Master of Sacred Music (MSM)

The Master of Sacred Music (MSM) program at Boston University is at the forefront of professional training in sacred music. Students are prepared for leadership roles in communities of faith and as performers, scholars, and teachers using the incomparable resources of the College of Fine Arts–School of Music and School of Theology. For example, Boston University houses the American Guild of Organists’s organ library and one of the finest hymnological collections in North America.

The Master of Sacred Music degree is offered jointly through the School of Theology and the School of Music and administered by the School of Theology. Since the MSM is essentially professional training for employment as a church musician, the program is offered with two concentrations: organ and choral conducting.

Learning Outcomes

The primary learning outcomes of the MSM include:

  • Capacity for constructive theological reflection and a graduate survey knowledge of the Bible, church history, worship, and theology;
  • A foundational knowledge of music theory and history;
  • An advanced knowledge of church music literature (choral and instrumental);
  • Advanced competence in an applied music performance area;
  • Advanced competence in practical skills required to lead communities of faith in worship through music; and
  • Growth in one’s capacity for a robust embrace of and engagement with social and theological diversity and one’s capacity to relate across difference.


Applicants for the Master of Sacred Music must hold a BA or its equivalent and have a minimum cumulative grade point average of 3.0. In addition, applicants must have basic skills in music, including courses in theory, music history, and choral conducting or organ. The degree program may exceed two years (four semesters) if remedial work is required in any aspect of the program. The deadline to be considered for fall admission is January 1. Applicants should apply through the School of Theology, and applications will be shared with the School of Music faculty as part of the joint degree application process.

Audition Requirements

An audition at the School of Music is expected for MSM applicants. The audition, with the appropriate applied music faculty in the School of Music, will determine the level of musical proficiency. Applicants must demonstrate talent and ability in performance, scholarship, or composition sufficient to promise superior accomplishment at the graduate level. In addition, candidates must demonstrate prior interest in sacred music and a desire to pursue such study at the graduate level.

Choral conducting and organ applicants must submit a pre-screening video by the December 1 prior to their hoped-for date of matriculation. Recordings should be made no earlier than six months prior to the final MSM January 1 application completion deadline. Recordings should be uploaded via the School of Music’s online portal. Information about the online portal and requirements can be found on the School of Music’s audition information site. Any questions about, or technical problems with, the online portal should be addressed to the School of Music Admissions office, as it maintains that website.

Organists’ audition requirements are: a major work by J. S. Bach or one of his contemporaries, a major work from the Romantic repertoire, and a piece of contemporary music. Candidates may also be asked to demonstrate other keyboard skills, although it is understood that a candidate may not have had much experience in this area. For choral conducting auditions, please see the School of Music’s website for details of the specific audition requirements, which are the same as for the Master of Music.

For organ students, the uploaded audition may suffice as the audition requirement for students living more than 300 miles from Boston. All choral conducting students who are short-listed on the basis of their uploaded recording are required to be present at BU for an audition in February.

Degree and Residency Requirements

The MSM is granted upon successful completion of a prescribed program of study and terminal projects appropriate to the candidate’s field of specialization. Students must complete a minimum of 48 (choral conducting) or 45 (organ) semester credits, usually in two years, earning grades no lower than B− in all graduate-level music requirements and no lower than a C in theology requirements. All degree requirements must be completed within four years from the date of matriculation. In addition, students may be required to take prerequisite courses. This requirement is determined by results of proficiency examinations, which are required of all matriculating students. Students who are required to make up a deficiency in any area of music must complete designated prerequisite courses with grades no lower than B. Credit for a course taken to remedy a deficiency will not count toward the completion of degree requirements. The time limit for the degree program is four years (eight semesters).


Dean’s Scholarships

Dean’s Scholarships are awarded for the academic year, September to May. They are renewable each year, contingent upon the annual evaluation of the recipient’s grade point average (3.5 minimum), character, and commitment to ministry. All awards are for a maximum of two academic years of full-time MSM study. Dean’s Scholarships are awarded before initial enrollment in the School of Theology; however, money is not available to the student until the first day of classes.

