Like it or not, talent is not enough to make it as an artist. No matter what the discipline is, artists must learn how to develop their craft and make connections. They must learn how to be both excellent in their art and how to make a living.
For that reason, college is essential, even for those who already have the skill and the drive to make art.
For singers, choosing a college can be a difficult undertaking. In addition to the traditional colleges that everyone expects in higher education, there are also conservatories and specialized music schools to choose from.
Because music school builds on a singer’s natural talent, students must be careful when making their choice. They want to go to a school that has the resources to help them perform and a faculty of professionals who know how to mold their voices. They need a school that will nurture and support them.
Fortunately, there are plenty of institutions that offer all those qualities. Each of the ten schools on this list features excellent vocal performance and singing degrees for undergraduates (no graduate-only programs are included).
They all emphasize classical musical performance, with programs taught by some of the best classical opera vocalists of our time.
In addition to the quality of faculty, this list is also ranked according to alumni achievement, student outcomes, and resources.
So if you’re ready to find your voice, read on and find a place where you can make beautiful music.
10. Mannes School of Music (New York, NY)
Founded in 1916 by New York Symphony Orchestra concertmaster David Mannes, the Mannes School of Music is the center of the Big Apple’s opera scene. As part of the New School, Mannes has access to the infrastructure and people to make a unique educational experience.
Some of that faculty includes Amy Burton. The accomplished soprano has performed in front of esteemed audiences across the world, including attendees at White House events. With these types of teachers at their disposal, Mannes gives students both the technical training and the inside experience they need to be successful.
Evidence of that success can be seen in the stories of alumni such as Nadine Sierra. Since earning her voice degree in 2010, Sierra has become one of opera’s brightest rising stars. She currently serves as a performer in the Metropolitan Opera.
9. Northwestern University Bienen School of Music (Evanston, IL)
Like every other school on this list, the Bienen School of Music provides vocalists with everything they need to hone their craft. That support includes teachers such as mezzo-soprano Theresa Brancaccio, who has performed as a soloist in Chicago’s Grant Park Symphony. Her work has been praised by observers around the world, including the Chicago Tribune.
Likewise, students can participate in programs such as the Institute for New Music. Bringing together all of Bienen’s talented student body, the Institute encourages musicians to blaze new trails in their art, by collaborating across media.
But the thing that sets Bienen apart from other music schools is its host institution. As one of the nation’s top universities, Northwestern has a reputation for a top-notch education. The school brings those same standards to its music program, equipping students with not only the skills to improve their art, but also the well-rounded education to make it matter.
8. Indiana University Jacobs School of Music (Bloomington, IN)
With a student body of over 1600 students, the Jacobs School of Music at Indiana University is one of the nation’s largest music schools. With such a rich and full community, students at Jacobs have ample opportunity to collaborate and improve their art.
That richness is particularly clear in Jacobs’ ensemble selections. The school produces several operas every year, giving students ample opportunity to hone their performance skills. Through these productions, students gain experience working with some of the most important pieces in their field.
For those interested in modern works, Jacobs has NOTUS, the school’s contemporary vocal ensemble. In addition to performing material by some of the most exciting composers of our day, students also work with music from Jacobs student composers and alumni, thus strengthening the school’s communal bonds.
7. University of Southern California Thornton School of Music (Los Angeles, CA)
So far, our list has focused on the East and the Midwest. But the west coast makes its debut with the excellent Thornton School of Music at the University of Southern California.
One of the best music schools in the world, Thornton has a voice program that takes advantage of its proximity to the entertainment capital of the world to mix the old and the new.
That mixture comes from faculty such as Rod Gilfry. Twice nominated for Grammy awards, Gilfry, has originated eleven lead roles in new operas.
Longtime instructor Elizabeth Hynes has trained some of today’s best singers. Her masterclasses are among the most sought-after in the field.
With such dynamic teachers and the connections offered by its host city, Thornton sits at the doorway of the music industry, ready to usher students in.
6. New England Conservatory of Music (Boston, MA)
The New England Conservatory of Music is the oldest private music school in the United States, and one of the most respected. Since 1867, the school has trained the best in American opera and vocal performance, including contralto Eunice Alberts and jazz vocalist Rachael Price.
