On Becoming a Classical Composition Major: A Conversation with Jonathan Bailey Holland, Chair of Composition, Boston Conservatory at Berklee

by Mark Small

Jonathan Bailey Holland

Jonathan Bailey Holland grew up in Flint, Michigan, where his early musical influences ranged from hip-hop artists Run DMC and Fat Boys to Aaron Copland. Holland began studying composition at the Interlochen Arts Academy and netted an award for his very first composition. He earned his bachelor’s degree from Curtis Institute where he studied composition with Ned Rorem. He later earned a Ph.D. in music from Harvard University where his teachers included Bernard Rands, Mario Davidovsky, Andrew Imbrie, and Yehudi Wyner.

Holland is an active composer whose works in a number of genres have been commissioned and performed by numerous orchestras, chamber ensembles, and soloists. He has served as professor of composition at Berklee College of Music and the Boston Conservatory. Following the merger of the two schools, Holland was named Chair of Composition for Boston Conservatory at Berklee in 2017.

Below is our conversation with this esteemed musician.

Our Interview with Jonathan Bailey Holland

MS: What would you tell a young music school applicant about preparing to become a composition major?

JBH: At Boston Conservatory, we accept students with a range of composing experiences. We want to see that they have curiosity and an interest in the art of composition. Whether they have composed a lot already or not, we want to see that they take the initiative to seek out music that’s not familiar. For those who have experience with composing, we look for authenticity and originality. By originality, I don’t mean that they are writing in a way we’ve never heard before, but that it’s coming from them internally. We don’t want to have students trying to write like someone else. Schools can always tell if the music is not genuine, so don’t play what you think we want to hear. We want to see that students are trying to create musical works in their own way.

At the conservatory, the classical tradition is where study begins, but composers today come from all kinds of backgrounds. We have applicants whose portfolio might not have a string quartet, but rather, a big band arrangement that they wrote for their school band or something for which they recorded all the parts. At the end of the day, the emphasis is not on the style of music or instrument they are writing for. We want to see that an applicant has a grasp on putting notes together to create a musical work. The variety we are seeing now is greater than it has been in the past.

MS: Do you find that students interested in composition have diverse aspirations?

JBH: Students come here with some experience in classical music and repertoire from playing in ensembles, but a lot have been captivated by classically-influenced music from a film or a game. We get students to listen to music and composers that they may not have encountered and make that part of their portfolio. Most schools want students to be exposed to a variety of musical influences and repertoire that is considered historically important.

MS: Does Boston Conservatory’s program give guidance on the steps needed to launch a career as a composer of concert music?

JBH: We have students coming to our program hoping to go into film scoring, but they first want to get a strong foundation in composing—which is essential. They need an understanding about how music works. Those principles apply whether you are writing concert, film, or popular music. If you are an artist, your goal is communicating your perspective and your voice. That in itself is preparation for a career. You are honing your skills to present whatever you want to say to whoever wants to listen. That is the goal of any entrepreneurial training program. Students need to translate artistic training into career training. At the heart of things, it involves the same curriculum to a certain degree.

MS: Do you have any advice for students as they apply to music colleges?

JBH: A lot of people get nervous about the interview and audition process. I suggest to applicants that they are not just auditioning for a particular school, they are also auditioning the school to find the environment that is the right fit for them. Getting to know the community and what is available and if that is what you are looking for in a school are as important as your audition and interview. It helps to take some of the pressure off people as they go through the process to know that this is a two-way interaction.

MS: Students and their parents are interested in the prospects for making a living after studying music. Is there a range of music-oriented careers your graduates settle into?

JBH: A composer does different things than a violinist or singer, but they are all learning the same basic skills and then applying them to create a certain end product. A degree in composition could lead someone to a career in music technology or production. A composer could also maintain the skills needed for a performing career. He or she might also become a conductor, teacher, or something else. People are not limited by choosing a particular field at one stage of their academic career and can always move to a different specialization.

