Robert Aldridge (Head of Composition)
Steven Kemper
Scott Ordway
Melissa Dunphy


The composition program at the Mason Gross School of the Arts prepares students for careers in a variety of musical fields including contemporary concert music, scoring for film and media, and the teaching profession. Our internationally-renowned faculty members nurture students’ creative abilities and craft, which helps to develop their voices within the broader world of contemporary music.

Student composers regularly present their music in orchestra and band readings, opera scene workshops, composition department recitals, and multimedia concerts. Student composers also “learn by doing” through individual collaborations with performers, and through mentored, interdisciplinary projects with students in other degree programs at Mason Gross School of the Arts.

This hands-on training in composition is supported by studies in theory, history, music technology, ethnomusicology, and contemporary performance practice, as well as individualized mentorship in career development to prepare students to become professional composers.


Each year, our composers take part in a variety of department-sponsored opportunities:

  • Reading sessions of student orchestral works by the Rutgers Symphony Orchestra
  • Concerts of student chamber music presented by the Rutgers University New Music Ensemble
  • Performances by HELIX, the graduate contemporary chamber orchestra
  • Annual concerts of electro-acoustic music through the New Jersey Digital Audio Concert (NJDAC) series
  • Performances of student works for laptop orchestra by the Rutgers Interactive Music Ensemble (RIME)
  • Composer-choreographer collaborations in partnership with the Dance Department
  • Composing for visiting professional soloists and ensembles
  • Reading sessions of student works by Rutgers Wind Bands

Undergraduate and graduate composers are required to participate in the composition practicum, where students share their in-progress pieces, collaborate with members of the art & design, dance, film, and theater programs, and attend lectures by visiting composers. The practicum also covers issues of notation, score preparation, compositional form, professional development and affiliations, rehearsal techniques, and other practical issues for the contemporary composer. Students are also encouraged to pursue off-campus professional opportunities while they are at Rutgers. The faculty guide students through the process of submitting appropriate work to conferences, festivals, and journals, and students may apply for funds for professional travel. Our proximity to New York City allows students to immerse themselves fully in one of the most active new music communities in the world. Students may also present their academic work at meetings of the Rutgers University Musicological Society (RUMS). Part-Time Lecturer and Assistant Teaching positions offer valuable classroom experience under the guidance of experienced faculty.


At the undergraduate level, private instruction in composition is supplemented by courses in:

  • Music Theory
  • Orchestration
  • Conducting
  • Recording and computer music
  • Music History
  • Private instruction as an instrumentalist or vocalist
  • Performance with large and small ensembles

At the graduate level, students work closely with our award-winning composition faculty whose expertise includes opera and vocal ensemble music, symphonic music, chamber music, site-specific works, and electroacoustic music as well as interactive music and instrument design. Weekly private instruction in composition is supplemented by seminars in musicology, theory, and music technology. Graduate students may also take courses in other departments throughout the university as appropriate to their research interests.

At the PhD level, individualized qualifying exams prepare students for the dissertation, which consists of a major composition as well as a substantial essay on a subject related to the field of contemporary music. Through coursework, exams, and the written dissertation, doctoral students develop an area of secondary expertise and are prepared to teach both composition and cognate subjects at the university level. PhD students may also enroll in classes at Princeton, Columbia, CUNY, NYU, the New School, Stony Brook, and Fordham through the Inter-University Doctoral Consortium. In all degree programs, students receive intensive career development mentorship to prepare them for graduate school or professional life. Learn more about degree requirements for our Composition program.


Current graduate students in our composition program are active in the field of contemporary music, collaborating and presenting their work in a variety of professional venues. Read more about them here.

Our undergraduate and master’s students regularly continue their studies in leading composition programs throughout the United States. Recent graduates have attended a wide variety of prestigious institutions, including Northwestern University, UC San Diego, University of Missouri-Kansas City, Boston Conservatory, Michigan State University, and the University of North Texas.


The musicology, music theory, composition and music technology programs of the Mason Gross School of the Arts cultivate the study and creation of music through engagement with current methodologies in—and innovative approaches to—research and composition. We seek to foster a vibrant environment of intellectual curiosity, creativity and collaboration, in which faculty and students of varied backgrounds may explore together the theory and practice of music throughout history and within contemporary culture. Our classes, concerts, lectures, conferences and workshops build upon our position both within a professional conservatory setting and as part of the broad, humanistic environment of a major research university. We encourage the development of ideas about music through the application of traditional and non-traditional methods, interdisciplinary approaches, emerging technologies and especially critical thinking and writing. Serving a community of performers, composers and scholars, we promote inquiry into music of the past and the present, and the development of a vision for music in the future.