Many cities are called college towns, but few deserve that title like Boston. The home to the University of Massachusetts, Harvard, MIT, and more, Boston has earned its reputation as the premier city for higher learning.
Although one would expect these prestigious schools to also have great music programs, they rarely come to mind. When one hears about MIT or Harvard, few immediately think about the ensemble and performances they offer. In nearly every case, the school’s other achievements take precedence in the public imagination over their musical offerings.
But as this list shows, Boston is a great place for those looking to study music. All of the schools listed here have remarkable programs, including accomplished faculty members, state-of-art resources, and numerous performance opportunities.
Students in these programs can pursue everything from mastering their instrument to music production and technology to music education. Whatever their interests, these schools will provide students with everything they need to succeed in their careers.
If you’re looking for a music career, either as a performer or a producer or anything else, then you should certainly consider Boston as a destination. As this list shows, Boston houses music programs for every need and career plan.
So read on and get ready to launch your musical career.
10. Massachusetts Institute of Technology
When one hears “MIT,” most people immediately start thinking about scientists and mathematicians, doing innovative work within the STEM fields. But MIT also features a remarkable music program, one that deserves just as much attention as its more famous sisters.
Not only can students major in music, but all students enrolled at MIT can take classes in the program, regardless of their major. Students can study under the school’s award-winning music faculty, which includes composer John Harbison. Harbison has won both a MacArthur Genius grant and a Pulitzer for his work with prestigious institutions such as the Metropolitan Opera, Chicago Symphony, and the Boston Symphony.
Music and Theater Arts Department Head Evan Ziporyn has written compositions that have been performed by Yo-yo Ma’s Silkroad Ensemble, Roomful of Teeth, Bang on a Can, Kronos Quartet, and more. His works were featured at a Carnegie Hall Zankel Making Music composer’s portrait concert.
9. UMass Boston
In the music program at the University of Massachusetts Boston, professors and students study the integral role music plays in the human experience. Accordingly, the program exposes students to musical forms from across the world, creating, listening to, responding to, and performing music of Western and non-Western musical traditions.
Of particular note is the department’s music education program. With a comprehensive curriculum that addresses all aspects of the knowledge, skills, and pedagogical understanding required for the culturally relevant teaching of music, the program prepares future teachers for the challenges of the modern classroom.
In addition to securing a teaching license, education students can also refine their craft as musicians by participating in traditional ensembles, such as Chorus, Chamber Singers, Chamber Orchestra, and Jazz Ensemble.
With this wide range of possibilities, it’s no wonder that UMass Boston stands as one of the best music schools in the city.
8. Harvard University
Given its reputation as one of the world’s most important institutions, it’s no surprise that Harvard University’s music program would appear on this list. But the program does not just rest on its parent university’s revered name. It lives up to its reputation with comprehensive courses taught by some of the world’s finest musicians and scholars.
Among the latter are professor Carolyn Abbate, whose work on opera and philosophy has been published in major journals. Musicians include professor Claire Chase, the first flutist to be a MacArthur Fellow, and Jessica Bodner, a member of the Grammy award-winning Parker Quartet.
For those pursuing graduate study for music, Harvard offers specializations in composition and musicology. More importantly, any of those accepted into the doctoral program receive full funding for their studies.
7. UMass Lowell
The University of Massachusetts at Lowell features one of the country’s best music recording and music production programs.
Home to one of the few sound recording technology programs in the United States, UMass Lowell provides students with the practical and theoretical knowledge they need to succeed as producers.
The program combines courses in physics, electrical engineering, computer science and advanced mathematics, with traditional studies in music and courses in the art and technology of recording.
In addition to eight fully-appointed studio lab spaces, the major also features an excellent internship program, which places students in professional spaces.
Internships are also at the forefront of the school’s music business emphasis. This major provides both extensive training in aspects of the ever-changing music industry and experience in the school’s music performance curriculum.
Courses are taught by experienced industry professionals, allowing students to focus on a variety of industry sectors such as management, marketing, entrepreneurship, publishing and licensing, record and concert promotion, new media, music products, and arts administration.
6. Northeastern University
Like the previous school, Northeastern University’s music major features a music industry program, which focuses on the music business and offers excellent internship opportunities.
