To the layperson, Houston, Texas may not seem like the home of the next generation’s greatest musical performers.
But anyone holding that opinion has not been paying attention to the Shepherd School of Music at Rice University.
Since it was formed in 1974, Shepherd has become one of the best music schools in the nation.
With an emphasis on opera, chamber music, and orchestra, Shepherd teaches students both mastery of their instrument and performance basics, ensuring that the future of music is alive and well.
At the heart of Shepherd’s program is a love for performance, demonstrated by the concerts they host. Shepherd mounts over 400 free concerts every year, ranging from students to visiting performers, including Renée Fleming, André Watts, and Yo-Yo Ma.
These performances both teach students the importance of playing live music and form bonds between the school and its community, fostering a love of classical music in the area.
To hold such remarkable concerts, an institution needs proper performance spaces. Shepherd boasts some of the best facilities in the world.
In addition to its 65 practice rooms and 54 teaching studios, the school also features the 1,000-seat Stude Concert Hall and the 250-seat Duncan Recital Hall. These spaces give students ample opportunity to ply their craft in several different environments.
With so much to offer, Shepherd expects the best of those who it admits. Here’s everything you need to know about the best music school in Texas.
Shepherd School of Music Acceptance Rate
Rice University’s Shepherd School of Music acceptance rate is 12%.
Unsurprisingly, Shepherd is incredibly competitive. With an acceptance rate of just 12%, the large majority of those who apply to study at Shepherd will be rejected. In fact, for every ten applicants, only one will be accepted most years, with an occasional second brought in.
While that might seem disheartening, Shepherd’s numbers aren’t too far off from those of other music schools of equal quality.
The Thornton School of Music at the University of Southern California has a slightly higher 20% acceptance rate, while the School of Music at Rice’s cross-state rival, the University of North Texas, has nearly identical numbers at 15%.
Simply put, one should expect tough competition when trying to join the ranks of a first-rate music school.
While you’re applying to schools such as Shepherd, these low numbers can be discouraging. But one needs to remember that exclusivity is one of the reasons that elite schools enjoy such vaunted reputations.
By offering admission to only a small fraction of those who apply, Shepherd ensures that it brings in only the best of the best, making for a strong student body.
Those accepted into Shepherd get to learn their craft working with other great musicians, bringing out the best in one another. And with a small student body, Shepherd can offer smaller classes, ensuring greater faculty attention.
None of this information makes the application process more manageable. But it encourages hopefuls to put in their best work so they can study alongside the great musicians at Shepherd.
Shepherd School of Music GPA
While Rice University does not publish the exact GPA of students accepted to the Shepherd School of Music, a recommended GPA to have is at least a 3.5 considering how prestigious the overall university is.
Many music students put commitment to their instrument ahead of homework for English or math classes, and with good reason.
After all, they’re going to spend their lives playing Mozart and Beethoven, not reciting Shakespeare or studying Newton. So why would Shepherd care about an applicant’s GPA?
For music schools specifically, GPAs matter because they reveal the student’s level of dedication. That’s because grades don’t just measure knowledge gleaned by the student. They also measure work ethic.
Anyone who earns a GPA of 3.5 or higher must work hard, dedicating time and energy to their studies. When you add in the amount of work involved in maintaining one’s music skills, that GPA becomes even more impressive.
Shepherd and other elite music schools want students with strong work ethics because their program is highly demanding. They only want to admit those who can handle the demands, who won’t drop out of the program when things get too tough.
Is Shepherd School of Music a Good Music School?
Yes, Rice University’s Shepherd School of Music is among the very best music schools in the world, particularly for classical performance, composition, conducting, and music history.
By nearly every metric, the Shepherd School of Music is one of the best schools in the nation. It regularly falls near the top of lists put together by outlets such as Music-Colleges.com, which gives Shepherd 4.5 out of five stars.
But one does not need to be an expert ranking guide to see the value of what Shepherd has to offer. All one needs to do is glance at the faculty teaching there.
Faculty members include Robin Rice, whose CV includes performances in The Marriage of Figaro and The Magic Flute, staged at some of the world’s greatest opera houses. Rice combines that talent with a gift for teaching, making him one of Shepherd’s most decorated faculty members.
