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  Understanding Music Conservatories

    "Music was always just something I did. Then I began to understand that it was more than that--something that is such a part of me, I can't imagine my life without it."
"Something happened on that stage when I began to play. It was as though the music took on a life of its own. It was extraordinary, a combination of the music and everything I had to put into it. When it was over, the audience was dead silent for the longest time. Finally, they broke into enthusiastic applause. And then I knew that I wanted to be a performer." The two quotes above are paraphrases of typical responses we get when we ask college-bound musicians why they are interested in attending a conservatory of music. These are incredibly hard-working, intelligent, and focused young people. Yet the choices they face as they ponder the next steps in their musical careers are complex. Most music school web sites focus on the schools themeselves; the hopes and dreams behind the creation and the mission of the school. The rest of the Peabody web site can give you that information. However, if you want to explore what makes a given school a good match for a given young musician, it is best instead to start out focusing on the hopes and dreams of prospective students. If you dig deep enough, the dreams of the students and the goals of the conservatory will have to be similar if both are to succeed. Our ability to address these issues comes from experience. It's "what we do" in admissions. And, since these essays are being written from a personal perspective, you need to know that I am David Lane, Director of Admissions for Peabody. Pleased to meet you. With that background, we ask you to relax and spend a little time with us as we let you in on what we have learned about young musicians--especially those in the process of looking at music schools. Along the way, we will talk about the factors differentiating one school from another. We will discuss where Peabody fits in, and we will identify the "profile" of students likely to thrive in a conservatory environment. Finally, we need to address the concerns of parents who have proudly supported their sons or daughters in their musical studies thus far, yet are unfamiliar (and maybe a little uneasy) with the notion of a musically intensive college program.

  What is a music conservatory?

I suppose at some time in history, the name "conservatory" implied something about the focus of a music school, but currently I am aware of no international convention which qualifies an institute of higher learning to be a "conservatory," as opposed to a "school," or an "academy." This is not to say that all places of college music study are the same. Far from it. It simply means that one has to look beyond the name before making assumptions about the value of the program. Differences between schools tend to orbit around three elements: The kind of programs offered, the amount of non-musical study in the curriculum, and the environment in which the learning experience takes place. Together, these determine the types of young musicians the school will attract. And it is the students themselves who then create the "character" of the learning experience. This last idea may seem a bit cloudy at the moment, but it is just a fancy way of emphasizing that much of what you learn in any school comes from the quality of your experience with your classmates. Let's dig into each element a little further.
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