Second Tier Music Schools

January 2, 2020, 9:06 PM · Hi everyone- I’m planning to audition to music school- I was wondering which specific schools could be considered “second tier”- schools that have good and reputable programs/teachers but are a step below the big schools like Curtis, Indiana,etc. I’ve talked this over with my teacher, but he doesn’t seem to have many recommendations of where I should look.

A secondary question- what kind of repertoire is played for auditions at schools like this? Are kids usually auditioning with Tchaikovsky and Sibelius?

Thanks!

Replies (80)

January 2, 2020, 11:02 PM · I'm a freshman at what could be considered a 'second tier music school': St. Olaf College.

It lacks the name recognition of places like Juilliard and Curtis, but offers many of the same opportunities a school that's solely a conservatory does. It also offers a liberal arts education, a benefit: top-tier conservatories lack any sort of well-roundedness or the ability to diversify from music at all.

We have one of the top collegiate orchestras in the United States, and it's made up entirely of undergraduates (in comparison to conservatories, whose top ensembles are generally made of graduate/doctoral students). The College allows us to go on an annual domestic tour and an international tour every few years, all completely free of charge.

I was accepted with the Glazunov Concerto and the Bach G Minor Sonata.

January 3, 2020, 12:26 AM · Since top-tier schools include places like Indiana University, where the conservatory is embedded in an excellent research university, it's not true that the broader experience isn't available at the top tier.

Not top 5 schools, but arguably still top tier (or possibly second tier, depending on how you're counting), with highly competitive academic programs: There's Yale; it's, well, Yale. The Shepherd School is embedded within Rice University. Peabody is embedded within Johns Hopkins University. Oberlin is within an overall excellent SLAC. Eastman is part of the University of Rochester. CIM has a joint program with CWRU.

AFAIK, St Olaf's doesn't occupy the same tier as those schools, conservatory-wise, even if it's a fine SLAC. My guess is that it would be considered a third-tier music program, or perhaps fourth tier?

January 3, 2020, 9:25 AM · We are just starting to explore this for my son who is 14 so I am by no means an expert. But here's the list we have come up with as of now -- violin specific, as some of these schools excel only on certain instruments. And I am sure I am missing a LOT of programs because there are some we just haven't even looked at yet. Of course, more important than anything is finding the right teacher FOR YOU.

Tier 1A: Amazing programs with amazing teachers
Curtis, New England Conservatory, Juilliard, Colburn, Cleveland Institute of Music

Tier 1B: Also amazing, just slightly lower level players
Indiana, Eastman, Rice, Oberlin

Tier 2A: Good solid programs with solid players
Peabody, Manhattan School, Mannes, Northwestern, Univ of Michigan, Yale

Tier 2B: Higher level programs with good teachers but playing level is starting to decline
Examples: USC, Vanderbilt, UCLA, San Francisco, Texas, Boston Conservatory, Miami

Tier 3: Programs with good teachers but playing level is lower
Examples: Carnegie Mellon, DePaul, Lawrence

Tier 4: Way too many to list, but pretty much everything else goes here!

As for repertoire, I know someone who got into Eastman recently with Mendelssohn. A bunch of kids have gotten into top programs with Dvorak or Paganini. But most of the kids going for Tier 1 have either Sibelius or Tchaikovsky under their belts. A lot of the Tier 2 kids do as well.

January 3, 2020, 9:50 AM · Thanks for your replies!

Lydia, I’d consider the schools you mention as top tier. I’m looking to audition to a second tier school not because the academics are less well rounded, but because I don’t think I’d be competitive for a top tier school at this time.

Edited: January 3, 2020, 10:15 AM · Hi Sadie. This must be an exciting time for you, and these decisions are important. Although you don't consider yourself competitive for a top tier school, I suggest applying for one anyway. When I worked with students who were in the process of applying to schools, we used the following formula to find possible schools. Apply to at least five schools. First, apply to a school you simply know you'll be able to attend. That way, if things don't work out with the other schools, you'll know you will be heading off to school next year. Then select three schools you really like, that are second tier or that you like simply because they feel right. Finally, select one of the top schools, and see what happens. Go for that pie-in-the-sky school, because if you don't, you might end up wondering "what if. . . ". Also, go and visit all of these schools. Looking at catalogues or videos of schools is a bit like staring at shadows. Go the campus, walk around, talk to people, see if it fits your personality. It's a bit odd, but when the right one comes along you'll know it's the one for you. When my daughter was a junior in high school, she and I were visiting family in Michigan. As we drove past Ann Arbor, I suggested we stop into the University of Michigan for a couple of hours to see what it was like. So we did, and she loved it. The following fall, she applied to several schools and ended up going to Michigan for all four years based on that short visit! So, good luck, and get those applications in as early as possible. Schools don't wait for the application deadlines before processing new students. The sooner you apply, the better your chances will be for acceptance.
January 3, 2020, 10:17 AM · I teach at a university that is not known for its music program (Virginia Tech). The string sections in the orchestra are populated mostly by engineering students and a few community members like me. A few of the violinists brought Tchaik, Sibelius, Lalo, and Vieuxtemps 5 to their auditions. I auditioned with Beethoven Romance Op. 40 (F Major)!! The director admitted me immediately (he said my intonation was "refreshing"), but then later he asked me to join the violas because he had so few, which I did not mind because my daughter was already in the 2nd violins (she auditioned with Vivaldi Summer).

I wouldn't write off St. Olaf without first investigating where their graduates have gone. Their violin faculty is of decent pedigree. However, the fact that the college can finance tours for the orchestra doesn't speak as much to the quality of the program as it does to the college's fundraising capacity (through endowment development and, of course, tuition). But in terms of a fallback, St. Olaf does have an excellent chemistry program.