Today, the school continues that proud tradition by recruiting some of the best living singers to serve as faculty. Instructor and soprano Jane Eaglen has performed in nearly every major opera house in the world, earning acclaim for her interpretations of Richard Wagner’s works.
But NECM isn’t content to simply rest on its name. It pushes forward with innovations such as the Voice and Sound Analysis Laboratory.
Using state-of-the-art technology, the VSAL gives musicians visual and detailed representations of their performances. With this information, they truly hone and perfect their skills.
5. Peabody Institute of Johns Hopkins (Baltimore, MD)
Established in 1857, the Peabody Institute is the oldest public conservatory in the United States. Its alumni include pop music singer Tori Amos and operatic soprano Jessye Norman. Since joining with Johns Hopkins University in 1977, one of the nation’s most esteemed liberal arts institutions, Peabody has only grown in reputation.
The Institute’s faculty includes some of the most famous names in opera, including Denyce Graves. Before coming to teach voice at Peabody, Graves made a name for herself starring in operas such as Carmen and Samson et Dalila.
But despite this impressive pedigree, Peabody does not restrict itself to only the best of the best. Rather, the school offers several means of reaching the public.
One of the most impressive is its preparatory school, Peabody Prep. These programs offer technical training and enrichment courses for students in and around Baltimore, working to cultivate an appreciation of the arts at a young age.
4. Eastman School of Music (Rochester, NY)
Despite the efforts of philanthropists and leaders around the country, opera remains a difficult field to enter. The cost of attending a reputable music school and receiving the necessary training is prohibitive for many.
Rochester’s Eastman School of Music takes steps to address that problem with its funding program. Nearly every one of Eastman’s students is awarded some sort of funding. In the last year, Eastman gave out $16 million in financial aid, much of it toward merit scholarships.
Thanks to this progressive approach, Eastman has been able to find the next generation of opera stars. Alumni include soprano Julia Bullock, hailed by the New York Times as being “poised for a significant career,” and National Medal of Arts winner Renée Fleming.
By supporting its students financially, Eastman allows more people to cultivate their art.
3. Juilliard School (New York, NY)
For many, the name Julliard is synonymous with the best in the performing arts. The school’s vocal performance program is no exception to its excellent reputation.
In addition to training some of the greatest singers in the world, Julliard boasts a faculty that is second to none.
The school’s instructors include world-renowned vocal teacher Robert White Jr. Not only have White’s students go on to perform in the greatest opera companies, such as the Metropolitan Opera and the Chicago Lyric Opera, but he is also an influential academic. His scholarly articles have been published in outlets such as The Journal of Voice and The Music Educators Journal.
Unsurprisingly for a school of its caliber, Julliard is highly selective. Only 8% of those who apply receive offers of admission. But those who do make it in have the opportunity to the story of the country’s most iconic music school.
2. Rice University Shepherd School of Music (Houston, TX)
The Shepherd School of Music at Rice University may not have the reputation enjoyed by some of the other institutions on this list. But make no mistake, Shepherd has earned its place near the top of our rankings.
With an acceptance rate of only 10%, Shephard is one of the most selective music schools in the nation. More than a means to increase its reputation, the school uses its small size to improve the lives of students. But thanks to its student-to-faculty ratio of 5:1, the school offers attendees unprecedented attention from faculty.
And what a faculty it is! Teachers at Shepherd include Robin Rice, who has performed at major opera houses across the world, in productions such as The Marriage of Figaro and The Magic Flute. Even more importantly, Rice is an award-winning teacher, an expert in using his talent to bring out the best in others.
1. Curtis Institute of Music (Philadelphia, PA)
As anyone who has pursued a career in the arts knows, making money while making art is hard. Singers need as much help as they can get as they make their way into the profession. For that reason, Philadelphia’s Curtis Institute of Music gives its students a head start by offering free tuition to everyone accepted into its programs.
Unsurprisingly, Curtis does not have a large student body. Only 40 musicians are accepted each year, for a total of 150 students in the school at one time. For that reason, only a handful of vocalists make it in.
But in addition to studying for free, those who are accepted into Curtis get to work closely with the world’s best singers. Faculty include Vinson Cole, who has performed at the Metropolitan Opera, Opéra national de Paris, Teatro alla Scala, and more.
With teachers such as Cole and its small-campus atmosphere, Curtis is ideal for future opera stars to develop their skills.