There are a number of options for our graduates. Some might later become lawyers and doctors. In any artistic field, you need to learn the mechanics and gain a perspective. Those skills are also transferable to other fields. Music school is not like trade school where you learn one specific skill and go to work in that field. Music students learn how to do several tasks and to understand how everything fits together. We always hear that the tech world wants people who are creative, think outside the box, and are malleable. That is exactly what artistic training is about.

Contact Us

Did you find this blog helpful? Do you want to attend a music collage or conservatory? If the answer to that is a “yes”, your next step is simple. Visit insidemusicschools.com and allow our team of industry insiders to guide you towards your goal of being a professional in the music industry. Through expert counseling, and real world experience, we will make sure you are prepared for the journey

To contact Jonathan Bailey Holland:

For press and public relations inquiries, please contact:

Stephanie Janes PR

Phone: 617-419-0445 or 646-598-3028
E-mail: stephaniejanespr (at) gmail (dot) com

Or, visit Contact — Jonathan Bailey Holland and enable the contact form.

A quick guide for prospective foreign students by the staff at IMS.

by Inside Music Schools

Studying Music in the United States

Inside Music Schools has helped many international music students seek acceptance at colleges and conservatories in the United States. We hear the same questions from many of them. You likely have the same questions if you are one of the many international musicians wanting to study in America. So, we thought we’d dedicate this post to answering some of the frequently asked questions we receive.

Which schools accept international students?

Just about every American college welcome students from foreign countries. Many actively recruit them as a way of helping their school’s diversity to enrich the education of their students. In general, you can also expect to be accepted by your classmates. There are a few countries from which there are no students in the United States, like Cuba and North Korea, but this has more to do with political issues than college policy.

What types of schools are there in the United States?

There are different types of institutions of higher education (beyond high school) in the United States. While the terms college and university are often used interchangeably in casual conversation, there is a difference. Basically speaking, a college is a small school for undergraduate study. Many colleges champion the liberal arts—academic disciplines like literature, history, languages, philosophy, mathematics, and general sciences. This is in contrast with such professional and technical disciplines as business and engineering.

Many liberal arts colleges treat music as an academic discipline rather than a professional one. That means you take fewer courses to train you to become a professional musician and more in humanities courses to help make sure you receive a well-rounded education. This type of degree is known as a Bachelor of Arts. As a musician at most liberal arts colleges, you would receive a bachelor of arts in music degree.

How is a university different?

In comparison to colleges, most universities are large institutions that teach both undergraduate and graduate students. They are typically made up of various schools and/or colleges, such as a school of medicine, a school of architecture, and a school of foreign languages. Most universities also have a school of music. While some of these offer a Bachelor of Arts in music, the emphasis is usually on the Bachelor of Music degree. It requires more study in music and less in the humanities and other general education disciplines. It is a professional degree.

What about conservatories?

Exterior photo of Julliard.

A conservatory stands as the third type of music school in the United States. It specializes in one or more of the fine arts—music, acting, dance, and the like. Conservatories in the United States developed to first foster classical music but have come to embrace jazz and other forms of music. Juilliard is a well-known conservatory in our country. Conservatories tend to be small, hundreds rather than thousands of students. However, Berklee College of Music in Boston is the world’s largest music school in the world and can be seen as a conservatory.

To keep things simple for the rest of this post, we’ll use the terms college and school to refer to all types of institutions of higher education. We’ll also use America to refer to just the United States even though the word includes other countries in this continent.

What is a for-profit school?

When we talk about colleges in this article, we are mainly referring to not-for-profit institutions. We tend to think of these as purer in intent since they focus on education more than their financial bottom line. Almost all are accredited by a regional agency that helps assure the quality of education you receive.

For-profit schools are just that, “for profit“. They include some well-known music institutions. Some offer quality education to their students while others are more questionable. Some are also accredited while others are not. If you are considering a for-profit college, look closely at its reputation.

How well do I need to know English?

The need to understand English is one of the first things we have to point out to international students who approach Inside Music Schools for help. Almost every college in the United States requires a certain proficiency in English. This makes sense as you will be studying in English. Most schools will expect you to have received a good score on a Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) exam. You can find practice TOEFL exams online.

What does it cost to go to school in the United States?