January 3, 2020, 11:33 AM · I wish you all the best in your endeavor, Sadie. May you find the right school for you where you will thrive. Enjoy your college experience!
January 3, 2020, 1:05 PM · Thanks everyone! I really appreciate your help, and now I have a few more things to look into and think about
January 3, 2020, 1:42 PM · By Susan's classification, the vast majority of students attend third and fourth-tier schools (or below). I'll take a swag at what the third and fourth tier looks like:

To Susan's tier 3, I would add: Schools that grant the BM, MM, and DMA, have a full range of music programs and experiences, and have a solid full-time faculty and good visiting artist-teachers. The playing level is generally pretty good. Many of these are big state schools. This would include schools like UMD, UNT, CSU, and SUNY Stonybrook.

Students who could potentially attend a higher-tier school should take a hard look at the tier 3 schools because of the possibility of getting merit money. For some students, a full ride at such a school is preferable to going into debt at a higher-tier school, especially when some of the teachers at the top conservatories may also take on some students at places where they serve as visiting professors.

Dividing out the fourth tier:

Tier 4A: Places that grant the BM, MM, and DMA, with a full range of programs and good full-time faculty, but where the playing standard is not as high. The BME may get more emphasis than the BM performance program. A lot of state universities that do not have especially notable music programs will fall into this category.

Tier 4B: Places that grant the BM, MM, and DMA, but with a lower quality of faculty and playing standard. This may include dedicated conservatories, not just music programs embedded in bigger schools, i.e. Shenandoah Conservatory.

Tier 4C: Places that grant the BM and MM, but do not have a DMA program. Most of the teaching faculty may be adjuncts, but are often members of a major symphony. The music program may not be large enough to fill an orchestra exclusively with music majors.

Tier 4D: Places that grant the BM and MM, but do not have a DMA program. Most of the teaching faculty may be adjuncts who are members of regional symphonies (ROPA orchestra full-time core members, say). The music program is not large enough to fill an orchestra exclusively with music majors, and majors might not be offered in all the orchestral instruments.

And then below that:

Tier 5: Places that grant a BM in performance, but do not have a graduate program.

Tier 6: Places that grant a BA in Music with a performance concentration, but do not offer a BM.

There will be some overlap in playing levels across the tiers, of course, as people do not necessarily choose the very best school that they are capable of getting into. The right match to the teacher, the program, and the location and culture of the school is also a major factor.

On a "small world" note: I know Charles Gray, one of the violin profs at St Olaf's, from my childhood. He is the son of my childhood piano teacher. :-)

Edited: January 3, 2020, 2:03 PM · I don’t know why you are thinking rice is a second tier school. If you look at recent job winners virtually all of them are rice graduates and if you listen to their orchestra it is better then many professionals. At least in terms of violist both of the newly appointed major principal violists in the country, Houston and Atlanta, they both went to San Francisco and one went to rice.
January 3, 2020, 2:23 PM · This was over 20 years ago but I auditioned with the Bruch and a Bach Unaccompanied at the University of Louisville Music School and even received a full scholarship. It's no Juilliard or Curtis but a great "second" tier school so to say.
January 3, 2020, 3:36 PM · Another thing to think about:

It's probably better to go to a good school in a large metropolitan area with a thriving music scene than a slightly better school in the middle of nowhere with virtually no music scene. Those 4 years in a major metropolitan city can be spent networking, subbing, gigging, and building a studio. That way, when you graduate, you hit the ground running.

January 3, 2020, 3:46 PM · @Mark -- my list would like different if I were making it for viola instead of violin. And I am sure there will be quite a lot of flip-flopping in those first 4 categories over the next few years since several top teachers from some of those places are set to retire.

Rice is slightly problematic for violin, mostly due to the way they audition (by studio). It's still a great school, though, and they have tons of scholarship funds, which is nice.

January 3, 2020, 7:06 PM · Most of our recent hires have come from either Rice or Indiana, FWIW.

My daughter (not a string player) did not pass the prescreens at Rice or Michigan, was not accepted to Texas, was waitlisted at UNT (long story to that one, the professor was emailing her personally), and was accepted to the top studio in her instrument at Indiana, where she is doing extremely well. Auditions are not linear.

January 3, 2020, 9:28 PM · Mary,
Wow waitlisted at UNT? For what instrument?
January 3, 2020, 10:47 PM · I don't want to say but she wasn't waitlisted for not being quite good enough; she was waitlisted because the professor had already filled the studio with grad students and there was no room for a freshman.
January 4, 2020, 5:25 AM · I would add into the mix of great suggestions that the level of the school is less important than some other factors. Having a top-level teacher is only a good thing if that teacher actually teaches each student as if that student were important. Also, not every music student (on any instrument) at a top-tier or even a 2nd or 3rd tier music school actually gets to work with that top-level teacher. Many schools foist most undergraduate students off on MM or DMA students.

In addition, it is important that any student know whether they will work well with that top-tier teacher. A local excellent horn playing high school band director had her sights set on a particular major music school but she took a lesson with the horn teacher there and found they would not work well together. Then she took a lesson with the horn teacher at a school not known for an excellent music program and found they would be able to work well together so she applied and attended that lesser school and got an excellent education with lots of playing opportunities which might well have been denied her at a higher-tier music school.

Additionally, there is no guarantee that the person teaching at the school this year (or whatever year you apply) will still be teaching there the following year. And you may hate the replacement which gets hired, which you will learn about when it's too late to transfer for that first year.

Further considerations are how hard the school works their student musicians -- a young cellist friend of mine attended Indiana as a performance major and was worked so hard that she developed serious tendonitis in her left hand and the cello teacher couldn't have cared less -- it was a matter of "play or lose your scholarship" so she (assuming the cello teacher actually cared about her and knew what he was doing) kept on playing through the pain. Several surgeries later and a total change in major, she has never played the cello again at the level she was at when she applied. This was over 20 years ago, but the practice of abusing students is not limited to one school nor to specific instruments, so do a lot of research, talking to current and former students.

