NYU Prague hits the right note

Music program offers students a broad look at local culture

While most of us enjoy music all year round, at NYU Prague that hadn’t been the case. The music program was offered only in the fall. Starting last year though, it expanded to the spring and fall semesters and may grow further.

Not only that, but the program has been reaching out to expand beyond the walls of academia. “The Music Program at NYU Prague is exceptional in that the administration and faculty have been totally committed in developing student’s understanding of the Czech music culture. Each year, they continue to find new opportunities for music students to integrate into the local culture through performances, music business and technology internships, and student teaching observations in the classroom,” said Jiří Pehe, the director of NYU Prague.

This helps students to get a more multicultural experience. “As community relationships grow each year, students gain deeper access to the Czech culture and come away with new prospective on music and their musical significance as global citizens,” Pehe added.

The program is quite competitive. More than 40 percent of NYU’s undergraduates study abroad. Within the music program, there are several hundred music students at the Steinhardt School of Education in New York, and between 25 and 40 students in Prague each semester. “As space is limited at NYU Prague, applicants are selected based on their academic achievement along with their specific interests within the region. For instance, classical string players are interested in studying with Czech violinists, cellists and bassists due to the specific bowing techniques they use to play their instruments,” Pehe said. “Student composers will find the direct source of inspiration for the composers from the region including the masters Dvořák, Janáček and Bartók.”

And the time for students to apply is coming up. Students in New York who want to come for the fall semester have until late spring to apply. Since the Music Program is fully integrated into the Music Program in New York, those students who want to take certain courses in Prague must take first, as prerequisites, specific courses in New York. “For example, it is not possible to take the 20th century music class in Prague without first taking a course on 19th century music,” Pehe said.

The staff is a key part of the program. Tony Ackerman, the faculty coordinator, is an accomplished jazz musician who plays in Prague clubs often. In addition to teaching an aural comprehension class and newly also a collegium and program seminar, he also serves as a liaison between the faculty and the administration, and is tasked with thinking conceptually about new courses and ideas.

“In general, we have been very fortunate in engaging a number of well-known Czech musicians and musicologists as members of our faculty,” Pehe said. The faculty selection is intended to mirror the faculty at the home campus in New York City. “While the instruction is at the same level, the content and references are unique to Prague culture. We believe that this is the essence of offering study abroad opportunities to our students as they learn lessons from the unique environment where they are studying,” Pehe said.

Simply because the Prague campus is far away from the main one doesn’t mean any standards are lower. “Instructors are recommended by the NYU Prague administration, which submits resumes for review to the director of Steinhardt Music for vetting. Over the years, broad ranges of talented Czech instructors have been available for our students, adding to the depth cultural experiences they can explore. Music students are most fortunate to interact with such a diverse faculty,” Pehe said.

Like elsewhere in NYU’s global network, the campus works closely with sponsoring departments at NYU in New York to identify, recruit, and hire top faculty and instructors. “It is a rather rigorous process which helps to ensure that NYU students receive an extraordinarily high level of instruction wherever they study around the globe,” Pehe said.

And even though Prague, with its history that includes visits from Mozart, is known for classical music, the program is rather diverse. “We have a wide diversity of music students interested in many areas of music. Music business students have great interest in current pop music, while music technology students have interest in electronic music. The interesting outcome that occurs at NYU Prague is that since students are away from home, they create a new community where their interests in jazz, contemporary, classical and pop music are integrated and explored together,” Pehe said.

“This is a program that brings students with differing music needs together to study in Prague. … Since the students have diverse majors – from music technology and music management to music education – NYU Prague has to be able to offer a variety of courses. For our performers, it is our intention to balance performance with academic rigor to offer students a complete cultural experience while in Prague,” Pehe said.

Courses range from theoretical courses, such as music history, to practical courses, such as aural comprehension. In addition, each student is required to take a music instruction course, as each student plays an instrument or has voice lessons. The school also offers internships in music management and technology and organizes events where students can perform. “We are constantly working with academic departments in New York to ensure that we are offering the right courses for our students,” Pehe said.

While the program is now offered in spring and fall, there is still a gap. “We are also hoping to expand to offer summer programs for NYU students here in Prague, but hopefully more on that soon,” Pehe concluded.

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