WILLIAMS: Continue letter grading for music performance ensemble courses

In order to support the music department and its students, the University must continue using the traditional letter grading system in performance ensemble classes.


Letter grades for ensembles convey a level of respect for music, the work that students dedicate to those ensembles and the music department in general. 

Sophie Roehse | Cavalier Daily

There has been a recent movement by University administration to make music performance

ensemble courses credit/no credit, meaning that students would no longer receive letter grades in these classes. According to Dean Ian Baucom of the College of Arts and Sciences, the Cavalier Marching Band and Basketball Band will be credit/no credit starting in Fall 2019. There are no direct plans to make other music ensembles, such as the University Singers, Charlottesville Symphony, Jazz Ensemble, Wind Ensemble and Klezmer Ensemble, credit/no credit —  although this may be changed in the future.  

Students in performance ensemble classes dedicate tremendous time and effort to produce high-quality music every semester, and grades are necessary to reward that hard work. Student Council recently passed resolution SR19-03: A Resolution in Support of the Continuation of Letter Grading in Music Ensemble Courses. As the chair of Student Council’s Arts Committee, I support continued letter grading in all music performance ensemble classes due to the immense amount of time and effort demonstrated by these students as well as their representation of the University on a higher level.

Graded ensembles are necessary to grow and strengthen the University’s music department.

Letter grades for ensembles convey a level of respect for music, the work that students dedicate to those ensembles and the music department in general. Making them credit/no-credit signals that the performance aspect of the music department does not satisfy the University’s standards for academic importance and intellectual rigor, compared to other disciplines that receive letter grades. Unlike most other classes, students must spend hours preparing to audition for the ensemble, and in many cases, only a relatively small of students are accepted. 

Many participants are not music majors, but they often spend more time rehearsing and practicing for their ensembles than they spend on any academic class. The large percentage of A’s and B’s given out in these classes is a reflection of just how invested University music students are in their ensembles. At the same time, like all classes, a poor effort is recognized with a poor grade. For example, missing rehearsals, not having music prepared and poor rehearsal etiquette may result in a bad grade. If a student misses a concert, he/she receives a failing grade. The same can be said about skipping a final or failing to hand in a paper in a typical academic class.

University ensembles represent the best of our University on Grounds, in Charlottesville and

beyond. On any given weekend, music ensembles can be found performing across Grounds from Old Cabell Hall to John Paul Jones Arena. For example, the Wind Ensemble and the University Singers performed at President Ryan’s recent inauguration, and the Chamber Singers performed at the Rotunda Reopening in the fall of 2016. Additionally, the Charlottesville Symphony, the Cavalier Marching Band and the University Singers performed at the Bicentennial Launch Celebration last year. The University Singers’ recent performance of Bernstein’s Mass at the Paramount Theatre showed the Charlottesville community the talent at our University, and every year the Symphony puts on events at the Downtown Mall for families that foster a greater appreciation for music. Recent ensemble tours have brought the best of our school’s musicians across the country and globally, and the Marching and Basketball Bands have traveled all over the United States supporting our athletes and enhancing the Wahoo spirit. These students create an image of a talented, energetic and caring University. Their support for the University of Virginia should receive support from the school in return.

Student Council provided official support for the traditional grading system in ensemble classes through the resolution passed last week, and students and faculty involved in these classes have shown continuous support of letter grades. Thomas Sumner, the current President of the University Singers stated, “Switching music ensemble courses to credit/no credit will not just mpact USingers and other groups but our Music Department as a whole. Removing letter grades from these classes is simply degrading the accomplishments of our student musicians and musical excellence.” 

If University administration wishes to continue maintaining a strong and growing music department, their support for the continuation of letter grading for music performance ensemble courses is critical. Between acknowledging the time commitment and effort combined with the high-level performances by students, letter grades demonstrate the respect and recognition for academic rigor in music performance ensemble classes.

Emily Williams is a third-year student in the College and currently serves as the Chair of Student Council’s Arts Committee.

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