Lawrence University School of Music – Appleton, WI
Lawrence’s program is exclusively an undergraduate one, with only 350 students to 65 faculty members, giving it a student to faculty ratio of approximately 5½ :1. Like in other liberal arts colleges with only an undergraduate program, Lawrence’s undergraduate students always are given the only consideration for the best positions available in the school’s operas and ensembles without competition from graduate students.
One of the unique aspects of this program is Dean Brian Pertl’s commitment to honing the students’ skills as a 21st century musician. I have spoken to Dean Pertl on a few occasions: I can tell you that he values the following things:
- An entrepreneurial mindset
- Reimagining the standards of performance
- Having creative impulse
- Using music as a means of changing culture
Having a Dean who has such a creative outlook on the landscape of performing arts is a great asset to a student body looking to further their creative careers as unique, individual artists.
Academically, the school is very competitive to get into. The school also encourages musicians to double major; nearly 50% of all of the students double major in their 5-year program. Although a major commitment, this is reflective of this particular conservatory’s philosophy of being well-rounded both musically and in other fields.
The school regularly brings in luminaries of both the classical and jazz worlds. Premiere new music ensemble Eighth Blackbird did a concert at Lawrence in October, and Rufus Reid, one of jazz’s great bassists, did a show last month (at the time of this writing) at Lawrence.
I’m a fan of Lawrence because of its attraction to both tradition and the unconventional, as well as its supreme emphasis on aiding students to be not just members of a musical section, but rather, holistic artistic citizens of the performing arts landscape.
Luther College – Decorah, IA
Luther College’s music program is exceptionally impressive for a few reasons. One, even though most students at Luther College are not music majors, 40% of all students perform in at least one of the school’s music ensembles – that means 2 out of every 5 students are involved in the college’s musical life. I don’t know of many other liberal arts colleges, as a whole, that embody the common goal of creating music as deeply as in the student body at Luther.
Also, Luther’s ensembles are really impressive – the accomplishments of this school rival even those of the most famous music institutions in the world.
Four of Luther’s ensembles regularly tour internationally – the Nordic Choir, the Concert Band, the Symphony Orchestra, and the Jazz Orchestra. They have toured Russia, China, Japan, Mexico, and several other countries. Every four years, the Symphony Orchestra takes up a residency in Vienna.
In totality, the school has six choirs, three concerts bands, three orchestras, and two jazz ensembles. For a small liberal arts college that is not even a school of music, but rather, a cherished and celebrated department of just 300 or so music majors with hundreds more non-major actively participating musicians, Luther is mightily impressive.
Additionally, alumni of the school seem to find themselves doing great things with their careers. Many students end up finding jobs in the Music Education field, teaching high school, conducting youth groups, etc. Luther has had recent winners in the Metropolitan Opera regional and national finals.
Many students who graduate from their undergraduate program end up going into prestigious conservatories and universities for graduate school, including Yale, Indiana, and Eastman.
For students seeking an outstanding education in a school clearly devoting many resources to making their ensembles among the most impressive at any school, Luther should be a serious choice.