Founded in 1914 as a school of music, Cornish College of the Arts has a distinguished tradition of educating performing musicians. Our faculty is drawn from the leading musical institutions of Seattle as well as active performers and creators in many different musical disciplines.

Whether your primary interest is jazz, instrumental performance, vocal arts, or composition, you’re free to explore established works and new compositions in a variety of genres—on campus and in the Seattle community—from chamber music to tango, baroque to blues, opera to jazz, and beyond. Our alumni pursue careers or graduate study in virtually every facet of music performance, composition, and education around the globe.

Letter from the Chair

“Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, and life to everything.” --Plato

Welcome to the Music Department at Cornish College of the Arts! We are proud to offer a program rich in history that is poised for the future. We are seeking exceptional students who are interested in both building on a legacy of experimentalism, started here when John Cage invented the prepared piano more than 70 years ago, and dreaming up new and bold ways of being a musician in the 21st century.

The Cornish Music Department gives you space and time for experimentation and exploration, as well as personal mentorship from faculty and guest artists. Our program will provide for you an education of great depth, which will help you to acquire the skills you need. But we also strive to be flexible and broad-based, which allows you to understand and articulate the context within which you can generate your artistic work and foster collaboration.

We offer a Bachelor of Music in composition, instrumental performance, vocal performance and jazz studies. You can explore new technologies and innovation in electronic music, improvisation, and original works. We also offer an Artists Diploma in Early Music for post-baccalaureate students. Cornish will also foster a wealth of opportunities for collaboration with students and faculty from Art and Design, Film and Digital Media, Dance, Theater, and Performance Production.

As a student in the Cornish Music Department, you will find yourself working with a distinguished faculty (who are themselves practicing composers and musicians), a dedicated staff, and friendly and caring student-colleagues. We believe that Cornish is the right place for you if you are a student who is:

  • Creative
  • Interested in improvisation and collaboration
  • Dedicated and hard-working
  • Open to exploring new possibilities
  • Ready to realize your dreams and create the music of the future

My first priority is and will continue to be the student experience, and it is my promise to you that every program, class, workshop, and interaction that you have here will be continually examined through the lens of the student experience.

Welcome to Seattle, and welcome to Cornish!

Tom Baker, DMA
Interim Chair, Music Department
Cornish College of the Arts


No matter which program of study you elect to pursue, you’ll receive highly personalized training through weekly, hour-long individual lessons with a primary artist/mentor. Read on to discover which program is right for you.


The Cornish Music Department offers a Bachelor of Music curriculum in instrumental performance with a special focus on contemporary or classic chamber music. You’ll work closely with one of our faculty members to hone your craft while participating in a variety of mixed chamber ensembles, percussion, guitar, or string quartets. Cornish also offers you the additional opportunity of playing with any one of a number of Seattle orchestras.


The Cornish Music Department offers a Bachelor of Music curriculum in vocal performance with special emphasis on contemporary, classical, or early music repertoire. Students may also elect to pursue a course of study in vocal jazz through the jazz program. Whatever path you choose, you’ll benefit from the highly personalized training and individualized attention that has remained a hallmark of Cornish’s intimate, intensive, performance-oriented program. Every year classical vocal students have the opportunity to audition for and perform in two fully staged, professional opera productions as well as a number of other vocal ensembles.


The Cornish Music Department offers a Bachelor of Music curriculum in jazz with programs of study in three focus areas: instrumental performance, vocal jazz, and composition. If jazz or other creative improvised music is your passion, Cornish offers you the chance to sharpen your skills in our Latin, bebop, fusion, free jazz or contemporary big band ensembles. Jazz vocalists gain valuable experience through immersion in an intensive program focused on learning the jazz vocal repertoire and developing the skills necessary to create their own arrangements. You’ll work closely with Cornish faculty members, who not only coach all ensembles, but play in them too, contributing valuable insight gained through their real-world experience touring, recording and performing as professional, practicing artists. Learn more about jazz.


