Oberlin College-Conservatory of Music – Oberlin, OH
Housed in one of the midwest’s most acclaimed liberal arts colleges, The Oberlin Conservatory of Music is one of the premiere destinations for young musicians looking to get excellent training at the college level.
One of the biggest benefits of the school is that it is almost entirely an undergraduate program. While there are a few graduate programs in the school, such as a Master’s in Chamber Music and a Master’s in Conducting, most programs are for undergraduates only.
This can be an especially good boon to an aspiring young musician as he or she will not have to compete for opportunities with graduate students. The best opera roles, principal positions in the school orchestra, and top performance opportunities are given almost exclusively to undergraduate students.
Some may criticize the larger university-based schools of music, such as Indiana and UNT, for being so big that students can sometimes get lost in the crowd there. That doesn’t seem to be the case at all for Oberlin’s Conservatory of Music; the sense of individualism at Oberlin’s Conservatory is strong.
Students who are strong academically, wish to double major, and aspire to an undergraduate life of liberal-youth-culture should consider Oberlin as a strong choice.
The school’s faculty is exceptional. One of the world’s most celebrated harp soloists, Yolanda Kondonassis, teaches a select studio of students at this institution.
The Jazz faculty are among the most impressive of any college for Jazz Performance in the country. Jamey Haddad, one of the nation’s most celebrated jazz percussionists, teaches at Oberlin, as well as saxophonist Gary Bartz, who has notably performed with the likes of Miles Davis and McCoy Tyner.
Peter Slowik is widely considered to be among the top viola professors in the country. Many of his former students have taken 1st prize in prestigious classical music competitions, such as the ASTA National Solo Competition, the Juilliard Concerto Competition, & the Fischoff National Chamber Music Competition.
Overall, this is a fantastic school for any music student. Some may complain that Oberlin is a bit far away from any cultural epicenters in the midwest such as Ann Arbor or Chicago. But if your desire is to achieve the best music education possible in a renowned liberal arts college, there are few, if any, better options than Oberlin.
Bard College-Conservatory of Music – Annandale-On-Hudson, NY
Bard’s maverick attitude, legendary faculty, strength of students, and commitment to both tradition and modernity is why it may very well be the strongest liberal arts program for music in the country.
The school has a unique partnership with the American Symphony Orchestra – every summer, the orchestra performs at Bard’s dazzling Richard B. Fisher Center for the Performing Arts, a dazzling 110,000 square foot center housing two theaters, four rehearsal studios, and a number of other specialized rooms.
Additionally, there are special scholarship awards given out to the school for select double bassists, bassoonists, and brass players who not only receive up to full tuition coverage, but also a mentorship with members of the American Symphony Orchestra.
One of the school’s most noted faculty members is vocalist Dawn Upshaw, who rose to prominence in 1992 for her solo performance in the recording of Henryk Gorecki’s Third Symphony. With over a million copies sold, it is perhaps the best-selling CD of contemporary classical music of all time.
Bard is not what most would consider an opera-heavy school; one night of opera is hosted every other year at the school, usually containing a double bill of a traditional opera and a modern opera. This is in direct contrast to say a school like Eastman, which hosts three operas a year, or Indiana, which hosts six operas a year.
In place of the opera, the graduate vocalists perform a recital called First Songs, which is focused on entirely new music. Some pieces are commissioned just for the recital.
One of the great distinctions of Bard is that the school has modern music as an underlying theme. A great example of this is a currently successful New York City non-profit new music ensemble that started with Bard undergraduates in 2010 called Contemporaneous. Led by David Bloom and Dylan Mattingly, the ensemble commissions, performs, and champions music being written by composers living today. Most of their programs usually consist of music written in just the past few years.
Bard is an expanding brand – they recently acquired a historic music conservatory in Boston, the Longy School of Music. Since the acquisition, Longy has launched a program called The Orchestra Now, which offers all of its students in that specific program a full tuition scholarship, a fellowship, and a Master’s Degree in Curatorial, Critical, and Performance studies.
Some of the faculty at Bard is among the most impressive at any music school. The college has faculty members who also teach at the big-name conservatories in the East Coast, such as Curtis, Juilliard, Manhattan School of Music, and Mannes. Just a few of the most notable people on the faculty include George Tsontakis and Joan Tower, two of the most eminent living composers, Arnold Steinhardt, violinist of the former Guarnieri Quartet, all four members of the acclaimed So Percussion ensemble, and clarinetist David Krakauer, a famed performer known for his Klezmer style of performance.
Finally, the atmosphere of the school is very much informed by its longstanding President of the entire school, Leon Botstein. An avid artist and conductor himself, Botstein’s commitment to keeping Bard alive, well, and growing even through the most difficult financial situations of the school’s history demonstrates a resiliency and commitment rarely seen in any senior level college administration. Artists are in good hands under his direction.
I fully endorse Bard as one of the top liberal arts colleges for music in the country – students who get accepted into the program should consider themselves lucky to attend such a maverick, impressive, and forward-thinking musical institution.
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