High School Academics & Orchestras?
I recently found this forum, and have enjoyed and learned a lot from reading many of the discussion posts! I was wondering if there is an organization that publishes a list of national public high schools ranked by academic AND orchestra performance? Schools that have high average SAT scores with many AP classes offered (also possibly IB), with at least four orchestra levels? Currently I’ve been searching Niche.com for 'Best High Schools for the Arts', but then also have to check academic scores and class offerings, and then check the school’s website to see if/what kind of orchestra instruction is provided. If there are multiple orchestra levels, then check to see if there are any videos posted on YouTube or FB to discern the orchestra’s quality of playing. It seems there has to be an easier way! Thanks in advance for any information.
Great topic. I can't answer your question, but I'll be following this thread.
It seems to me it would be easier to find a high school with lofty academic standards in an area with a strong youth orchestra program than it would be to find a package containing everything in one building. An orchestra which draws players from a metropolitan area can select from a larger pool than a single high school, so the average ability might be higher, as well.
Multiple orchestra levels don't necessarily indicate quality so much as the size of a high school. However, I don't think that any organization ranks high school orchestra quality.
"Multiple orchestra levels don't necessarily indicate quality so much as the size of a high school." Correct. And the median family income of the district.
Thank you all for your responses and I definitely agree with your input. Lydia, I was hoping there was entity that perhaps ranked size/performance of school orchestras, sigh. In specific, we're looking for high schools for our girls (currently in 5th and 7th grade). They're in full-time gifted schools, have played piano for six years, violin for a little over two years, and my older daughter also plays clarinet in her school band. The girls currently have an excellent teacher who plays in the Florida Orchestra, and are working on the first song in Book 6 of Suzuki.
TBH, it's very difficult to talk about "quality" of high school orchestras because their goals and philosophies vary so greatly. Many of the more highly regarded high school orchestra programs also seem to play heavier classical music -- that may be part of why they're highly regarded. In some places, like Texas when I was in high school, the "best" orchestra programs may not be inclusive at all. My public high school's orchestra kept winning competitions and had five or six future pros in it at any given time, but the district had no beginner-level orchestras and even the lowest level orchestras required at least 4-5 years of private lessons and an audition.
My daughter (16 yo, violin) takes lessons through a local private music school. The school has its own Junior and Senior Orchestras. The junior orchestra is very small, maybe 8 violins and 2 cellos, and no violas. The kids are learning to listen to each other, to watch the conductor, and to extend their attention span. There is a lot of goofing around, and the conductor's goal is to encourage genuine enjoyment. The arrangements are all super easy, like Book 3 level. The senior orchestra is small but very good. The top few kids are conservatory-bound. My daughter (not conservatory bound) is Principal Second. There is a fee to play, and all string students in the school are compelled to play in the senior orchestra if they are good enough. (Since I am a student of that school I am permitted to play too, and since they need violas desperately, I play viola. There is often one other adult student in the orchestra.)
Since I have kids close in age (4th and 8th grades) and we are going through the process of high school choice, I'll let you know what I have found.
We're in North Carolina at the AG and arts magnet in this area and it's only one part of many musical resources we are utilizing. The music program there is quite good and fun and leads to many friendships over the years, but because there are so many additional opportunities outside of school it's not the central focus.
Keep in mind that the good youth symphonies, whether independent or at a school, will almost exclusively play "heavy-duty classical", as you put it.
One more thing: The quality of a school orchestra can fluctuate significantly from year to year, especially at smaller schools. This is because a couple of conservatory-bound seniors (or graduating 8th graders) can really influence what the group is able to do.
Another thing to consider: Where do your kids want to end up in college? If you're considering NC and CO, NC public colleges and universities are vastly better than Colorado's. NC is also closer to east coast schools as well, in case they don't want to go in state. BTW, In state college tuition will save you and yours thousands and thousands of dollars. It could be the difference between living in an apartment while paying off student loans for 50 years or buying a house before 30! Admissions preference is given to in-state students in North Carolina and several other states. (I don't know about Colorado; my kids weren't looking there.)
Julie is right about the universities. UNC Chapel Hill is a much better university than CU Boulder.
