It is true that Boston Conservatory is technically part of Berklee, the next school on this list. However, because the schools still have different admissions processes and identities as of today, I will be writing separate entries for each school.
Boston Conservatory is an important school not just in Boston, but throughout the country.
Perhaps Boston Conservatory’s most known program is in musical theatre. Numerous graduates of Boston Conservatory have found themselves performing on Broadway as well as in major off-Broadway productions, television shows, and more.
I have worked with a number of faculty here in musical theatre personally and can attest to their extensive knowledge and ability in their field. One such professor, Steven Jones, has extraordinary depth and understanding of musical theatre voice and monologue repertoire. Most importantly, he is excellent with young students.
Boston Conservatory’s merger with Berklee back in 2016 was an intelligent move by both parties. While Berklee is known as the contemporary/jazz school, Boston Conservatory rounds Berklee out with musical theatre and classical performance.
Together, the two form a formidable combination, and now that students can take classes at both schools, their joint-venture results in a plethora of opportunities few other schools can match.
Berklee and Boston Conservatory, as well as all US independent conservatories, do not require standardized test scores (SAT/ACT) for admission. Rather, it comes down to the quality of the audition process and interview mostly.
Inevitably, when you ask a layman what are the best schools of music, they will have only heard of two: Berklee and Juilliard.
Of course, this answer is reductive; both are great, but at very different things.
If this were a list for contemporary music, songwriting, film scoring, music production, or music business, Berklee would hands down go number 1 in Boston and top-3 throughout the United States.
The facilities Berklee has for contemporary music are unrivaled; 27 recording studios with multi-million dollar investments into recording hardware, software, and top-tier instruction.
Berklee can best be described as a microcosm of the modern music industry.
This is what I mean by it:
Looking for a great songwriter? Berklee has some of the best young talents in the country.
How about a producer for your project? I have worked with several producers who ended up at Berklee and I can confidently say nearly all of them were prodigious in their skill level.
Maybe you want a composer for your next film project? No problem, Berklee’s got them.
What I like about Berklee is the school’s openness to opportunity.
Here’s what I mean: some schools place you into a single track. For example, say you got into a classical conservatory for classical voice. You are expected to be a classical vocalist throughout all four years at the school. This is not bad by any means, it’s just how it is at some schools.
However, at Berklee, you don’t have to declare your major until a few semesters in. This allows students to explore different interests in a safe and open environment.
PLUS, double majoring is common at Berklee! Lots of students commit to a dual major of music performance and music business, for example. What this leads to is skills in playing music with an understanding of how to survive in the music world.
New England Conservatory
When it comes to classical music, contemporary composition, and jazz performance, New England Conservatory is not just the best school in Boston, but a top-10 school nationwide.
You can place NEC’s faculty against Juilliard’s in terms of individual accomplishment and excellence; they are just that good.
What I particularly like about NEC is their environment. While many conservatories have a “cutthroat” competitive vibe, NEC stands out as an environment conducive to growth, independence, and innovation.
Every program here has tier-1 faculty; students have turned down Curtis to study with violinist Paul Biss, one of the world’s foremost violin professors. I would say NEC is home to one of the top-two teachers in the country for cello performance as well in Paul Katz.
(If you’re curious, my opinion for the other would be Richard Aaron of Michigan).
Michael Gandolfi in composition is one of the most intelligent teachers I have ever seen working with a student, and Michael Meraw is a straight-to-the-point teacher who can transform a voice in a single lesson.
I could go on and on about their classical program, but it’s important to note their jazz performance program.
Many of the world’s best jazz musicians teach here. If you know contemporary jazz, you know the Bad Plus; Ethan Iverson is faculty here, former jazz pianist of said group.
Jerry Bergonzi, another faculty member, is perhaps the most skilled jazz saxophonist living today.
One area NEC addressed in the last few years is their facilities; a new, state-of-the-art building was erected in NEC a few years ago, containing new dorms, a recording studio, a proper cafeteria, and more.
Perhaps it cannot be said enough; NEC’s affiliation with the Boston Symphony Orchestra exponentially increases its value as a school. After all, in an orchestral training program like NEC’s, you want to study with people who are either successful orchestral players or soloists.
NEC is perhaps the most selective music conservatory in Boston with an acceptance rate of 33% according to Niche.