Music FAQs

Q: What are the strengths of the Department of Music?

A: The University of Northwestern Department of Music is large enough to give you a variety of musical experiences, but small enough to give you plenty of individual attention. You will have rigorous classroom experiences to prepare you for graduate school and vocations in the music industry. Our applied faculty members are highly skilled performers and teachers, experienced at turning out top-quality musicians. We have a diverse number of ensembles and a high level of excellence.

Q: What makes your department “Christian?”

A: Like all classes at Northwestern, music classes, lessons, and ensembles are approached from a Christian worldview. All music faculty are committed to living out their faith both in and out of the classroom; we come alongside our students to encourage one another in our faith. A good example of this is in our ensembles, where Christian community is lived out. Each ensemble regularly spends time together in prayer and devotions. Additionally, worship and prayer are a vital component of ensemble retreats each semester. Ensemble concert tours strive for the highest level of musical excellence and are also approached from ministry and worship perspectives.

Q: Do I have to be a music major in order to be a member of a Northwestern ensemble?

A: You do not have to be a music major in order to participate in music ensembles. The university has made a strong commitment to making it possible for non-majors to participate in ensembles, and approximately 2/3 of the 350 students involved in our ensembles each year are NOT music majors.

Q: What opportunities do you have for music ensembles?

Choral/Vocal Groups
• Varsity Men’s Chorus
• Women’s Chorale
• Northwestern Choir: a select group for mixed voices (SATB)
• Chamber Singers: a small mixed voice ensemble that performs a variety of classical and jazz works
• Opera Workshop: A unique feature of Northwestern’s music program, the Opera Workshop produces scenes and/or full opera productions once per year.

Instrumental Groups
• Symphonic Band
• Orchestra
• Jazz Band
• Chamber Ensembles: We offer a number of small chamber ensembles for various groups of instruments (Chamber Winds, Brass Ensemble, Flute Choir, Saxophone Quartet, String Quartet, Clarinet Choir, Percussion Ensemble).

Worship Teams: The groups that lead worship in Northwestern Chapel and in the Oasis services on Wednesday are Department of Music ensembles, and are a partnership with the Campus Ministries Office.

Q: How much music background do I need to be in an ensemble?

A: We have a place for just about everyone! Although a placement audition is required for Varsity Men’s Chorus or Women’s Chorale, almost anyone can join, regardless of their ability level. Admission to the Northwestern Choir is by competitive vocal audition.

Joining an instrumental ensemble takes more musical background, since you need to have some ability on your instrument in order to play in the group.

Q: What is the time commitment to be in an ensemble?

A: This depends on the ensemble, but ensembles rehearse either 2 or 4 days per week, between 2.5- 5 hours total (again, depending on the ensemble).

Q: How do I join an ensemble?

A: Ensemble Auditions occur during Orientation Week before the start of each semester.

You may schedule your audition in the summer before you first semester at Northwestern by contacting the Music Office (651-631-5218; 888-878-5514;

Worship Team auditions also occur at the beginning of the semester, and are scheduled by the Campus Ministries Office (651-286-7490).

Q: Do your ensembles go on tours?

A: Yes! Tours are an important part of the ensemble program at Northwestern.
The Varsity Men’s Chorus,Women’s Chorale and top piano students go on local/regional tours each year.
The Symphonic Band, Orchestra, and Northwestern Choir tour annually. They are on a four-year rotation of local, regional, domestic (U.S.), and international destinations, so members of these ensembles will have an opportunity to go on an international tour one time during their four years at Northwestern. Recent international destinations include: Australia, Ireland (Symphonic Band); Estonia, Latvia, Finland (Northwestern Choir); France and Switzerland (Orchestra) and more exciting tours are being planned for the coming years.

Q: Does it cost extra to go an ensemble tour?

A: The college underwrites much of the cost of each tour, but each student is responsible for an additional amount, which varies depending on the length and location of each tour. Local/regional tours are usually around $100. Domestic tours (e.g., Phoenix, New York, Florida) range from $400–$600. International tours usually range from $2,500–$3,000. There are multiple fund-raising opportunities with each tour, and many students can eliminate some or all of their tour costs by participating in fund raising.

Q: In addition to ensembles, what other musical opportunities does the Northwestern Department of Music offer?

A: You may choose to take private lessons for college credit through the Department of Music. If you have a strong piano background, you can also audition to be a paid student accompanist. If you have a very strong musical background, you may also be qualified to work as a student instructor in the Northwestern Academy of Music.

