Looking for a good conservatory, not just a famous one.
  • Dear Musica Sacra,

    My son is an award winning violinist (first in the state). He loves the beautiful music of old (particularly baroque and classical) much more than the modern styles. He may well be headed to conservatory but wonders what he will find there. Can anyone on your staff or readership recommend a conservatory (anywhere in the world, but hopefully in the U.S.) where the great traditions are still respected and professors still have a taste for beauty? We thought of asking you since you obviously have an appreciation for beauty and tradition. Keep up the good work. Our Church needs you.

    We very much appreciate your input on the conservatory question.

    God bless, TPM
  • I have 3 sons. The oldest went to The Citadel, and was a professional (i.e. he gets plenty of wedding 7 funeral gigs) bagpiper already, and a member of an international competition winning band in HS. He was to be the Pipe Major with the rank of Cadet Capt. his senior year before he even walked onto the campus. I believe his benefits were:
    1. A total college experience, even though it was military oriented.
    2. Plenty of performance opportunities - weekly with the band, but often the Band Director would pass on wedding and funeral gigs to him, even if it meant signing him out of a cadet duty that day.
    3. His director/teacher was one who had previously taught his bagpipe director/teacher 20 years before.
    4. Because of his experience, he was immediately called upon to help teach his fellow Knobs (freshmen) who had only just started to play the bagpipes.
    He is now a Grade 1 competitor, rehearsing with a Grade 1 band in preparation for both band and individual competition in Scotland next summer - his second in a band (but first in an "adult" band) and his first as a soloist. He is also the Pipe Major for the Grade 5 "beginners" Charleston Police Pipe Band which finished this competition year in 5th place out of 115 bands!

    My youngest son has been playing the clarinet since 6th grade. He made All-Region in 8th grade, and has been All-State every year in HS - in Texas, where HS music is a BIG business! He just finished the first round of auditions for All-State Band yesterday - and ALL FOUR judges placed him First Chair Clarinet - that is a first! He's already going to All-State with the Orchestra, but there's much more to done with clarinets in the Wind Ensemble. While he IS applying to Curtis in Philadelphia, the only have ONE opening, he is also applying to many major universities. My impression is that much more about both life and music can be learned in a fine university - especially at the undergraduate level. Then again, where you go for graduate school is a totally different matter - you need to find the teacher is best suited for you, and you for him/her, and go wherever that person is. It's in graduate school that the real polish is put on the performance side of things.

    And, if he is to go to a conservatory instead of university, since it specializes in performance, then my above statement about graduate school applies - find the violinist you really want to work with, and vice versa. The institution's name on the paper is not as important as this is.
  • addendum: Pick some major violinists currently performing is the best symphony orchestras, or as successful soloists, and find out where they went. Their bio or CV should be easy to find on the internet.
  • Considering the undergraduate institutions of major performers might not be a productive way to select a college/conservatory for someone just now graduating from high school. These major performers are usually ten or more years past college graduation and institutions can and often do change substantially over this many years. The undergraduate institutions of young performers who have very recently attained good orchestra jobs, for example, would be far more relevant. The information one would most want is (1) the professional and academic destinations of recent graduates from particular institutions and teachers' studios, (2) the comparitive composition of student financial aid packages (usually an amalgam of merit- and need-based funding), and (3) the quality of the non-musical aspects of degree programs. Unfortunately, this is all difficult information to obtain in readily-comparable forms. It's also important to keep in mind that conservatory admissions shares many negative features with the recruitment of college athletes, especially bidding for the top applicants via scholarships.
  • I did my master’s (choral conducting) at Cincinnati Conservatory.

    It seemed to me that all the conservatory students, myself certainly included, spent 95% of their time in the conservatory itself. The liberal arts aspect was very much downplayed, but then, that is what a conservatory is! I did receive a top-notch graduate musical training there, of course.

    For an undergrad degree, I would think it beneficial to attend a liberal arts school that builds in a broader emphasis on educating the whole person. A lot of state schools have fine music programs couched in the more liberal arts kind of environment; my undergrad school, U. of Illinois U-C, definitely emphasized liberal arts. (A big bonus there is the excellent Catholic center, St. John’s Catholic Newman Center, probably the most extensive such institution in the country.) Michigan has a great music school, too. (I am from the Midwest, so that is my frame of reference.)

    If your son wants to specialize in early music, Indiana and Oberlin are great places to look.
  • Well, one must remember that the best conservatories will all give a quality performance education, but plugging into a network is also important. Curtis is fabulous for this, if he can get in. Julliard and the Manhattan School of Music also have large alumni networks. Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore is still very top-notch as well. Of the state schools, North Texas and Indiana are probably first choices, but neither are in major metropolitan areas, which I think is important for a violinist. Let me also recommend New England Conservatory and Longy. All that said, THE most important thing is that he meet with the violin professor(s) and find out who he might prefer working with the most. Sometimes the best match will occur at a school you didn't even think of.
  • North Texas is reasonably close to Dallas / Ft. Worth, which should offer plenty of performing opportunities....?
  • GavinGavin
    Posts: 2,799
    Michael O'Connor is right: go for the professor, not the school. Find someone doing what he wants to do, and study with that person.
  • RagueneauRagueneau
    Posts: 2,592
    My thought would be to find a teacher your student likes. As far as I know, one can get a good music education at pretty much any University that has a big music dept., but the most important thing is that your kid connects with a professor.
  • mjballoumjballou
    Posts: 986
    It's your master teacher that counts, in my opinion. In addition to compatibility and shared musical values, look at how well the institution retains its arts faculty. There are some schools that are "jumping off places." Assistant and Associate Professors in these often have an eye toward moving up in the academic universe. I mention this because I had a friend arrive to study graduate choral conducting with a specific professor only to find he was decamping at the end of the year.