One last piece of advice -- get a marketable degree such as music education, not a performance degree. In the audition process for
full-time professional orchestras and opera companies unless your teacher has an "in" with the auditioning committee of a particular orchestra and can pull strings to get you listened to, the only things which will matter will be what professional orchestral experience you already have and how well you play. My son is an excellent trumpet player with an MM degree and a graduate professional diploma from Hartt School of Music and is finding that since he has not been hired by any professional orchestra (even though he's on the staff of several musical theaters and is a permanent member of the Cathedral brass quintet in Hartford, CT, and is first-call ringer when needed for area orchestras, when he submits his materials for full-time orchestras they don't even want to hear him since he's not had any full-time professional orchestral experience. They don't care what works he soloed on or performed as principal trumpet with the the Hartt Symphony Orchestra nor in his undergraduate orchestra at U.R.I. Luckily he got a music-ed degree as an undergraduate so he has a job teaching at a high school. Other performance majors he knows are working in fields totally unrelated to music. His fellow music-ed majors are all working as music teachers with performing careers on the side.

The odds of any performance major landing a nicely paying job at a full-time orchestra are about equal to any college football player playing in the NFL, which chances are very infinitessimally small.

If you decide to go as a performance major, that's fine as long as you realize that the professional placement of performance majors who graduate each year is very poor. Follow your dream with your eyes open and who knows, you may be one of the very select few who land playing jobs after graduation.

Lydia mentions the "small world" of music -- it is microscopically small, so keep smiling, be friendly to all of your colleagues at whichever school you attend, don't gossip, always show up for rehearsals (whether student formed small groups or the official school ensembles) and lessons early so you're in your seat, tuned, ready to go before the listed start time, be neat, be friendly, help others around you and when you run into your fellow students or teachers later in life on gigs elsewhere they will remember how easy it was to work with you and will hire you over others.

Edited: January 7, 2020, 7:51 AM · In the end, Sadie, go with whatever feels good to you. You're getting some good advice here, along with a couple of side conversations. I'm sure it can be a bit overwhelming. Hang in there, take a deep breath, and smile.

While you are making these important decisions, remember they are not locked in stone. You are not required to make a career decision right away, nor are you required to declare a major until a couple of years into your degree program. Plus, if you don't like the school, you can switch out of it. I had a student who was accepted at Julliard. She went as a freshman, didn't care for it, and went somewhere else the next year. So, do your best, go with what seems right for you, and avoid second guessing your decisions, because that kind of thinking can create an unnecessary fog.

One more suggestion regarding auditions and interviews. I used to direct plays, and subsequently I had to audition actors for the roles. When auditioning for a play, a music school, or even a job interview, there are two basic attitudes to take with you. First is the worst one - the attitude of "If I don't get this I'm going to DIE!!!" The actors who came in with that attitude were often nervous and unfocused. They looked at me like I was their executioner rather than a guy who was just trying to cast a play. They even made me nervous. Second - the one that often works is this attitude - "Here I am, this is the best I can do today, if it works out that will be great, but if its doesn't then we can try again somewhere down the road." The people who came in with that point of view were often relaxed, in good humor, and they allowed their personalities to shine. In other words, they came across as professional. Plus, I always asked myself the question, "Can I live with this person in rehearsals for the next six weeks?" I looked for people who were open to possibilities and not desperate for affirmation.

Anyway, listen to yourself, enjoy the journey, and I'm sure you'll end up where you can shine.

January 4, 2020, 11:09 AM · Susan, and anyone else,who do you hear about as violin teachers at Eastman? There are a couple new younger guys who teaching wise I can’t find (online) any info about.
January 4, 2020, 11:18 AM · I agree with much of Michael's advice but you should only get a music education degree if that is what you want to do. Teaching school music is not a runner-up career for performance majors; it is a different career path with different requirements than performance. Rare indeed is the music education major who is able to put in the focused practice hours that the performance majors do, so choosing to major in music education will open one door while possibly closing another.

I don't disagree that many performance majors will find their job search disappointing but that doesn't mean they are cut out to be school orchestra teachers. There are plenty of other paths to explore. I have former classmates and colleagues who are lawyers, doctors, RNs, financial advisors...anyone smart enough to learn a string (or any) instrument at a high level is smart enough to do other things, and will have the work ethic to be successful.

At my orchestra we invite plenty of people to our auditions with little professional experience; the better the school, the less professional experience we will feel is necessary. A current graduate student at Rice, Indiana, or Juilliard will be invited without experience. Someone with degrees from a lesser ranked school is going to need some professional experience. If Michael's son is a first-call sub with area orchestras, that needs to be on his resume though it may not be enough if the area orchestras referenced are themselves freeway philharmonics.

Another way to get a foot in the door is to lower one's own sights for auditions. My first full-time professional job was with the Shreveport Symphony in Louisiana--not a desirable place to live IMO nor was it a fulltime orchestra but I had a title and was in the core, and it got me into auditions for bigger orchestras.

Edited: January 4, 2020, 12:56 PM · I suspect trumpet players (and other brass/winds) have a consideration less relevant for string players, which is proven endurance. Without full time experience or a prestigious high intensity summer festival on the resume, it might be hard to guess whether a player has the endurance necessary to consistently perform the job at a high level?

I have friends who got the BME who regret not having gone the BM route, even after completing the MM, because they spent a lot of their undergrad studying a lot of things not directly related to their playing, with lesser practice time, and sometimes without access to the best teachers that school had to offer. So rather than the Ed component being the backup, it became the only possible plan because it effectively ensured they wouldn't play at the competitive level necessary to win an orchestral job.

