hands playing the piano

Musical Arts

Discover your talents, share your passion and realize your dreams in the musical arts.

Why Study Musical Arts?

As a musical arts major at USD, you will learn important theories from the world of music — like tonality, melody, form and more — and apply them in the real world. You will also study the history of music from various backgrounds and cultures, and prepare for advanced conducting and orchestral arrangement as you further develop your skills.

Students in the Bachelor of Musical Arts degree program must choose a multi-disciplinary or interdisciplinary minor of 18 credit hours.

Degrees & Offerings

Musical Arts (BMA)

  Vermillion Main Campus

A degree in musical arts prepares you to create music and improve your skills while applying learned theories after graduation. Classes include form and analysis, music theory, aural skills, and advanced levels of each.

Program Details






Known for Excellence

With qualities like small class sizes, specialized programs and incredible student opportunities, USD is not your typical university. What makes us unique is what makes your education exceptional.

Student Opportunities

As a student at USD, the opportunities available to you extend beyond the classroom. Explore your interests, find your community and experience your education to the fullest extent through the following opportunities.

Chamber Singers

The Chamber Singers is the premier vocal ensemble at USD. Performers in the choir are selected through audition from the entire university student body. The choir's repertoire, which is primarily a cappella, includes music from the Renaissance to the present in a wide variety of styles.

The ensemble presents formal concerts on campus each semester and its annual concert tour has taken the group throughout the United States and Europe. They have been selected for performance at state and regional conventions, have appeared on the public radio programs, and received numerous national honors and distinctions.

Collegium Musicum

Collegium Musicum is a vocal ensemble exploring music from many genres and time periods, from early music to modern works. In frequent collaboration with other choral and instrumental forces at USD, the repertoire for the ensemble adapts to the unique group of vocalists involved each semester. 

Symphonic Choir

The Symphonic Choir is a large, select mixed ensemble open to students from all academic areas as well as members of the Vermillion community. The ensemble performs a broad range of repertoire, with a particular focus on both large and small-scale choral masterworks including collaborations with the USD Symphony Orchestra as well as regional professional ensembles such as the South Dakota and Sioux City Symphony Orchestras.

For more information about joining or auditioning for a choir, please reach out to David Holdhusen at David.Holdhusen@usd.edu.


The USD Opera offers students the opportunity to bring music and drama to life on the stage. The nationally award-winning program trains performers to become believable and compelling singing-actors in operatic literature from the Baroque period through the contemporary lyric theater. Opera students find out who they are as artists as they receive individual attention and personalized guidance from dedicated, highly skilled and acclaimed faculty. Find your voice, unlock your potential and step into the spotlight.

For more information reach out to Tracelyn Gesteland at Tracelyn.Gesteland@usd.edu


Chamber Orchestra

We offer string players the opportunity to play in a small orchestra with or without a conductor. The elite string orchestra provides the community of Vermillion and the extended region with performances of literature of various musical periods. The orchestra performs on campus each semester and has performed throughout South Dakota, Minnesota, Nebraska and Iowa.

Symphony Orchestra

USD is home to the largest university orchestral program in the state of South Dakota. With roots stretching back to the 19th century, the University of South Dakota Symphony Orchestra has built a legacy on providing quality performances of standard and distinctive repertoire to the southeastern part of South Dakota. Though mainly comprising of university music students, the orchestra is open to non-music majors, as well as community members and advanced high school students.

If you are interested in performing with the USD Chamber Orchestra or Symphony Orchestra please contact Luis Viquez at luis.viquez@usd.edu.

Concert Band

The USD Concert Band is an outstanding ensemble consisting of highly talented woodwind, brass and percussion players, including both music majors and non-music majors. The Concert Band performs the finest pieces available for winds, including traditional wind band repertoire, marches, transcriptions and the newest 21st century works. The Concert Band typically performs one concert in the fall and two in the spring.

Coyote Pep Band

The Coyote Pep Band performs in the Sanford Coyote Sports Center for USD men’s and women’s basketball games. As a member of the pep band, you provide the soundtrack and high-energy atmosphere that leads the teams to victory. Performing the finest pop, jazz and traditional USD arrangements, Pep Band repertoire builds on that of The SOUND of USD Marching Band’s fall season. The Coyote Pep Band is composed of approximately 35 energetic brass, woodwind and rhythm section musicians, and members of the marching band receive preference at pep band auditions.

Jazz Band

The University of South Dakota Jazz Ensembles perform a variety of music from this American art form, from classics by Basie and Ellington to new contemporary jazz works. The bands perform concerts each semester, both on campus and on tour within the region. The USD Jazz Ensemble 1 has also toured Germany and the Netherlands and has performed at the Elmhurst Jazz Festival in Chicago. Every year, USD hosts guest jazz artists on campus to work with students and perform with them.