Students of composition at Shepherd can study under Michael Rene Torres, recipient of the Ohio Arts Council Individual Excellence Award and the Greater Columbus Arts Council Composition Fellowship. Torres’s commitment to contemporary music has led to his commissioning and premiering new works for the saxophone.
As these brief CVs indicate, many members of the faculty at Shepherd perform professionally. Several teachers also perform in the Houston Grand Opera, the Houston Symphony Orchestra, and other notable groups. Talent is not restricted to the teachers, as Shepherd has one of the world’s best student orchestras, famous for its high skill level.
Notable Alumni of Rice University Shepherd School of Music
No one would dispute that Shepherd has impressive credentials and facilities. But for any decent school of music, the real test of quality comes from looking at the musicians who graduate from their programs. On that note, Shepherd looks even better.
Lola Astanova may have already been a long-time concert pianist when she came to Shepherd, having been established as a prodigy who gave her first major performance at the age of eight. But she honed those skills in the program, eventually playing at Carnegie Hall and collaborating with legends such as Andrea Bocelli.
After doing his graduate work at Shepherd, Kevin Noe has enjoyed a career as one of America’s most notable conductors.
Noe currently serves as the executive artistic director for the Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble, but before that was a conducting fellow at the Tanglewood Institute. Noe has received several awards for his work, including a Sally Shepherd Prize and a Total Theater Award.
During his time studying under Kenneth Goldsmith and Sergiu Luca at Shepherd, Zachary Carrettin gain the skills that have made him a leading American violinist and conductor.
As a performer, Carrettin has played with the American Bach Soloists in San Francisco, Camerata Pacifica in Santa Barbara, and other chamber ensembles. His solo work has taken him across the world, where he’s played at venues such as the Museum of Contemporary Art in Rovereto, Italy and the San Francisco War Memorial Opera House.
What Are the Available Music Majors at Rice’s Music School?
Anyone looking to add to Shepherd’s proud collection of alumni have many great majors from which to choose.
Unsurprisingly, the school offers a classical performance major emphasizing a wide range of instruments.
Every department involved, from the strings to percussion, features a faculty consisting of internationally-known performers, ready to give students everything they need to play history’s greatest works for a live audience.
Future conductors can earn everything from an Artists Diploma to a Master of Music degree in the subject. Students have many ways to develop their abilities by working alongside seasoned professionals in the conducting department and taking advantage of opportunities with partners such as the Houston Masterworks Chorus.
There are musicology and music history majors for those who take a more analytical approach. While these degrees do have a performance element, they emphasize the history of music and the role music plays in larger contexts. Students pursuing these majors don’t just know how to play music; they also understand why we play music.
Combining performance with in-class lectures, the composition major at Shepherd teaches students how to write works for ensembles and soloists.
Working alongside Rice faculty and visiting lecturers, students study the great works of the past to learn how to create pieces to be performed by the musicians of the future.
Should You Apply to Rice University Shepherd School of Music?
Of course, you should apply to Rice University’s Shepherd School of Music. Every ranking outlet and industry observer agrees that Shepherd is one of the world’s most well-equipped, most-rigorous music schools. Anyone would be proud to learn their instruments in Shepherd’s hallowed halls.
And yet, it’s easy to see why so many people don’t even try to join Shepherd’s ranks. The school has a shockingly low acceptance rate of just 12%.
Nearly every person who applies to study at Shepherd gets rejected. Those aren’t good odds, making it hard to justify the work and time required to make an application.
But before you count yourself out, remember everything Shepherd offers.
The teachers at Shepherd are professional musicians who have performed on the world’s largest stages and played with legends in every genre.
The students they trained have gone on to write the songs, play the tunes, and record the music that fills the hearts and minds of people worldwide. The majors offered at Shepherd take full advantage of the school’s resources, giving students every opportunity to do their best.
Those accepted into Shepherd are the most excellent musicians of the next generation. They learn from one another and inspire each other, all aware of their tremendous responsibility and auspicious future.
Is it hard to get into Shepherd? Without question. But is it worth it to try? Absolutely.