Comps Proposal

Title of Comps Project

The title of your comps project should be simple and descriptive.  For example:

  • A Performance of the First Movement of Beethoven’s “Waldstein” Sonata, Op. 53
  • Studies of Vocal Intonation: a Metadata Survey and Analysis
  • Composition of a Two-Movement Trio for Clarinet, Cello, and Balalaika

Comps Abstract on Comps Proposal Form

The abstract should convey that you have a clear plan for your project, list any associated research writing or studies, and show that you will be able to complete it in a single term. 

  • For a research paper, state your hypothesis or research goal, plans and method for your investigation, and what resources you will need.
  • For a performance, list the pieces you will play and resources you will need (editions, recordings, secondary literature, accompanists, etc.).
  • For a composition, you can discuss compositional models and resources (e.g., electronic instruments needed; preparation of a piano, performers you will work with, etc.).  

Your abstract should be approximately 150 words. See the examples below.

Research Paper Comps Abstract

How does context (solo versus ensemble) affect vocal intonation? To address this question I will conduct a metadata analysis of studies of vocal intonation. Starting with the foundational work of Johann Sundberg, I will first discuss basic aspects of vocal tone production and the vocal acoustics, with attention to factors that affect pitch production and perception (e.g., formant spectra). I will then consider techniques for pitch analysis of the voice (Terhardt; Boersma & Weenink (Praat); Childers & Lee; Zatorre), and then compile a set of data from studies which have used these techniques to analyze vocal intonation in real musical contexts (Prame; Devaney & Ellis; Schubert; Geringer & Madsen). By looking at the precision of vocal intonation in various contexts, and by taking measurement methods into account, I hope show that intonation involves navigating between fidelity to an absolute pitch standard versus maintaining well-tuned intervals with one’s fellow musicians. [149 words]

Performance Comps Abstract

To prepare my performance of Beethoven’s “Waldstein” Sonata, I will complete the following associated research:

  • Examine the urtext score (Beethoven: neue Ausgabe sämtlicher Werke), and other published editions (Wallner/UE; Gordon/Alfred; Taub/Schirmer; Perahia & Gertsch/Henle; Schenker/Dover); write a 2-page summary of editorial differences and interpretive implications.
  • Listen to performances by Schnabel, Goode, Brendel, Pollini, Arrau, and Binns (period instrument), and write a 3-page observational paper discussing tempi, dynamics and pedaling
  • Create an annotated bibliography of secondary sources on the piece and its historical background and context (e.g., Rosen’s guide to the sonatas and Gosman’s article on Beethoven’s sketches for the movement).

Study of these editions, performances, and scholarship will allow me to make informed decisions as I prepare the piece for performance. I plan on playing the piece for my comps jury at the end of term, at the comps presentations in spring term, and on my senior recital. [151 words]

Composition Comps Abstract

Messiaen’s Quatour pour la fin du temps serves as an obvious model for my comps project, a trio for clarinet, cello, and piano. Like Messiaen, I am writing this piece for specific musical collaborators (name #1, name #2, name #3), and I will be working with them as I compose. In addition, I will complete the following research:

  • Study precursors and analogs, from Beethoven’s Trio Op. 11 to chamber works by Milhaud, Bolcom, and Feldman; write a 3-page essay on idiomatic and effective writing for these instruments.
  • For tonal materials, I will be exploring the use of spectral harmonies; I will consult sources on compositional technique (Chowning, Fineberg, Rose) as well as model repertoire (Johnston, Murail, Grisey). I will write a 2-page paper discussing my own use of spectral harmonies.

The piece will be in two movements: slow movement (approx. 10 minutes), fast movement (approx. 5 minutes). [149 words]

Comps Assessment

Like all senior integrative exercises at Carleton, the music department comps are graded on a S/CR/NC basis, with a grade of “S” required to pass. A passing grade in comps is based solely on the main product of one’s comps project: the final paper, the performance, or the composition. The adviser and the second reader will evaluate and grade the final project.


Distinction is awarded at the discretion of the whole full-time faculty. The final paper, performance, or composition will be given primary consideration when considering distinction. Additionally, the scholarly presentation made at the Comps Presentations in the spring term will be evaluated.

When assessing distinction for Composition or Performance comps, supporting work listed in the comps proposal that demonstrates rigor and depth of relevant research will also be taken into consideration. Ancillary technical study, or other skill development (e.g., learning to read an alternative form of notation, mastering a programming language) may also be taken into consideration when a comps is under consideration for distinction.

The distinction nomination and voting process is as follows:

  • At the department meeting held immediately prior to the Comps Presentations each advisor and second reader will discuss their comps student and make recommendations regarding distinction.
  • Any faculty member may nominate a student for distinction, providing that at least one of the adviser or second reader is in agreement.
  • Faculty members must observe nominated students at the Comps Presentations or watch recorded video, and must read all associated materials in order to vote on distinction.
  • At the department meeting held immediately following the Comps Presentations the faculty will discuss and make a final vote on distinction in the major.