New England Conservatory of Music

oldest independent school of music in the United States

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New England Conservatory
New England Conservatory logo.jpg
TypePrivate music school
Established1867; 156 years ago (1867)
Endowment$89.6 million[1]
PresidentAndrea Kalyn
Location, ,
United States
New England Conservatory of Music
Jordan Hall
NEC's principal performance space
New England Conservatory of Music is located in Massachusetts
New England Conservatory of Music
New England Conservatory of Music is located in the United States
New England Conservatory of Music
Location290 Huntington Ave.
Boston, Massachusetts
Coordinates42°20′26″N 71°5′13″W / 42.34056°N 71.08694°W / 42.34056; -71.08694Coordinates: 42°20′26″N 71°5′13″W / 42.34056°N 71.08694°W / 42.34056; -71.08694
Area1 acre (0.4 ha)
ArchitectWheelwright & Haven
Architectural styleRenaissance
NRHP reference No.80000672[2]
Added to NRHPMay 14, 1980

The New England Conservatory of Music (NEC) is a private music school in Boston, Massachusetts. It is the oldest independent music conservatory in the United States and among the most prestigious in the world.[3] The conservatory is located on Huntington Avenue along the Avenue of the Arts near Boston Symphony Hall.

NEC is home to 750 students pursuing undergraduate and graduate studies, with 1400 more in its Preparatory School and School of Continuing Education. It offers bachelor's degrees in classical performance, contemporary improvisation, composition, jazz, musicology, and music theory, as well as graduate degrees in accompaniment, conducting, and vocal pedagogy.[4] The conservatory has also partnered with Harvard University and Tufts University to create joint double-degree, five-year programs and provide multi-passionate students access to Boston's premier academic resources.[5]

The New England Conservatory's faculty and alumni comprise nearly fifty percent of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, including 6 members of l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, 14 Rome Prize recipients, 51 Guggenheim Fellows, and prizewinners at nearly every major respected music forum in the world. As of January 2020, 11 MacArthur Fellows have also been affiliated as faculty or alumni.[6]

NEC is the only music school in the United States designated as a National Historic Landmark, and it is pending registration as a Boston Landmark. Its primary concert hall, Jordan Hall has long been regarded as one of the world's top concert halls for its superb acoustic qualities.[7] At the center of Boston's rich cultural history and musical life, NEC hosts approximately 1,000 concerts each year.[8]

History & Leadership

Founding an American Conservatory (1867)

Eben Tourjée

In June 1853, a nineteen-year-old music teacher from Providence, Rhode Island named Eben Tourjée made his first attempt to found a music conservatory in Boston, Massachusetts. He met with a group of Boston's most influential musical leaders to discuss the foundation of a school based on popular and well-established European conservatories. Among the voices in the discussion were John Sullivan Dwight, an influential music critic; Dr. J. Baxter Upham, president of the Harvard Musical Association; and Oliver Ditson, a prominent music publisher. The group initially rejected Tourjée's plans, arguing that it was a poor idea to open a conservatory amidst the nation's current political and economic uncertainty, which would ultimately lead to the American Civil War.

It wasn't until the events of the Civil War subsided that Tourjée made his next attempt to establish a school in Boston. In December 1866, he again met with a group of Boston's top musicians and music patrons. Joining the former attendees Upham, Dwight, and Ditson were Carl Zerrahn and Charles Perkins. In the thirteen-year interim, Tourjée had gained both experience and success in founding three music schools in Rhode Island, and this time was able to convince his audience of the persisting need and demand for such institutions. The men agreed to support Tourjée, and The New England Conservatory—then consisting of just seven rented rooms above Boston Music Hall off Tremont Street—officially opened on February 18, 1867.[9]

Early History (1868-1900)

Tourjée continued establishing his public presence within the musical community in Boston by initiating the first national conference of music teachers, which met in Boston as the National Music Congress in 1869.[10] Under the direction of Patrick Gilmore, he was also selected as one of the organizers behind Boston's National Peace Jubilee of 1869. He assembled and rehearsed the chorus of over 10,000 that performed in present-day Copley Square to celebrate the return of peace at the end of the Civil War. Three years later at the World's Peace Jubilee, which he also co-organized under Gilmore, the size of his chorus was doubled.[11]

Similarly, the New England Conservatory was also establishing itself as a pioneering institution even in its infancy. It was the first school in the United States to offer a course in public school music, and one of the faculty members who taught that course, Luther Whiting Mason, was the first to introduce music into Boston Public Schools. At the request of the Japanese government, Mason traveled to the country from 1879-1882 to introduce western music education to Japanese schools. In Japan, this system came to be known as the "Mason-song" system.[12]

By the end of 1868, the conservatory had grown from its original seven rooms to twenty-five, with 1,212 students enrolled.[13] Meanwhile, Tourjée established an affiliation with Boston University in hopes of providing a more comprehensive collegiate education for musicians. He eventually took on the role of Dean at the university, holding the position until his death in 1891.[14]

Illustrations from NEC's second home at the former St. James Hotel in Franklin Square. NEC was located there from 1882-1902.

By 1882, NEC had outgrown the rooms in the Boston Music Hall and moved operations to the St. James Hotel in Franklin Square. The large building functioned as both an academic facility and a residence hall for female students. Even though St. James Hotel provided many amenities the Music Hall had been lacking, it still desperately needed a recital hall. So in 1884, the conservatory purchased land adjacent to the hotel and, almost immediately, construction began on a new recital hall. Through substantial contributions from wealthy trustees, including Jacob Sleeper, the new hall was rushed to completion and Sleeper Hall opened on January 13, 1886. The hall was rapidly put to heavy use, with 109 classical music concerts and hundreds of student recitals performed in the first year.[15]

As the conservatory grew, so did its ties to musical life in Boston. When Henry Higginson founded the Boston Symphony Orchestra in 1881, he called on 19 members of NEC faculty to serve as section leaders.[16] The close ties between these historic institutions continue today.

