How can this possibly be the best music school in America?

How can this possibly be the best music school in America?


norman lebrecht

October 03, 2014

We published yesterday an independent ranking of what are said to be the best music colleges in the US. More authoritative than any list we had seen before, its top three choices seemed pretty much non-contentious – except to some who study within them

Overnight, we received an email from an individual at the top-ranked college, requesting anonymity. This person writes:

The most basic, and troubling concerns I have with the school is the health risks, and complete inadequacy of the facilities.  I have seen black mold, mice, leaking urinals.  Small appliances have remained unfixed for years, and the bureaucracy is completely unworthy of running this school, let alone for it to be ranked as No.1!! 

Here is some evidence:

iu-2   iu-5



iu-1  iu-4


iu-6  iu-7

Any comment from the college concerned?




  • Tom Moore says:

    Because education is not only about infrastructure?

  • Sarah Kapustin says:

    As a proud graduate of said school, I feel that I have to comment. These pictures are clearly taken from the old music building, called “MA”, and yes, that building is not in the best shape. That is one of the reasons why the school opened a brand new building across the street, exactly one year ago, which is a beautiful, spacious and very clean building filled with studios and practice facilities.
    The IU Jacobs School of Music provided me with a state-of-the-art education which I now proudly pass on to my students all over the world! I am who I am today largely because of what IU gave me, violinistically, artistically, and also simply on a human level. Let’s not confuse the quality of the facilities with the quality of the education!

    • norman lebrecht says:

      Good points, Sarah. But you don’t see such sights in well-administered US schools.

      • Marianne says:

        What are the “well-administered schools” you are referring to? Which of them have music schools the caliber of IU’s Jacobs School of Music? Look at the achievements, careers, and capabilities of the graduates, and the overall quality of the teaching faculty. Those cannot be questioned, if one is personally familiar with what one is talking about. (Those pictures of the insides of old buildings are simply not contributors to the quality of the education at all. They are irrelevant.)

      • musical1 says:

        They are planning on knocking down this building. Phase 1 was to move the faculty and percussion practice facilities to the new building. Don’t bash the administration everybody, they are very caring (infinitely more than the admins of the other two major music schools I’ve attended) and are aware of the issues with the MA. Let’s let them see the project through.

    • Jonathan says:

      These pictures do seem to come from the MA building, however, your assertion that it is the “old” building – while completely true – makes it seem as though the MA building doesn’t exist anymore. It is still the place of study and practice for 95% of the student population, while the new building is exclusively for administration and faculty.

      • Sarah Kapustin says:

        Agreed. I was merely pointing out that the school clearly chose to make a huge investment in the new building instead of cleaning up the old one. Which would you rather have: a top-notch education and a mediocre practice room, or a top-notch practice room and a mediocre education? For me the answer is a no-brainer.

        • Jonathan says:

          I would assume that a number one ranked school would have both.

          • newyorker says:

            Exactly. I think a number of schools suffer from this problem, which is why the attention to the issue is even remotely interesting. The top school should have an administration worthy of the quality of its faculty. It may have the latter, as the violinist above points out, but if it doesn’t have the other, it is not worthy of esteem. This is a bigger, more global question… how culpable, or laudable, are the administrators in these schools? If they cannot maintain the physical premises, how can they manage the well being of the curriculum, or of the lives of young students who leave their homes to go study there?

  • sdReader says:

    Is this the Indiana school?

    Shocking. Admin should be fired en masse.

    • Susan says:

      The Faculty should have more influence in the operation of any school. Administration should be at the bottom of the hierarchy, to support and serve the needs of the students and faculty. Not like a corporation….with human resources offices and presidents who call themselves CEO’s. An institution of Higher learning is a community of scholars.

  • Anna Norris says:

    I visited this school last year as I was considering applying there for a grad degree. I was thoroughly unimpressed and left with no desire to go there.

    The impression I got of the IU reputation: it’s like any other mid-tier university music program. Almost every university music school will have a top 10% of amazing stuff going on. Then it will also have another 40% of mediocre stuff, and a bottom 50% of total garbage. IU is so huge that their top 10% (in terms of faculty, concerts, students, masterclasses, etc) is an impressively large amount of stuff. But that just means that there’s a proportionally huge amount of trash, which, understandably, they simply don’t choose to present to the world.

  • thelastword says:

    So silly to rank music schools. Either you have a good instrumental teacher or you don’t: It’s your teacher that makes you or breaks you, NOT the school.

    • KPO says:

      *Definitely* worth ranking schools! The important result is the discussions (like this one) that come up afterwards! My IU story: visited other prestigious places, many more sparkling in facilities, amenities, attention; even manners! I chose IU because its Top Offerings and Master Teachers attracted **Top Students** (who got “top results” and “top job placement”), which is exactly THE POINT: to find the highest achievers, learn from them, compete with them, best them.

