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About the Program

Key Information

Residency Dates

  • Winter: February 5–11, 2023
  • Summer: July 22–30, 2023

Admissions Info »
Annie Sklar (Schedule a Meeting »)
[email protected]

Who is it for?

This program is ideal for self-motivated students with a background in music and demonstrated compositional skills. Our students work in jazz, songwriting, electronic music, contemporary composition, scoring (film, TV, game), and more. If you thrive on inquiry, experimentation, and the creative process and want the freedom to explore a diversity of genres, VCFA is the place for you.

How will your practice develop?

You’ll emerge with an established composition practice, a portfolio of your music recorded by professional musicians and ensembles, and a degree that furthers your own compositional goals. You’ll be immersed in new music and musical ideas and forge authentic connections with leading professionals.

Beyond encouraging breadth within the program, VCFA encourages people to explore their own full richness.
Garrett Steele | 2016 MFA in Music Composition


Twice a year, students come to our Vermont campus for seven-day residencies that provide an intensive infusion of musical opportunities to inspire and invigorate each semester of individualized study.

On Campus

Faculty mentors guide and support students through four six-month semesters of self-designed composition study, complemented by short residencies on campus. The professional and personal community that is created during residencies extends beyond campus, between residencies, and even after graduation.

Each residency, students attend workshops, lectures, master classes, rehearsals, and performances. Every residency hosts world-class musicians who rehearse and perform student music written during the previous semester. Students choose their faculty advisors, develop individualized study plans for the coming semester, and gain both direction and inspiration for the work ahead. Our 5:1 student-faculty ratio guarantees a high level of individual attention and fosters close relationships between students and faculty mentors.

Over the semester, each student works from home on an individualized course of study designed to broaden and deepen compositional practices and skills. Faculty mentors provide continual feedback on students’ compositions and related work. The core of each student’s semester is writing music, supported by relevant research and analysis–developing a body of professional, creative work that reflects their unique compositional artistry.

Through the MFA in Music Composition, students create lifelong practices in an engaged and dynamic musical community, building strong networks and enabling them to keep growing as artists.

When VCFA realized in March that we would not be able to gather for residencies on campus, staff and faculty came together to create remote residencies, making sure students would not miss either the intense learning and sharing that happen during residencies or the meaningful opportunities to connect. Visit our Remote Residencies page to learn more!

Individualized Semester Study

A VCFA student’s home workspace can take many forms. Students tailor their studios to their own creative needs and available space, and the results are fascinating.

Paul Lorenz | 2019 MFA in Music Composition

“My entire house is a work space. My studio is for visual work, while the piano is the heart of the musicwork. My dining table is the clean space for both!”

TJ McGlinchey | 2019 MFA in Music Composition

“Here’s a shot of my home studio in South Philly which I built during my third semester at VCFA when I began working with Ravi Krishnaswami, because I needed a more robust set of tools to address the growing needs of my new and developing skills as a composer, producer, and sound engineer. I am currently writing my thesis composition and producing my second album of original contemporary folk songs, titled Reverend TJ McGlinchey – Still In Love, which will be released shortly after graduation in February of 2019.”

Leslie Frost | 2020 MFA in Music Composition

“This is assembled on my piano in my apartment where I primarily work if I am not at schools where I teach. The chalk drawing is based on sunset in the program director’s backyard as I arrived at her house for the end-of-residency bonfire gathering. It helps me remember the inspiration of the residency.”


Frank J. Oteri

Residency Faculty

Michael Early

Core Faculty, MFA in Music Composition

Carla Kihlstedt

Core Faculty, MFA in Music Composition

John Fitz Rogers

Core Faculty, MFA in Music Composition

Jonathan Bailey Holland

Core Faculty, MFA in Music Composition

John Mallia

Core Faculty, MFA in Music Composition


String Quartet

Visiting Ensemble - Summer 2016

Counterpoint Vocal Quartet

Visiting Ensemble - Winter 2018


Visiting Ensemble - Winter 2020

Anna’s Ghost

Visiting Ensemble - Winter 2022

Talujon Percussion Trio

Visiting Ensemble - Winter 2022

Crossover Quintet

Visiting Ensemble - Summer 2016


John Paul Labno, 2022 MFA in Music Composition

Current Music Composition student John Paul Labno has been involved with music one way or another ever since childhood. Today, John Paul is well known...

Oscar Suh-Rodriguez, 2022 MFA in Music Composition

Oscar participated in an e-interview with us in November of 2020. Below are edited excerpts from our conversations about music, moving between genres, and studying...

By the Numbers

students awarded VCFA scholarships
student compositions performed and recorded by professional musicians
ensembles-in-residence have performed and recorded student compositions


Visit the MFA in Music Composition YouTube channel to hear the full range of genres and approaches to new music students explore through our highly individualized program.

Program Blog

Check out Everything Is Music, the MFA in Music Composition program’s blog, to get a student’s eye view of a composer’s life in low-residency.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is "student-directed" or "self-guided" learning?

Student-directed learning gives students greater control and ownership over their education. At VCFA, we don’t dictate the content or direction of students’ work. The faculty advisor’s role is to guide and support an individual course of study that considers the student’s previous experience, current goals, and specific needs as a composer.

Learn more about our low-residency model.

Are the contemporary, electronic, jazz, songwriting, and scoring-for-media students on separate academic tracks?

Students may select one area of focus or engage in cross-genre composition. We encourage exploration and the development of an individualized course of study that is specific to your needs as a composer. Students are not required to declare a specific musical track.

Schedule a meeting with admissions counselor Annie Sklar to learn more about the process.

Are there opportunities for students to have music played?

Each residency, our ensembles-in-residence rehearse, perform, and record student compositions written during the previous semester. Ensembles feature professional musicians who are unrivaled performers and generous collaborators. Students are required to write for one of the ensembles-in-residence at least two different semesters, but most choose to do so every semester. It’s an exceptional opportunity to receive high-level performances and recordings of your own compositions and create vital working relationships with some of the best musicians in the field.

In addition, each residency also features multiple opportunities for students to showcase their work: a Film Music Festival with screenings of music written for various media (film, documentary, television, commercials, video games, etc.); an Electronic Music Showcase for live electronic sound and multimedia; a Songwriting Showcase with performances by students, faculty, and staff; a Choral Workshop for student composers and singers; and a Composer/Performer Showcase.

Watch performances of student work on our YouTube channel!

How can I find out more about how this program would work for me?

The first step is to contact Annie Sklar, Associate Director of Admissions. In addition to talking with you about your specific interests and goals and answering your questions about the program, Annie can put you in touch with students, faculty, or alums and help you plan a visit. She would love to hear from you!