I loved my youth symphony experiences (and Suzuki program experiences) and made lifelong friends there. In fact, my youth symphony friends later turned into my school friends when I switched from private to public school, and my freshman stand partner from public high school orchestra (who didn't play in my youth symphony) became my best friend in high school.
I agree with Lydia, and I want to make a larger point
Consider looking for excellent youth orchestras or university orchestras that will take community members on audition. That way you can choose the right academic program and not lose out on the musical side.
I'm right there with you, Mary Ellen. Blacksburg is a college town. Plenty of upper-middle-class folks in the community. But 40% of the kids in our local elementary school are eligible for free or reduced-price lunches. Surprised? I'm not. Many neighborhoods have the international-graduate-student families and the folks who work for the university but at the lowest pay bands. We wanted our kids to have that diverse experience, and they did, organically, through their own friendships. They are keen on academics and also therefore it is also not a surprise that many of their friends are children of immigrants -- from all corners of the world including Africa and South America in addition to Asia and Europe. By the way the local private music school that I mentioned always has one or two scholarship families where the kids are practicing diligently but there is no way they could pay full freight or even anything at all for their lessons. This is why I don't mind paying the fee to play in the orchestra.
Thank you all again for your input. It’s impossible to know what interests kids at ages 10 and 12 will have as they mature. As George and Paul said, it’s our job as parents to open the world of possibilities to them (as best we can), yet encourage specific areas they enjoy and are talented in (as time permits).
Mary Ellen, Stephen and Paul you posted after I had already written my last comment. I agree 100% that just because a school's academic scores look to the be the highest on paper, that doesn't necessarily mean it's the best option. My original post about avg. SAT scores was only to indicate that we are looking for challenging academics. Both of our daughters' current schools are magnet programs within a local school in generally lower-income areas (the district's thought was that it could help to boost the local area). Also in higher-income and higher-performing high schools, elitism and drugs can be an issue. So many things to consider.
I haven't read the whole thread, so maybe this point has already been made. Most kids even in performing arts high schools have private teachers. The quality of the teacher is going to matter a lot more than the school for improving their playing. I don't know exactly how the performing arts school here (Colorado) is structured, but I would hope that it would provide solid resources for kids that can't afford them, and let the kids that do have all the private resources have time to do their thing.
UIL is the Texas umbrella organization of public school competitions. It oversees everything from football to solo and ensemble.
"An example of my comment about 'heavy' classical music was during the Holiday Concert last year, the local youth symphony orchestra (that the girls opted not to audition for this year) played movements I, II and IV of Dvorak’s Symphony No. 6 in D major. I thought it seemed a little 'heavy' for a youth concert, and particularly so for a Holiday Christmas time concert. Is that a typical piece other youth orchestras would play?"
Holly wrote, "I am concerned for the pressure/stress/competition that can exist in many of the top-rated academic high schools. If the girls do experience any of the former, I was hoping to alleviate that with the musical outlet."
Regarding "holiday" concert programming: "I think my girls would enjoy one movement, along with a pop or holiday-sounding piece, and a minor piece or fast and showy, dramatic piece."
Holly, you seem to be overlooking the fact that many of the kids playing in the school orchestra are doing so in order to bolster their college admissions chances. Many kids will be stressbunnies who may also be very competitive, especially since seating in many school orchestras is ranked (and multiple tiered orchestras certainly results in explicit ranking).
No decent youth orchestra--at least not the flagship orchestra at the top of its program--is going to waste the kids' time on arrangements and certainly not on the type of holiday pops fare that you typically see on professional orchestra programs for December.
I sent my youngest to a less competitive public high school so that she wouldn’t feel left behind the hyper competitive kids.
I guess if you don't know what you are studying, then you will want to go to a better ranked university, but if you know what you are studying, you should look into the major and compare. CU Boulder has a number of environmental and engineering programs that are pretty highly ranked. For liberal arts, maybe a little less so. The human microbiome project was running out of there for a while, but I think they moved out to a university in California.
The difference is recruitment and networking. Many companies recruit students out of
What about their music? Colorado's looks pretty impressive based on what I see on their website. They have a College of Music as opposed to just a department at UNC Chapel Hill. They also seem to have pretty strong jazz offerings.