  • Jeffrey Levenson says:

    My experience? Janos Starker. Enough said.

  • Sarah says:

    Well color me surprised. Maybe if the two groups switched places, the mold etc. would get cleaned up very quickly.

  • AC says:

    These pictures could easily be from #5 (Yale), #6 (Berklee), #11 (USC), #12 (NEC), or #13 (MSM)

  • Marc Geelhoed says:

    I’ve seen such sights in every US university I’ve visited, and IU is by far in better condition than most. I’m also a proud IU graduate, and there were a few items in need of repair when I was there. Did it detract from the education? No. A practice room shouldn’t be a mini-concert hall, anyway, I’d argue. It just needs to be free of distractions. The music library at IU also puts many such places to shame, which for some reason rarely shows up in rankings.

  • I’m confused. Yesterday you gave a link to a list of the best schools, and appeared to endorse it. What exactly are you saying here?

  • Michael says:

    Are these pictures recent? Do we know that for sure? I was there for a long week (8 days) in the early summer, in both buildings for hours every day, and didn’t see anything like this. Obviously 8 days is not the experience of a student, but I didn’t see anything remotely like this. It seemed clean and well maintained. In need of paint and updating of the decor from 1970s chic here and there for sure, but nothing at all revolting.

  • Charles L. says:

    I’m a recent alumnus (MM and DM) from IU. I’ll point out that all those photos apart from the sink, which I don’t recognize, are from practice rooms. If the rooms are trashed, it’s the students who’ve trashed them.

    And, as a faculty member now at another music school which isn’t in any of these goofy lists of “top” schools, I’ll point out that most schools of music would be begging for the size and quality of facilities just in the one building pictured here. (As Sarah Kapustin said, it’s the “old” building, and often called the “round” building.)

    But IU doesn’t have just that one building. It has SIX music buildings. Yes, one is much older than the rest. But the overall quality of facilities, altogether, is extraordinary. If I had to complain, it’d be about large-ensemble rehearsal rooms, but new ones are already in the building process.

  • dlcello59 says:

    I find it strange that a ripped piano bench and a hole in a practice room wall somehow interfere with one’s ability to practice. In my five wonderful years at IU Bloomington, I was never prevented from practicing due to the upholstery of the piano benches. I might venture that the person who sent these tattle tale style pictures in was the same one who was complaining earlier that IU offers very little scholarship, which is patently false. To be clear: the better your audition, the more money you are offered.
    Besides that, no one mentioned IU has a huge amount of practice rooms and never ONCE was I unable to find a place to practice! Which I think is why I thought people go to music school– to practice and take lessons. Not take pictures of ripped benches and send them around claiming they impede one’s education.

    Janos Starker
    Menahem Pressler
    Myron Bloom
    Alex Kerr
    David Effron
    Jorja Fleezanis
    Eric Kim
    Joshua Bell
    Arthur Fagen
    André Watts
    and on and on.

    (I think we can all agree the sink is unacceptable;)

    • Jonathan says:

      I think these conditions seem to be more troublesome for pianists, something you may not understand given that “cello” has found it’s way into your username.

      The condition of the pianos is abysmal, not to mention that there are no adjustable benches outside of the the handful of locked rooms. I would question your assertion that IU has many practice rooms, as true as that may seem on the surface, the ratio of rooms to students is incredibly low.

      I will agree with you on the general amount of scholarship offered, which seems to make IU a reality for many students that might not afford to attend Julliard.

      It might be wise to derive some sort of formula to arrive at rankings like these. Although statistics certainly cannot tell the whole story, it would be better to have an impartial pool of data to base these rankings on, rather than the words of an individual who makes a living writing about music, and can not be proven impartial to favoritism.

      • dlcello59 says:

        What conditions could bother a pianist that wouldn’t bother a cellist? I am sure that piano is tuned just as much as any other piano at the school, which is often. Many cellists use piano benches to practice because they are higher than a normal chair.
        Besides, anybody can bring their own bench, which was done by various instrumentalists when I was at IU, to ensure optimal practice set up.

        • Jonathan says:

          The pianos have dozens of problems, and tuning is the least of any of them. Furthermore, assuming that each pianist must purchase their own bench doesn’t help either, especially when almost all of the other schools rated provide adjustable benches.

          Is it just me, or does school pride sometimes blind people to reality?

