Facing the Music

    Photo by Justin Barbin/North by Northwestern

    Finals may decide the future of a grade, but rarely do they decide the future of your major -– unless you’re in the Bienen School of Music.

    Juries, as they’re known in Bienen, are departmental evaluations of performance majors and exist in some form at most peer institutions. The number of juries in a given year varies by instrument, but all performance majors must pass an advanced standing jury during their sophomore year to stay in the program.

    “You have to have some way to assess performance,” says Linda Garton, assistant dean for student affairs. “So whether it’s called a jury or a final exam, teachers have to have some way to say, ‘Have you made progress?’”

    Juries are not a cut system -– Bienen intends for all of the over 100 freshman it enrolls each year to graduate. The approximately 10-15 students per class that don’t complete the major mostly choose to drop performance in favor of other academic pursuits. Garton says the rare number of students who fail juries often have already lost interest in performance by the time of examination. That’s not the case for everyone, however.

    “I always still cared,” says one senior who failed her advanced standing jury and requested anonymity. “It was very jarring to have failed, something I had never done before. So I wanted to go in and prove to them that I deserved to be in the program. And then I wanted to drop it and do my other thing.”

    That “other thing” was a unique ad hoc major she had been preparing since failing the first jury. Non-passing students may be given a second chance later in the year, which gives them time to both work on weaknesses and also consider a back-up plan. Bienen’s flexible curriculum allows students to create ad hoc programs combining performance course work with Bienen’s other majors, such as music composition or musicology.

    Though the prospect of getting kicked out of a major doesn’t do any favors for the nerves of underclassmen, not all students find juries to be a source of stress.

    “It’s not supposed to be some scary test where if you mess up five notes, you’re done,” says Aaron Praiss, a sophomore violin performance major. “I’m totally fine with juries. They’re the only and the best way for faculty to know where everybody’s at. You want to make sure everybody’s on a level playing field.”


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