The Cornish Music Department offers a Bachelor of Music in Composition. As a composition student you may explore jazz, classical, electronic, or other musical traditions from around the world as sources of inspiration. You’ll be invited to explore private instruction in a broad range of styles and skills-based and survey courses that offer a chance for collaboration and feedback. These include classes in advanced harmony, counterpoint, 20th and 21st century techniques, orchestration, arranging, music notation, songwriting, electronic music, and digital audio recording techniques. students who otherwise might be admitted to Cornish as vocal or instrumental performance students but who also want to pursue in-depth studies in composition may want to inquire about the Composer/Performer concentration.


​Cornish College of the Arts offers a post-graduate Artist Diploma in Early Music.This is a post-baccalaureate, performance-oriented program designed for vocalists and instrumentalists already performing at a high level who desire additional intensive private instruction, coaching, and performance experience in  historical performance practices from 1600-1750. Please contact program coordinator Nancy Zylstra (nzylstra@cornish.edu) if you have any questions about the Artist Diploma in Early Music program or wish to learn more about the application and audition process.

Learn More


The Cornish Music Department offers a Bachelor of Music curriculum with concentrations in Instrumental Performance, Vocal Performance, Jazz, or Composition. Students receive highly personalized training through weekly, hour-long individual lessons with a primary artist/mentor as well as public performance opportunities throughout all four years.

Music Degree Requirements


Model Programs are updated at the beginning of each academic year. This PDF contains the current year’s model programs for this program. Students should refer to the model program that was in effect for the year and term of their entrance to Cornish. View archived catalogs and model programs.

Music Course Descriptions

​Music courses develop a broad knowledge of the practice, theory,history, and production of music, with different areas of expertise expected of students in each of the three majors (instrumental, vocal, and composition) and in specific areas of concentration. Individual instruction begins in the first year so students will develop technical mastery of an instrument or voice or control of compositional technique.

Course descriptions are updated at the beginning of each academic year. For this year and previous years, please refer to the online archive of catalogs

Music Learning Outcomes

  • Demonstrate proficiency in general musicianship—piano skills, sight-reading, sight-singing, rhythmic skills, and theory
  • Development of technical mastery of an instrument or voice; control of compositional technique
  • Broad knowledge of the practice, theory, history, and production of music, with different areas of expertise expected of students in each of the three majors (instrumental, vocal, and composition) and in specific areas of concentration
  • Development of a sense of artistic self—not just knowing how to make the music, but knowing why one is making it
  • Understanding of the business skills necessary to support one’s artistic life
  • Stylistically versatile performance skills and openness to experimentation and innovation
  • Respect for traditional forms and ways of making music across a range of styles
  • Excellent verbal and written communication skills, including the ability to critique one’s own work and that of one’s colleagues constructively
  • Excellent collaborative skills, including constructive interpersonal rehearsal and management techniques
  • Highly developed critical thinking skills
  • Capacity for self-reflection and integration of diverse knowledge areas
  • Rigorous work ethic and self-discipline

Faculty & Staff


Instrumental Faculty:

Composition Faculty:

Early Music Faculty:

Jazz Faculty:

Voice Faculty:



Music classes take place in the studios and classrooms at Kerry Hall, an historical landmark in the popular Capitol Hill neighborhood of Seattle. Productions are presented on campus in two black box studio theaters, as well as the larger flexible Ned and Kayla Skinner Theater in the Raisbeck Performance Hall, the PONCHO Concert Hall/Theater in Kerry Hall, and the Cornish Playhouse at the Seattle Center. Off-campus performance venues have included the Broadway Performance Hall on Capitol Hill.

News & Events


October 2, 2015

Coming to Cornish: Jean-Baptiste Barrière On Music and Visual Art

Music Chair Tom Baker interviews Jean-Baptiste Barrière on his visit to Cornish, where he will both to perform with Camilla Hoitenga at PONCHO in the Cornish Presents series and hold workshops with students and the public.