    But again, for a performing singer or instrumentalist, it will be the relationship with the teacher.
  • My friends from North Texas tell me that the music scene in Dallas is completely disconnected from the Denton students. Sure, there are some opportunities, but if one has the choice of studying in NY, Boston, SF, or Chicago, then Dallas (while it's not as bad as I'm probably making it out!) or Bloomington don't quite look so good. Again, the teacher is the most important factor, but if you can also get a toehold by subbing in the major arts centers, all the better. One thing he has to learn right away is that the best players don't always get the best jobs. You have to network and constantly self-promote, especially in this contracting economy.
  • Thanks, everybody, for your thoughtful comments and your time. I am gathering that my son's education in classical music performance (even, specifically, his insistence on learning beautiful, traditional music) depends more on the individual instructor and less on the conservatory, though I had thought that some conservatories on the whole are more predisposed than others to promoting such music (either at home or abroad). I was surprised to learn that such may not be the case.

    Are any of the respondents classical music instrumental performers who have had to go through this process? Who have had to ask themselves these types of questions? Or do any of you know one who might impart his or her specific experience in this matter? I would love to hear from a violinist, but that may be asking too much.

    Still, I am grateful for your gracious responses. I plan to start looking into potential instructors at conservatories. If anyone else has anything to offer, I'd very much welcome your advice, which I hope might be of help to someone else out there asking themselves similar questions.

    Yours truly, TPM
  • Who is your son's teacher right now? That person should be able to answer some of these questions. Pick 5 conservatories (if you prefer focused professional training over preparation for possibly teaching the instrument) and find out who teaches violin there. Then do some research on these people. Once you've got an idea of what to expect, schedule campus visits and meet the teachers. Try to set up a lesson while you are there to see if your son likes the teacher and the teacher is interested in your son.
  • GavinGavin
    Posts: 2,799
    Undergrad student here, B.Mus in Organ Performance program at a state university with a small, unknown music department. If I might share some harsh and probably offensive opinions I've come to through my (so far reasonably short) studies:

    It's a cliche, but the number one factor in your son's education is him. He can get through college shooting for As and wait for someone to hand him a cushy symphony job, or he can work his hardest to improve as an overall musician. Any professor will teach you what you "need" to know and give an A to hard workers. The good profs are those available to mentor you and help you go beyond the classwork, even those outside your discipline. I'm at a minor college, no doubt one of those "jumping off points" mentioned above. But I have several profs who have worked their hardest to motivate me and make sure I learn as much as I can.

    As for "his insistence on learning beautiful, traditional music", that's a bubble I have to burst. In learning any discipline, you don't go to college to have your prejudices and favoritism encouraged. As if we all know what "beautiful, traditional music" means anyway... Let me be frank: your son won't find a college where he doesn't have to learn about serialism. Nor will he be any sort of musician if he eschews those who enjoy it. And I'm not all gloom and doom about his prospects: he'll learn about other styles of music and maybe love some of them. He might hate serialism (as I do), but he still needs to learn about it to be a complete musician.

    That's the thing I love most about being a student of music, both inside and outside the university: you don't learn ANYTHING useless. At least I haven't yet. I can sit in a lecture on French Baroque opera and then go to an organ lesson and study a Mass by Couperin. Serialism is good to learn because it teaches you about the mindset that permeates modern music, which if nothing else will encourage you in your favorite styles. Or maybe you'll find out the music you like isn't quite so great after all.

    Finally, as anyone here will confirm, being a music student is HARD WORK. If your son will put in the effort though, he'll do great things. Just make sure he's willing to do that and has an open mind! If it's a field that he loves, it's more than worth the trouble.
  • Echoing Gavin's remarks. College is a time to learn about what you didn't know existed. He has the rest of his life to burrow into a mindset if he wants, but college is the one time you can (or have to) explore things outside your comfort zone. It makes you grow as a person and as a musician. Also remember that finishing an undergrad education is only the first step. Very few 22-year-olds go out and get jobs in major symphonies and none get jobs teaching college. You are probably looking at master's work and certainly more private study afterwards. To teach college, he will need a DMA for sure. The life of most professional musicians is a tough one. What sustains them is the art and the people they work with. BTW while he is in school tell him to hang out with the pre-med girls. I held out until I found a psychologist! (insert jokes here).
  • To the last two respondents, I thank you for your candor. I think you have very good points. As you can tell, this is a very new process for us and it helps to get the opinions of people who are in the trenches and who have some experience under their belts. Sometimes this means being willing to entertain ideas that are out of our comfort zone but which will allow us to broaden our horizons and teach us something important. Thanks, Gavin, for your input. It's great to have a young student on the list of respondents, to whom everything must be very fresh. I appreciate your living out your passion for music. My son might be there soon, so it's good for him to hear from a fellow student. If you happen to know any colleagues who play the violin, we'd love to hear from them as well.

    Thanks again,

    TPM