Percussion Ensemble 

Our students have the opportunity to participate in several unique percussion experiences, including traditional percussion ensembles, marimba ensembles and the steel drum band. Participating in the traditional and marimba ensembles requires a strong background in performing numerous traditional percussion instruments.

For students with an interest in music of the Caribbean, the steel drum band offers the chance to perform at both the beginning and advanced levels. Students with a basic understanding of note-reading and some keyboard experience will find playing a steel pan a great experience.

Symphonic Band

Our symphonic band is the premier wind band and the flagship ensemble of the university band program. Our band comprises the finest woodwind, brass and percussion players at the university, including both music majors and talented non-music majors. Concert repertoire consists of the highest quality music written or transcribed for wind instruments representing all periods of music history. There are typically two concerts a semester, which regularly feature guest soloists and guest conductors. The band tours the region annually and performs every other year at the South Dakota Bandmasters Convention.

To take part in one of USD's bands, please contact John LaCognata at John.LaCognata@usd.edu.

USD is home to more than 170 student organizations, including several that are housed in the Department of Music. You may be interested in inspiring and strengthening music in local communities or sharing your passion of music with others to make friends, develop new skills and explore your interests.

outREACH mUSic 

Inspire, uplift and strengthen local communities by performing in locations where access to live music may be limited, such as community centers, assisted living facilities, hospitals, homeless shelters and group homes.

Join outREACH mUSic

National Association for Music Education (NAfME)

Engage with guest speakers or activities that promote music teaching and learning, such as the annual USD Field Marching Competition, USD Coyote Jazz Festival events, Dakota Days and more.

Join NAfME

As a part of your music education, we also encourage students to participate in a variety of events and workshops. These events involve in-depth looks into a variety of musical topics from experts in their respective fields.

  • All-State Chorus Workshop
  • Band Directors Institute
  • Choral Directors Institute
  • Clarinet Day
  • Coyote Jazz Festival
  • Dakota Days Marching Band Competition
  • Drumming Flow Retreat
  • Music Major for a Day
  • Quad State Honor Band Festival
  • Quad State Marching Band Competition
  • South Dakota Cello Day
  • Summer Music Camp
  • Truran Piano Competition
  • Young Artist Recital

Music scholarships are available to music majors, music minors and music participants. Scholarships are renewable upon meeting the criteria listed in the scholarship acceptance letter and based upon funding.

All music majors must audition for entrance into the program. Students seeking a music scholarship will use that audition process as meeting the requirement. If you are not seeking a music scholarship or are applying after the scholarship process is complete, email David Holdhusen to set up an audition. A late audition may take place during the summer months or at the beginning of the semester.

Set Up an Audition

Departments & Facilities

Explore the departments, facilities and centers that contribute to your education in music.
the cello section of the USD Symphony


Develop the skills necessary to be successful in your musical career while gaining lifelong friends and mentors. Whether you are interested in teaching, music performance or music history — or some combination of the three — the Department of Music will provide you with real-world experiences and connections to help you succeed.

Faculty & Staff

Get to know your professors in the Department of Music. Our faculty are experts in their field, contributing research and scholarship in vocal and instrumental music. 
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David Holdhusen

Chair, Music Dept
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Laurie Brown

Senior Secretary
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Timothy Campbell

Associate Professor
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Todd Cranson

Assistant Professor of Music
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Alessandra Feris

Assistant Professor
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Ioana Galu

Assistant Professor
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Susan Gray

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Sonja Kraus

Assistant Professor
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Amy Laursen

Assistant Professor
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John LaCognata

Assistant Professor of Music
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Paul Lombardi

Associate Professor
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David Sanderson

Assistant Professor of Music
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Luis Viquez

Assistant Professor
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Darin Wadley

Associate Professor
The USD Symphony orchestra performing.

Personalized Information for You

Want to learn more about the music opportunities that await you at USD? Answer a few questions about your interests so we can send you more information.

Connect with Us
National Music Museum

National Music Museum

Founded in 1973, the National Music Museum and Center for Study of the History of Musical Instruments is one of the great institutions of its kind in the world. Its renowned collections, which include more than 14,800 American, European and non-Western instruments from virtually all cultures and historical periods, are the most inclusive anywhere.

Students have opportunities to work in the museum, study historic instruments and perform in the concert hall.

boy singing a solo on stage in front of a piano

Join Our Live Events

Student and organization performances are live streamed online, which all are free to "attend" virtually or in-person!

Watch Our Livestream

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