-level orchestra(s) and (2) the artistic, pedagogical, practical, and risk factors that influenced their programming decisions regarding newer music. Programmed repertoire was sorted by nationality, genre, and composer gender in order to identify programming trends. The factors that influenced programming decisions, as well as free responses, were analyzed to discover the spectrum of viewpoints that college-level orchestra directors have regarding the programming of newer music. College-level orchestra directors were divided on the subject of regularly programming newer music: one group favored standard repertoire, whereas another group favored a combination of standard repertoire and newer music. Those who favored programming a wider variety of repertoire were further divided: one group favored programming newer music that is more-straightforward, while a second group was amenable to programming newer music that is less clear-cut. Recommendations for expanding the repertoire included offering professional development workshops for orchestra conductors who wish to increase their level of skill in evaluating the intrinsic value of newer-music orchestral scores, and making free, online perusal of newer-music orchestral scores available on the CODA website to interested conductors. The purpose of this study is to encourage college-level orchestra directors to engage in adventurous programming by expanding their knowledge and programming of less-familiar repertoire of well-known historical composers, unfamiliar repertoire of lesser-known historical composers, and unfamiliar music of living composers.