Searching for Vocal Performance/Composition major--contemporary, jazz and classical (not opera)

I’m so glad to find this site! I’m new and this is my first post. My daughter is a rising senior and determined to be a vocal performance major. She plays piano, sight-reads solfege, performs with two vocal groups–choral and contemporary, recently learned guitar and ukulele, and enjoys composing. My husband (went to NEC) would love to see her happy in a music school but prefers she steer away from the Conservatory route unless it’s a school like Oberlin, Carnegie, or Lawrence which also offer a liberal arts degree. So far Thornton, UCLA, Oberlin, U of M, Blair, Carnegie Mellon, Peabody, Northwestern, and Lawrence are considerations. She’s an introvert, loves the intimacy of smaller campuses but would be thrilled with a program like Thornton which has a smaller music school within a larger campus. She’s in love with the oldies/contemporary music, understands the importance of a classical foundation, but not as excited about Opera. Any schools that might be a good fit? Any I should add to the list? Are any of the above heavily focused on Opera (which we may want to remove from the list)? Would love your sage advice!

You might also want to post this on the music forum here on College Confidential.

On that forum there is an essay entitled the “Double Degree Dilemma” that discusses the different ways to study music.

She can do a BA in music, a double major or major/minor within that BA; she can do a BM and sometimes a double major within the BM; she can do a double degree BA/BM or BA/MM; or she can major in something else and take lessons and perform in extracurriculars.

By “conservatory route” I assume you mean a freestanding conservatory. BM degrees at a freestanding conservatory versus a school of music or conservatory on a larger campus may have similar curricula but the BM students at the latter will often be housed and eat with students in other areas and take classes with them as well.

If she wants choral or contemporary, she would apply to different schools than if she wants opera, as you implied. For contemporary singers, Berklee, USC Thornton, Miami Frost are frequently mentioned, maybe Loyola, New School, NYU, UC Denver- not sure.

For choral, it seems St.Olaf is mentioned a lot. Lawrence has a choral program separate from opera. I assume you or she have looked at all the listed schools above. Do they all have choral programs? Do any of them have contemporary voice programs?

If she loves oldies and contemporary, it seems like a more contemporary music program would be a good fit. Like USC, yes.

About composing: is she songwriting or doing classical composition? Does she work with piano, or a digital audio work station? Does she write scores? How serious is her interest.

There are singer songwriting programs too. I believe Frost at U. of Miami, Berklee, maybe USC, and others will provide that kind of program that combines voice and creating songs.


ps If she applies to BA programs without auditions, she can submit a music supplement with recording/video, music resume, and letters of recommendation related to music…

Fantastic advice! She’s a bit more focused on songwriting versus composing at this time and using Garage Band. My husband’s also exposing her to Finale. Very few schools offer contemporary programs which definitely makes USC unique. She’s sung on professional tracks, teaches young Seattle Girl Choir students solfege/rhythm/theory, and has a few original recordings which may help through the audition process. We’re trying to cap her applications to 8 which is why we’d like to eliminate the opera-focused programs (sometimes difficult to tell on a school website). I’ll post to the music forum as well. Great idea and THANK YOU!

For an example, she should look at University of Miami Frost School of Music as well. People on the music forum with contemporary performers may chime in. Here are the Frost programs that get mentioned:

M.A.D.E. Degree | Frost School of Music | University of Miami
C.A.M. Minor | Frost School of Music | University of Miami

USC Thornton, Berklee, Loyola, New School and NYU get mentioned, as I wrote before.

Do the schools you listed offer songwriting or contemporary and/or choral? You have to be careful because contemporary classical is a whole different animal, also called “new music.” And composition is separate from music production or songwriting.

Again, she can always attend a school she likes for other reasons and do music lessons and performance on the side.

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I can’t thank you enough for your direction and advice on making clear distinctions with what she wants. Although she has a choral background and can sing classical music it’s not what she wants to focus on. She also doesn’t want “new music”. And you’re right there’s a big difference with composing and songwriting. Those distinctions alone can take her on a pretty specific path. It’s been helpful going to youtube listening to the various choirs/vocal groups at each school trying to assess the level of musicianship. After listening to multiple samples (not including recordings during Covid as it seems unfair to judge), we’ve eliminated some schools from that alone.

Wonderful that the youtube performances are helping. I think it is too bad, in some ways, that young musicians have to make these distinctions. But I am glad she is getting more clarity!

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@Musichunt2022 Your daughter might look at Purchase College, a SUNY school. Their conservatory has about 400 students in a college of about 4500. They have a studio composition program which seems to be a combination of composing, performing, songwriting, arranging, and producing for recording or live performance. And as a state school they cost less than most schools, even for those who are not in-state New York.

I always have your question in the back of my mind when looking at schools. It occurred to me that I get most of our information from our college audition coach. They put on seminars with the schools where the schools describe their programs and talk about the the focus. Plus, the college audition coaches that have been around for a while knew these schools inside and out. That is where I got my Shenandoah suggestion from. There are several college audition coaches out there that tend to be more MT focused but I suspect they know the info about vocal performance programs also or can direct you to someone who does. You might want to try setting up a consult with one of them.

About the Program • Studio Composition • Purchase College

@Wilson98 can you guide us to reference to songwriting in this program? I was trying to find reference to singing the kinds of music the OP’s daughter is interested in, and also songwriting.

Terminology is so confusion but studio composition looks like a kind of music technology program, for lack of a better word, including multimedia production.

I have been trying to get a handle on a lot of these studio programs for a few years now.

Again the thread started by Spartan Drew a few years ago may be really helpful.

@compmom I also find it hard to distinguish these multi-topic programs! Purchase does have a separate studio production program that is pretty much technology and production. But the studio composition program seems to have more writing and performing, as its course list includes two Songwriting classes freshman year, required vocal or instrumental ensembles, keyboard skills, etc. And (from the website) students are required to write and produce two major projects. A Spotify list (added below) includes about 50 songs that former or current students of the program were involved in creating. Of course, it is hard to say what role the students played in these. But it does seem that this program is a combination of writing, playing, and producing music that could include contemporary songs. Studio Composition Purchase - playlist by Rebecca Haviland | Spotify

Aha so the course listing! it really goes to show how deeply people have to look into programs’ details. Purchase is on my list for production, but studio composition can mean so many things. Thanks for clarifying for Purchase!