The Performance Production Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) degree concentration in Sound Design provides a carefully balanced curriculum including both highly practical hands-on experience and intensive focus on artistic development. From the first week of the first year, students find themselves engaged in the practice of production, building costumes, settings, and properties, working on production lighting and sound crews, building and running Theater, Dance and Music department shows. While Sound Design students will work in many different capacities on productions in their first year, their work will be increasingly focused in the area of sound as they progress, so that the successful student will be working as primary Sound Designer on main stage productions in their final years.
As with all of the concentrations in Performance Production, the goal of the Sound Design Concentration is to ground the student in the traditions and well established techniques of the discipline, while encouraging them to develop their own unique artistic voice. The faculty, all highly accomplished professional designers and artists, provide students with mentorship, evaluation and both formal and informal feedback in classes, during the production process, and through regular student portfolio reviews.
The first year curriculum is designed to immerse the student in the fundamentals of production and design and is shared by all Performance Production concentrations. Students work in both shops, serving as the primary build crew for 7 main stage productions during the year. The Theater Graphics class is focused on development of the craft of graphic communication including drafting, rendering, and model building. Students begin their exploration of text with a year-long Literature of Theater sequence. They study the crafts and traditions of both the costume and scene shop in Fundamentals of Technical Production. During the spring semester, they begin to study the principles of design with Introduction to Production Design 2D. All first year students participate in the Integrated Studies program in Humanities and Sciences meeting and collaborating with students from all departments at Cornish. Integrated Studies creates a foundation for future study at the College by focusing on the strengthening of academic skills, particularly reading analysis, writing, critical thinking, and research.
Students are given specifically targeted production assignments which involve increasing responsibilities and begin to hone in on the area of sound engineering and design. Each student will complete one or two primary assignments on crew or design teams during each semester. Most Sound Design students will take a Basic Sound Engineering course in their second year. Lighting and Scenic classes round out the study of fundamentals, and students begin a sequence of courses in drawing both still life and the human form. In the fall, they continue the study of production design with Introduction to Production Design 3D, and Scenic Painting. The exciting and intensive Theater History sequence and electives or additional Humanities and Sciences coursework round out the busy second year schedule. Second year students also present their portfolio of work to the faculty at the end of the Spring semester. These portfolio reviews are designed to assist the student in preparing a professional portfolio by the time they complete the BFA degree.
Intensive concentration in the practice and process of design is the hallmark of the third year. Production assignments are progressively more responsible, with students serving as heads of departments and assistants to designers on production teams by the end of the third year. Some advanced students may even find themselves designing a main stage show. Sound students will take Intermediate Studio in Sound Design, digging deeper into the conceptual and practical approach to Sound design. In addition they may select a second design concentration, or study stage management or technical direction in studio. Most Sound Design students will select from electives available in the Music or Design Departments. The Theater History sequence continues with Contemporary Theater Studies, and the business of working as a freelance designer or technician is discussed in Technical Management. Third year students continue their sequence of Humanities and Sciences courses. Portfolio reviews become more directly focused on selecting work for the professional portfolio, and on developing a style of presentation that best communicates the individual artist’s work.
During the summer between their third and fourth years many students choose to do their Professional Internship, a full-time work experience with a professional arts organization, a professional sound company, or with an established artist working with sound. This 12-week experience exposes the student to the realities of working in their chosen field and begins the important process of developing contacts in the professional world. Internships are arranged by the student with the assistance of the department and may satisfy up to 9 credits of in-major requirements. They may be taken at any time after the student has completed 60 credits toward the degree.
Fourth year Sound Design students continue their formal design training with the Advanced Study in Sound Design sequence. Often working one on one, or in very small groups with their mentor, students continue to develop their design approach and technical craft, and work toward thorough mastery of the equipment and process of the Sound profession. They are working as primary Sound Designers on main stage productions, and sometimes as designers in their secondary area of focus. Usually, they are completing their Humanities and Sciences requirements with elective courses of their choosing, and they are putting a great deal of energy into completing their portfolios and preparing for their final project. The Final Project is usually based on the Sound Design for a major production, and is documented with audio samples, drawings, research, pictures, a recording of the soundscape of the production, and an appropriate narrative. In their final semester, seniors make a formal public presentation of their portfolios. This public review is intended to launch the student into the local production community, and is well attended by staff of local performing arts organizations.