I agree with Mary Ellen that a better backup plan is to switch professions. You can go to law school, get an MBA, etc., using your BM as a base. Going to medical school would require having had some undergrad courses, or taking a year to take classes and prep for the MCAT.

January 4, 2020, 3:52 PM · If you haven't had any chemistry or biology, then it might take more than a year to build a transcript that a med school will accept. The issue is prerequisite courses for stuff like biochem, genetics, and micro. AP out of freshman chem/bio/math if you can.
January 4, 2020, 5:12 PM · @Matthew -- I only know one violin student at Eastman so my personal experience is pretty limited and I'm not even positive who he is studying with right now. Eastman is by far the biggest recruiter around here -- they are constantly showing everywhere my son is at and talking to him....since he was 12! Yup, they were recruiting middle schoolers! I don't know what that says or doesn't say.
Edited: January 5, 2020, 11:19 AM · Big state schools used to recruit middle-schoolers for sports too, until they instituted new rules in 2018. I mean, 7th graders were getting scholarship offers. So if violin kids can get some of the same attention that jocks get, then maybe there's some balance in the world after all.
January 5, 2020, 11:46 AM · Is Eastman giving the 7th graders full scholarships, or are they just trying to recruit them to ensure future tuition (revenue) streams?
January 5, 2020, 11:50 AM · I don't think they're offering scholarships or getting commitments. Too risky for a program like Eastman. A Big Ten university sports program has more money to play with. Like, a lot more.
January 5, 2020, 12:05 PM · I'm guessing that at least one violin professor at Eastman has a connection with one or more high-level teachers in the Chicago area and that is why they recruit so heavily there.
January 5, 2020, 12:24 PM · And it doesn't hurt to establish relationships with teachers at many future possible institutions. "Recruiting" that takes the form of "free trial lessons" is free useful input. :-)
January 5, 2020, 5:47 PM · According to Lydia's list, I teach violin at a level 6 school,--no surprise there. I only get students with a non-performance music major who have violin as their principal instrument. If they are serious about performance skills I would recommend transfer to another campus in the system. Of equal importance to getting admitted to a good music school should be winning scholarship money. I would not recommend entering a music job search with a BA or BM while carrying a huge student loan debt. The public universities of your home state should be worth a look. In my state,- California, 6 out of 20 CSU campuses offer the BM performance degree. Northridge and Long Beach have the largest music departments and are in the greater L.A. area. San Francisco rents are too high. Univ. of Cal. campuses are Not better than CSU, in my opinion, for undergraduates, in any major. And, except for Berkeley, they still use that awful Quarter system. UC Santa Barbara has the strong performance section. I attended both UCLA and USC, and I would not put them at the same level. USC was the strong music school, #1 choice in the west side of the country for a long time. Now there are more choices, and UCLA is probably better than it was after getting the big grant from Herb Alpert.
January 6, 2020, 8:33 AM · No, they aren't offering middle schoolers money, just talking to them mostly! Now recruiting in the form of trial lessons would be MUCH better. I hope we start seeing some of that in the near future.
January 6, 2020, 8:36 AM · Trial lessons would have to be asked for by you, not offered by the professor, and depending on the professor there may or may not be a hefty fee attached.
January 6, 2020, 10:29 AM · Some of the school mentioned as 2nd or lower tier schools are still extremely competitive and expensive. I'd first narrow it down based on budget and other factors that are important to you such as location then start looking for teachers who would be a good fit for you.
January 6, 2020, 11:18 AM · In the private music school where I have lessons, sometimes there is a visitor who is in town for a couple of days, and they will do a master class or two. The participants split the visitor's fee, which has tended to be reasonable (say, $50 for a 20-minute slot) but we're not talking about Juilliard profs. I always jump at these opportunities because they're fun and $50 isn't breaking the bank. The top students might get individual lessons with the visitor, which obviously will be more costly.

If there is a special visitor coming to your area from a conservatory (or a performer), then it would not be unreasonable to ask the local host to inquire whether there might be an opportunity for a lesson and what the fee might be. Be discreet because the local host likely does not want to get another 10 requests the day after responding positively to yours.

January 6, 2020, 11:36 AM · There are fine teachers everywhere if you’ll look. For example I take lessons at the university of Georgia and one of the violin professors there used to teach at the Moscow conservatory and when Mr gingold passed he taught at Indiana for a few years to take over his studio. And that’s a school that is very affordable particularly in state. Just a thought
January 6, 2020, 12:29 PM · My son is currently in the application process for undergraduate violin performance. We have found trial lessons to be very revealing (and very expensive). We have also looked at summer programs as a way to develop relationships with teachers. In the end, it seems pretty rare to get a placement at a top school without some prior relationship with the professor. Meeting the teacher for the first time at a 10 minutes audition rarely produces an offer into the studio.

My daughter is a junior at top music school and studying clarinet. Her experience has been fantastic and is largely due to the connection she has with her professor. That relationship can be very key.

January 6, 2020, 12:56 PM · I agree that there are many fine teachers not all of whom teach at first tier music schools, and the professor at the University of Georgia is definitely one such. That being said, another consideration is the playing level of the other students. It is better to be surrounded by students who play better than you do than to be one of the best players there.

I advise my students with professional aspirations (assuming their ambitions are realistic) to go to the best school they can get into and pay for. It's better to have a great teacher at a lesser school than to go into massive debt for a performance degree, but the quality of the competition does matter.

January 6, 2020, 4:51 PM · Out of curiosity: How much does it matter for students to be the concertmaster at their conservatory? I suspect that some schools rotate this chair, based on the sheer number of bios of people I see who mention that they were the concertmaster of Juilliard's student orchestra, for instance. It seems reasonably common for pros to keep their college concertmaster position on their resume. Is this one of those cases where bigger fish in smaller pond is better?
January 6, 2020, 4:58 PM · "It seems reasonably common for pros to keep their college concertmaster position on their resume"

You must be surrounded by very young professionals. All of my college stuff (except for degrees earned, teachers, and a reasonably significant prize I won) came off my resume as soon as I had enough professional experience to fill a page and yes, I had some college concertmaster placements. I roll my eyes when I see a resume loaded with undergraduate experience.

