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Bachelor of Music in Instrumental Performance

The Cornish Music Department offers a Bachelor of Music curriculum in instrumental performance with a special focus on contemporary and classic chamber music. As a student you benefit from the highly personalized training and individualized attention that has remained a hallmark of Cornish’s intimate, intensive, performance-focused program. Class size is small with a student/teacher ratio of 5/1, and performance opportunities numerous.

Your first- and second-year coursework consists of performance-oriented skills-based courses in music theory, eartraining, rhythm, and piano that are designed to prepare you to succeed as a practicing artist. Your third- and fourth-year curriculum consists of courses in music history, repertoire, and music electives culminating in both junior and senior recitals—the latter, an evening-length performance showcasing you at your best.

Unlike many other programs, at Cornish, instrumental performance students are free, even encouraged, to explore different musical traditions. It’s not unusual for a harpist to audition for the Latin Ensemble, a cellist to play in the Jazz Orchestra, or a violinist in the Javanese gamelan ensemble as a supplement to their primary studies in chamber music performance. At Cornish, we believe that openness to new ideas and a healthy appetite for exploration is the hallmark of a successful artist.

Chamber music class. Photo by Michelle Smith-Lewis.

Flute quartet. Photo by Michelle Smith-Lewis.

Performance at Cornish

Founded in 1914 when Seattle was little more than a fishing and timber town, Cornish was the first, independent music conservatory on the west coast of the United States. For almost one hundred years Cornish has maintained a distinguished tradition devoted to educating the performing musicians of tomorrow with a stellar instrumental performance faculty drawn from the leading musical institutions of Seattle. Today that includes the Seattle Symphony, Seattle Opera, Pacific Northwest Ballet, and Seattle Baroque orchestras.

Current instrumental performance faculty includes Pacific Northwest Ballet orchestra concertmaster Michael Jinsoo Lim, Seattle Baroque Orchestra co-artistic director Ingrid Matthews, the Steinway artist Peter Mack, and a dozen members of the Seattle Symphony including principal bassoonist Seth Krimsky and principal harpist Valerie Muzzolini Gordon.

Performance Focused

At Cornish, we’ve departed from the traditional focus of many instrumental performance programs on almost exclusively 19th Century symphonic repertoire and instead designed a program from the ground up with a focus on chamber music. Every semester students can audition for a variety of performance ensembles, exploring performance practices and repertoire from the baroque era to the contemporary, in both standard and mixed instrumental ensembles.

You also have the option of playing in the Cornish Chamber Orchestra or even earn college credit toward your degree by auditioning for and playing in one of eight different performing orchestras in the greater Seattle area including the Seattle Philharmonic, Seattle Youth Symphony, Thalia Symphony, Puget Sound Symphony, and Seattle Modern Orchestra, among others.


Every semester the Cornish Music Department offers a variety of different chamber ensembles. Here are descriptions of a few:

  • Baroque Ensemble A performing ensemble dedicated to the exploration and performance of music from the Baroque period of the Western classical music tradition (ca. 1600–1750), with an emphasis on understanding the performance practices and conventions common to the period and their application in performing the repertoire on both period and modern instruments.
  • Chamber Ensemble An ensemble of mixed and flexible instrumental chamber music. Focus is on performance of both traditional and contemporary repertoire.
  • Contemporary Ensemble A performing ensemble of mixed instrumentation focused exclusively on the performance of music by living composers.
  • Chamber Orchestra An ensemble that explores the art of the chamber orchestra from the Baroque to contemporary repertoire. Provides students with a solid foundation in the chamber orchestra repertoire as well as the chance to premiere new works composed esepcially for the ensemble by Cornish composers.
  • Guitar Ensemble An ensemble exploring both traditional and contemporary repertoire for guitar ensemble, both traditional classical nylon-string and contemporary amplified electric guitars.
  • Percussion Ensemble Percussion instruments have redefined the sound of music since early in the 20th century. This ensemble explores some of the rich sonic and rhythmic styles that have resulted from this process.
  • String Quartet An ensemble devoted to exploring and performing the string quartet repertoire. Focus is on performance of both traditional and contemporary repertoire.
  • Tango Ensemble A performance ensemble dedicated to the exploration of music from the tango tradition of Argentina, with an emphasis on understanding the musical forms, performance practices, conventions, and repertoire of both traditional tango music and Nuevo tango.
  • Woodwind Quintet An ensemble devoted to exploring both traditional and contemporary repertoire for the woodwind quintet.

Additional Performance Opportunities

As an instrumental performance student you also have the opportunity to collaborate with students in Dance, Theater, Visual Art, and Design. Cornish music students routinely collaborate with students from other departments to create innovative interdisciplinary theater or dance productions.

Instrumental performance students also frequently collaborate with Cornish student composers, premiering new works written especially for them on recitals or in other concert venues. Performance students also have the opportunity of performing works at the end of every semester on our “Scores of Sound” festival, or on one of the concert series presented by Cornish.

Life After Cornish

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

Some graduates pursue teaching careers; others pursue performances careers in both classical and contemporary popular music.