Transforming from singing in the shower to a shampoo bottle microphone to performing the opera, Don Giovanni, in front on hundreds of people requires years of study in music theory, composition and vocal performance. While most universities have music programs, where are students going to receive the top vocal training, while still having the opportunities to perform? College Magazine chose the following 10 schools as the best universities and conservatories for singers, based on unique programming, performances and ensembles, individualized coaching and postgraduate opportunities.
With $15 million available for merit-based scholarships, Berklee College of Music encourages its music students to take part in more than 700 performances a year. The school has a specified Professional Performance department, and class sizes consist of 11 students on average. In addition to various concerts and showcases, like the “Nothing Conservatory About It” concert series, the college also boasts student-run organizations that focus on managing record labels and concert venues. Aside from prestigious programs, Berklee College of Music has numerous successful alumni including: Grammy award-winning singers John Mayer, Paula Cole, and Melissa Etheridge, four of five members of the band Passion Pit, Grammy award winner and Oscar-nominated film score composer Alan Silvestri (Back to the Future, Cast Away, The Polar Express) and John Blackwell and Joey Kramer, the drummers for Prince and Aerosmith, respectively.
Bucknell offers a Bachelor of Music in Performance, which requires a basic level of Italian, French and German for operas, developing a historic language of the arts. Solo performance private lesson courses are also available to ensure students receive individual attention and coaching. Without a graduate program, there are many opportunities to perform from the moment you step onto Bucknell’s campus. Tom Carle, a sophomore at Bucknell, has had many opportunities through Opera Company and master classes. “Where at many conservatories, undergraduate singers have to compete with graduate singers for spots in performances, Bucknell has a much different feel of competition.”
Carle said his education has broadened into other various interests, like philosophy and sociology.“Above all, Bucknell provides this in a liberal arts environment that promotes self-management and other skills that assist musicians in the real world, skills that students at conservatories simply cannot obtain,” he said.
College Conservatory of Music - University of Cincinnati
The Cincinnati Conservatory of Music at UC offers weekly private lessons for voice students, giving them the opportunity to prepare for performance in one of six full-length operas they host each year. Aside from these productions, there is also an opera project specifically designed only for undergraduate students, to ensure they receive the same opportunities without having to compete with graduate students for performance roles. If you’d rather be behind the scenes of the opera star, CCM also offers an artist diploma in opera coaching. Alumni have consistently starred in Broadway shows, including Wicked, Rent and In the Heights. Be prepared to have a large audience at either of CCM’s two proscenium theaters, the Corbett Auditorium and Patricia Corbett Theater, which hold 750 and 400 seats, respectively.
The Juilliard School
Arguably the most notable performing arts school in the United States, the voice and opera program at Juilliard in New York provides esteemed vocal training from prestigious faculty. With a heavy focus on opera studies, each student has the opportunity to perform in at least one opera per year. If you are “intellectually curious, physically adept and emotionally fearless—superb vocalist, highly competent musician, motivated artists ready to lead your profession,” then Juilliard’s opera program is for you, according to the Department of Vocal Arts. Soprano singers Renée Fleming and Leontyne Price received their vocal education at the Juilliard School, along with Private Practice star and Tony Award winner Audra McDonald.
Manhattan School of Music
Located in the heart of New York, MSM has an undergraduate student body made up of approximately 400 students. Its Center for Music Entrepreneurship offers various programs, projects and internships to help students promote their talents and music career. Their event programming provides alumni panels on “What It Takes to Make It” and career workshops on how to increase freelance work. The school puts on more than 700 performances per year, ranging from jazz concerts to student and faculty recitals to fully-staged operas. Singer Harry Connick Jr. is a notable alumnus.
Northwestern University – Bienen School of Music
From musical theater to studio classes, students in the voice and opera program in the Bienen School of Music at Northwestern University receive weekly vocal instruction and opportunities to take part in various choirs and performances. Students are highly encouraged to obtain a double degree by pairing a music major with an outside field, or they can design their own Ad Hoc major within the music school. For example, a student can work with advisors to create an established proposal for a major based on a combination of courses in jazz studies and conducting. Located just 12 miles from downtown Chicago, Northwestern provides a gateway to larger opportunities in the city. One of the voice professors, Nancy Gustafson, is also an international opera star, and another alumnus, Sheldon Harnick, became a lyricist for many musicals such as Fiddler on the Roof.
The Peabody Institute of Johns Hopkins University
Esteemed for more than its medical program, Johns Hopkins has a prestigious conservatory buzzing with technology. Computer music studio labs and recording studios at Peabody, equipped with digital and surround sound that can transfer between studios, provide ample opportunity for vocal students to further their music careers. Students at the junior level or above can also compete in the Sylvia L. Green Voice Competition, where students perform a vocal repertoire between 10 and 20 minutes while accompanied by a full or chamber orchestra. The first prize winner receives $1,500 and a performance with the orchestra for the following year. John Charles Thomas, a member of the Metropolitan opera in the 1930s and 40s, attended the Peabody Institute.
San Francisco Conservatory of Music
The elite voice program at SFCM boasts nine varied renditions of partially- to fully-staged operas per year, an annual vocal concerto competition and two-hour weekly performance labs. SFCM has many other performance opportunities through the New Music ensembles, chamber choirs and collaborations. External Affairs Manager Sam Smith described the vocal program as a “well-rounded undergraduate education and rich graduate curriculum that include diction, languages, pedagogy and vocal physiology.”
With audition and career development workshops, the school prepares their vocal students by providing exposure and networking for the school’s students, through SFCM’s proximity to the city opera and many regional companies. Graduates of the program, like international singer Catherine Naglestad, seek out auditions for many high-end companies. . Julie Adams, a first year graduate vocal student, said SFCM prepared her for life after graduation. She described SFCM as “kind of perfect,” especially with the opera house a few blocks away. “With the class and coaching … and the faculty and stuff, they’ve had wonderful careers themselves,” she said. “They tell us what to expect in the real world. I feel very prepared.”
Despite the large enrollment at Temple, a third of the classes at the university have 20 or fewer students in them according to U.S. News & World Report. Students seeking their vocal performance bachelor’s degree at Boyer College of Music and Dance take part in weekly studio voice classes or student ensembles. Temple’s Concert Choir, Singers, and Chorale are the best opportunities to expand their repertoire by performing a wide range of chamber music. After students’ completion of the voice major, they perform a senior recital to conclude their performances. Notable alumni include singer-songwriter Susan Werner and Aaron Weiss of mewithoutYou.
The four curricular choirs at Towson, Men’s Choir, Treble Choir, Chorale, and Choral Society present concerts throughout the year for the community, but not without hard work. Their coursework involves audio quizzes that test intonation, pitch and rhythmic accuracy, diction, breath support, performance decorum and overall effort.. While performing in ensembles and TU choirs, vocal students also have opportunities to showcase their talents online. The Music Composition Streaming Project at Towson highlights student composers’ concerts online and helps promote undergraduates’ vocal careers. Many alumni have become members of the bands for the U.S. Armed Forces. For example, trumpeter Jamie Lantz and bassoonist Eddie Sanders became members of the Air Force band, which plays and is known as “America’s International Musical Ambassadors.” Here the U.S. Air Forces Central Command Band covers Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eBaskRZDbNA.
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