Edited: January 6, 2020, 5:37 PM · The primary goal at every level of one's career is to obviate the inclusion on one's CV of the accolades earned at the previous level.

The high cost and effectively compulsory nature of the "trial lessons" that were described by Steve Hancock is worrisome to me. I worry that it's a racket.

January 6, 2020, 5:59 PM · Expensive, yes. A racket, possibly. However if a student and his/her family is about to pour out 4-years'-worth of tuition, room/board, mandatory student "fees" it would be good to know in advance if the student and the teacher will be compatible and whether or not the student will actually be able to learn from the teacher. Far better the expense and bother of a few trial lessons than 4 years of hell working with a teacher that isn't good for that student.
January 6, 2020, 6:11 PM · People have a right to be compensated for their time and expertise, and highly qualified teachers have extremely valuable time.

FWIW my daughter did not take a trial lesson with her current teacher at IU, or with anyone else. She's in the top studio for her instrument and the first time she met the professor was at her audition. So I think it is a bit much to describe trial lessons as "mandatory."

(it isn't that we didn't think of her taking trial lessons but the expense was a concern and at any rate neither my daughter's obligations nor mine allowed for extra trips beyond the auditions last year)

January 6, 2020, 7:23 PM · Lots of great points have been made already. I both teach at a state school and did my undergrad at a state school, so I wanted to add comments from that perspective. I think two things are really important: the relationship with the teacher and not going into terrible debt. The trial lesson (which can be expensive at Tier 1 or 2 but reasonable or free at lower tiers) is less about getting in, more importantly about making sure that it's a good match and the student will get a lot out of the lessons. Take it from somebody who went to a school for undergrad without having taken a lesson and lived to regret it, that this is important. I

Secondly, because music is so competitive, there are lots of wonderful teachers out there at State and lower tier institutions. If a student has the choice of going for free or cheap to lower tier, or going into lots of debt to Tier 1, I have to say I always advise the first option.

Spend the extra money on going to summer camps and festivals to make contacts and learn as a smaller fish in a bigger pond (including meeting the teacher for the next phase, grad school), good equipment, and extra lessons. The summer camp stuff is key, because lower tier schools won't have as thriving of an eco system of players. That's personally what I did - every summer I was in a program for 8 years in a row, and those people are still my colleagues, friends and network.

I have several friends who are drowning in student loan debt from good schools and have limited options to pay it off. Some of them are switching careers because they cannot afford the "self-underployed" phase that inevitably happens after school. At the end what will matter is how a person plays (for an orchestra job, no one will ask where the degree comes from, for other jobs I can't say) and how low their "start up" costs are when they get out (aka debt). If money is no object, then a great teacher at the highest level school you can get into is the way to go.

Third point: Location can also be very important. Lower tier schools in a thriving city can mean that the student will play gigs, start their teaching career and be inspired by professional solo and orchestra concerts. The more isolated a place is, the less likely the surroundings can help with the education.

Repertoire: Tier 1 conservatories - the harder the better, but playing well and being musical always beats difficult repertoire. Lower tiers there is much more flexibility, and less material is required. Again, playing well and being musical is valued. At state institutions, GPA and SAT's have a BIG influence on the really big scholarships, at conservatories, those should be solid but don't really matter.

Lastly, the tiers - there is no real method for those except to go by reputation. I know schools with DMA programs that have barely enough players to survive, and I know undergrad only institutions - like Vanderbilt, for example, that are rockstar fabulous and with lots of opportunities.

Good luck! SK

January 6, 2020, 8:06 PM · I find this whole discussion amazing. What other profession demands so much personal investment and dedication just to be accepted in a school (good grades ain't enough, you have to become proficient on your own, sort of, before you can even get into a school), and at the end for the vast majority, end up making (relative to the effort invested) so little money! Wow! I can't think of any that compares.
Edited: January 6, 2020, 8:44 PM · Mary Ellen wrote, "People have a right to be compensated for their time and expertise, and highly qualified teachers have extremely valuable time."

I agree entirely. But if that expensive pre-lesson is the only way to have any chance of studying with that teacher as a college student, or if it gives that student a huge advantage over others, that's when I start to wonder if there is a conflict. You've argued it's not necessary (at least not for your own daughter), whereas others have said it's critical. I just think it's an area where students and parents should be mindful.

I teach chemistry at a state school. If I go and play a jazz gig on the piano, nobody cares. If I started tutoring undergrads or editing dissertations on the side for a fee, that would earn me a big reprimand and could even threaten my tenure. I need permission in advance from my dean to do anything for a fee that is related to my professional work, such as external consulting, so that conflicts can be avoided. If I asked whether I could tutor students in my own courses on the side for a fee, I an 100% sure the answer would be no. If I accept $100 for reviewing a book chapter, that would be considered a normal part of the job. But hopefully I'm not on the committee that's choosing the next textbook, because then there's a conflict.

I don't know whether my colleagues in the music department need permission from their dean to teach lessons to townies for a fee; probably they do, but I don't know whether it's ever enforced. Those of you who teach violin at public universities -- what are your obligations in this regard?

January 6, 2020, 8:57 PM · When I was teaching at UTSA, there were no restrictions on my teaching private students at my home. If anything was "on the side," it was UTSA, where I was a *very* part-time adjunct, not my private studio which frankly brought in much more income. I doubt very much that any applied instruction professors at any school have restrictions placed on teaching private students not through the university, though tenure-track or tenured professors will not necessarily have much extra time in which to do so.

My high school violin teacher was a professor at Catholic University in DC.