          • Noemi says:

            I am also a graduate of Indiana and I have to agree with the person posting this pictures. The MA and the MAC practice rooms are decrepit at best. I practice the best when I’m in a “clean” environment. I always found the state of the practice rooms very bothersome. I will have to disagree with Dan and say that there were many many times I couldn’t find a practice room. I would sometimes sit for an hour waiting for one to open up. While I was at Indiana, the music school got two massive donations, millions and millions of dollars. I’ve seen the new building, it’s wonderful. The school should now try and fix the practice spaces because, as of now, they are shameful. Having went to two other conservatories on that list after Indiana, Indiana U should frankly be embarrassed at the state of their buildings.

  • alex says:

    Practice rooms are fine. Piano majors get keys to used locked Steinways-which are brand new. Better pianos than in most schools. Just built a new state of the art building. Great performance halls-and lovely concert instruments. Got my dream job after I graduated with a DMA there.

  • Roy Franciscus says:

    Perhaps some don’t realize that even at a highly regarded public university like Indiana, there is a resources crunch for everything that is not focused on 1) athletics; 2) administrators; 3) STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics)–with the mathematics people usually the treated as the last on the pecking order; and 4) something shiny that a rich donor can put her, his or their names on. State legislatures, especially conservative ones in states like Indiana and Missouri, but even more liberal ones in states like California (until very recently), New York or New Jersey, have relentlessly cut back on funding for flagship and smaller state institutions, with the resultant rise in tuition and crunch in funding. Buildings in this condition could be found at almost any major and nearly all smaller public universities. If you want perfect facilities, you’ll probably have to go to one of the richest of the Ivies (Harvard, Princeton), a similar extremely rich research peer (Stanford, MIT, Duke), one of the very rich, semi-private public universities (University of Virginia), a very rich liberal arts college (Williams, Swarthmore), or a very elite arts school (Juilliard, School of the Arts Institute). Anywhere else, and mold, gouged walls, broken pianos, etc., is not so out of place.

  • Tom says:

    Are there still people who take that “list” and rankings, compiled randomly by some kid who wanted to start his own website business, seriously?

    Like Boring Fileclerk, I’m confused…

    • Jonathan says:

      Tom, you obviously have a broad perspective and are intelligent enough not to. However, I cannot say the same for the thousands who have liked or shared this “list” online.

      I must say the biggest question I have is did IU pay Mr. Zukerman for the top spot?? If so the students deserve to know.

      • Tom says:

        Jonathan, I doubt anyone at IU would be stupid enough to pay for that kind of publicity. If there is, they’re as good at their job as facilities management and ought to be…ummm…called in for a meeting in higher places.

        What I puzzles me is why this blog seems to take the “list” seriously. Maybe someone else paid to get publicity for an entity entirely different from IU.

        But then, I freely admit that I know nothing about anything.

  • Lou says:

    Norman, you are wrong when you say, “Good points, Sarah. But you don’t see such sights in well-administered US schools.” I am affiliated with the school, but not a representative of the administration. The school is well administered. If you, or your readers think there is a smoking gun here, I encourage you to do some research and pay a visit. What you will find is that the school occupies six buildings. These pictures are not representative of anything. While upkeep is surely an issue, as it is for any institution, the school offers unprecedented facilities. One example is the brand new building that some have complained is too luxurious. Or the 1,400 seat opera house that is built to the specifications of the Metropolitan opera, including the wagon system that enables unparalleled productions. The poster failed to include those photos.

    Others have mentioned pianos. The school boasts the largest collection of Steinway pianos anywhere in the world outside of a Steinway factory. Piano majors have access to locked practice rooms, where excellent, well-maintained instruments are housed. There is a staff of piano technicians who tune non-stop every day, as well as staff who specialize in tuning harpsichords, clavichords and an organ curator. Yes, some of the practice rooms in the old building, not intended for piano majors will get less attention, but the picture of a piano and the ripped bench is surely not of a piano that is intended for serious performance.

    Another posted commented on recent donations totaling in the millions of dollars. This too is true. However, to suggest that the administration is “pocketing donor money” simply points to either an agenda or naiveté. Those millions of dollars were given in one case to build a state of the art building that is both acoustically, aesthetically, and technologically likely the best of its kind in the US, and in another case, to be used to fund student financial aid. In both cases the students needs were paramount in the use of the donations.

    No institution is perfect. Certainly the IU Jacobs School of Music is not. Finding the right school for you is a personal choice and the IU Jacobs School of Music may not be the right school for many people. But to allow four photos from who-knows-when, taken by an anonymous poster, to be given the headline, “How can this possibly be the best music school in America?” and to suggest that the school is mismanaged or not one of, if not the best in its field is either foolish or simply a sensationalist ploy. Either way, it reflects poorly on one of the blogs I have enjoyed and for which I have had a tremendous amount of respect until now.

  • Mark Mortimer says:


    I totally disagree- the standard of pianos at IU were generally of appalling quality. There may have been a lot of Steinways there but mainly of the clapped out variety. The main concert halls had a few instruments wothy of being played on by a virtuoso buts thats about it. They were no comparision to the top instruments seen in London and NYC.

