Juilliard comes top of music school rankings

Juilliard comes top of music school rankings


norman lebrecht

April 03, 2014

Another day, another list.

This one, no more authoritative than any other, is by a lone blogger. Unlike previous league tables, it contains much useful information and sound advice.

We dispute, however, the placement of Juilliard at the top of the pole. Most educators, both in and out of Juilliard, recognise that the school has fallen off its perch in the past few years. Talent for talent, Curtis, Bloomington and Cleveland have outstripped it.

Juilliard is now recruiting expensively to recapture its position. There has never been tougher competition in US music schools. Take the first 12 names on this list, put them in a hat and shake it. Whichever name comes out first could well be the current best.





  • Steven Honigberg says:

    Juilliard at the top? No way. Not any more. My 17-year-old violinist daughter, Lily, a 4-year Interlochen Arts Academy student (sitting concertmaster at the moment) didn’t get by the pre screening round, robbing her of an opportunity to be heard by a Juilliard jury of distinguished professors. This despite obvious talent and laudatory transcripts written by her private teacher, chamber music coach and orchestra conductor. Did anyone on that Juilliard jury bother to have a look? No, they did not. Happily her tape was accepted and she successfully auditioned into the New England Conservatory, the Cleveland Institute, Manhattan School of Music, San Francisco Conservatory and Oberlin. This is not the first time my alma mater has frustrated me.

    • Spring Berv says:

      I know you Steve Honigburg, from my time at Juilliard, Spring Grossman, violin, Galamian, ’84 and 86, and my son also, did not get past the pre screen in composition. It is a mistake on Juilliard’s part not to take very seriously the children of alumni, just the way the Ivies do, as we are the ones who will now not donate. My son is graduating Indiana in composition, and got in several places for the masters, including the RCM for the specific degree in film composition, which Juilliard does not have. In addition, there’s the old saying,” The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.”, and in fact, our kids may be even better than we were. It is a shame and I will never donate again.

      • Steven Honigberg says:

        Interesting thought – one that I will mull over. Believe me, I want to give back to the school that meant so much to me as a youngster. Roaming those hallowed corridors, that meant the world to me at that age, were Rose, Robbins, Galamian, Galimir, Mann, Delay, Ehrling, Diamond, Wild, Lateiner. Thirty years since my graduation, Juilliard has never reached out to me except with a form letter asking me to donate.

        • Gomez de Riquet says:

          I have no idea what goes into the pre-screening process––whether that’s peer- or faculty-screened––but, with all due respect, why would Juilliard be obligated to see every “obviously talented,” qualified student, with laudatory recommendations? I’m sure thousands apply each year. Whatever the criteria is for acceptance (in this case, passing a pre-screening round), oughtn’t that be understood? Unless of course you are casting doubt on the veracity of the review process…

          And, also with due respect, wouldn’t the school’s taking potential alumni funding into consideration uneven the playing field? If two prospective students are equally talented, and there is only one studio slot, does one really want to give preference to the child of the parent-alumnus most willing to make a significant contribution? Isn’t that exactly the kind of favoritism that upsets the apple-cart to begin with?

          • nyer says:

            I agree with Gomez completely. There are a million reasons Juilliard shouldn’t be considered even among the top schools for music – aside from considering such unworthy topics as legacies and their impenetrable admissions standards. Parents with an axe to grind are not particularly persuasive. I’m also Honigberg goes on the record here and calls his child out by her name (!) — which he ought to know is the worse kind of public helicopter parenting.

      • Daniel Farber says:

        Juilliard seems not to care very much about donations. I have had to find out from THEM how to give money to the Saul Goodman Scholarship fund (for aspiring percussion majors). You’d think that after doing that they’d solicit me for future contributions to that fund, but they never have–unlike Brandeis, to whom I’ve never given a dime, but are after me every year, both in writing and on the phone. Puzzling. Does Juilliard rely primarily on some faithful very deep pockets??

  • Anonymus says:

    Would be helpful to point out, that this is one of these silly “top of the crop” contests that is limited to the US college scene only.