Tuition Scholarships

Tuition Scholarships are awarded for the academic year, September to May. They are renewable each year, contingent upon the annual evaluation of the recipient’s grade point average (2.7 minimum), character, and commitment to ministry. All awards are for a maximum of two academic years of full-time MSM study.

Master of Sacred Music Curriculum

The Master of Sacred Music consists of a series of required courses in three categories: theology, music, and the ministry of music. The successful completion of these courses and a final project is required for the degree. Proficiency in music theory, history, keyboard proficiency, and choral conducting is required. MSM students must pass diagnostic examinations in these areas upon entrance into the program. The examination schedule will be provided by the School of Theology Admissions office in the summer, but typically takes place a few days before the start of classes each fall. All MSM students are advised by the Director of the Sacred Music Program and the head of the applied music field in which they entered. A plan of study is prepared in the first semester, in consultation with both advisors. It is revised, as needed, during the duration of the program.

Theology Requirements

Theology requirements are taken in sequence to ensure that the student builds on previous knowledge and must be taken at the School of Theology. Exceptions are rarely approved, and then only in cases of emergency. The proposed sequence is as follows: fall and spring semesters of the first year: STH TF 701 Introduction to Christian Traditions and TF 702 Christianity Engaging Modernity (6 credits) and either TO 704 Introduction to Hebrew Bible (3 credits, Fall) or TN 721 Introduction to the New Testament (3 credits, Spring); TC 817 Introduction to Christian Worship (3 credits, can be taken in either first or second year); TA 810 Hymns and Their Music; and TA 801 Music Ministry: Methods and Materials (3 credits, can be taken in either year). No grade lower than C is acceptable for use in satisfying theology requirements for the Master of Sacred Music.

Students seeking advanced standing in one or more of these theology requirements must consult the Admissions office during the summer before they matriculate into the program. Applicants for advanced standing will provide syllabi and other appropriate materials for each course in which they are seeking advanced standing. The Admissions office will then consult the Associate Dean for Academic Affairs and other relevant faculty for approval.

Music Requirements

In addition to applied lessons in organ or choral conducting and their respective seminars, students must take classes in analytical techniques and music history. Substitutions for music requirements are approved only by petition and require the approval of the director of the MSM program and the head of the respective department at the College of Fine Arts. Students who pass out of requirements in history and theory may substitute other courses subject to the approval of his or her advisor. No grade lower than B− is acceptable for use in satisfying music requirements for the Master of Sacred Music. Participation in the Boston University Symphonic Chorus is required for two semesters and participation in other music organizations such as STH Seminary Singers and BU Chapel Choir is recommended.

Ministry of Music Requirements

The Music Ministry: Methods and Materials seminar is offered in the spring semester on a two-year rotation and is mandatory for successful completion of this degree. The course covers topics in practical church music. It will include, for example:

  • Handbell choirs (technique, training, recruitment, repertoire)
  • Children’s choirs (training, recruitment, motivation, repertoire)
  • Conflict resolution, problem management, ethics, professional concerns
  • Organ pedagogy
  • The art of accompaniment (including hymns, services, choirs, and large groups)
  • Site visits to local churches with significant music programs
  • Vocal technique
  • Repertoire for the liturgical season (organ and choral)
  • Church music resources (including online information)
  • Composing and arranging for the church
  • Improvisation
  • Organ building and maintenance (including possible visits to local builders)
  • Ensemble/orchestral conducting and conducting from the console

In addition, students will be required to participate in a wide variety of occasional events, such as master classes and lectures, on subjects related to the degree program. It is expected that all students will be involved in some professional church music activity in an area that will be an informal addition to their program of study.

Recital Requirements

All Master of Sacred Music candidates are required to perform two recitals during the program. These should demonstrate a wide repertoire of styles and technique.

Keyboard Proficiency

Non-keyboard majors are required to pass a keyboard proficiency exam in their final semester. Details of the requirement are given at the start of the program.

Program Content

The key to the program is flexibility, which makes it possible for each student to design a program suited to his or her strengths and weaknesses. Rather than being over-prescriptive, the program aims to offer a wide range of choices depending on the candidate’s prior training and experience and his or her interests. Good advising is an important part of the process.

Suggested programs of study for the MSM choral conducting degree or the organ degree can be viewed at the School of Theology website.