The cost of going to school in the United States is the other thing we have to emphasize with international students. It is because it can cost a lot of money. The average tuition for a publicly supported, four-year university is around $20,000 if you are a non-resident of the state where the school is located. (All international students are considered non-residents.) The average cost to attend a private institution is closer to $40,000 a year no matter where you call home. A year’s tuition at a top conservatory is over $50,000, not including the cost of room and board.

Can I get scholarships?

Given the cost of going to school in the United States, international students are often interested in receiving scholarships. American colleges basically offer two types of financial assistance. The first helps need-based students and mainly go to American citizens of low income. Scholarships are talent-based and are awarded to highly skilled musicians, especially ones that are of interest to a particular school.

You should not necessarily expect to receive a scholarship from an American college to go to school as a music student from a foreign country. Sadly, if you cannot afford full tuition, you probably cannot afford to study here unless you can find some sort of scholarship in your home country to support students studying abroad. You can read more about music school scholarships here.

Are there other costs?

Tuition is just one of the expenses of going to school in America. You must also pay for room and board, textbooks, supplies, local transportation, and personal expenses. That’s in addition to flying to the city where a college is located and back home at the end of the school year. Together, these expenses can add up to almost as much as tuition itself. 

College students around the world find ways of living cheaply. So do students in the United States. Still, you must budget.

How about visas and work?

International students are required to enter the United States with a F-1 student visa. Once accepted, the college will send you an I-20 form which you will take to the U.S Embassy in your country in order to receive the visa. Be sure to consult the American Department of State for the most current information.

International students are not permitted to work in the United States while they are on a student visa.

Contact Us

Did you find this blog helpful? Do you want to attend a music college or conservatory? If the answer to that is a “yes”, your next step is simple. Visit insidemusicschools.com and allow our team of industry insiders to guide you toward your goal of being a professional in the music industry. Through expert counseling and real world experience, we will make sure you are prepared for the journey

How can Inside Music Schools assist an international student?

At Inside Music Schools, we help college-bound music students move decisively toward their future.

Visit Insidemusicschools.com and contact our staff. You can click this link to contact our staff directly and allow us to guide you during this process.

by Steven Lipman

Choosing the best school to study musical theater can be a daunting experience. Fortunately, there is help available for picking the best ones, and each has something special to consider. To help make the process as seamless as possible, Inside Music Schools offers admissions consulting for college-bound students interested in the musical stage. 