  • Spring Berv says:

    Dear anonomous,

    My point is not that the ivory tower is the only place to get a great music education. My point is that kids of alumni, as well as the alumni themselves as parents, should be given the same serious consideration out of courtesy , and loyalty, that the kids of parents who have gone to the Ivies routinely get. My son deserved a serious look, if for no other reason than courtesy to me. I am not arguing the appropriateness of their decisions in the final cut. As legacies, we deserve no less than very serious consideration before rejection, that is all. An in person interview for obviously accomplished candidates is the least they can do for we who paid to go to the school and live on to promote it in our actions in our musical lives.

    • anon says:

      It seems that if a student can get into the list of schools Steve just gave us, then that student would also at least get past the pre-screening round of auditions for Juilliard. I agree that they seem to have lost some of their former prestige… listening to the most recent Van Cliburn competition suggests that they have become some kind of competition-factory – at least in the piano division.

  • John Porter says:

    Some guy wearing a t-shirt while eating pretzels and beer creates a list without any credentials, methodology, etc., and folks in the music world take notice. The fact is there are great players coming out of state universities you haven’t heard of and many at Curtis, Juilliard, and Colburn who won’t get jobs in music. There are any number of schools doing a great job that aren’t on this list and basically this is the intellectual equal of reading The Inquirer.

    To give this any credence, is ridiculous, and I attended two of the schools at the top of this puerile list.

    • Steven Honigberg says:

      With their preeminent reputation as a powerful conservatory I suppose my expectation exceeded what in reality is a complete mess. Of course I’m biased, but my daughter is ahead of where I was (more chamber music, more orchestral repertoire) at this age due, in part, to the excellent training she has already been exposed to at the exceptional Interlochen boarding school. I think Juilliard needs to reexamine their enrollment policy.

      • nyer says:

        “my daughter is ahead of where I was…”…

        And so are all the other applicants that applied alongside her.

  • Marguerite Foxon says:

    I’m glad to see Florida State Univ which lacks the endowments of most of the others on the list, got on there. Speaking as someone back in my home country after US study, you guys are very lucky to have so many on the list to argue about!

  • MarieTherese says:

    Giving air time to these lists is a waste- it’s impossible to “rank” schools overall because while one may have a great string department, their voice faculty might be sub-par and their woodwind profs mediocre. Unfortunately, older teachers (and a lot of parents) get hung up on the few names of schools they heard of “back in the day” and point kids to those, not realizing that a school may have been coasting on their name/reputation for years. Go ask 50 music teachers in small towns what schools they would suggest and you’ll hear “Julliard and Eastman” from most of them. Of course, they also still believe that it’s possible to be like Frederica von Stade and walk into Mannes, not even knowing how to read music and sing on the stage of the Met a few years later. Even third tier conservatories are going to pre-screening for all disciplines now because it makes them “look important”, and the programs continue to proliferate because we’re now not willing to tell a kid that it takes years of hard work a thick skin and a strong commitment to be a good musician. After all, there are all of those folks appearing on “______’s Got Talent” and if they’re on TV, they must be good, right?! Can you tell that this rubs me the wrong way?

    I attended one of the schools on this list and my own daughter is recent graduate of another (and is now studying with an amazing teacher at a school not on that list at all) and my advice is for teachers and parents to do their own research to find out who is teaching where and even to peruse on line recital programs or utilize the links for streamed performances. It matters little if a particular teacher sang at the Met in the 1960’s- what matters is can they impart knowledge to their students? Do they teach safe technique and where are their recent students attending grad school or performing? Make sure that your student gets to take a sample lesson with teachers she/he is considering because although the teacher might be good for one doesn’t mean that they’ll be a good fit for another. It’s up to us, not a nebulous list…

  • Glenn Hardy says:

    Julliard, Curtis, Oberlin, etc…all six figure corporate credential mills. Do we really need to worry about this stuff? Can’t we just get back to rearranging the deck chairs please?

  • RJ says:

    I don’t really understand this post or the whining in the comments here.

    First of all, being excellent is not enough to guarantee acceptance, or even a hearing, at any top-tier school these days in ANY field. The complaints here reflect the moaning of the parents who wonder why their impeccably groomed child with a 5.0 GPA (yes, in this age of inflated grades, it’s possible), perfect SAT scores, volunteer experience in Sub-Saharan Africa, etc., didn’t get in to Yale. For the commenters above, the likelihood is that Juilliard violin faculty received a lot of excellent audition tapes this year, and made a decision on the basis of what they needed in their studios.

