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“Music School” vs. Music in College Life: Which is Right for You?

December 14, 2020

Worship service - a broader definition of “music school”

You love making music. Whether it’s composing or performing solo or with a band or orchestra, music is an important part of your life. It makes sense that you’re considering music school.

But what do you mean by “music school?” What is the experience you hope to have?

There is a wide range of opportunity in music at the college level. At one end of the spectrum are highly-competitive programs that prepare students to become professional performers. At the other, music as an enrichment opportunity, a hobby. With a lot in between.

Before you set your sights on a music school, it’s a good idea to examine what that means and whether the experience would align with your goals.

What Is Music School?

When professional musicians use the term “music school,” they are usually referring to an institution devoted to educating students in musical performance and composition. Another common word for this environment is a conservatory.

The experience is highly focused on the goal of preparing artists for a career in music. Daily life includes, but is not limited to:

  • Rigorous daily technical practice
  • Private instruction
  • Studio classes with performance in front of peers
  • Diction classes for singers
  • Ensemble practice
  • Various specialty classes (e.g. piano, acting)
  • Music theory and ear training courses
  • Music history

It’s common for students to ask whether music school is going to be worth the investment of time and money. The obvious answer is that it depends on your goals. This experience is for those with their sights set on performing or producing music.

But career direction isn’t the only factor. Musician Trey Xavier points out that in addition to your career goals, another factor to consider is your temperament. There is one type of student who thrives in a highly-structured environment. Others, he says, don’t need it to grow as musicians.

“There are many intuitive musicians who learn by listening to recorded music and watching others play who would wither in an academic classroom setting and waste their money and time, and many academic types who need this kind of structure to push their understanding of music to the next level (and vice versa – many intuitives don’t progress beyond their own self-imposed boundaries). This dichotomy is far from the only facet to consider, but it’s a big one.”

The bottom line is that a “music school” in the traditional sense is a college for those who feel certain they want a career in music and crave the formal structure and focus the conservatory environment provides.

Of course, like Xavier said, this is not the only way to grow as a musician.

Other Ways to Explore Music in College Life

Your idea of “music school” might look completely different. Less formal, less intense. More freedom to study other subjects while keeping music in your life.

There are many different models for this, from a liberal arts college that offers academic courses in music to student-organized music clubs and bands. In other words, music can be a central part of your life as a college student, regardless of your degree.

Music Groups

Clubs and ensembles sponsored by the college usually have a faculty advisor or director. Though they are not necessarily part of a music curriculum, performers are no less passionate about their craft or serious about pursuing excellence.

Some of the sponsored groups here at Eastern Nazarene College include:

  • A Cappella Choir
  • Gospel Choir
  • Pep Band
  • Symphonic Winds
  • Choral Union
  • Chapel Worship Team

Students often play a major role in helping to organize these groups. This experience can lead to the formation of independent bands and ensembles in the future. They can also create opportunities to return to campus after graduation to participate in special alumni performances.

Community Connections

On-campus groups like choral clubs and worship bands frequently go off-campus and into the “real world” to perform. ENC’s A Cappella Choir, for example, has performed at Carnegie Hall, the Jordan Hall of New England Conservatory, and Lincoln Center’s Avery Fisher Hall. 

Groups like these create a culture around music that often leads to additional off-campus opportunities. Partnerships with local community organizations, such as choral societies or churches, provide outlets for further experience in performance or music ministry.

Music-Infused Academics

While a traditional music school or conservatory puts music at the center of your studies, other models take a more interdisciplinary approach. Music crosses over into different subject areas.

As an important element of culture – some might say its soul – music goes hand-in-hand with English, literature, art, theater, history, law and every other area of study we refer to as the humanities.

These studies can come together to present important reflections on society. That is the idea behind ENC’s Theatre for Social Justice. Students interested in music as a tool for communication combine it with creative writing, dance and other theatrical elements to tell stories that illustrate human struggle, elicit empathy and encourage action.

Support for Other Academic Goals

When music is more interdisciplinary in the classroom, and you still have opportunities to grow as a practical musician in student life, you can connect your college experience to a broad set of career goals. Here are just a few examples:

Business

If your interests are more in producing music and working with professional artists rather than being one yourself, a study of business administration will give you the foundation you need to apply your passion for music in this way.

Education

When you bring musical talent into an education program, you open up opportunities to teach music or conduct ensembles at the primary, secondary or even higher ed level.

Christian Ministries

Music has an important role in ministry, especially if you want to become a worship leader. But an understanding of the application of music to religious practice is useful in any kind of church leadership, theological or philosophical career path as well.

Liberal Arts

You may be interested in applying music to a wide variety of disciplines. Your passion for music can be your constant as you investigate many different career paths, from sciences to humanities and any combination you choose.

A Broader Definition of “Music School”

If you’re interested in music as part of your college life and as part of your academic instruction, but the traditional music school model feels too focused for you, consider Eastern Nazarene College.

  • You’ll find a musical culture here that touches daily life in many ways, from student music organizations to the classroom and chapel services.
  • You’ll experience it in an informal way, giving you the freedom to apply your passion for music toward whatever future you choose.
  • Through direct instruction, including music theory and applied music, you’ll also find plenty of support for further studies should you choose to go on to a music conservatory.

Consider this your invitation. ENCounter music and much more at Eastern Nazarene College.

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