January 6, 2020, 9:16 PM · Mary Ellen wrote: "You must be surrounded by very young professionals. [...] I roll my eyes when I see a resume loaded with undergraduate experience."

See my thread on program biographies. No, the professionals in question are generally in their 40s and 50s, section players in freeway philharmonics. I sometimes see bios in which they list the undergrad concertmaster position but not all of the freeway phils they play in -- and for that matter, are more likely to mention the one time they might have subbed for the Baltimore Symphony than list their usual freeway phil. (i.e., "X has had the privilege of playing with the Baltimore Symphony" even if it was a one-time sub thing, or even a side-by-side for educators/amateurs.)

I find it kind of strange when 40-something (or even 30-something pros) list their All-State, youth symphonies, etc. But it's pretty common here.

Edited: January 7, 2020, 8:45 AM · Subbing for the Baltimore Symphony is resume-worthy even if only once for a pops or kiddie show, but playing in a side-by-side does not belong on a resume or in a bio at all, period, end of story. That is pretty darn close to lying.

I remember screening resumes for an audition here once and coming across the resume of someone I had known at a summer music festival where it was pretty common for the assistant concertmaster chair to be filled by a section player for a chamber orchestra concert (reduced strings, and titled players were given some time off). This person listed "Assistant Concertmaster of XXX Festival" on his resume as if he'd actually held the title, when in fact he was a section player who had sat 2nd chair for one concert over one weekend. I made it clear to my colleagues that that was a lie.

January 7, 2020, 7:23 AM · Maybe those people listing side-by-sides aren't really professional performers. Are they people with day jobs who occasionally gig?
Edited: January 7, 2020, 9:24 AM · Yes Mary Ellen of course I would be referring only to tenure-stream folks, as I would guess that adjuncts and applied instructional faculty would not be bound by the same restrictions. On the other hand, conflict is conflict, so if you're in charge of a student's grade in a course (including a course like "violin lessons") then you can't also be doing private business with them. It seems pretty unlikely, however, that an applied instructional faculty member would have a student who is paying through a course fee AND taking money from them privately, but it's not unimaginable. That kind of thing would still be a no-no. UTSA's (and everyone else's) burgeoning faculty handbook probably spells all of that out. There are also problems when a faculty member consults for a company that is funding their research. What I can tell you is that over the last ten years, there has been quite a bit of tightening-up on that kind of stuff, generally resulting in the hire of additional administrators in the provost's office to deal with it all. University work can get really complicated, partly because professors, by and large, are clever people who might have a higher than average tendency to see what kind of every-so-slightly-sleazy new game they can play with the rules. Me? I'm a rule-follower. I have a favorite colleague who thinks that's precisely why I'm not a research star.

PS Glad to add a new term to the lexicon: "Side-by-side" to go with "freeway phil" and other fine cultural mainstays.

Edited: January 7, 2020, 10:23 AM · "Those of you who teach violin at public universities -- what are your obligations in this regard?"

Paul,
I don't think musicians follow quite the same rigid rules in academia. I've known too many professors who teach on the side. And it does make perfect sense if you think about it: there's huge pressure to recruit students year after year. Where do those students come from? From serious high school students. The more HS students students the prof is teaching, the more likely it is he/she will fill their studio each year. Especially at the lower levels where talent isn't exactly beating down the door to study with Bill Doctorate.

I know many families in my area that schlep their kids 3-5 hours for lessons in Portland or Eugene with U. teachers. It's an accepted part of college teaching. It's "being part of the musical life" of the community, something not exactly expected of other college disciplines.

One thing to remember: professors of music are very near the bottom of the college salary range, possibly half of what chem teachers make. It's likely difficult to make ends meet in many college towns on salary alone.

Edited: January 7, 2020, 10:39 AM · Professors in other disciplines also have gigs on the side, doing consulting or starting businesses. In business schools, that is not at all abnormal. For just a few examples, Roger Ibbotsen taught corporate finance and did research, but ran a famous consulting group. And the co-founders of Honest Tea were a recent MBA grad and one of his former strategy professors.

Not sure how that is regulated by department, but if someone can keep her university responsibilities going solidly while teaching high schoolers on Saturday, I don't see the problem. And for many adjuncts, it is essentially expected that they have another job. Consider the BU and NEC profs who are hired precisely because they are in the Boston Symphony.

January 7, 2020, 11:00 AM · Frieda, yes, if public school music teaching is a "day job".
But I have seen that from people who teach privately and whose giggling is mostly weddings and such.
January 7, 2020, 11:44 AM · Sadie, et al.,

There is one open question: What do you want/plan to do after you complete studies at music school/college? To me that is the important determining factor - how many of their graduates have been successful in the same area where you are planning to go?

January 7, 2020, 5:09 PM · "But I have seen that from people who teach privately and whose giggling is mostly weddings and such."

I try to refrain from giggling while gigging.
Sometimes, though, you just can't help it...

January 7, 2020, 6:46 PM · Sorry to butt in, but what is a freeway philharmonic, and what do you mean by side by side?
Edited: January 7, 2020, 7:26 PM · Rosemary, a freeway phil is an orchestra that may have a small "core" of salaried individuals (the director, the CM, maybe a few others) but otherwise the players are paid on a fee-for-service basis. The term comes from the idea that players will drive around on freeways to rehearsals of several such groups to eke out a living.

A side-by-side is a performance where an amateur shares a stand with a regular member of the orchestra.

I never meant to suggest that university professors couldn't teach private lessons on the side. Only that, at least where I teach, one needs advance permission/documentation to do that, so that the arrangements can be inspected for possible conflicts of interest. When I described such work as "on the side," this language was not intended to be pejorative.