    Btw the anonymous student who posted the pictures is spot on. The place is way from what its cracked out to be.

    • Lou says:


      I’m not sure when you were at IU, but two recent pianos were hand picked by Menahem Pressler at the Hamburg Steinway factory. Hardly, “clapped out.” I’m not sure how they pick them at the unnamed institutions in NY and London that you mention, but I’d stand by Menahem’s choices.

  • Milton Bradlee says:

    Hilarious. I went to school there in the early 1980s, and that hole was in the wall back then. You mean to tell me they haven’t fixed it yet? Talk about misappropriation of finances……

  • Green Bench Press says:

    The whole practice of ranking music schools is pointless, because it is impossible. The quality of a musical education includes facilities and primary teachers, but it also relies upon a host of other factors: teaching opportunities, financial aid, location, performance opportunities, classroom teaching, libraries, networking, programs and majors offered, double-degree possibilities, etc. No two music schools offer the exact same package and therefore a wholesale qualitative ranking is meaningless.

    Juilliard and Curtis, for example, have different programs, degrees, emphases, teachers, locations…how can one put a number on these things? Curtis has no drama division, but the music division is perhaps more exclusive than Juilliard. Some students would benefit more from Juilliard, others from Curtis. Deep down, we all know that the rankings are meaningless and that the educational process is not a formula, a business, or a numbers game.

    Also, every single music school, no matter how “good”, new, rich, etc., will have a dirty corner somewhere, a broken piano bench, a clogged toilet, of which a student can snap a quick photo and submit to a sensationalist blog. That is also why blogs are meaningless: unfiltered out-of-context opinions by non-professionals designed to stir up a sensation. I for one will not be visiting this page again.

  • John Hughes says:

    I loved IU….working with Gingold twice a week and playing in a quartet for a couple years with Josh Bell…Being coached by Dubinsky on the Shostakovich trio….having Bell, Kovakoes in class and many others was a never again experience……it got me prepared for a title pos orchestra job which I enjoyed…..I’m glad I went there…you learned from classmates…..Starker walked into lessons at times… wife who is in the National Sym also went there…….it is a great institution

  • Jacobs Guy says:

    First of all, I’d hope that nobody commenting actually takes these lists seriously. Having a definitive “best” music school in the nation is a fiction – what makes a school the “best” is different for every person.

    That said, IU is most definitely the best music school in the nation for ME – my four years at the institution have been the best four years of my life, and have shaped me into the musician and human being I am today.

    Now, with those things out of the way…

    This whiny student’s complaint is a completely irrelevant representation of this wonderful school that has been called the best in the country on this very site (or so I gather). I spend most of my day in the building these pictures are all taken from – the Music Annex. Yes, other than the dorm across the street called Read Hall it is perhaps the building in the worst condition in the entire university. However, everyone in the university except whoever this is has no problem with it. The building does not impede our ability to practice, which is the building’s primary purpose. I don’t know of any “health concerns” the building poses – yeah it’s got some holes in the wall, put there by students. So? Yes the practice rooms aren’t glamorous, but if you’re getting hung up over a practice room that isn’t perfect, you need a reality check. Also, YES. Most of the pianos in that building aren’t great. But the locked rooms piano majors get ARE. Those of us who poke around on the piano to pass proficiency and for ear training classes cope just fine with the pianos us non-pianists are left with. Personally, I am more than grateful to be able to have a piano to compose on. It’s much better to have a piano that’s not well maintained to no piano at all. Fact.

    Finally, this is one building. The student seemed to overlook the Musical Arts Center (actually very slightly LARGER than the Met), Merrill Hall (adjoining the MA), the Simon Building (containing one of the largest music libraries in the country), and the East Studio Building (the brand spankin’ new state-of-the-art building that could be in an architectural digest magazine). How about the incredible acoustics, organ and facility that is Auer Hall? How about the fine recital space that is Ford Hall? Or, you know, how about the things that actually matter: the incredible instruction, ensemble experience, and 7-days-a-week concert season? That’s why you go to a music school, isn’t it? But instead, this student has decided to get upset about a couple of holes in the wall. I’d challenge him to find any music school in the country with remotely comparable facilities that doesn’t have some blemishes. Nobody is perfect, especially when run by a massive state school’s sprawling bureaucracy.

  • icome anon says:

    Sorry but this is nonsense. NO ONE turns down Julliard to go to Indiana and most people would choose Curtis or Eastman or Yale over Berklee over Indiana. Frankly, the bit city programs in USC, UCLA, NYU are considered by many to be superior programs. Indiana is definitely top 10 but it is absolutely NOT number one.