LAFAYETTE — A degree program in traditional music could be offered at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette as soon as the fall semester, after nearly 15 years of advocacy by friends of the late musician and pathologist Dr. Tommy Comeaux.
Last week, the Louisiana Board of Regents approved a new bachelor of arts program in music with two areas of major study: traditional music or music business. The degree program awaits accreditation from the National Association of Schools of Music.
Approval is expected prior to the fall semester, said Garth Alper, director of the ULL School of Music. If there is a delay, students may continue to take courses in both areas of study, he said, noting they will just have to wait to declare their new major.
The traditional music program is the realization of another goal led by Comeaux’s friends, who organized after his death in 1997 to create a $1 million endowed chair in traditional studies within ULL’s School of Music. They reached that goal in 2008.
“This effort was successful only because of the support of literally thousands of individuals from the community,” said Pat Mould, a member of the Comeaux Fund Campaign Committee.
In 2010, ethnomusicologist Mark DeWitt became the first Dr. Tommy Comeaux Memorial Eminent Scholar Endowed Chair in Traditional Music. The next step, led by DeWitt, involved creating a program of study.
“It’s going to take a lot of continued work to ensure that the program is viable and has long-term and lasting impact on the community,” Mould said.
The new program “opens up music study to a whole new pool of students,” Alper said. “Currently, our degrees are more professional degrees, which means that students are expected to get to a professional level on an instrument. These are more viewed as allied fields, where the requirements on an instrument won’t be as rigorous.”
The music business program is designed for students interested in careers in music management, music law or retail, while the traditional music major is likely interested in learning or playing traditional music or has an academic interest in traditional genres, Alper said.
Currently, the course catalog in traditional music includes a songwriting course, traditional music ensemble, beginning button accordion, beginner and intermediate fiddle, and private lessons in fiddle and accordion — all taught by local musicians.
It’s been easy to generate support for the program, DeWitt said.
“There’s no shortage of musicians around here excited about the whole idea,” he said.
Enrollment in the bachelor of arts in music program is expected to reach 60 students per year within five years, according to a Regents’ staff report.
In the future, the university plans to ask the Regents board to approve a Tommy Comeaux Center for Traditional Music; however, no additional state funding will be needed, according to the Regents’ report.