Second Tier Music Schools
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?
I'm a freshman at what could be considered a 'second tier music school': St. Olaf College.
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.
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.
Thanks for your replies!
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.
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 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!
Thanks everyone! I really appreciate your help, and now I have a few more things to look into and think about
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:
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.
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.
Another thing to think about:
@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.
Most of our recent hires have come from either Rice or Indiana, FWIW.
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.
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 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.
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.
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 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?
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.
@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.
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.
Is Eastman giving the 7th graders full scholarships, or are they just trying to recruit them to ensure future tuition (revenue) streams?
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.
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.
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. :-)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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?
"It seems reasonably common for pros to keep their college concertmaster position on their resume"
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.
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.
People have a right to be compensated for their time and expertise, and highly qualified teachers have extremely valuable time.
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
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.
Mary Ellen wrote, "People have a right to be compensated for their time and expertise, and highly qualified teachers have extremely valuable time."
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.
Mary Ellen wrote: "You must be surrounded by very young professionals. [...] I roll my eyes when I see a resume loaded with undergraduate experience."
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.
Maybe those people listing side-by-sides aren't really professional performers. Are they people with day jobs who occasionally gig?
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.
"Those of you who teach violin at public universities -- what are your obligations in this regard?"
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.
Frieda, yes, if public school music teaching is a "day job".
Sadie, et al.,
"But I have seen that from people who teach privately and whose giggling is mostly weddings and such."
Sorry to butt in, but what is a freeway philharmonic, and what do you mean by side by side?
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.
It seems like a difference to “teach on the side” as opposed to make it
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.
Shown interest and financial ability, especially if it means traveling to Boston, New York, Cleveland in addition to the cost of the lesson.
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.
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 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.
It’s a good point, Paul. As a parent it’s been an education how far into the middle class one needs to be :)
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.
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).
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.
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.
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).
Here is an interesting post from the violin channel about taking trial lessons. I thought it might be relevant to the conversation.
Wow, Steve, thanks for that link. That was very interesting to read.
It most certainly was interesting to read, @Steve.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
Stanford does not have a conservatory and does not grant the BM.