HIGHER EDUCATION Universities want to lure top music students
More kids participate in music than any other high school extracurricular activity, said the executive director of Bands of America.
By MIKE CONKLIN
As coaches for the University of Miami's No. 1-ranked football team fan out across the country to offer scholarships to the best high school seniors they can find, a recruiter for a different Hurricane program is on a similar mission.
He's Ken Moses, assistant dean of admissions at Miami's School of Music, and to him, a talented violinist is as coveted as a 300-pound lineman with quick feet is to the football coach.
"The best high-school musicians are known to all good colleges," he said. "Our trustees are always asking what schools we're competing with for them."
Miami is one of a group of universities with elite music programs, schools -- such as Northwestern, Oberlin, Southern California, Rice, Indiana, Southern Methodist -- that travel nationally to locate top high-school music talent, whether it's in the marching bands, orchestras or smaller ensembles.
Before the academic year is over, Moses will visit more than 20 cities, attend a half-dozen or so festivals and network with dozens of band directors about their best performers.
A skilled bassoonist or oboist? You bet. He and his peers give them a listen anytime. They're always in the market for a good double-reed performer. Ditto for cellists and violists.
At the same time, flutists and saxophonists better be really good. In this equation, they're the small running backs with average speed. "A dime a dozen," explained one band director.
The recruitment by colleges of high school musicians is big business and getting bigger each year, according to those involved in the process.
Pressure-packed auditions that begin in earnest in February, tapes of solo performances that would make a Hollywood producer proud, and anxiety-riddled parents are parts of the picture.
Like athletes and their coaches, high school musicians may have an adviser -- usually a band director -- familiar with the landscape to direct them through their high school "career" and the college recruiting process.
Just like the dream in sports, at stake can be full-ride scholarships to well-known, prestigious schools and conservatories that can then lead to lucrative professional careers -- in this case with professional orchestras and bands.
But high school musicians are recruits prized by more than colleges with elite music programs. With academia more conscious than ever of enrollment numbers, every alert admissions counselor with a practice room on campus views bands as fertile turf.
"More kids participate in music than any other high school extracurricular activity, and that tells you something right there," said Eric Martin, executive director for the Schaumburg, Ill.-based Bands of America, an educational group that stages events for more than 60,000 prep musicians every year.
"The things that go into making a good musician -- discipline, hard work, problem-solving -- are what make good students in general," said Dennis Trotter, admissions director at Coe College in Iowa. "It's a good target group to pursue. I'd estimate 25 to 30 percent of our student body (1,200) is in a music group of some kind, yet we only have a few music majors graduate each year."
Columbia College in Chicago had all of this in mind when it sponsored the high-school marching band portion of the Thanksgiving Day parade for the for the first time in the Windy City. There were 24 units from as far away as Virginia, and the ABC-TV airing of the parade -- with each band having Columbia College stamped on its preceding banner -- reached 38 million households in 90 markets.
Just as important to Columbia's music department, which has more than 100 course offerings, was the Thanksgiving Eve dinner the college hosted.
This was an event that saw 3,600 high school students gathered under one roof. In addition to being schmoozed by Columbia music department staff and students, the guests were invited to fill out informational brochures and take home applications.
"Coming to this sort of event is kind of a reward for the time we put in," said Jessica Banks, a flutist with the Boardman High School marching group. "It helps you meet other people and learn about what they're doing."
Banks, like most of the better musicians in the parade, is weighing her college opportunities. She wants to be a music major, possibly at Baldwin-Wallace College or Youngstown State University, but plans to audition for the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music.
"We got a lot of good names for the data bank," said Columbia College administrator Paul Chiaravalle, who linked his school to the parade sponsorship. "From strictly an admissions standpoint, I can't think of a better group.
"The members of the bands tend to be highly motivated kids and good students. Even if music doesn't turn out to be their major, very often you see them going into other areas and doing well."
First-year Marengo (Ill.) High School band director Nick Konwerski was a highly-sought trumpet player in the strong Marian Catholic High School program in Chicago Heights not long ago. He recalls that weighing all the college offers made him feel "a bit like a car salesman" juggling a world of options.
Konwerski had a sterling "resume" -- he made all the important honor groups in high school, including Bands of America's national unit that went on tours. In addition, he was good enough to be invited to play in a world-class caliber, drum-and-bugle organization in New Jersey, a musical showcase for a horn player.
Those accomplishments, plus his obvious talent, resulted in four schools offering him scholarships before he settled on the University of Illinois.
"One recruiter came at me like a college football coach, the way she was looking for trumpets," he said. "They really wanted to strengthen that part of their program."
Indeed, high school musicians as a group are so attractive that the National Association for College Admission Counseling, promoter of college fairs for students, organizes regional events strictly for music students. It's been doing this since 1991; music is the only specific academic discipline or activity the group breaks out for special treatment.
Roosevelt University in Chicago was a host for the annual fair held in October, where recruiters from 70 colleges and conservatories met with more than 500 area students.
This year, Roosevelt, an urban school with students generally from the Chicago area, enrolled 190 new music students, and they represented 33 states and 10 nations.