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Top Music Schools in the West

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Thornton, Colburn & More
Top Music Schools in the West

Tommy the Trojan stands watch, statuesquely, over the University of Southern California campus.

Jackie Burrell

California boasts beautiful beaches, majestic mountains and all that scenic jazz, but it also boasts actual jazz and extraordinary classical music programs. Many of the major universities - particularly UCLA, UCSB, Berkeley, UCSD, Stanford, San Jose State, Cal State East Bay and so on - have terrific music programs, but if your favorite musician is looking for a real conservatory-within-a-university experience, be sure to check these out.

  • Thornton School of Music: The University of Southern California's Thornton School is one of the best conservatories in the country. The faculty hails from the Los Angeles Philharmonic and other major music ensembles, its composition faculty includes Frank Ticheli, and its majors range from opera, jazz and early music to scoring for television and motion pictures. (No surprise there. USC's film school is renowned too.) Getting in is the challenge - and kids who apply here also generally apply to the major conservatories, including Colburn in Los Angeles and the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. Auditions here are rigorous, and so are the academic requirements. Applicants must get into both the music school and the university, where the typical freshman comes in with a 3.8 unweighted GPA and SAT scores of 2020-2240, or an ACT score of 30-34.

  • Chapman University: A hop, skip and a jump from Disneyland, the Conservatory of Music at Chapman University in the small town of Orange, offers undergraduate degrees in composition, music education, conducting, and instrumental and - especially - vocal performance. Many musicians who apply here also apply to Redlands and the University of the Pacific.

  • University of the Pacific: This 130-year-old music conservatory in Stockton offers undergraduate degrees in music performance, composition and music education (including a degree that gets you out with a teaching certificate in four years, not the typical four+one). It's also home to the Brubeck Institute, a two-year program whose jazz quintet performs around the world. Many of the Brubeck Fellows finish their undergraduate education at The New School in New York.

  • University of Redlands: Based in California's Inland Empire, east of Los Angeles, this small liberal arts college and its conservatory of music are just over a century old. Concerts are performed in the college chapel. Many of Redlands' music students take advantage of the school's Salzburg Semester: They live in the college's 450-year-old Austrian castle and study at the Mozarteum.

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