January 7, 2020, 7:26 PM · It seems like a difference to “teach on the side” as opposed to make it
Practically obligatory to “take a lesson” in order to be taken into a particular studio or accepted to a program. Especially when the most sought after pedagogues can charge a hefty sum. Seems like it is part of the selection, audition process, if you can’t get in without it. At that point, seems morally part of their job.
January 8, 2020, 7:00 PM · Scott, in answer to your question... State and private institutions run quite differently, although I'm sure there are exceptions. In most state institutions, full-time faculty are expected to teach trial lessons and do so for free. That is the case for me, and because I am collecting a state salary and benefits, I don't consider it "for free" I consider for my salary. If it's an adjunct teaching the lesson, the school often compensates them, sometimes they too will teach recruiting for free. These are one time things and a regular part of recruiting the next class - they happen at the University, while a prospective student is visiting. Students at home is something different, those are considered private students and not considered a conflict of interest - but they are not related to admissions at the University. Every school has different policies, but often state schools tend to have the most transparent and non-charging structures, simply because they are beholden to public money and reputation, and records subject to FOIA requests. States have non-solicitation laws for their employees...i.e. people barred from profiting privately on state grounds or from state employment status. Hence no private lessons for money in University buildings. If a faculty member is teaching lessons regularly at home, they are not profiting from their position, but are hired as an expert in their field on a part time basis by a third party if that makes sense. I know some private institutions that tell prospective students they can donate to the department for the lesson if they wish. I know others where anything goes. Because teachers are also (in some cases very sought after) artists and private teachers, there is a wide range of how these things play out in real life. In general I think that teachers don't mean to exclude folks from their studio who have not taken a lesson from them...I think what happens naturally is that when there are so many great applicants playing at similar levels (I'm talking top tier now), teachers naturally lean towards students who they know are quick learners and have shown interest through that lesson ahead of time.
January 9, 2020, 8:15 AM · Shown interest and financial ability, especially if it means traveling to Boston, New York, Cleveland in addition to the cost of the lesson.
I make a living in the arts, so it should not be any surprise, but how much money, class and location determine the odds of a kid excelling.
January 9, 2020, 10:09 AM · Well Matthew of course that applies to a lot of things, doesn't it? Money, class, and location have a lot to do with whether a youngster will excel in downhill skiing, scuba diving, golf, figure skating, or any of a number of activities where one requires equipment, facilities, and expert tutelage, most of which are not accessible much below what we would consider middle-class.
January 9, 2020, 10:46 AM · I agree with Matthew. Paul, I think your comparison is a bit unfair. Matthew isn't talking about the cost of learning and excelling at the violin, but rather the additional expenses of traveling and lessons when applying to schools (whereas, sports applicants are often recruited and flown out to schools that are interested in them). If you come from a rich family with tons of disposable income, you can fly out to each school way in advance and meet all the teachers you are interested in, if you haven't already had the chance to do that from festivals you've likely paid to attend in the past. If your purse strings are wound a bit tighter, it becomes tougher, as you have to choose which schools to do this for, if any. In the arts, all of this comes of the applicant's pocket, and unlike in the medical and legal fields (which also make the applicant pay for travel costs), the promise of an eventual high salary does not exist to assuage fears that these investments will pay themselves back. I don't mean to imply that quality of playing isn't the most important factor, but financial ability certainly awards many opportunities and connections that are crucial for such a political process.

I do want to add, however, that the unfairness goes both ways (a point Susanna made well). Just as it is unfair that those with means can take all the trial lessons they desire and form those connections, it would be unfair of us to expect a faculty member to completely disregard those interactions from a standpoint of impartiality. Music is incredibly competitive, and at the end of the day, I tend to think (or hope, at least) that quality wins out. It's unique in that, with other types of programs (i.e. normal college), we weigh an applicant's achievements against their background (where they live, what opportunities their school would have afforded them, their family's income, etc.). With music, unfortunately, that luxury does not exist. By the age of 18, aspiring musicians are so far down the "path" that top-tier programs cannot afford to consider extraordinary potential when there is a lack of achievement, even if that applicant's background is largely to blame. Research scientists, lawyers, and doctors are often made starting in college or even beyond, but musicians are made from childhood.

TL;DR The music school world is not 100% meritocratic, but it's so competitive that achievement will always beat potential, even if an applicant's background is the culprit.

January 9, 2020, 11:00 AM · I understand where you're coming from, Evan, but I don't think the issue of expenses that arise during the college admission process and the issue of expenses that arise when you're learning the violin from early childhood (which likewise involves travel, equipment, etc., in addition to lessons) can be neatly separated. But that's part of the trouble of an asynchronous forum like this -- we could well be just talking past one another. I sense that we have the same basic thoughts in mind.
January 9, 2020, 11:24 AM · It’s a good point, Paul. As a parent it’s been an education how far into the middle class one needs to be :)
But that’s a tangent away from the topic. It seems to me having to pay privately for a lesson that is essentially a requirement for admission seems
Unfair to both the uninitiated (folks who don’t know the code) or the financially limited. I don’t really know much, but have read here that you simply won’t get into the top studios (regardless of talent) without a lesson or other prior contact (summer camps, etc..).
And in the end, as long as our daughter is passionate about the violin, we are doing these things to the best of our abilities as it is the system that exists.

Edited: January 9, 2020, 12:24 PM · In the absence of significant amounts of money, parents will need cultural capital (musical skill, education) and/or social capital (serious participation in social networks of elite musicians/music educators; or, at the very least,time to spend building these networks). That's why the children of musicians and stay-at-home moms seem to have some advantage. Of course, the best formula is all three: a stay-at-home (or part-time) upper middle-class musician mom with sufficient social skills to cultivate the relevant networks.
Edited: January 9, 2020, 8:57 PM · It's not impossible to get into a studio without prior contact. However, prior contact means that a teacher has a sense of the student -- how good the interaction was during the trial lesson, whether the teaching and leaning styles are a good mesh, how quickly the student is capable of learning, and how fast they have been progressing (delta between their playing when the teacher last saw them, and their current playing). That is not necessarily an advantage, since the teacher might not assess all of those things positively. But it does meant the teacher is making the decision based on more available information -- leading hopefully to a better decision (both with regard to admission and placement in the best studio for that student).
January 10, 2020, 6:40 AM · My son is in a special program for kids who are from underrepresented groups and for most part lack all of the network and social capital that children of musicians and wealthy families have. The good news is they are helping to even the playing field for a bunch of these kids.

