3. Mannes College of Music
The profile of Mannes has changed – dramatically – over the past decade.
As early as November 2014, I posted an interview with the Dean of Mannes, Richard Kessler. Still at the school 6 years later, Richard spoke with me about how the school was internally following a new protocol called Mannes In a New Key. Essentially, the idea behind this was helping Mannes’ students become relevant musical citizens, teaching them not only performance classes, but also skills in entrepreneurship.
After all, if you are working behind the scenes of a major musical organization, you will need leadership capabilities beyond music theory, performance, and history, the core triad of courses taught at traditional music conservatory.
Another thing Mannes did to raise its profile over the last five years is hiring out new faculty, many of which are successful musicians outside of academia. These include people like Missy Mazzoli, one of the nation’s most successful classical composers.
Mannes built its reputation decades ago as “the theory school,” as it had unusually heavy emphasis on advanced theory concepts. While these courses are still available at Mannes, the curriculum has changed.
Like NYU, I felt that The New School deserved two separate insertions on this list, as Mannes is very different from The New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music. Both, however, are premiere.
2. Manhattan School of Music
MSM has it all if you are looking for a career in classical, jazz, or musical theatre performance.
With students who are just as skilled as musicians from any other school, many of MSM’s programs are at the top in the country.
Very possibly, MSM has the best jazz school in the country. I would have to rank it top-7 alongside Juilliard, USC, NEC, Miami, Berklee, and Indiana, all in no particular order.
Faculty include some of the most accomplished names in jazz performance, such as jazz saxophone legend David Liebman, jazz bassist Ron Carter, and Stefon Harris, the Director of their program. Because of the opportunity to study with living legends in jazz, only a small portion of applicants to MSM’s jazz program are accepted.
Like the other classical music programs on this list, MSM’s faculty, even outside jazz, are excellent teachers. Many teachers at MSM hold dual appointments with the other major NYC schools, such as NYU, Juilliard, and Mannes.
What makes MSM unique is its conservatory atmosphere and focus. In the US, only about a dozen or so schools can call themselves independent music conservatories, meaning they are not operated by a parent university.
By staying an independent conservatory, MSM reflects a unique focus in its program unencumbered by academic expectations of a large university. While you DO have to complete academic courses at MSM to get a degree, the core focus is never questioned.
Also, unlike the next school on this list, MSM is rare in that it is an independent conservatory with a musical theatre major.
1. Juilliard School
What can be said about Juilliard that has not been said thousands of times elsewhere?
No school in the country is more prestigious than Juilliard to the general public. In the world of music, Colburn and Curtis are equals, perhaps more desirable as they are tuition-free.
Looking deeper into what the school has to offer, the school is among the few where I can confidently say every musician is unbelievably talented. Because Juilliard only accepts about 5% of candidates in any given year, they only take students with the most advanced training and dedication.
You can point to nearly any program and convincingly say it is one of the best in the country. Their Piano performance program has produced some of the most successful pianists in the country, including the likes of Chick Corea and Van Cliburn. Their faculty in the same program are perhaps some of the nation’s most renowned pedagogues, including Yoheved “Veda” Kaplinsky, widely regarded as a top piano teacher nationwide.
The same goes for all their programs – strings, brass, percussion, composition, woodwind, and voice.
As I’ve talked about with other schools here, one of the biggest benefits to attending Juilliard is who you are going to study with. Especially in the world of classical music, finding the right teacher is among the most important considerations for a classical musician.
The teachers at Juilliard are at the top of their field. Some have even written the definitive texts on mastering their particular instrument, or at least widely used ones.
Juilliard is certainly competitive, not only in admission but also at the school. I liken the competition to a healthy kind, where students want to be the best, but are also supportive of their peers. More often than not, alumni of the school talk about how supportive their peers and teachers are, even if the faculty have the highest of expectations for their students.
Outside of classical performance, Juilliard has a small but elite jazz program as well.
I’ve ranked Juilliard number 1 in New York City as it seems fitting to name it that based on everything I’ve said, however this list is an opinion and finding the right fit is not as simple as looking at a list. Some students would benefit better from another school on this list, particularly if the emphasis is not classical or jazz performance or composition.
Additionally, the best fit for some students may not be New York City. It’s an amazing town, but some people thrive better in a less densely populated setting.
I’m sure after reading through this you’ve gained some good insight into New York City music schools. Finding the best fit option for you, however, is a journey beyond this article.