Music at Whitman?

I have son considering Whitman. I’ve been enamored with the school ever since my daughter was applying to colleges 2 years ago, and think it might be a great fit for my son. In terms of environment and culture, I’m confident he’d love it there. My main source of hesitation is that I’m not sure it’s particularly strong in some of the areas nearest to his heart, with music being one area of concern.

He’s a fine french horn player, and would like to go to a place with a strong music program. Can anyone comment on the music scene at Whitman? Are there even brass players in the orchestra (I was a little confused that they had audition materials for strings and woodwinds, but none for brass on the orchestra page)? Is it a strong ensemble, and do people like the conductor?

The other area of concern is that he thinks he’d like to major in computer science, and they’re only just getting a program started (Yay! We can consider Whitman!), but that’s another story…


I can see the appeal of Whitman (we visited with D2, and she has a couple of friends who like it), but this feels like trying to shoehorn a kid into a school you like where his areas of interest aren’t strong. Neither CS nor music are areas of strong reputation at Whitman. How about St. Olaf?

Fair point, intparent. Rest assured Whitman isn’t the only school we’re looking at. Your suggestion was right on the money, in fact; St. Olaf is already one of his very strong early contenders, firmly in the best-looking-candidates group. I’m just batting around a lot of ideas at this point. I’m clear on where things stand with Whitman in regards to CS, but I’m also aware that kids change their minds about majors all the time, and making that a key focal point of one’s decision has its own potential pitfalls. And of course assessing the strength of Whitman’s music program was the whole purpose of this post.

And then there’s the challenge of trying to read my kid and what’s actually most important to him, as well. He surfed the Whitman website for a while and got really excited, and I’m not clear at this point on the extent to which their having a fair to middling music program would even phase him. Tricky business, this college search stuff.

Incidentally, not to take things to far afield on the Whitman board, but do you actually know anything about St. Olaf’s CS department that you immediately suggested it? Obviously their music is off the charts, but I’m still trying to get a read on CS there. They’ve got a number of faculty listed under the CS banner, but from what I can tell, only two of them seem to be straight-up CS specialists.

Hi Rayrick, I wish that we could actually entice some current Whitman students to CC, these questions are better answered by them. All I have to offer is that I’ve seen the orchestra perform and, yes, there was a brass section. The Jazz band also has brass. My son had a fraternity brother who was an exceptional trumpet player, and was able to play regularly, although, I’m afraid that I’m not sure exactly which group he was in. Unfortunately, my son developed a passion for rugby at college so we spent more time at Ankeney Field than Cordiner Hall.

rayrick, just ran across an article about french horns in jazz bands, maybe not the direction most frequently taken by french horn players, but I hadn’t realized that it’s not that uncommon. Whitman’s new president used to be the dean of the music conservatory at Lawrence University and is an accomplished pianist, which bodes well for music at Whitman.

Whitman isn’t known for it’s music department, the theater department has more cache, but I do know that if a student wants to play an instrument or sing in a chorus, there are multiple options. We heard a lot of fine music all over campus and saw a variety of groups.

However, it looks like Whitman’s computer science program is a 3/2 program combined with other schools (Caltech, Columbia, WUSL, or UW), which means transferring after junior year and taking two more years of classes at the second Institution. Upon completion of the 5 years the student receives two degrees. I don’t believe that many people actually complete the 3/2 programs because it requires meticulous course planning, something indecisive freshman may not follow through on; at least one extra year of tuition and expenses; and many students just decide they don’t want to transfer after three years. I think Whitman offers many excellent programs, but computer science isn’t one on them yet.

Good luck in your second college search, I hope your D is thriving!

Thanks for your response, Bopampo! D is indeed thriving at Olin! Can’t speak highly enough of that place–she’s getting an absolutely terrific education.