The Top Schools to Study Musical Theater

  1. NYU: Tisch and Steinhardt: Both of these reputable schools at NYU offer an undergraduate musical theater program that pairs a broad and empowering academic curriculum with rigorous conservatory training. Instructors ready students to recreate the fields they enter. They do this by building on the school’s intellectual and creative assets – and through the unrivaled cultural resources of NYC, including the diverse schedule of productions steered by theater artists and internationally renowned faculty. Tisch Drama empowers aspiring artists to influence the performing arts field and beyond, allowing them to apply their talents across multiple disciplines and industries. 
  2. University of Michigan: The Department of Musical Theater at UMich has the reputation of being one of the top musical theater programs in the world. The college offers young performers the opportunity to receive a premier university education and conservatory-style instruction. Hailed for its intelligent and skilled graduates, the program has one of the largest alumni networks employed on Broadway. The faculty consists of expert industry professionals, along with leading pedagogues. UMich students, who proudly call themselves “Wolverines,” reflect the diversity of today’s world. Individualism is treasured, and the university cultivates each Wolverine’s unique hopes, strengths, and talents.
  3. Carnegie Mellon University (CMU): The Musical Theatre program at CMU is conservatory training taught within a university setting. Students in the program can expect to attend a four-year, sequence-based program that leads to a BFA in Drama. Both musical theater and acting students take the same intensive core curriculum with classes that include acting and movement, as well as voice and speech. While attending the School of Drama, students can also take several cross-option courses and periodic electives. Classes at Carnegie Mellon are small, which provides the perfect environment for in-depth and personal attention. In turn, this promotes a strong sense of collaboration. 
  4. American Musical and Dramatic Academy (AMDA): AMDA provides exceptional, performance-based instruction and an industry-focused educational experience. Students attending the Academy discover an appreciation for transformative and universal power through art, and its extensive curriculum inspires graduates to excellence. AMDA bases its educational philosophy on individualized interaction between instructors and their students. The school’s location in New York City provides the student body with scores of enriching opportunities to immerse themselves in theater.
  5. University of Cincinnati College – Conservatory of Music (CCM): the New York Times declared CCM one of this country’s leading conservatories.” Students seeking their BA in Music can get their start at this college with study that spans the spectrum of media and performing arts. CCM provides a life-changing, highly creative, and multidisciplinary artistic learning environment. The prestigious institution, with roots going back to 1867, is nationally ranked and internationally renowned.  CCM’s visionary instruction, character, and the synergy created by housing its facilities within a comprehensive college prepares artists and scholars for the world stage. Noted alumni include Ashley Brown, known for her title role in the Broadway production of Mary Poppins, and Li Chuan Yun, Chinese concert artist and violin virtuoso.
  6. Boston Conservatory at Berklee (BOCO): This conservatory is associated with Berklee College of Music. BOCO emphasizes classical music training, and its progressive spirit is readily apparent in the variety of music-making opportunities found there. The world-class facility challenges students to define the type of musician they desire to be. This approach, matched with focused, individual, and extensive training, is vital to developing each student’s artistic voice and technical skills. Students attending BOCO have the opportunity to work with musicians across a wide array of styles, enriched by a diversity of cultures. The conservatory houses division in classical music as well as the dramatic arts. It also offers cross-registration of courses with the Berklee College of Music.
  7. Northwestern University – Bienen School of Music: Founded in 1873, Bienen is one of the oldest degree-granting music schools in the United States. An education there provides students with mastery as well as such essential values as superb musicianship, communication, a sense of discipline, and a commitment to excellence, all paramount for success wherever their interests lead. The journey starts in the classroom, teaching studio, practice room, and concert hall. The school is close to Chicago, and several of its alumni and faculty received Grammy nominations for 2021. 
  8. Point Park University: Point Park’s BFA in Musical Theater is a robust and thorough eight-semester program designed to ready graduates for careers in professional theater. It emphasizes acting, music, and dance. The demands of the training, performance, and creative components are intense. Students learn from faculty who have trained and worked on global stages. Acclaimed guest artists, casting directors, playwrights, and choreographers frequent Point Park’s Downtown Pittsburgh campus, where they direct master classes and workshops.
  9. Oklahoma City University (OCU): The Bachelor n Musical Theater at OCU focuses on training students with a high aptitude in singing for careers in Broadway-style performances. The highly committed faculty trains musical theater majors as professional musicians, highly skilled dancers, and actors. The vocal cross-training they provide makes graduating students both competitive and versatile. The degree is music-intensive, and students in the musical theater program audition for all six annual productions by the Bass School of Music and are cast in other operas and musicals as well. Students at the university gain performance skills and music training through courses in acting, dance, stagecraft, and performance techniques, in addition to general studies. 
  10. University of North Carolina School of the Arts (UNCSA): The university combines intensive, individual study opportunities under artist mentors with a rich variety of performance opportunities that include more than 200 concerts, recitals, and other performances each year. Many of the musical experiences are collaborations with other UNCSA arts schools. Students attend weekly master classes taught by noted guest artists. They rehearse and perform in state-of-the-art facilities and also book performances as musicians in Winston-Salem. Additionally, UNCSA offers one of the only four-year residential high school arts programs in America.

Here are other excellent schools for your consideration:

Some Things to Consider When Selecting a School to Study Musical Theater

There are many factors to keep in mind when selecting a musical theater school. The following are a few to consider:

by Steven Lipman

Embarking on the deep study of clarinet in music school, like any other instrument, is a journey that will pay creative dividends for perhaps the rest of your life. Classes in theory and performance will sharpen your skills. The educational experience will brighten your mind. And the performance opportunities you’ll take on will be creatively enriching experiences with players of both your instrument, and others. In short, it will be great and will form the basis of your professional network for years to come.

