The Top 10 “Hidden Gem” Music Schools in the US

When people talk about great music schools in the US, we often hear the same names come up time & time again – Indiana, Juilliard, Michigan, Cleveland, Curtis, Berklee, Mannes, etc.

All of these are great schools that produce many successful musicians, no question, but did you know there are actually hundreds of music schools and university music departments in the US?

In fact, there are 625 music schools and departments accredited by the National Association of Schools of Music, the principal higher music education accreditor.

Many of these schools have excellent faculty and have produced outstanding alumni, but are not nearly as well-known as their famous competitors, for one reason or another.

I’ve been looking into music schools lately that could be seen as “hidden gem” alternatives for students wishing to expand their palette of options, schools that may not be as talked about as the Juilliards and Berklees of the world, but still elite, excellent, and comparable to any other top school in the entire country.

My research has turned out quite an exhaustive list of truly excellent music schools.

So let’s talk about 10 that seem to be truly outstanding that more musicians should know about and consider as a solid option for application.


10. Catholic University of America’s Benjamin T. Rome School of Music (Washington, D.C.)

photo by NCinDC via Flickr Creative Commons

The Benjamin T. Rome School of Music, situated in the Catholic University of America, is widely considered to be the most prominent Catholic-faithed center for the study of music in the US. The institution, named after ones its most prominent benefactors and alumni in 1984, offers Bachelor’s degrees in all of the standard music college majors, including performance, composition, musical theatre, music education, and more.

One of the notable components of this school that distinguishes it from other music schools is its Latin American Music Center. Founded by the music school in cooperation with the Inter-American Music Council in 1984, this graduate musicological institution is dedicated to the study of Ibero-American music, which is music created in Latin American countries such as Brazil, Venezuela, Argentina, Honduras, Mexico, etc.

Other notable aspects of the school include it’s Centre for Ward Method studies, an institution dedicated to teaching future elementary school music pedagogues a teaching method based in religious chant music, as well as the school’s Single Reed Symposium, a day-long gathering of workshops and classes devoted to clarinet and saxophone education.

Intriguingly, the Benjamin T. Rome School of Music is the only school of music located in Washington D.C., one of the nation’s premiere cultural epicenters.


9. Gettysburg College Sunderman Conservatory of Music (Gettysburg, PA)

Frequently, I get many students and their families inquiring into what liberal arts colleges have good music programs.

The selection for these kinds of schools is seemingly limited – the most spoken about ones are Oberlin’s Conservatory of Music, the Bard College Conservatory of Music, and the Ithaca School of Music, all top-notch excellent schools.

However, another very good one has come to my attention recently, which is Gettysburg College’s Sunderman School of Music.

The school is pretty young, as far as music schools go, established within the last decade or so.

The conservatory at Gettysburg is replete with a number of excellent student ensembles and opportunities, including an annual Opera Workshop, four choirs, marching band, string orchestra ensemble known as Sunderman Strings, and a Gamelan ensemble.

Five of the faculty members at the school have formed a woodwind quintet that is very popular within the Gettysburg community.

Perhaps a hidden gem due to its relatively new inception, this music school housed at Gettysburg College should be a top consideration for many music students, especially those looking to get a solid music education at a top liberal arts college.


8. University of Redlands School of Music (Redlands, CA)

photo by Don Graham via Flickr Creative Commons

The University of Redlands School of Music is a fine school located about 60 miles from Los Angeles. The faculty consist of many of the most excellent teaching musicians in the Southern California area.

The University of Redlands is a very competitive school from an academic standpoint – in 2012, U.S. News & World Report ranked it in the top 15 among regional universities on the West Coast. The school is an excellent option for those who wish to study music while receiving instruction and tutelage in a fostering, open-minded liberal arts environment.

The college itself is home to a number of excellent high-level student ensembles, including the University Opera, Studio Jazz Band, Concert Band, and Madrigals, among many other ensembles.

The faculty at the University of Redlands is, collectively, a true hidden gem. One of the most distinguished organists in the entire nation, Frederick Swann, past president of the American Guild of Organists (commonly referred to as the AGO), teaches the principles behind mastering the organ at this music school. Frederick Swann’s career is highly distinguished; he was the organist chosen to perform the first concert of the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s 6,000+ pipe organ in 2004 at Walt Disney Hall.

The school of music at the University of Redlands, overall, is very strong, and is definitely a good consideration for anyone looking to pursue a Bachelor’s in performance or composition while attending a respected liberal arts university.

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