Throughout the country, different cities & areas serve as hubs of higher education.
One of those places is Boston, which has an amazing 52 colleges and universities of higher education within city limits or close proximity.
Naturally, as many colleges and universities exist in the greater Boston area, a number of excellent music schools and programs are also present.
Five schools in Boston are dedicated schools of music, and because of this, they take a ranking priority in our list today.
However, a number of other excellent music departments exist in Boston, and we will cover our picks for the best ones.
We chose these schools based on their individual excellence, faculty/student accomplishment, selectivity, program offerings, and other factors. This ranking is an opinion-piece based on these factors.
I personally have met with faculty at all of these schools and can speak to their significant quality.
However, a list like this is important because while all 10 schools are good, it is of utmost importance to find the “best-fit” best music school for yourself and your future.
The most important part of looking into music schools? Finding the right-fit school for your future.
So, without further ado, here are our picks for the 10 best music schools and programs (ie departments of music) in the greater Boston area.
Technically 20 minutes outside of Boston, the program at Brandeis is decidedly classical; the instructors are pre-eminent teachers who are accomplished musicians themselves.
Many schools hire music ensembles to be “in residence;” the idea here is to expose students to faculty who frequently concertize and make a living in music. For many years, Brandeis has been home to the acclaimed Lydian String Quartet, a group celebrating its 40th season together this calendar year.
Students at the school can study privately and take masterclasses with members of the group. This proves especially valuable for string players interested in sharpening their chamber music skills, learning from some of the best musicians in all of Greater Boston.
Brandeis is a solid choice for a music student who wishes to combine the best of classical music performance or composition with an academic curriculum. Like the next two schools on this list, Brandeis has the virtue of being a top academic university with a compelling music department.
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
I bet you didn’t expect this one on the list!
Of course, if this were a list about computer science, software engineering, or any related technology-based field, MIT would likely go number one not just in Boston, but throughout the country.
Believe it or not, MIT has a very strong department of music. Perhaps what is most impressive about MITs program is the quality of their instrumental students; while many, if not most, are dual majors in other subjects at MIT, the music students are often on par, in terms of their ability, with conservatory students.
Like with the next academic powerhouse on this list – Harvard – many students who would qualify for a conservatory, but have the grades for a tier-1 university, often choose a department of music at a major university to doubly pursue other majors and passions.
I am certainly of the mindset this is an appropriate action for some students.
Also, MIT is not shorthanded in their music faculty; in fact, the schools employs, as of this writing, exactly 100 faculty members for their music department.
The faculty is simply extraordinary at MIT. Members include John Harbison, Pulitzer-Prize winning composer, Lynn Chang, one of the most important violin teachers in the world, and Eli Epstein, an important horn teacher who holds simultaneous appointments at Boston Conservatory and New England Conservatory.
Like MIT before it, Harvard University is an extraordinary department of music.
Perhaps at the heart of Harvard’s excellence as a music program is their extracurriculars in music. The Harvard-Radcliffe Orchestra could bear its own weight against any other top collegiate orchestra in the country, including those at a major music conservatory.
You also can’t forget the Krokodiloes, the university’s oldest a cappella group.
Harvard does a good job hiring some of the world’s most famous musicians. A recent hire from 2017, critically-acclaimed jazz bassist Esperanza Spalding, perhaps best exemplifies Harvard’s commitment to hiring the best of the best.
Other musicians on the faculty include Grammy-winner Daniel Chong, a member of the prestigious Parker String Quartet, and Claire Chase, a former MacArthur winner.
Like MIT before it, what I am most impressed about Harvard music students is their excellence; I have seen many perform and many are just as good as students from top-tier conservatories or dedicated music schools.
However, admission to Harvard is completely different than a traditional music school. You don’t get accepted based on the quality of your audition, although you are allowed to submit an arts portfolio/supplement to showcase your talent.
At the graduate level, Harvard offers a compelling MA/PhD program, a joint master’s & doctorate degree program. The upside is the school provides a very generous stipend and access to the many musical opportunities in Boston.
It is a super small, selective program and very few end up getting accepted. But, if that’s not Harvard in a nutshell, I don’t know what is.