    Second, the notion that Juilliard has an obligation to give preference of any kind to children of alumni is frankly a little nuts. Music should be about talent, and about personal connections made via that talent. An excellent resume is no substitute for that connection; if the pre-screening tape made by your child didn’t reach out and grab a faculty member at J-lard by the throat, that’s just how it goes. Isn’t it better if your child ends up working with a teacher who is really enthusiastic about having her as a member of his studio?

    As far as the donation issue goes, I got my masters at Juilliard – the second I graduated, they started sending begging envelopes. When I get those mailings asking for donations, I toss them into the trash. I learned a lot that school, but I paid them my tuition fees, appreciated the scholarships I received, and now I’ve moved on, I’ve met my obligation. It’s a good school, but so are a lot of other schools.

    That being said, I find Norman’s obsession with pointing out the supremacy of other schools over Juilliard a bit odd. In the end, it’s a good school, and will always have lots of excellent graduates sitting in majors orchestras. Does it really matter if it’s #4, or even # 8?

    • SVM says:

      I largely agree with RJ’s comments, above. That said, it is not unequivocally clear whether Messrs Honigberg and Grossman are:

      1. complaining that their progeny were not afforded special consideration on account of their family connections, or;

      2. alleging that their progeny were the victims of positive discrimination (i.e.: either written off in order for the institution not to be *seen* to be nepotistic, or assessed against a far higher standard than other applicants).

      Most repudiations appear to assume 1., which may well be the case; if so, I agree that Honigberg and Grossman are being unreasonable. An élite institution (in any discipline) should take the best applicants, and take no account whatsoever of applicants’ family background, or of how much money their parents are able/prepared to donate. The scope of an institution’s accountability to alumni may include access to certain academic facilities (lifetime access to the library, for example), the maintaining of high standards, and maybe even hosting networks (some American institutions give their alumni a lifetime electronic-mail account), but it absolutely does not include according preferential treatment to spouses/progeny/other relatives.

      I am not conversant with the application procedures for American conservatoires, but it strikes me that some sort of blind testing (if not already in place) in the preliminary stages may render the process fairer (and reduce the probability of 2. occurring). By blind testing, I am not necessarily saying that the panel must not be able to see the applicant (although that may also be a good idea); rather, I am proposing that the panel not be given the applicant’s name, background, and curriculum vitae. Maybe some institutions already do this?

  • Rachel says:

    This list is absolutely ridiculous. I don’t know who this guy thinks he an absurd list like this. He has clearly done no research and has no right to be making assumptions like this.

  • Michael says:

    Juilliard was a pathetic institution when I attended in the early 80’s. While there were fine players teaching their respective instruments, the theory classes in particular were horrible. The history and ear training classes weren’t much better. I would never recommend this school to anybody, as a better musical education will be found at the State University level. Perhaps Juilliard has improved? To all those rejected, consider it a blessing.

    • Kenneth says:

      I wonder how many of students accepted had NO prior relationship with faculty. It is my understanding that many If not most of the students accepted (even from over seas) have already established connections, either directly as students or indirectly as their teachers have close, respected ties to faculty, or acquaintance through competitions and festivals. And that the “pre-screening” is a bit of a sham-and even final selection is a competition as much among faculty for who their favorites are as a “just and fair” selection. Let’s face it, most applicants to these conservatories are wonderfully gifted and already quite accomplished.

      I certainly agree with Michael re the academics at Juilliard, as theory, history, and even ear training at some other schools far surpasses that at Lincoln Center. Perhaps the culture there fosters some development of freakish instrumental talent as opposed to musical depth and understanding.

      Odd that the blogger puts Juilliard first, as by their obvious new piano faculty, they have acknowledged a huge problem in a very important department.

      Apparently the former Peabody faculty (Kaplinsky, Martín, et al) that took over with the Rose gift ($$$$) forced out one of Juilliard’s best (Oxana Yanlonskaya), leading to harm, If not ruination of the piano students. In that case a huge gift from one donor who favored Kaplinsky ironically and sadly led to quite predictable decline.

