All prospective applicants to the MM Composition Stage Music degree should contact the program's director, Dr. Andrew Simpson ( Applicants should also visit the composition area's pages, where information can be found on applying to the program, along with frequently asked questions

The MM Composition Stage Music Emphasis will not be taking applications for the 2023-2024 application cycle. Dr. Andrew Simpson is on sabbatical; we will next accept applications starting in Fall 2024. 

A program focused on theatrical music

Founded in 2005, this two-year program provides training and development for students in writing for a variety of genres, including opera, musical theatre, dance, and incidental music for drama. Through private lessons, group workshops, coursework, and performance of a culminating thesis project, students develop the special skills required for writing in theatrical or collaborative contexts, and apply them through practical work. This program was developed both in response to a perceived lack of formal training for composers who are interested in writing in non-concert genres, and to the availability of a large community of musical theatre, opera, dance, film, and other artists working both at Catholic University and in Washington, D.C.

Students in the program have collaborated with student playwrights and directors in the Department of Drama to compose incidental music and sound design for theatrical productions, have worked with choreographers and dancers, and have been involved in musical preparation for musical theatre and operatic productions in the Department of Music Performance as well. Graduates of the program have gone on to professional positions as university faculty positions and in professional theater.

Here are sites of two representative alumni:
Roc Lee (Assistant Sound Designer, Shakespeare Theater Company, Washington, D.C.)
Kyle Gullings (Assistant Professor of Music, University of Texas-Tyler)

Since the program's opening, Stage Music composers have heard their music performed at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, the Capital Fringe Festival, Opera North (Philadelphia), the Virginia Arts Festival, the ATLAS Performing Arts Center, and many other theaters and performing venues in the D.C. metro area and beyond.

Performance and reading opportunities

Students in the M.M. Composition, Stage Music Emphasis program enjoy ample opportunities to have their theatrical works workshopped, read, and performed by the Departments of Music and Catholic University students, faculty, and affiliated artists. 

In June 2014, mezzo-soprano Denyce Graves appeared as a special guest in a performance of 2009 alumnus Steven M. Allen's opera "The Poet," based on the life of American poet Paul Laurence Dunbar. PBS shot footage of the opera in fall 2015 as part of an upcoming documentary about Dunbar.  Stage Music graduates regularly have works produced at the annual Capital Fringe Festival, and most students' thesis projects-in-progress or their completed thesis pieces have been performed at the Kennedy Center's Page to Stage Festival, held every Labor Day weekend, which remains an important venue for Catholic University composers. Most recently, second-year M.M. student Joseph Kaz's thesis opera-in-progress Alice Flagg was presented at the Page to Stage Festival in September 2015.

The Departments of Music's thriving Opera and Musical Theater areas are able to support the creation and performance of student composers' works, and are interested in pursuing collaborative projects with composers in the program. The Department of Drama enjoys a close relationship with the Departments of Music, and student composers have been composing incidental music/sound design for Drama Department productions on a regular basis, as well as collaborating independently with M.F.A. Directing and Acting students on original projects both on and off campus.

Beginning in spring 2007, M.M. Stage Music and other composition students paired up with colleagues in music and drama to present the first 24-hour new musical festival, in which teams conceived, wrote, and presented new musicals, created and performed in a 24-hour time span. The 24-hour musicals have become an annual tradition, with a number of these collaborations later developing into longer pieces. Additionally, student composers have been actively engaged in composing new music for Department of Drama productions: November 2006 witnessed the premiere of M.M. Stage Music composer Gregg Martin's music for Aristophanes' Lysistrata (directed by M.F.A. Directing student Matt Ripa), and Martin's electronic score for Tempest4, an M.F.A. Directing project (by M.F.A. Directing student Carrie Klewin), based on Shakespeare's Tempest, premiered in April 2007. Kyle Gullings' score and sound design for Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet was featured on the Hartke Theater mainstage in April 2007, another Department of Drama production. Scores by John Maggi and Kyle Gullings were also featured in productions at Catholic University's Callan Theater of Richard III and Doctor Faustus, respectively, in spring 2008, and a new theatrical work on the epic of Gilgamesh, directed by M.F.A. Directing student Ryan Whinnem, premiered as part of the Capital Fringe Festival in July 2008.

Special collaborative projects

Students in the M.M. Stage Music program are also able to participate in special collaborative events sponsored by the Departments of Music. One such project, presented at the spring 2009 Catholic University President's Festival of the Arts, combined music, dance, and silent film. For the 2008 President's Festival, Stage Music students partnered with CUA Drama students to present new miniature operas and plays of Thornton Wilder.