Some of the alternative options if you don't have access to trial lessons are: going to summer programs and studying with the teachers there, participating in masterclasses, attending admissions seminars (Juilliard gave 2 here this fall, including one just for my son's program), and attending music-oriented college admission fairs (they do them in large cities). My son's program gives scholarship for summer study during high school, and they also bring in people for masterclasses, talks, and even the auditions.

In my experience thus far, third tier and below programs offer trial lessons like candy, and usually free.

Edited: January 10, 2020, 8:42 AM · For any given discipline, college (or graduate) programs can be tiered (US News and World Report makes a fortune doing this). There is always some cross-over point between the Nth tier and the (N+1)th tier, where things change from being mostly a seller's market, wherein students compete for admission, to a buyer's market, wherein programs compete to recruit students. Susan's observation seems to be that for violin performance baccalaureate programs, the cross-over occurs between the 2nd and 3rd tiers, and this does not surprise me. There is a very practical, fundamental relationship. The seller's market exists at institutions where the students have a fighting chance of getting placed into the positions and careers that they have long desired. The buyer's market occurs at schools where there may still be good job placement, but not necessarily in the job you thought you were going to have when you were 15 years old, or where an additional educational step may be required to become competitive.
January 10, 2020, 9:03 AM · My advice for someone wanting to major in music, but who is not necessarily competitive for the top conservatories would be to first look to the state universities in your state and identify the best music program and at least apply there. That way you have the best chance of a degree without significant debt. Some schools with fairly strong music programs (but probably 3rd/4th tier according to the lists above-however, all have full-time string faculty and grant BM, MM, and DMA degrees).
University of Colorado-Boulder
University of Illinois Champaign-Urbana
University of Wisconsin-Madison
University of North Carolina-Greensboro (UNCG)
University of Missouri-Kansas City (UMKC)
University of Georgia-Atlanta (UGA)
Ohio State University (OSU)
Florida State University
These are all programs I considered at one time or another (and I got my master's degree from one on this list) I don't (and will never) have a full-time orchestra job, but I make a decent living teaching lessons, freelancing, and some adjunct university teaching. I offer this list, mostly because I initially had no idea what schools had decent programs outside of the top 10 or so that I had no chance of getting into.
January 10, 2020, 12:07 PM · Here is an interesting post from the violin channel about taking trial lessons. I thought it might be relevant to the conversation.

https://theviolinchannel.com/vc-insider-should-student-take-lesson-teacher-before-conservatory-audition/

January 10, 2020, 12:24 PM · Wow, Steve, thanks for that link. That was very interesting to read.
January 10, 2020, 3:34 PM · It most certainly was interesting to read, @Steve.
January 10, 2020, 6:59 PM · I’ve gotten so many more replies than expected, and I just wanted to say thanks to everyone for it. It has been very informative and helpful!
January 10, 2020, 10:42 PM · Sadie, as you've seen these threads can take on lives of their own. Sorry if it diverted away from your main questions, but that's typical here.
January 11, 2020, 4:02 AM · Just to put my 2 cents into the mix: Even though the shiny conservatories seem important, it's the teacher and the programs that really matter. There is fierce competition for teaching positions at universities, so there are some amazing teachers working at schools that might be overlooked in favor of the big-name conservatories. When you audition for orchestras, your playing is what they really care about, and if you play like a pro, no one will sneer at you for going to a state school. In my personal opinion, it is worth it to consider going to the best school at which you can get a full-ride scholarship. If you don't get a scholarship at a top-tier place, it's not the end for you. Going a state school with a wonderful teacher and really applying yourself there will open doors, not close them. You could graduate debt-free and be better off in the long run. The process of getting an orchestra job is not cheap. It involves a lot of travelling, and when you graduate you have to hit the ground running.
Edited: January 11, 2020, 9:21 AM · My take-away from the violin channel article Steve provided is that you’d better milk your networks to find out your prospective teacher’s opinion about trial lessons because having one could be the difference between admission and failure! Potentially a very helpful article.
Edited: January 11, 2020, 8:23 AM · Given the kinds of things that have emerged in the past few years, one also wonders at what point the discussion with your "network" gets to the issue of which universities have teachers that are upstanding professionals and which, if any, have teachers that are sexual predators.
January 11, 2020, 8:37 AM · Also you call look at schools with excellent string quartets in residence. Like at Uc boulder there is tackas and there is Jupiter at university of Illinois Urbana and the violists in those groups are both spectacular and tackas is gearing up to get Richard O’Neil one of the most celebrated violists living.
Edited: January 11, 2020, 9:20 AM · It might be just as hard to get into the studio of someone like Geoff Nuttall or Owen Dalby as it is to get into the studio of the regular violin professors at Stanford. I don't really know though. Plus, good luck just getting into Stanford ... phew!
Edited: January 11, 2020, 12:36 PM · There's considerable randomness in getting into Stanford for undergraduate. My collaborator and former postdoctoral mentor there claims Stanford has enough top applicants to admit four additional incoming freshman classes at the same level of quality. Meaning, any super-duper 17-year-old star has, at the very, very best, a 1 in 5 chance of getting in.

How did Stanford come up anyway?

January 11, 2020, 10:19 AM · Stanford does not have a conservatory and does not grant the BM.


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