Online PhD in Sacred Music

A doctorate of sacred music teaches students about the history, composition, performance, and importance of sacred music. Generally, students who are accepted to a sacred music PhD program focus their studies in one of the following areas: composition, directing, choral conducting, early music, liturgical arts, pedagogy, performance, orchestral conducting, world music, and numerous other areas. Sacred music PhD programs are highly competitive and highly selective, since it is the highest artistic and pedagogical level of study students can attain in their music degrees. That said, it’s important to demonstrate both an interest and proficiency in sacred music when you apply to different sacred music PhD programs.

Many students pursue sacred music programs in order to prepare for an array of scared music-centric careers. These include but are not limited to: music professions in churches, pastors, choir directors, composers, music writers, music critics, and numerous others. Nowadays, there is a great need for skilled musicians and music professionals who understand religious music, the liturgy, and know how to work with religious leaders within congregations and churches. Graduates of sacred music programs can also be considered for administrative positions, education positions, religious positions, and a variety of related disciplines in sacred music. Usually, sacred music programs are tailored towards those with Christian and Roman Catholic faiths, but sacred music programs aren’t restricted to those by any means. First and foremost, a sacred music graduate program heavily relies on the research and study of music.

About Online PhD Programs in Sacred Music

Students seeking a PhD in sacred music will be expected to research, study, and learn the history and principles of sacred music. Here is what a typical class schedule would look like.

Year One:

  • Liturgical Prayer. This course teaches students about the theology, history, and practice of liturgical prayer in Christian religions and traditions.
  • Liturgical Theology. This course examines the theories and principles of liturgical theology. The class also touches on the theologies of worship and theological trends in liturgical practice.
  • Christian Repertories and Worship Traditions. This first-year course is a survey and analysis of music made during the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, including past and present lyrical music and repertoires composed for religious congregations.

Year Two:

  • Conducting I. This class teaches students the basic techniques and principles of instrumental and choir conducting.
  • Voice. This course is an intimate, small course that teaches students about the basics of music, lyrics, and singing.
  • Piano. This course is an intimate, small course that teaches the basics of playing, performing, and understanding piano.

In addition to passing a handful of comprehensive exams and recitals, students are also expected to complete a dissertation during their sacred music PhD. Generally, students must submit a topic from a specific field of music theory or music history to their school’s Ph.D. committee for approval. Once the topic is approved, students will spend the rest of their Ph.D. experience intensely researching and learning about their dissertation topic. At the end of their Ph.D., students are expected to submit research papers and analysis regarding their findings and experiences.

Value and Criticisms of a PhD in Sacred Music

Because sacred music is a highly competitive and highly selective field, it’s beneficial to one’s music career to obtain a PhD in sacred music. Many individuals who pursue a PhD in sacred music hope to become music professors; that said, if you aspire to have a competitive edge in the music teaching field, you’ll probably need a Ph.D. Indeed, there are music professors who have master’s degree in music and there are some colleges that hire music professors with master’s degrees, but generally, they are restricted to teaching only introductory courses. In fact, most universities and colleges require music professors to have doctoral degrees before they can teach college courses.

There are some criticisms of obtaining a PhD in sacred music. For instance, since most music professions aren’t all that financially rewarding, it can be quite expensive to invest so much money in a Ph.D. program for a low-paying career. Furthermore, becoming an expert in music doesn’t necessarily require a formal education. Many individuals spend years working alongside music professionals, performing and practicing music in their spare time in order to become music experts. Overall, the benefits of obtaining a PhD in sacred music outweigh the cons.

Application & Admission Requirements

Sacred music PhD programs differ at individual schools. That said, most sacred music programs require a few basic checklist of items before admitting their students. Normally, students must have a bachelor’s degree from an accredited university with a specific concentration in music studies. Furthermore, students are expected to have a master’s degree in sacred music, or another area of music, with at least a 3.0 GPA. Lastly, five years of experience in music ministry with a completed graduate application are usually expected as well.

Career Options & Job Market

There are a number of jobs a student can obtain with a PhD in sacred music. One of the most common jobs Ph.D. students get after graduating with a PhD in sacred music is in music teaching. Other common professions students pursue include music reviewers, musicians, composers, conductors, music librarians, choir directors, and a myriad of others. If you have an idea of what music-related job you might want to pursue, do some research to find out how much those jobs pay and how many current prospects there are in those fields.

Where to Find Information

  • Church Music Association of America The Church Music Association of America is a non-profit association of Catholic musicians that helps advance the art of sacred music through the advancement of music study throughout schools and churches.
  • Society for Universal Sacred MusicThe Society for Universal Sacred Music is an educational non-profit organization that fosters the creation and performance of sacred music in Christian churches throughout the U.S.
  • Gospel Music AssociationThe Gospel Music Association is a non-profit association that fosters growth in Christian music in order to promote public awareness of Christian music in modern society and culture

How to Get Funding

Like most degree programs, sacred music has a number of scholarships and financial aid opportunities available to interested students. If you have an i interest in attending a certain school or program, it’s wise to do some research into the scholarship opportunities available to you at that specific school. Furthermore, it’s also helpful to research some scholarship opportunities throughout the sacred music community in places like churches, music groups, music societies, etc.

  • Federal Direct Stafford Loan. This financial aid program offers students low-interest loans while they pursue their chosen Ph.D. program. The maximum loan available is $20,500 per academic year, and there is a fixed interest rate of 6.80%.
  • Federal Perkins Loan. This loan is for full-time students who show the most need for financial assistance. The Federal Perkins low-interest loan can be awarded to students, offering an average of $3,500 per academic year — with a fixed interest rate at 5.0%.
  • Campus-Based Aid. Campus-based programs are managed by the financial aid office of your chosen university or college. Of course, all schools actively participate in almost every program made available by the federal government.

Essential Advice

  • There is more to succeeding in music than attending a good Ph.D. program. Becoming a music expert requires a lot of practice, curiosity, and research. In other words, make sure to work just as hard in music out of school as you do in school!
  • Sacred music is just one of the several music PhD programs out there. Before you set your heart on a sacred music PhD, make sure to do some research into the other music PhD programs to see if they peak your interest more.
  • One of the most important factors in succeeding in a sacred music PhD program is finding the right faculty for your needs. That said, it’s smart to research and/or meet the music education staff at a college before applying to any schools. Once you find a group of teachers you really want to work with, apply to the school they teach at. You’ll need a good group of teachers in order to succeed in your sacred music PhD!
  • Keep in mind that you’ll be expected to participate in a number of roles throughout your Ph.D. experience. You need to be able to comfortably participate in music ensembles as well as solo performances. Furthermore, you’ll be expected to study music theory and music history, so make sure you’re okay with being flexible in your Ph.D. program.