By Steve Lipman, former Director of Admissions at Berklee College of Music & Founder of Inside Music Schools
For any high school sophomore or junior college music major, there is no better way to test the waters than enrolling in a reputable summer music program. These programs can give you a glimpse of the field you want to pursue whether it’s classical or contemporary music performance, composition, musical theater, songwriting, or audio engineering. A good program will offer introductory classes in music theory, harmony, ear training, and other musical subjects that you will encounter as a college freshman music major. Exposure to these courses is an excellent way to assess your strengths and discover the areas in which you need to improve. And of course, it sometimes exposes you to a conservatory, college, or university that you might consider attending in the future.
Attending a summer music program is the best way to get an inside view of what pursuing music studies in college would be like. Participating in classes and clinics taught by college faculty members will give you a chance to connect with experts who possess a broad view of the music professions and have practical advice to share with future music professionals. A summer music program will provide significant exposure to the range of material and kinds of experiences at heart of advanced college or conservatory music programs. You are likely to come across new concepts and learn about music majors and career paths previously unknown to you. The landscape of summer programs is filled with programs covering virtually every academic field and career path within the music industry. Programs that concentrate on performance, composing, songwriting, musical theater, production & engineering, stage presence, electronic music and more are all available throughout the U.S. and abroad.
The opportunity to meet peers who share your passion for music and have similar goals is invaluable. It’s a powerful and inspiring experience to meet kindred spirits who want to learn and play music together. You’ll find students with similar musical interests as well as those exploring styles and genres you haven’t yet discovered. These interactions inevitably broaden your horizons and increase your awareness of parts of the music world you hadn’t considered. Often, peers can provide a nudge that gets you to venture out of your comfort zone and into new, exciting, and unfamiliar musical territory.
Anyone who reads or hears interviews with prominent musicians will discover that many enduring friendships and professional collaborations among famous artists grew out of summer music programs. John Mayer and Maroon Five guitarist James Valentine first met at a Berklee Five-Week Summer Performance Program before either had any idea of what the future held for them. A young Pat Metheny was mentored by revered jazz guitarist Atilla Zoler at a summer band camp. Zoller later brought Metheny to New York City where he got to hear legendary jazz guitarist Jim Hall and bassist Ron Carter perform—a pivotal experience for the future jazz titan. The very popular avant-jazz-funk fusion group Medeski Martin & Wood did not know each other until they were introduced by famous jazz drummer and instructor at New England Conservatory Bob Moses who was then teaching Billy Martin in just such a program. Whether it’s a member of your peer group or an esteemed professor or musical coach, odds are that you will run into people at a summer program who may have a lasting influence on you, and whose paths will likely cross with yours again at a future time—either by serendipity or design.
The students you will meet at a summer program are also navigating the road toward higher education and, ultimately, a music career. Hearing their thoughts and perceptions about the application and audition process, and learning about their diverse musical experiences and goals, can energize you as you plan for your future. There is much to understand about different schools, majors, and areas of concentration, and talking with those also engaged in the hunt is a very important side benefit of attending summer music programs. If you are a songwriter, spending time with someone who is passionate about music therapy, choral conducting, or record production may rock your world in unexpected ways.
If you enroll in a summer program before you begin your junior year of high school, you may be able to attend a completely different program the following summer. But regardless of whether you attend one or more summer programs, the experience holds the promise of having a major impact on you, including making you a more competitive candidate for admission to top music colleges. College admissions officers are positively influence by a student’s participation in a high-quality summer music program, and the fact that a student spent part of the summer on campus bolsters his or her candidacy for full-time studies at the school and others like it. Summer programs should be a key component in your quest to become as well-informed as possible as you lay the foundation for your future in college-level music studies.