      • Kenneth says:

        Sorry, that’s Oxana Yablonskaya, who only took the very best-most of whom did want to study with her. Not only is she one of the best, most musical living pianists (she is now in Europe)-she is also a great pedagogue. A very unusual combination. Juilliard (the Peabody imports) treated her shabbily, and hurt themselves and their piano department by speeding her departure.

  • John Porter says:

    It is interesting to read the comments about Juilliard. I too went there and receive constant solicitations for money. I haven’t given them a penny since they are the richest of all the conservatories but still aren’t even offering free tuition. They have somewhere’s along the lines of a BILLION dollars of endowment and something like 800 college students. That’s more than a million dollars of endowment for each and every single college level student.

    And they want and need my money? With all that endowment, why aren’t they tuition free for all college students?

  • Spring Berv says:

    Dear RJ,

    While I agree with you that in a perfect world, applicants would be pre screened and then auditioned on ability alone, we all know that it is not the reality of music school auditions, and definitely not at Juilliard, and not in violin. I know personally, many graduates who had prior relationships with faculty there before their applications. This is not an entirely ability based proceess, although I do think that it is fair overall and that Juilliard continues to accept very accomplished kids. However, I disagree that alumni should have no rights. Juilliard solicits me for donations several times every year, it now stages reunions frequently in an effort to rally interest in support, and finally, Juilliard gets tremendous prestige from the many, many alumni who are working alk over the world. In my class aline, I can name a dozen section leaders and concertmasters in the US. Is is really appropriate for Juilliard to not pay attention to the legacies all of these people are leaving, and all that their careers do for the school? I do not think that as a group, these people would not know better than to have their kids applying to Juilliard if they were not appropriate. In fact, no one knows better. I have not been arguing about whether or not these kids should get in. I am talking about our treatment as alumni, and I think I am correct in thinking that alumni networks exist in order to promote the schools, help alumni to connect ,and to raise money. If Juilliard wants us to participate because we are alumni, then my only point is that they should give us the courtesy of a hard look at our kids, and no more. I am not suggesting that innapropiate candidates should ever be admitted. Alumni organizations exist for a reason. Not just at the Ivies, but at most colleges, kids of alumni are taken seriously before being discarded. I am not suggesting that any further preference be given. Most colleges value their alumni enough to do this. And, since Yale was mentioned, it is a well known fact that at Yale, kids of alumni are not given preference, but they are taken seriously. Stories abound of kids of huge donors getting in, but donors of that nature are uncommon and so it is more myth than reality. Admissions as a topic is mysterious, and parents know this, but being an alumni is a fact, and it is one that I expect Juilliard to respect.

    • Steven Honigberg says:

      I have noted others who are also discontent with the process of admissions and schooling they received at Juilliard. No, I am not a helicopter Dad – far from it actually. Of course, my daughter has my full support. I talk to her about music; listen, coach and play with her whenever she is inclined. Not that it matters much anymore, I did write to the admissions office expressing my sentiments (first I called without response). Have they responded to my note? No. Yet, I do seek some feedback – any feedback for that matter. Some sort of clarification? An apology letter? Maybe a next year letter? In a couple of years letter? And yes, I do move forward with a bad taste about the admissions process at my alma mater. I will leave this blog with a fact which I noted in my book; Leonard Rose America’s Golden Age and Its First Cellist (page 317). “In 1983, Rose was infuriated when discovering the Juilliard school would provide a meager annual pension of $2,000 (about $4500 in 2012).” Leonard Rose began teaching at Juilliard in the late 1940s. I will never forget the disgust Mr. Rose wore on his face the day he found out about this and then promptly relayed to his students. Leonard Rose died in November 1984 after a lengthy battle with leukemia.

  • Michael says:

    It isn’t surprising that that Leonard Rose received a very poor pension from Juilliard. I believe that the musicians that only teach their own instrument get paid very little money as well. Juilliard must assume that the prestige that comes from being affiliated with the school is worth more than it’s weight in gold.

  • Herman Joseph says:

    Yablanskaya was that rare combination of being a great pianist and a great teacher. That she was forced out of Juilliard is a disgrace. She was one of the few trained in the Russian school that produced the bulk of great pianists in the 19th and 20th centuries.