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Is St. Olaf's music program unique?

rayrickrayrick Registered User Posts: 855 Member
Hi All,

I'm just starting to dig in to the college search with my son, who's a junior. He's a very good French horn player, and would like to go to a place with a strong music program. He's not, however, convinced he wants a conservatory-level commitment, and would prefer to major in something else (computer science is a strong contender), or possibly double major. He's also pretty sure he'd like to go to a liberal arts college. Finally, he's a solid student, but, to be frank, he's not likely to get in to the Williamses and Amhersts of the world.

The music program at St. Olaf looks perfect--tons of kids involved and outstanding quality without having to commit to a conservatory environment, all within a liberal arts college setting with strong academics, particularly in the sciences. Looking around for other schools that match that description, we've come up pretty much empty (I should perhaps add that he's ruling out schools that sound like they're very frat-ish or conservative in terms of campus culture).

Are there other schools out there that meet the particular set of criteria above that St. Olaf seems to fit so perfectly, or is it virtually unique? We thought Oberlin might fit the bill, but I contacted the excellent horn professor there and he flatly stated that you can't study with him or be in his horn choir without being in the conservatory. Looks like the same deal at Bard--it's not clear you can even get private lessons in horn unless you're in the conservatory. Kind of defeats the purpose of being in an environment with amazing music if you can't do any of the cool stuff without joining the Con-club.

Any suggestions? Have I missed some other hidden gems?


Replies to: Is St. Olaf's music program unique?

  • SpiritManagerSpiritManager Registered User Posts: 2,823 Senior Member
    My son graduated last year from Bard (with a double degree from the conservatory and college.) You may be right that there's no adjunct horn instructor in the college music program - but it would be worth contacting the head of the music department in the college and asking. It's possible they would find a horn prof if one was needed.

    Off the top of my head: some other liberal arts schools with strong music departments include Vassar, Skidmore, Wesleyan, Clark, Brandeis and Lawrence (which allows non-music majors to take advantage of the conservatory) and others. This is an old thread on the Music Major forum with some suggestions: http://talk.collegeconfidential.com/music-major/6280-suggestions-of-colleges-with-music-majors-p1.html
    The Music Major Forum would be a good place to ask your questions.
  • rayrickrayrick Registered User Posts: 855 Member
    Thanks for the response, SpiritManager. I've looked into most of those with the exception of Clark, which I'll have to check out. I have a good person to ask, since my cousin's daughter went there, and she's a fine violinist. Wesleyan and Vassar look like major reaches (though I'm a Wes grad, so that might help) and Brandeis is probably a bit of a reach, too. Lawrence's CS faculty consists of a single professor, which is not too inspiring, but that's good info that non-conservatory kids can get involved with their program. Skidmore is on our list. Have you heard anything about the College of Wooster? I think I saw that mentioned somewhere on that suggestions thread you linked.

    At any rate, since this is the St. Olaf forum, I'll reiterate that it looks pretty special, and potentially a great fit. Planning a visit for the spring.
  • Earthmama68Earthmama68 Registered User Posts: 263 Junior Member
    My older daughter and I just visited St. Olaf and Carleton last month. My older daughter is a junior and a violist and my younger daughter is a sophomore and a violinist. We sat in on an orchestra rehearsal and a private lesson at both schools. The orchestra at St. Olaf was stupendous. It really blew our socks off! The conductor was fabulous and you could tell that the students and he were loving every minute of working together. The fact that the audition occurs before you are admitted and that the orchestra tours every year were big draws for my girls, especially the younger one. When we looked at Williams last summer, it was disheartening to learn that you don't find out whether you get into the Berkshire Symphony until after you get to Williams (and seriously, who gets into Williams anyway???). My younger daughter is VERY interested in St. Olaf now because of their music program. They also have a beautiful campus, friendly kids, great sports facilities, a five star food plan and great academics. Drawbacks to us about St. Olaf were that it has a strong religious element and that it seemed less liberal and more mainstream vibe than most of the other schools my kids are interested in. As a parent, I kind of liked that the campus is dry, but I didn't like that the January term costs extra and that your financial aid package doesn't travel with you when you study abroad. If I can figure out how to, I'll post video clips of the St. Olaf orchestra rehearsing that I took with my phone.
  • rayrickrayrick Registered User Posts: 855 Member
    I've listened to some youtube clips of the St. Olaf orchestra and they do sound remarkably good. Nice to hear you got a good vibe from the the conductor, though! There's some pretty unpleasant conductors out there that do manage to produce high quality results, but that doesn't mean you want to work with them.

    I share many of your concerns about St. Olaf from a cultural fit standpoint with my son. He's not anti-religious, but he is pretty a-religious, so I do worry a bit about that aspect of the campus scene there, but several other threads on this forum seem to suggest that it's not that big deal. And January term costs extra?? I'll have to look into that.

