A Dissertation Should Look Like This


In the photo are seen two dissertations. Mine, completed it while performing Third Horn full time in the Nashville Symphony, and another recent one for a DMA at a school I am not going to name. See a difference?

The bound one was a serious academic project. This Indiana University Doctor of Music dissertation is 250 pages long and was actually accepted at the defense with no revisions. But it was for an uncommon degree, the Doctor of Music, not a DMA. Most Doctorates in horn are the DMA, the Doctor of Musical Arts, and the project for the DMA is usually not as substantial and are also usually not called a dissertation, they will be called a research project or some other term used by the granting institution.

I have no problem with the research project being shorter, and would say upfront as well that all the Arizona State University projects I have been associated with were good solid projects that “brought something new to the table” and demonstrated some ability for academic writing by the authors. At least one good article could be drawn from the text of any of them.

However, not all dissertations are equal. Recently I was researching a topic and found that a dissertation had recently been written on the very thing I was looking for at another school. As it was so recent it is also online, and with it being a dissertation I knew it should be pretty substantial. However, when I downloaded it I was in for a shock — it had no text at all except for the abstract. It did have a list of works I was interested to see but with no citations or sources and no bibliography, so while the list may be completely accurate I have no way to know how the list was arrived at. The rest of the project seems to be recordings of live performances, presumably done in addition to any required recitals on the degree program. The entire print out is on top of my dissertation in the photo.

I know that some academics look down on DMA (and MM) holders in the same general way that some orchestral players look down on DMA holders, and in this case I can begin to see why a bias might develop.

Not all projects are created equal. Please don’t go guessing at schools and such in the comments, I am not going to reveal what it was on or by who. More than anything it was a bit of a shock to see something that was accepted as a dissertation that is so slim. I don’t know the full picture of what the course of study included but in terms of dissertations the bar of what is acceptable seems to be set rather low at the granting institution.

The bottom line being if you are working on a DMA be sure that your project is not whatever the bare minimum is to graduate at your school but that instead you really put something out there that has some potential to be publishable. Yet another element to carefully consider if you are thinking about DMA study or advise people who are considering it.

University of Horn Matters