Top Music Schools in the South

  • 01 of 03

    Top Music Schools in the South

    Rice School of music
    String students from Rice University's Shepherd School of Music. Courtesy of Rice University

    Serious musicians look for serious music programs when they embark on the college search, whether it's at the undergrad or graduate level - and in the same way that universities are divided into tiers, with the Harvards of the world at the top, and less competitive schools lower down, music school rankings are even more extreme, with the best conservatories in the country nestled at the top of the pyramid.

    Thing is, the conservatory experience may not be a good fit for everyone. For many young musicians, the better option is a conservatory or top-ranked music program on a college campus, such as Rice University in Texas, for example, which gives musicians the best of both the conservatory and collegiate worlds. These music programs require auditions, concert and recital resumes and a very different application process from the typical college admissions experience.

    Every major university has a music program, of course, but some have truly stellar music schools. The key lies in finding a good match for your favorite musician's skill, dedication, and passions. But too often, young musicians get so focused on the possibilities offered by New York City, for example, or Boston, that they forget that other parts of the country have marvelous music programs too. There are great music schools in the West, for example, and in the Midwest, but don't dismiss the South. On the following pages, you'll find the lowdown on four of the top music schools in Florida and Texas.

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  • 02 of 03

    Rice and Other Texas Options

    Rice University Shepherd School of Music
    Shepherd School of Music. Musician555 / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

    There are thousands of happy musicians studying at universities across the South, just as there are at colleges across the country. But when you hear about this or that Southern school having an amaaaazing music program, make sure you ask a key question: symphony or marching band? All those football powerhouse schools across the South boast huge marching bands. Those precision drills and elaborate uniforms are a source of great pride in those communities, but marching bands hold zero interest for the cellist looking at Curtis or the jazz drummer contemplating Juilliard. If that cellist is looking South, make sure Rice is on the list.

    • The Shepherd School of Music: This prestigious, 35-year-old music school at Houston's Rice University hosts more than 400 student and faculty concerts and its alumni perform in some of the world's most prestigious orchestras and opera houses. Nearly a third of the members of the Houston Symphony are Rice alum. Shepherd boasts strong symphonic, opera and conducting programs. Admission here is highly competitive and musicians should know that university admission auditions are conducted with an eye to filling specific openings in two orchestras and the vocal program, which change from year to year, of course. Last year's bumper crop of bassoonists, for example, could torpedo the hopes of your about-to-audition double reed player - or this might end up being a really, really good year for tubas.
    • University of North Texas: This school's music department offers a wide array of possibilities ranging from ethnomusicology to opera, and its 50 ensembles include all the usual suspects, plus early music and new music ensembles, and mariachi, gamelan and world percussion groups. But it's the jazz program that bumps this Dallas university to the top of the U.S. News and World Report's list of top graduate jazz schools. In 2012, UNT students earned 15 awards in DownBeat Magazine's annual, prestigious student music competition, a total that puts it ahead of every other music program in the country.
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  • 03 of 03

    Top Music Schools in Florida and Louisiana

    Frost School of Music
    Frost School of Music. Courtesy of The University of Miami

    There's more to Florida than beaches and palm trees. The state is also home to several universities with strong music programs - not on a scale with Rice or the conservatories of the East Coast, perhaps, but good contenders for any teen or 20something with a serious interest in music.

    • The Frost School of Music: What began as a music conservatory in 1926, has grown to include some of the most innovative music programs around. It offers all the usual performance majors in symphonic, opera and vocal music, but what sets it apart are the University of Miami's degree programs in studio music, contemporary music, and jazz, and in the business side of the music entertainment industry as well. The Frost Experiential Music Curriculum was the first to offer degrees in music engineering, business, and entertainment.
    • The University of New Orleans: It's hard to argue with the real estate mantra, "location, location, location" - especially when you're talking about jazz and the location in question is New Orleans. The school's jazz program was founded by Ellis Marsalis, there are two more Marsalises on the faculty - Delfeayo and Jason - and the jazz ensemble plays at the city's big jazz festival. It's a small school, but there are opportunities here you won't get elsewhere.

    Also worth checking out: The music program at the University of North Florida - especially its jazz studies department - pairs a great reputation for music-making with the price tag of a public university. The music school at Florida State University offers an intriguing mix of possibilities, including a research center for music of the Americas, one of the nation's top medical music therapy programs and an opera program that's ranked fifth in the nation by U.S. News and World Report.