    I did turn up another school that looks promising that I hadn't seen mentioned many places and that's U. of Puget Sound. Looks like music is a flagship department. In fact they don't call it the music department, they call it the School of Music, and they offer a B.M. degree. However, like St. Olaf, all the ensembles and the private instruction are available to non-majors. Also just seems like a pretty neat school in general. Just putting it out there for others who might stumble upon this thread with a similar question.

    Out of curiosity, what was your impression of the music scene at Carleton? We're headed out to see both schools, as well as a couple of others in the area, in early April.
  • 4Clarity4Clarity Registered User Posts: 13 New Member
    My son is a junior at St Olaf and has been playing in the St Olaf Orchestra since freshman year. He is not a music major, but the music program at St Olaf was absolutely the reason he chose to go there over similar schools. Not only does he love playing in the orchestra, he loves touring with them, playing on their softball team, etc. It's a very welcoming group with time-honored traditions, and it made the transition to college easy. Their conductor, Steven Amundson, is not only an outstanding conductor but is "universally beloved," according to my son. They just returned from their tour of Georgia and Florida, which I'm told was their best yet. You can hear a recording on the St. Olaf website. Next year, they'll do an international tour to Argentina in addition to their national tour. If you look at the roster of the orchestra members, you'll find lot of non-music majors and double-majors--and yes, that is unusual at most schools with strong music departments. St Olaf attracts strong musicians with other interests because it is one of very few schools that allows non-music majors to audition for the top music scholarships. I am a music teacher myself, and the combination of what St Olaf offers is very rare.

    As for the religious vibe, it's not an issue for my son. He's not Lutheran, Minnesotan, or Norwegian and is liberal politically--and he fits right in. He also looked at Lawrence, Grinnell, Carleton, Knox, and Beloit and would have been comfortable at any of those places too.

    One last thing: there is only an extra charge for the January (interim) term if you go off-campus and/or travel abroad. My son has stayed on campus for interim for three years and there has been no extra charge. He's planning to travel for next year's interim, and we've been told it won't affect his music scholarship.
  • rayrickrayrick Registered User Posts: 855 Member
    Great info, 4Clarity, thanks!
  • Bekp2018Bekp2018 Registered User Posts: 100 Junior Member
    Similar to St. Olaf--but more affordable is Concordia College in Moorhead, MN. It's also affiliated with the ELCA, but religious activities aren't mandatory at all. Karin Wakefield is a great horn professor, and the orchestra does tour each year. Several of the students through the years have played both in the Concordia orchestra and have held positions in the Fargo-Moorhead Symphony. As a city, Fargo-Moorhead has much, much more going on than Northfield with many tech options for internships (for example, Microsoft is one of the top employers in the metro).
  • saintfansaintfan Registered User Posts: 8,274 Senior Member
    St. Olaf is just fin for an a-religious kid. I have one there. They say they like it about 50/50 in terms of people with a more Lutheran or similar identification and not to keep traditions alive but also have balance and diversity. Contrary to what some people think chapel is NOT required and is not swamped. It happened every morning around 10ish and does not conflict with classes so you get a nice snack break if it isn't your thing. When we visited we counted about 100 people out of 3k in attendance.

    Many kids participate in lessons and ensembles who are not music majors. Also many people start as music majors and seamlessly shift to other things if they realize that they don't really want the full commitment. It is a great community where kids attend concerts and events to support their friends and can participate in things outside their usual sphere. My kid was an extra in a friend's senior dance recital last fall.

    pm me if you have more questions and I'm sure I could go on forever.
  • saintfansaintfan Registered User Posts: 8,274 Senior Member
    D did a study abroad program last January which had an extra cost but as stated above there is no additional fee if you stay on campus.
  • saintfansaintfan Registered User Posts: 8,274 Senior Member
    D tells me that the students are predominantly quite liberal and the religious vibe, such as it is, is a very love your neighbor and use your gifts for the betterment of the world.
  • saintfansaintfan Registered User Posts: 8,274 Senior Member
    Also look at Piper Center offerings if you have an interest in internships and whatnot. They are really great and have lots of career support services. They are huge on ROI.
  • intparentintparent Registered User Posts: 35,793 Senior Member
    St. Olaf also isn't really a dry campus. :). Don't let admissions fool you.
  • saintfansaintfan Registered User Posts: 8,274 Senior Member
    nope - not at all
  • saintfansaintfan Registered User Posts: 8,274 Senior Member
    No mandatory religious activities at StO. There is one mandatory freshman religion seminar (choice about topic) and one has to take one other upper level course that falls under that umbrella. Those classes are broad based, non-dogmatic and in all kinds of departments.
  • rayrickrayrick Registered User Posts: 855 Member
    Well, that's all very encouraging. Thanks, everyone. We're visiting in early April, but sadly they won't be in session. There was no way to dodge all the spring breaks at all the schools we wanted to see, and unfortunately, St. Olaf was the one that was most out of step with the other schools. If he applies and gets accepted, maybe he'll go again when there are live bodies around.
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