Students in the M.M. Composition, Stage Music Emphasis program create a culminating thesis work of at least 30 minutes, which is to be performed in its theatrical context (i.e., staged). Composers not only write the music for their thesis projects, they gain an invaluable wealth of practical experience by overseeing the production of their project. They often are the lyricists and librettists, producers, fund-raisers, music directors, rehearsal pianists, publicists, and media representatives. They receive support and advice from faculty and staff, but the projects are the students' own responsibilities. In general, the production of the thesis is the most valuable single experience available to students in the M.M. Composition, Stage Music Emphasis program. And, it is a truly unique experience: no other graduate program offers composers this golden opportunity to have their work performed in a theatrical context. 

Stage Music Practicum and Topics in Stage Music

Stage Music Practicum (MUS 617, 3 cr.) is designed specifically for students in the M.M. Stage Music program. Students in this course collaborate with colleagues in each of the program's four core genres (opera, musical theater, dance, and drama) to create and present new work. Each course unit concludes with a special presentation session at which the collaborators present their work for the course instructor and a small panel of affiliated professional faculty and artists, who give commentary, feedback, and suggestions. Typically, these performance sessions are recorded for the benefit of the participants.

Here are two examples of performance sessions from past versions of Stage Music Practicum (streaming video):

Fall 2008 Music Theater Unit performance session
Fall 2006 Drama Unit performance session

Topics in Stage Music (MUS 555, 3 cr. in 1-cr. sections) is an innovative course model which consists of three 5-week "mini-courses" which focus on specialized topics which are too large for a single lecture but too small for an entire semester. Each section is 1 credit, and students may register for 1, 2, or 3 credits. Topics offered in past years have included Text-Setting for Composers, Scoring for Pit Band (most recently offered spring 2015), Opera Production for Composers, and Composing for Dance (most recently offered fall 2015).

Other coursework opportunities allow for student works to be workshopped and read. In spring 2007, for example, student composers had theatrical works workshopped by students in the Musical Theater Workshop course, taught by Mr. Tom Pedersen and Ms. Jane Pesci-Townsend (Musical Theater faculty). In spring 2008, CUA's Opera Workshop, directed by Dr. Elaine Walter, presented scenes from M.M. Stage Music student John Diomede's thesis opera, Esther and Michael Oberhauser's opera, Magnum Opus.

Optional externship program

Available for second-year students, this externships program allows student composers the chance to work with an external professional artistic company or with an individual professional artist, sometimes composing music for a production. This externship program (the first externship session took place at Joy of Motion Dancer Center during summer session 2007) provides valuable experience to students as well as secure important introductions to the vibrant Washington, D.C., arts scene. Because the forging of connections and networks is so crucial to sustaining a professional artistic career, the contacts which this externship provide may prove vitally important to establishing a composer's career.

First and foremost, however, the M.M. Stage Music program is a professional music composition program with a theatrical/collaborative focus. Unlike the M.F.A. degree (not offered by the Departments of Music), the M.M. in Composition, Stage Music Emphasis is a professional degree which combines academic and performance-based coursework, allowing the student either to pursue a career involving collaborative music or to progress to doctoral study in music. As a result, a high priority is placed upon the continuing development of traditional compositional skills and knowledge of music theory and history through coursework and private composition study. It is our belief that composers must develop their technique and knowledge as deeply as possible to be best prepared for any artistic endeavor. This program combines a depth of training and academic rigor with extensive practical experience. To enlarge the scope of the program, M.M. in Stage Music Composition students also pursue coursework in one subsidiary area of interest: theater, dance, film, or media studies.

Master of Music in Composition, Stage Music Emphasis Curriculum

The M.M. Composition Stage Music program falls under the direction of its founder, Dr. Andrew Simpson. All prospective applicants should be in direct contact with Dr. Simpson via email ( See full course requirements in the Catalog Announcements

Total: 34 credit hours

Comprehensive Examinations

Required for all M.M. students entering as of fall 2010 is the successful completion of comprehensive examinations (COMP 598-01 w/classes; COMP 599-02 w/o classes) in the areas of theory and analysis, and repertoire and compositional practice post-1900.  The student may schedule the comprehensive examinations following the adviser's written approval.

Thesis production (MUS 940, 0 cr.)

A public performance/production featuring the student's original music, in context, in one or more of the following genres:

a.) opera (workshop);

b.) musical theatre (workshop);

c.) incidental music for a dramatic production;

d.) music for dance (ballet, modern, jazz, folk);

e.) performance art.

A minimum of 30 minutes of fully-composed music is required (improvised music is not included in this total). More than one work may be necessary in order for this minimum time to be achieved.

The graduation thesis project is subject to the approval of the Composition committee, based upon the submission of the complete musical score (or, in the case of non-notated, electronic music, the complete edited recorded version of the music) at least 30 calendar days prior to the performance date. The Composition committee must approve the graduation thesis project in order for the student to fulfill this requirement.

As far as possible, the Departments of Music will assist the student in assembling the requisite personnel and facilities for the graduation thesis project performance. However, it is ultimately the student's responsibility to assemble and present the performance.