The deal with CS at Whitman is that they’ve decided that they’re going to build a department/major. They’ve committed to hiring 3 full-time faculty, the first of whom should be on board in the fall and will play a central role in developing the curriculum. Then, they’re pretty immediately hiring two more. Three profs isn’t exactly a large department, but it’s enough to get going. Obviously, a kid arriving in fall of 2016 who was dead-set on majoring in CS would be taking quite a bit of a flyer on Whitman at this point, but it’s nevertheless something my son is considering, because he loves everything else about the school (from what he’s been able to learn from afar).

As far as music is concerned, while he really enjoys the horn, he’s quite certain it’s not something he wants to pursue professionally, and I don’t think he knows at this point how good the program needs to be for it to be “good enough” to be satisfying and fun for him. We’re still figuring that out. And as far as other things he won’t major in but really likes to do, theater is very high on his list! He’s been doing youth theater since he was 7 and is very involved in the department at his school, so that’s obviously a big plus in Whitman’s column. The other things he really enjoys are Ultimate (and it sounds like the Whitties are almost as disc-happy as Carleton) and doing outdoorsy stuff, which is another obvious Whitman strength. So, while no school is perfect, Whitman’s got a ton of what he’s looking for from a quality-of-life standpoint.

And good intel about the new President! That does sound like it augurs well for the music scene :slight_smile:

Just thought I would give my input on this thread. I am currently a freshman at Whitman and was in the top jazz band at an exceptional high school program. It is very exclusive here. There are some FANTASTIC musicians but a very concentrated amount get the actual gigs. I know that one frat has a band, but other then that there are just two jazz bands.

making The big band just depends on who is ahead of you. This semester they introduced is a new jazz ensemble for beginners (more or less). Nothing in-between.

The orchestra is real good, but I would definitely say the opportunities to play music are limited unless you are burning.

Everyone at Whitman is incredibly busy and involved with other things. It is hard to get people to be proactive and just jam or collaborate for a couple hours. Everyone seems too busy doing other things.

The music department is heavily geared towards classical music (rather then pop/jazz). That is an unanimous fact among fellow students I have talked to.

St. Olaf has a strong reputation in math, but I have to say that I don’t think I have heard much about CS. That doesn’t mean they aren’t strong, just that I am not familiar. I would take a hard look at their course offerings and requirements for the major. I do think that kids who are interested in CS are less likely to change majors than other majors… the CS kids I know (quite a few from my kid’s robotics team) who wanted to be in CS have all stuck with it in college.

Thanks for the input, baseballlover7. I was a jazz musician myself, so I can understand your frustration in not having as many opportunities to play as you might like. A classical-oriented department would actually suit my son just fine, and it’s nice to hear that you think the orchestra is good.

And that’s an interesting observation, intparent, that in your experience the CS kids seem to stick with it. I would admit that my son doesn’t have an obvious plan B at this point.

I was surprised to see that the drummer for Train went to Whitman. Does Whitman have an indie music scene?

Also, what about drama, musical theater and other arts?

Can’t comment on the indie music scene, but the theater at Whitman is a real strong point. Their Harper Joy theater is recently renovated and beautiful. They do 8 or 9 productions a year, and tons of kids are involved. I think I read a statistic that something like 60% of the kids at Whitman have some involvement in theater during their stay there. They don’t do many musicals, but they do sprinkle them in from time to time.

I’m guessing their fine arts must be quite strong as well, since the college navigator site ( reports there were 17 fine arts majors last year, which is big number for a graduating class of only 414.

AmazingBlue, lots of Whitman students come from Seattle and Portland and bring their indie music sensibilities with them. I’ve heard and read numerous times about enterprising student musicians who have formed groups and performed around campus and at local venues, some staying together after graduation and moving on. Indie bands come to campus to perform and there is the annual Sasquatch music festival held a couple of hours away, you’ll find carloads of Whitman students there. So, yes, there is an indie music scene at Whitman.

I’ve been to several theater performances at Whitman and agree with Rayrick that it’s a very strong department. My son had a friend who was a theater major and loved it, he had lots of opportunities to perform and to learn the production end of things. It’s really easy to be involved even if you aren’t a theater major.

There is a lovely art gallery on campus, and I’ve seen some very interesting exhibits there, but I don’t know anything about the department.