Music students finding success and shaping curriculum through capstone courses

February 5, 2014

PLAINVIEW – In the ever-changing academic landscape, all disciplines are faced with changing curriculum to meet the needs of students preparing for future careers. At Wayland Baptist University, the School of Music has met the challenge with a new course that is proving valuable to students graduating with a degree in music.

Developed four years ago, the music capstone course was designed as the culminating experience for students earning a Bachelor of Arts degree in music. Currently, students pursuing a Bachelor of Music degree in performance or education are required to perform a senior recital. According to Dr. Ann Stutes, Dean of the School of Music, the capstone course is an equivalent experience for those pursuing the B.A.

“It has a similar character to it as an honors thesis,” Stutes said. “But it’s not as long-term as an honors thesis.”

Students in the honors program typically spend several semesters designing, researching and writing a thesis. The music capstone spans two semesters for students in the program. Stutes said students develop their own syllabus that must be approved through her office.

“I’m sort of the gatekeeper of the syllabus,” Stutes said. “I have to bless the syllabus because it has to be of a suitable academic standard.”

The syllabus process is generally completed the semester prior to the student participating in the capstone research. Three mentors, typically consisting of university faculty members, make up a committee that guides the student through the research process, culminating in an hour-long presentation.

The course design was approved four years ago and since that time a total of four students have completed the project. Two have gone on to graduate school with two more are pursuing careers that have been influenced by their capstone experience.

Stutes said the program is starting to grow as this semester four students, with very different projects and approaches, are participating in capstone courses.  Joshua Faupel, of El Paso, is researching the physical, spiritual and mental health of musicians. Aaron Prentice, of Hale Center, is researching the history of the guitar. His presentation will feature his research as well as performances of different styles of guitar music. Marco Palomo, of Vernon, is studying the use of technology in church music. Stutes said he is doing a multifaceted discovery of what technology is currently being used and how to use it appropriately.

Jenna Swift, of Aledo, hopes to eventually work on the business side of the music industry. She is focusing on entrepreneurship, an area that Stutes said is becoming increasingly important to music students.

“There are parts and pieces of what [Jenna] is doing that eventually will work its way into the curriculum for all of our students,” Stutes said. “She is doing some ground-breaking stuff.”

Swift’s research involves self-promotion as a means to secure a career in the music industry.

“Originally, I was going to help advertise the music department,” Swift explained. “Dr. Stutes brought up the idea of entrepreneurship which is basically, how can you market yourself. It is something that applies to every student in the music department.”

Stutes said entrepreneurship and promotion is becoming increasingly important to students studying the arts. Whether it is music, visual arts, theatre or any other artistic discipline, the job market is increasingly competitive. Stutes said in some colleges and universities, music entrepreneurship is becoming a distinct academic discipline. At Wayland, she said entrepreneurship is being incorporated into the existing curriculum.

“It is already a part of our music-education course curriculum and it’s a part of the things that we teach in the performance degrees,” Stutes said.

Stutes said students already are learning these skills, and she hopes they understand that it is something for which they are responsible. To that end, she said the curriculum will show an increased emphasis on the necessary skills.

“We are going to be teaching it across the board in more intentional ways,” she said.

Swift, however, has a more basic goal in mind.

“I hope that by doing all of this research, I will be able to successfully market myself to future employers,” she said. “I hope it will help me start out in a better place in my career.”