Q: Do I have to audition in order to be a music minor?

A: You do not have to audition in order to be a music minor. However, you should begin working on the coursework, lessons, and ensembles required for the minor as soon as possible (perhaps even in your first semester at Northwestern).

Q: What do I need to be doing before college to prepare to be a music major?

A: If you are serious about being a music major, taking private lessons on your instrument (or voice) is very important. Regardless of your main instrument, taking piano lessons is another very helpful thing to do (all Northwestern music majors must pass a piano proficiency exam before graduating). There are many other things you can do to prepare to be a music major such as: attending summer music camps/festivals; attending concerts in your area; and participating in your school or church music program (choir, band, orchestra, worship team).

Q: What degrees do you offer? What are some career paths for a music major?

Music Ministry: The Bachelor of Science in Music (B.S.M.) with an emphasis in Music Ministry is designed to prepare students for vocational ministry as music directors and worship leaders in local church settings.
Music Education: The Bachelor of Music Education (B.M.E.) provides a degree and K-12 teaching licensure in either choral/general or instrumental/general music education. The music education programs normally take 4½ to 5 years to complete, including student teaching.
Performance or Composition The Bachelor of Music (B.M.) allows you to focus on either performance or music composition. These degrees are designed for students who have a very strong background in music, and who desire to be professional performers or composers/arrangers. Both degrees prepare you for graduate music study. The performance degree prepares students for careers such as: opera singer, orchestral musician, soloist, and collaborative pianist.
Music: The Bachelor of Arts in Music (B.A.M.) is a general liberal arts degree with an emphasis in music. This degree allows you to concentrate in music while exploring many facets of general education studies and other areas of interest, such as ministry, business, etc.

Q: Are graduates of the Department of Music getting jobs or being admitted into graduate school?

A: Yes. We are very proud of the successes of all our graduates. Our B.M.E. Music Education graduates are highly sought-after for teaching positions. Our B.M. Performance graduates have a strong track record of acceptance into some of the finest graduate schools in the country, and many of them have established performing careers. Our B.A. graduates are successful in a variety of career paths within the music industry.

Q: Why do I have to audition in order to be accepted as a music major?

A: We have established a minimum requirement for musical background to help ensure your success as a music major. Auditions help us ensure the quality of our music ensembles, our music program, and the individual experience for each student.

Q: Where do I find out more about the Music Major Auditions?

A: All the instructions you will need for the Online Music Audition Application process may be found on our website ( under “Admissions/Scholarships.” A completed Online Music Application, if you want to be a music major, includes:

  • personal information
  • two reference names with their e-mail address
  • one-page personal essay
  • audition recording
  • music theory exam

After reviewing an applicant’s recording and other materials, the music faculty determine which students to invite for a live audition (students living more than 200 miles away may submit a recorded audition). These auditions usually occur in February.

Q: Do you offer scholarships?

A: Yes! You do not have to be a music major to receive a scholarship, however, higher award amounts are typically reserved for those declaring a music major.

Q: How do I get a scholarship?

A: Prospective students who would like to be considered for scholarships go through the Online Music Audition Application process (same process and timeline as outlined for music majors above, except for the music theory exam). All the instructions you will need for the Online Music Audition Application process may be found on our website ( under “Admissions/Scholarships.” The Online Music Application is always due in January of your senior year.

Q: What do I perform on my audition recording or at my live audition?

A: There are very detailed instructions for what to put on your recording/perform at your live audition on our website ( under “Admissions/Scholarships.” Click on the PDF entitled: “Music Audition Repertoire.” Follow the instructions carefully!

Q: How are scholarship decisions made?

A: The amount of scholarship each student receives is based on four factors:

1. The amount of money we have available to award in a given year.
2. The specific needs of our ensembles (a particular instrument or voice type).
3. Your background and ability
4. Your music major status (higher amounts are typically reserved for music majors).

Q: How much money will I receive from a music scholarship?

A: Using the four criteria above, scholarships range from a few hundred dollars per year for some non-music majors, up to $4,000 for music majors. The average non-major receives $900 per year and the average music major receives $2,500 per year. Music scholarships are added on top of all other financial aid, so it is very important to look at the bottom line when comparing your Northwestern financial aid package to other schools’ offers.

Q: When is the Music Audition Application due?

A: The Online Music Application is always due in January of your senior year. The specific due date is posted on the "Admissions/Scholarships" page.