In fact, in music school the next wave of great clarinetists – of which you may be one of them – will find their voice and discover the path to their personal and professional fulfillment. And it’s never been a better time to study music in college. Today’s music school students are continually pushing the boundaries of their fields with some excellent programs that really should catch your attention.

Which brings me to this list. It’s understandable that most students want to know which is the best school to attend, but the greatest music school experiences are a result of the quality of programming and how it interacts with the particular student. As creative people, we thrive in environments that inspire us – especially colleges and conservatories with the right faculty, location, and performance opportunities to enjoy.

At Inside Music Schools, we match students to the right program for them. Our recommendations are based solely on the personality, criteria, and aspirations of each individual student. Along with an individually-crafted list of schools, our resume and essay development, audition preparation, and more, guide future concert clarinetists and recording artists toward the best program for them. 

But before you reach out, check out our list of clarinet schools that we’ve both suggested to students in the past and discovered as fantastic programs through over 40 years of experience in music school admissions. If you’re interested in any of the schools listed, reach out to us to find out more at the end! 


Notable Faculty


Curtis Institute (Philadelphia, PA)

Anthony McGill

Temple University / Boyer School of Music (Philadelphia, PA)

Anthony Gigliotti; Ronald Reuben

The Juilliard School of Music (NYC, NY)

Alan Kay; Jon Manasse; Charles Neidich; Anthony McGill; Ayako Oshima

Manhattan School of Music (NYC, NY)

David Krakauer; Charles Neidich; Alan Kay; Pascual Martinez-Forteza

Mannes Conservatory (NYC, NY)

David Krakauer; Jon Manasse; Charles Neidich

New York University / Steinhardt School of Music (NYC, NY)

Matt Sullivan; David Krakauer; Pascual Martinez-Forteza; Christopher Bush; Pavel Vinnitsky

Bard College and Conservatory (Annandale, NY)

Anthony McGill; David Krakauer; Pascual Martinez-Forteza

University of Rochester / Eastman School of Music (Rochester, NY)

Jamal Rossi; Kenneth Grant; Michael Wayne

New England Conservatory (Boston, MA)

Thomas Martin; William Hudgins; Richard Stoltzman

Boston University (Boston, MA)

David Martins; Rob Patterson

Boston Conservatory of Music (Boston, MA)

Jan Halloran; Rane Moore 


Oberlin College and Conservatory (Oberlin, OH)

Richard Hawkins

Cleveland Institute of Music (Cleveland, OH)

Franklin Cohen; Afendi Yusuf

Cincinnati College and Conservatory (Cincinnati, OH)

Ronald Aufmann; Christopher Pell; lxi Chen

Northwestern University / Bienen School of Music (Evanston, IL)

Leslie Grimm; Steven Cohen; Mark Nuccio

DePaul University (Chicago, IL)

Stephen Williamson; Julie DeRoche; Wagner Campos

Univ. of Michigan (Ann Arbor, MI)

Daniel Gilbert; Chad Burrow; 

Indiana University / Jacobs School of Music (Bloomington, IN)

Eli Eban; Howard Klug

Carnegie Mellon University (Pittsburgh, PA)

Thomas Thompson; Michael Rusinek


Peabody Conservatory (Baltimore, MD)

Alexander Fiterstein; Eugene Mondie

Rice University / Shepherd School of Music (Houston, TX)

Richard Hawley

Vanderbilt University / Blair School of Music (Nashville, TN)

Bixby Kennedy; Cassandra Lee; 

Univ. of Miami / Frost School of Music (Coral Gables, FL)

Margaret Donaghue


University of Southern Calif. / Thornton School of Music (Los Angeles, CA)

Yehuda Gilad; David Howard

University of California at Los Angeles / Herb Alpert School of Music (Los Angeles, CA)

Boris Allakhverdyan; Joshua Ranz; Gary Gray

The Colburn School (Los Angeles, CA)

Yehuda Gilad

San Francisco Conservatory of Music (San Francisco, CA)

Jeff Anderle; Carey Bell; Jerome Simas; Luis Baez