Theory, History & Composition

The Theory, History, and Composition Department provides a comprehensive theory and musicianship program as well as a series of weekly music history courses (for adults only) designed to promote an understanding of musical styles and genres. While history classes are offered quarterly, theory and composition classes are offered based on student interest and availability. Email jrobbins@pasadenaconservatory.org for theory and composition inquiries.

Winter Quarter History Courses

A Brush with Royalty: The Kings & Queens of Swing, Pt. 1

Instructor: Dr. Ray Briggs

Schedule: 10 Weeks| Fridays 10 a.m.-12:15 p.m. (Jan 1 – Mar 10)
Following World I, jazz slowly became accepted as the popular music in America. Hundreds of dance halls were erected in major cities across the nation in response to the growing interest in this music and the activity that it supported–swing dancing. Big bands traveled across the country to present this music live to their adoring fans. As the first of a two-part series, this course highlights the legacies of the most celebrated artists of this period, including Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, and Billie Holiday. Students will be exposed to the backstory of their life experiences and the timeless music that they created.

Enroll online now!

Music for the Keyboard: Great Pianists of the Past

Instructor: Dr. Sarkis Baltaian

Schedule: 10 Weeks | Tuesdays 9:30 a.m.-11:45 p.m. (Jan 10 – Mar 14)

This class examines and explores performance styles and characteristics of some of the greatest pianists of the past. The body of work of such pianists as Liszt, Rachmaninoff, Schnabel, Cortot, Rubenstein, Gould, Horowitz, Arrau, Richter and Sokolov is studied through analysis of recordings.

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Opera in the Southland

Instructor: Duff Murphy

Schedule: 5 weeks (class meets bi-weekly) | Wednesdays 9:30 – 11:30 a.m. (Jan 11 – Mar 8)
As part of an ongoing series, Duff Murphy’s Opera in the Southland offers an energetic, guided tour of the current opera scene in Los Angeles.

The course examines the historical, emotional, and cultural context of five disparate operas currently being performed locally. Notably, Opera in the Southland offers the opportunity, on each off-week, for the class to attend five dramatically diverse local performances.

The course will focus on the following Operas:

Salome (Richard Strauss) and Tales of Hoffmann (Jacques Offenbach) – LA Opera
Cendrillon (Massenet) – UCLA Opera
Aida (Verdi) – Pacific Symphony concert performance
Elixir of Love – Pacific Opera Projects

Enroll online now!

Frederic Chopin and Franz Liszt: Best Frienemies

Instructor: Vatche Mankerian

Schedule: 4 weeks | Thursdays 2 – 4 p.m. (Feb 2-23)

It is safe to proclaim that Frédéric Chopin singlehandedly established the romantic piano style. Where and how he received his inspiration and guidance to write such original and unrivaled music is the subject of much speculation. A sensitive and poetic musician, Chopin once and for all broke pianism free from the formalism of the classical style and ushered in the Romantic age of piano music and technique.

However, where Chopin established romantic pianism, it was his contemporary, Franz Liszt who through his riveting recitals spread the novel style through Europe and beyond. While many consider Chopin the better pianist, and certainly the more profound composer of the two, he lacked that certain quality necessary to drive his audiences into a state of sheer frenzy. It was instead Liszt who possessed this illusive physical power, charisma and stage presence. As a result, as far as Europe was concerned, it was Liszt who established the piano as the king of the stage.

At best, Chopin and Liszt had a love-hate relationship marked by both admiration and envy. They had a mutual respect for one another’s talents. While Liszt admired and was admittedly influenced by Chopin’s compositional poetry, Chopin equally admired and was envious of Liszt’s technique and popularity. This led to a complicated relationship between these contemporary luminaries. Liszt, always compassionate toward his frail colleague, once wrote a glowing review about a Chopin concert. Chopin was later told by a friend that such a Liszt review was significant; that Liszt “will create a fine kingdom for you.” Chopin smiled bitterly and retorted; “Yes,” … “within his own empire.”

The class will focus on the creative work of the two great pianist-composers as impacted by their relationship and the influences they had on one another.

Enroll online now!

Music Theory for Adults

 If you are interested in Music Theory individual lessons for adults, please contact Jeannie Robbins at jrobbins@pasadenaconservatory.org or 626.683.3355.

Winter Quarter History Courses

A Brush with Royalty: The Kings & Queens of Swing (Pt. 2)

Instructor: Dr. Ray Briggs
Schedule: 10 Weeks| Fridays 10 a.m.-12:15 p.m. (Mar. 17-May 19)

This course highlights the legacies of the most celebrated artists of the Big Band Era, including Benny Goodman, Count Basie and Ella Fitzgerald, and examines the life experiences of the artists and the timeless masterpieces they created. The class culminates with Jazz on Hill featuring a live big band performance and swing dancing!

Music for the Keyboard: Keyboard Concertos

Instructor: Dr. Sarkis Baltaian

Schedule: 10 Weeks | Tuesdays 9:30 a.m.-11:45 p.m. (Mar 21-May 23)

This course explores piano concerto masterpieces from the Baroque Period through the 20th Century, while examining the philosophical, spiritual, and sociological factors that motivated the composers.

Visit the Fees page for more information about tuition and registration fees.