Music Degree

Buddy Holly, Josh Abbott, Natalie Maines and Lee Ann Womack make up just a portion of musicians who got their start in the South Plains region. 

After about three years of planning, the Texas Tech School of Music formed a partnership with South Plains College to offer a four-year commercial music degree for students interested in music production and performance.

Lisa Garner Santa, interim director of the School of Music, said there has been an interest in forming a partnership with South Plains College’s commercial music program for decades. The Tech School of Music has not capitalized on the university’s location in the home of Buddy Holly, Garner Santa said, and this degree provides a way for students to explore their talents in the world of commercial music.

“So if someone wanted to develop the skill to be the gigging guitarist, drummer, keyboardist, singer in Nashville, in LA, in Las Vegas, in New York, what would be the skill set that they would need?” Garner Santa said. “And so this is what makes it really, really different is the application of this skill, not just the acquisition of the skill.”

Students in the BAACM program will begin the first two years of their studies at South Plains College, completing the associate’s degree for Applied Arts in Commercial Music, where they will have the necessary technology for hands-on experience, including recording, audio, video and sound production and design.

Garner Santa said the degree also includes a capstone project, where students must organize a performance at a local venue from start to finish, and an internship with a local commercial music business, like The Cactus Theater.

“This is opening up the door to those with interest in rock, in metal, in country, in bluegrass, in hip hop, in sound design, in recording technology, all of those things can see a path within this region, within this area,” she said.

In addition to upper-level classes centered on specific instruments or ensembles, the 3000- and 4000-level Tech classes build on the recording technology and informatics training students will receive at SPC, Garner Santa said.

Christopher J. Smith, professor and chair of musicology in the School of Music and director of the Vernacular Music Center at Tech, said he is glad there has been more receptivity to a partnership between the two colleges.

“So philosophically, I think it’s much more inclusive, and much less this sort of elitist, false elitism, this false hierarchy,” Smith said. “So it’s good pragmatically, it’s good for recruitment, it’s good for the students, it’s good for both institutions, and it’s also, I believe, the right thing to do.”

The Vernacular Music Center gives students the opportunity to learn traditional music from around the world, from music of the African diaspora to mariachi. Smith encourages students to learn about a variety of different instruments to perfect their own craft.

This diversity in instruction, as well as the increased freedom students have in the genre of music they want to pursue, breaks down certain hierarchies in the music world that separate more artistic music from commercial music, Smith said.

“And so, we like to think of us (Tech), of the third and fourth years as sort of building from a real strong, solid, technical and professional foundation, sort of enriching that in terms of skills, especially music theory skills, but also just, like, being a global citizen, understanding that, you know, this is one place and there’s a lot of other places around the world where music happens,” Smith said.

Joy Harris is a Lubbock musician and owner of Joy Harris Music, LLC. Harris is in the process of earning her bachelor’s degree in music performance at Tech, though she said she is not currently a student.

With her passions in orchestral percussion and electric bass, Harris has been supporting herself as a full-time musician for most of her life. She said there was a gap in the information she learned in the classroom at Tech versus out in the professional world.

“So I was getting lots of real world experience just doing everything, by going out there, playing gigs, you know, trying to build up my reputation, my business, all of that good stuff,” Harris said, “But my field of study at Tech was music performance, which is — I’m a performing musician, so it did relate, but some of the skills such as understanding copyright law, recording, studio experience, reading and writing charts, not just notated music, things like that, there was a gap between the two worlds.”

Harris also has spent a decade teaching in public schools, primarily in Midland. She said many students she knows are interested in pursuing commercial music, but they did not consider attending Tech because it did not have a program for such a thing.

In her experience, versatility proves to be useful for gigging musicians, Harris said. Attending both SPC and Tech, she said, will make students well-rounded and ready to enter the performing world.

“The benefit of this degree feeding into the benefit of what, like, the city of Lubbock is doing could actually provide some longevity for these students when they graduate that, you know, there’s an environment ready for them to go to work,” Harris said.

The program opened for the fall 2021 semester, and most students in the program are interested in jazz and choir performance, Garner Santa said. 

“This program gives us an opportunity to reconnect with our community to provide further training for those who are already expressing a talent in the commercial music arena,” Garner Santa said.


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