The program introduces students to songwriting, recording, production, technology, products, label operations, promotion, marketing, management, finance, economics, legal issues, licensing, and intellectual property. The program brings entrepreneurial thought to the creative elements of the music industry.
For those who prefer a traditional performance degree, Northeastern has much to offer. Taking a cross-disciplinary approach, the music program combines classes and theory with performance and independent study.
Northeastern guides its students thanks to their excellent faculty, which includes research scholars, accomplished musicians, and experts in the industry. These teachers support students by providing not only their experience and expertise but also workshops and networking opportunities.
5. Longy School of Music of Bard College
Bard College of New York has long been established as one of the nation’s top schools for the arts. The Longy School of Music has nearly a century of training some of the best musicians in the northeast. In 2012, the two institutions combined to create a school that takes a liberal arts approach to musical development.
The school’s innovative catalyst curriculum connects musical excellence with a focus on the skills needed for musicians. Students learn how to design experiences, produce projects, and engage audiences with exceptional music encounters. The curriculum allows students to take the lead in their own education, exploring, experimenting, and following their own passions.
For undergraduates, the school offers degrees in brass, composition, vocal studies, and more. Graduate students have access to similar programs, as well as MA degrees in teacher education. The school even offers a unique online MA in teacher education degree, allowing students to study from all over the world.
4. Boston Conservatory
The Boston Conservatory has been training musicians since 1867. But in 2016, the conservatory merged with the Berklee College of Music, to create an enhanced institution, creating programs that emphasize classical music, musical theatre, contemporary music, jazz, and music production.
The new school continues the two institutions’ elite traditions, remaining small and selective in the process. While that decision makes it difficult to gain admission, those who make it benefit from special attention from the school’s remarkable faculty. Students learn their craft supported by members of the city’s respected ensembles, such as the Boston Symphony Orchestra.
This new program has been recognized as one of the best in the nation. In recent years, the school has won several awards and has been placed atop lists from outlets such as Inside Music Schools, PrepScholar Blog, and Careers in Music.
3. Boston University School of Music
Many of the programs in this list reserve their best courses for only music majors. But at the School of Music at Boston University, students in other majors have access to exciting music courses.
Survey classes cover various periods of Western music history, from the Middle Ages to the modern era, while others focus on composers such as Monteverdi, Bach, Beethoven, and Brahms. Other classes let students examine the history of popular music, the philosophical and theological aspects of music, and the musical traditions of various peoples.
High school students can also take advantage of BU’s offerings through the summer programs offered by the Boston University Tanglewood Institute. Instrumentalists, singers, and composers aged 14 to 20 get to participate in two-week workshops to hone their skills. In workshops tailored for participants’ instruments, students learn new techniques while performing with other musicians.
2. Berklee College of Music
All of the schools on this list have won awards and recognition. But Berklee College of Music boasts more Grammy awards than any other school, with 123 alumni having won 310 Grammys.
This phenomenal success can be attributed to Berklee’s cutting-edge specialization. Students can study specializations in traditional subjects such as composition and music education as well as new majors such as music business/management and music therapy.
No matter which concentration they choose, students take core courses in arranging, conducting, ear training, harmony, tonal harmony and counterpoint, and music technology. First-year students also can take these core courses in a study-abroad program at Berklee’s Valencia campus in Spain.
With this base, Berklee truly is “a microcosm of the music industry,” equipping students with a full understanding of the art and business of music.
1. New England Conservatory of Music
Established in 1867, the New England Conservatory of Music is the oldest independent music conservatory in the United States and one of the most prestigious in the world.
The school’s faculty and alumni not only comprise members of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, but also members of l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, Rome Prize recipients, Guggenheim Fellows, and MacArthur Fellows.
NEC’s current faculty members continue this proud tradition. Jerry Bergonzi is recognized as one of the world’s best jazz saxophonists. Famous for his innovation and mastery of his instrument, Bergonzi has performed throughout the world at all the major jazz festivals and venues, with his own ensembles and with jazz greats.
Pianist Jason Moran has won a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship and served as the Kennedy Center’s Artistic Advisor for Jazz in 2011.
Moran has received commissions from the San Francisco Jazz Festival and Chamber Music America, and has performed with artists such as Cassandra Wilson, Joe Lovano, Don Byron, Steve Coleman, Lee Konitz, Von Freeman, Ravi Coltrane, and Stefon Harris.