Curtis Institute of Music (Philadelphia, PA)
While many would call Juilliard the most famous music school in the world, musicians in the know would call Curtis the most prestigious in the world.
And for good reason – Curtis is the most selective music school in the world, with a 4% acceptance rate for students applying for the 2016-2017 school year.
On top of that, the tuition is absolutely free and always has been.
Alumni of the program is a who’s who of classical music luminaries, including composer Samuel Barber, famous for his Adagio for Strings masterpiece, Alan Gilbert, music director of the New York Philharmonic, and Leonard Bernstein, one of the most famous musicians in any genre of all time.
Curtis is perhaps best-known for being the most prominent school for professional orchestral placement in the US. Indeed, just about every single major orchestra, such as the New York Philharmonic, Boston Symphony, Seattle Symphony, and more have Curtis alumni actively performing in them.
There are only 150 to 170 music students in the school at any given time, just enough to fill a single orchestra as well as one student opera company (plus a few extra composers, classical guitarists, pianists, organists). This would make it one of the very smallest schools in the country!
The Philadelphia Orchestra is intricately connected to Curtis – alumni of the school are consistently filling the orchestra’s open roster spots. Many members of the orchestra teach at Curtis as well, providing world-class training from top orchestral musicians to these great musicians.
Keep in mind Curtis is excellent for those seeking classical performance and composition – if you are looking for jazz, popular music, or recording, you can look to other schools on this list.
Eastman School of Music (Rochester, NY)
Time and time again, Eastman has demonstrated itself as one of the top conservatories in the world. You don’t have to look too deeply into the school to see why.
The faculty rate among the very best around the globe. You can take a look at any department and see what makes this school so incredibly amazing.
As one example, the classical voice program is a uniquely outstanding department, housing luminaries such as Anthony Griffey on faculty, a four-time Grammy award winning tenor who regularly performs around the world with the likes of the Metropolitan Opera.
Other faculty members of the voice program serve as the pedagogues to the world’s most renowned classical singers.
The alumni of Eastman are among the most prominent musicians in the worlds of classical music and jazz performance. They include Steve Gadd, one of the most important session drummers in history, Renee Fleming, perhaps the greatest soprano of the last 30 years, and Robert DeMaine, one of the foremost cello virtuosos of our time.
What we especially like about the school is its close-knit relationship to the University of Rochester, one of the premiere research universities in the country.
Eastman is exceptionally difficult to get into – less than 15% who apply are admitted – but for those who want the balance of an incredible education with musicians on par with those studying at schools such as Juilliard, you cannot beat the Eastman experience.
Frost School of Music (University of Miami) (Coral Gables, FL)
One of the top music schools in the south, Frost is particularly well-known for its contemporary music division.
With unparalleled curricular offerings in music business, production, and even artist development, Miami’s Frost School of Music is one of the top schools, alongside Berklee and USC, for students wishing to pursue a more modern style of music.
One such major at the school is their Musicianship, Artistry, Development, and Entrepreneurship (MADE) major, a program merging both performance and business into one curriculum preparing students for the real world of contemporary artistry.
Miami is one of the few schools in the country that offers a commercial music major. Thankfully, schools are slowly but surely adopting this curriculum to accommodate the career aspirations of every genre of musician.
Outside of contemporary music, the college is a force for classical performance. Earlier this month, we recognized Charles Castleman, a violin professor at Miami, as a legendary pedagogue.
Previously serving at Eastman School of Music, Professor Castleman is one of the most important violin teachers of the last half-century.
It should also be noted: the jazz program at Miami is outstanding. Alumni of the program regularly find themselves getting work in the country’s top music cities, including LA, NYC, and Nashville.