There are American music schools where students don’t pay tuition. They’re free. The Curtis Institute in Philadelphia, the Colburn School in Los Angeles, the graduate program at the Yale School of Music. Of course, admission to these programs is especially competitive.
How much should young musicians have to pay to study? Once, at my school, a prospective student from a very well-off family was awarded a full scholarship based on her merit. A faculty member told the student’s parents that since they could easily afford it, they should pay for their daughter’s education, allowing the funding to go to someone else. They did.
Now, in our school, there’s a cap on the amount of merit-based scholarship a student can receive. Other schools make no such limitation. As a result, a top student from a wealthy family could be offered at most about half the cost of our tuition. Juilliard would give the student a free ride.
Because the overall quality level of students varies considerably even between “elite” American music schools, a prospective student may receive very differring offers. Recently, several prospects have been accepted by us and awarded modest scholarships. (They were not high in our ranking.) I was surprized, but not too surprized, to learn that these same pianists were offerred full scholarships by other conservatories.
It’s not a simple matter to assemble a class that will have the best chance to flourish. We need good musicians with talent, of course. But some diversity is welcome — some sort of balance. To have some paying customers in the school may be a good thing, and not only for the institution’s balance sheet.
Gunther Schuller explained that he felt New England Conservatory ought to have at least a somewhat non-elitist mission. It is not necessarily the kids who are stars at 17 or 18 who will be significant music-makers.
The success of a musical education can’t really be measured in competitions won, jobs gotten — or assessed through the student’s musical performance at the time of graduation. What development will continue occurring? Is there a potential for lifelong learning? What will this musician bring to community, peers, or the world?