Highlands University Offers New Music Composition Degree Program

New Mexico Highlands University


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Photo: Margaret McKinney/Highlands University
Robertson High School graduate Dennis Montano is one of the first students in New Mexico Highlands University’s new music composition BFA degree program. Montano practices a sonata for trumpet and piano during an applied music composition lesson with music professor Tatiana Crecic Dutoit.

Highlands University Offers New Music Composition Degree Program

New Mexico Highlands University is offering a new bachelor’s of fine arts degree in music composition this semester, making it the only public college or university in New Mexico to offer this kind of program. 

The new music composition degree is part of numerous Music Department curriculum improvements the university’s Board of Regents approved this summer. Some other changes include a new music technology minor, and offering four levels of piano theory mixed with performance. 

Music professor Tatiana Crecic Dutoit, who earned a Ph.D. in music composition and theory from the University of Pittsburgh, will teach most of the core courses for the new music composition degree. Professors Andre Garcia-Nuthmann and Edward Harrington will also teach elements of the curriculum.

Dennis Montano, born and raised in Las Vegas and a 2008 Robertson High School graduate, is one of the first students to enroll in the music composition degree program.

He said he transferred to Highlands University from New Mexico State University because NMSU did not offer a music composition academic track.

Harrington said Montano is a very talented multi-instrumentalist who plays piano, trumpet, guitar and percussion. Montano said he’s been playing music since third grade, when his grandmother taught him a piano piece. He grew up with music, playing in every school musical group he could. At Robertson High School he played in the jazz band, marching band, concert band, and a district-wide mariachi group.

But Montano said what he enjoys most is composing.

“I love composing my own music and it’s awesome that Highlands has this music composition degree now,” Montano said. “It’s perfect for me because I don’t want to perform or teach music. I want to compose music. My ultimate dream is to write music for movies.”

Dutoit said: “We’re so lucky to have a student with Dennis’ talent and creativity in our music program. He’s already well prepared with his previous music training and has so much potential. Many people think composing is the highest level of musical study, and I’m glad we can now offer this degree to students like Dennis.”

She said one of the major goals of the new music composition degree is to teach students the practical side of the music industry. Dutoit is an accomplished pianist, composer, songwriter and recording artist so can teach from her personal experience.

“You have to know the business side of the music industry to succeed,” Dutoit said. “For example, I’ll be teaching students about how to copyright their work, and how to gain membership to important professional organizations like the American Society of Composers and Publishers.”

Dutoit said that today there are more competitions for young composers under the age of 30, and the new music composition program will give students the knowledge and skills they need for these competitions. 

Harrington added: “The new music composition BFA is also a pathway to graduate school. The most desirable graduate programs often offer assistantships that are essentially full-ride scholarships for the two years it takes to complete a master’s degree.”

Harrington said the music composition degree also gives students the background they need to branch off into music theory, vocal performance, and instrumental performance.

He said another benefit of music composition training is that is that students who want to be K-12 music educators will be better prepared.