French composer and sound designer Jean-Baptiste Barrière is known for incorporating the visual art...


September 28, 2015

Ninety-Four and Going Strong: Kerry Hall Gets a Facelift

It seems only right that in Cornish's centennial year "the house that Nelly built" gets primped and polished and readied for another 100 years of great arts education.

A Capitol Hill landmark was gleaming when the wraps came off recently. The building was welcomed to...


September 24, 2015

Cornish Offers Free Music at Midday

PONCHO Concert Hall opens its doors to an adventurous public as Cornish music students and faculty showcase work in The Midday Concert Series.

Each semester, the Music Department in Cornish College of the Arts hosts free concerts that benefit...


September 21, 2015

Cornish Presents Fall Season Offers Mix of Jazz and New Music

The Fall 2015 Cornish Presents series opens on Oct. 10 with Wayne Horvitz in concert at PONCHO Concert Hall. The fall series will now conclude with the local premiere of the Peace Symphony by Paul D. Miller, aka DJ Spooky, on Dec. 4 at Cornish Playhouse.

Tom Baker, the artistic director of the Fall 2015 Cornish Presents series, announced the addition of...


September 14, 2015

Music Faculty Shines in New Release

"American Dreams" by the Saint Helens String Quartet is now out on PARMA's Navona Records featuring several Cornish faculty members; the group can be heard September 16, 17, and 20.

UPDATE: Seattle Weekly praises American Dreams and the Saint Helens String Quartet (and faculty memb...


August 27, 2015

President Uscher’s Remarks On Opening Of Cornish Commons

At 4:15 p.m. today, President Nancy Uscher and Capstone Development Partners principal Bruce McKee cut the red ribbon to open Cornish Commons, the latest addition to the Cornish College of the Arts' campus. Following are President Uscher's remarks on this historic occaison.

My dear friends: Today we are making history.  The new Cornish Commons is the first ground up b...


August 25, 2015

Taub Takes on National Post, New Project

Things have been busy for Paul Taub, noted flutist and professor of music at Cornish, with a new national post with the National Flute Association and a commissioning project.

​ Music professor and flutist Paul Taub has been elected to a two-year term on the Executive Commi...


August 24, 2015

Cornish Announces Fall Events

Fall season 2015 at Cornish features visiting artists and student performances at Seattle Center, Cornish Main Campus, and Capitol Hill.

Since opening in 1914, the Cornish College of the Arts has introduced Seattle audiences to iconic vi...


August 20, 2015

Dr. Uscher Discusses Cornish’s Many New Projects

Cornish College of the Arts is “rising to new heights” in more ways than one! Most obvious is the state-of-the-art, 20-story Cornish Commons opening August 27, but KING-FM’s Marta Zekan recently talked with Cornish president, Dr. Nancy Uscher, about the expanding facilities and growing academic programs as well as several exciting events coming this fall, including the start of a 5-year residency for the Kronos Quartet.

Cornish College of the Arts has raised its national and international profile significantly in recen...


June 29, 2015

Cornish Playhouse Offers Space To Create

The Cornish Playhouse Arts Incubator program offers local artists a place to create and collaborate. The Changeling Project, part of the 2014/15 Arts Incubator, will be open to the public on Thursday, July 2. Creators Adriana Camoy and Charles McCall invite their audience to enjoy a combination of dance and poetry, then give feedback on their work-in-progress.

In a city where the space to create is hard to find, Cornish Playhouse offers artists interested in...

Music Alumni Accomplishments

Cornish students are routinely accepted into many of the top graduate music programs in the nation including Northwestern University, New England Conservatory, Yale University, University of Michigan, University of Illinois, and Indiana University.

Some graduates pursue teaching careers; others pursue performance careers. Graduates have signed with major record labels, been nominated for Grammys, and toured regularly.