Language examinations are given twice each semester, usually at the end of the fourth week, and then about a week or two before the end of the semester. Students are expected to take the language exams each semester until they complete the language requirement(s) for their degree.
DMA students --both composition and performance--must pass one language exam.
Students must take one language exam before the end of their first semester in the program, and the second language before the end of their third semester in the program (the second language examination not being applicable to Composition D.M.A. students). Students who have not passed at least one language examination will not be permitted to take the First Examination, Parts A-B.
Students pursuing a Ph.D. must demonstrate a reading and pronunciation knowledge of two foreign languages, normally French and German. For D.M.A Composition and Performance students the requirement is one language. Substitutions may be approved, or additions appropriate to the student’s area of interest may be required by the Executive Officer or the Deputy Executive Officer in the student's area, whose advice should be sought early in the first semester of the student’s work in the program.
Students who choose to do a dissertation in an area where knowledge of a particular language other than the "customary" ones is necessary--for example, Latin for any number of topics in the Middle Ages/Renaissance, or Provençal for a study of the troubadours, or whatever language is necessary for an ethnomusicological study of a specific area of the world--will be asked (over and above the regular language examinations) to demonstrate competence (even if informally) in that language. Download sample exams here.
The language examination lasts two hours. Students are asked to translate--a dictionary may be used--a passage concerning some aspect of music into good, idiomatic English. In addition, there is a brief pronunciation test in which students are asked to read aloud a few sentences from the passage being translated. The criterion here is not the ability to pass oneself off as a native speaker of the language; rather it is to be able to get out a sentence or two in a manner that is comprehensible and would not draw snickers were you to include the passage in a paper delivered at a scholarly conference.
Grading on the language exam is PASS/FAIL. The criterion for passing can best be stated as follows: the student must demonstrate that he/she can function in the scholarly literature of the language, and do so with some facility. Note that "function" implies the ability to do more than simply "understand" the passage; it implies the ability to produce a translation that is faithful to the original and, at the same time, makes good sense in English.
Students who must learn a language from scratch are strongly advised to take a course in that language that is specifically geared to the needs of graduate students in the humanities. Do not even consider sitting in on an undergraduate course (you simply do not have the time to sit around practicing "Guten Morgen Herr Mozart. . ."