11. University of Southern California – Thornton School of Music (Los Angeles, CA)
Widely considered, along with the Colburn School, as the premiere institution for music in the west coast, USC-Thornton hosts what many consider to be among the finest programs for composition (notable faculty: Stephen Hartke, Donald Crockett, Andrew Norman), classical guitar (notable faculty: Pepe Romero, Scott Tenant) and even cello (notable faculty: cellist Ralph Kirshbaum). Other top programs include clarinet performance, where legendary teacher Yehuda Gilad hosts what many consider to be the world’s most competitive studio in the nation. For those of you wishing to pursue a career in film music composition, USC is widely considered, along with NYU and Berklee, to have the very best program in the entire world.
A major presence in the musical landscape of Los Angeles, the location of USC could not be better, as Los Angeles is a hotspot cultural epicenter where students can focus thoroughly on their studies in admittedly beautiful, not freezing your butt off cold weather all year long. Consider USC for performance and composition.
10. Eastman School of Music (Rochester, NY)
An institution of historic proportion located in the heart of Rochester, New York, Eastman has long been deemed as an excellent music composition and performance program. An incredibly selective school, Eastman accepts just 13% of all applicants – there are just slightly more than 900 total students (including graduate students) in the entire school. Traditionally, Eastman’s programs have always ranked in the top 10 of famous publications, such as US News and World Report. The school also boasts about 20 ensembles.
Notable faculty include legendary trombonist John Marcellus, who has consistently placed his students into the upper echelons of professional symphonic orchestras and ensembles, as well as double bassist James VanDemark, known for putting on virtuosic recitals with Andre Watts back in the early 1980s. With a composition program once headed by the widely-known artists Samuel Adler and Christopher Rouse, the program is now headed by the talented faculty member David Liptak, who hosts an impressive score of students that have won BMI and ASCAP awards, the top prizes for student composers in the nation. Expect a complete and thorough education at Eastman.
9. Bard College-Conservatory of Music – Annandale-On-Hudson, NY
Bard is an intriguing college for the prospective music student, as the faculty at the school are of world-class quality, often sharing appointments between Bard and other top colleges including Yale, Curtis, and Juilliard. The school has a bevy of resources musically and financially; the college has worked especially hard in the last 10 years to brand itself as among the top music colleges in the world. It has successfully accomplished this task, boasting an unparalleled faculty of inspiring musicians such as Joan Tower, a leading American composer, So Percussion, one of the most widely regarded modern percussion ensembles of all time, and even the likes of legendary string teachers Michael Tree and Arnold Steinhardt. Students of this college are provided opportunities to perform in New York City, as the city is located within 90 minutes of the school.
The school is, to my knowledge, the only in the entire country to require all undergraduate students to pursue a 5-year double major, a smart decision considering that many music majors, even those who graduate from top performance programs, do not end up pursuing careers in music. One of the top colleges for music in the US, musicians who have an interest in fostering their artistic growth in an incredibly liberal environment of outstanding talent should consider Bard.
8. Rice University Shepherd School of Music – Houston, TX
Rice University has a distinguished legacy of accepting the most talented students in the entire world. Along with the likes of the University of North Texas and the University of Texas at Austin, Rice is among the leading colleges for music in the entire southern region of America. A very selective school, the university accepts just 1 out of every 10 applicants into its graduate program, as well as 1 out of every 7 or 8 undergraduate applicants. The college presents over 400 concerts per year, which includes two large-scale opera productions. In fact, the college is currently constructing a brand new 600 seat opera house, which will be completed in 2018.
Many of the most notable music faculty in the world are staples of Rice’s academic culture, including french hornist William VerMuelen, who is widely regarded as one of the greatest french horn teachers of all time, as well as renowned trumpet pedagogues Barbara Butler and Charles Geyer, violist James Dunham, who is a favorite among the likes of Joshua Bell and Emmanuel Ax, and notable bassoonist Benjamin Kamins, among dozens of others. The teachers regularly graduate students who ascend to the ranks of top orchestras and college professor positions in the world.