20th Century

By the turn of the century, NEC had come under the leadership of George W. Chadwick, a well-known composer who had been on the faculty since 1882. During Chadwick's tenure, the foundation was laid that shaped NEC's identity for the whole of the 20th century. The first orchestral ensemble was assembled, and the first opera program began under Chadwick's leadership. The conservatory shifted its focus from casual music students interested in occasional lessons or courses, to instead prioritizing students who wished to earn college diplomas and, beginning in 1926, baccalaureate degrees.[17] By 1900, NEC was again in need of larger facilities. It was once again through the generosity of its trustees, namely Eben Jordan II, that another plot of land was purchased and, in 1901, construction began on a new concert hall at 290 Huntington Ave. The now world-renowned Jordan Hall opened for students beginning in 1902, but the official inauguration of the concert hall took place on October 20, 1903 with a grand performance by the Boston Symphony Orchestra.[18]Like most academic institutions in the 1930s and early 1940s, NEC saw a decline in enrollment throughout the Great Depression and the closely following events of World War II. But by 1946, enrollment had doubled to over 2,300 students, with fifty percent of those degree candidates enrolled through the G.I. Bill to earn their college degrees following service in WWII.[19] Through the 1950s, the school once again began redefining itself under the leadership of then-president Harrison Keller. He reduced the importance of the original diploma program, encouraging students to enroll instead into the degree programs—which, by this time, had also expanded to include masters degree programs. Keller also established an academic studies department and developed a full four-year theory curriculum. In addition, the Artist Diploma program was initiated, originally intended for only a small number of highly gifted performers. Keller later founded the Department of Music for Young People, thus establishing the precursor to NEC's present-day Preparatory School, and also oversaw construction of a new dormitory which opened in 1960.[20]

In 1967, composer, conductor, and author Gunther Schuller was elected President of NEC, just as the school was celebrating its centennial. Like Chadwick, Schuller was a transformational leader for the conservatory. In 1969, he established the first fully-accredited jazz degree program in the United States and, a few years later, introduced "Third Stream" studies into the curriculum. "Third Stream" was the term coined by Schuller to describe the synthesis of jazz and classical music and eventually, it gained its own department and degree program (each later renamed Contemporary Musical Arts and Contemporary Improvisation, respectively), thus incorporating world music into the conservatory's traditionally classical roots. Schuller also helped to renew interest in another style of American music: ragtime. He formed the New England Conservatory Ragtime Ensemble in 1971. Additional changes to the curriculum included a new program in early musical performance, as well as an overhaul of the music education department. Finally, Schuller expanded local outreach into the community by creating the Community Services department, known today as the Community Performances and Partnerships department.[21]

From 1983-1996, NEC was headed by renowned cellist and longtime faculty member Laurence Lesser. During his tenure, the campus expanded with the purchase of two additional buildings for classrooms and administrative offices. Lesser also shepherded a major capital campaign to fund the 1994-95 restoration of Jordan Hall, and instituted the Doctorate of Musical Arts (DMA) degree, along with a considerable number of additional graduate school offerings.[22]

21st Century

Daniel Steiner, a former member of the board, served as the conservatory's first president who wasn't also a musician. During his tenure from 1999-2006, his goal was to "make NEC a top school in its field like MIT and Harvard." Toward that end, Steiner established a joint-degree program with Harvard and a chamber music training program, boosted financial aid resources, and hired prominent faculty members to attract more applicants. Both the size and reputation of NEC saw a substantial increase, and Steiner raised $72 million over the last three years of his presidency.[23]

In 2007, Tony Woodcock took the helm and served as NEC's president until 2015. He instituted both of the programs for Sistema Fellows and Entrepreneurial Musicianship, and ended his tenure with the groundbreaking for the Student Life and Performance Center (SLPC), the school's first new building since 1960.[24]

In January 2019, Andrea Kalyn became NEC's 17th and first female president. Demonstrating an immediate commitment to expanding diversity initiatives, Kalyn "founded the Center for Cultural Equity and Belonging (CEB) to shape, support, and advance institutional practices relative to equity, diversity, inclusion, and belonging."[25]


NEC's main building at 290-94 Huntington Avenue was built in 1901, designed by Wheelwright and Haven, and is the location of Jordan Hall.

Today, the NEC campus consists of four unnamed buildings along both sides of Gainsborough Street, between St. Botolph Street and Huntington Avenue and just one block from Symphony Hall.

Unofficially called "the Jordan Hall Building," NEC's main building is home to Jordan Hall, Williams Hall, Brown Hall, the Keller Room, and the Performance Library, as well as professor offices and studios, and student practice rooms. The secondary building, formerly the Residence Hall but now fondly known as "the G" for its location on Gainsborough Street, primarily houses administrative departments, the copy/mail center, the store Music Espresso, and additional practice rooms. The "St. Botolph Building" at 241 St. Botolph Street contains Pierce Hall, along with the majority of the school's classrooms and administrative offices. NEC’s newest building, the Student Life and Performance Center (SLPC), opened in 2017 and now serves as the NEC Residence Hall. It is also home to the Green Room Café and Speed Dining Commons; the Blumenthal Family Library; two rehearsal spaces; Burnes Hall and the Eben Jordan Ensemble Room; the Elfers Commons; and the Plimpton Shattuck Black Box Theater, designed specifically for opera performances.

The Boston Youth Symphony Orchestra performing in Jordan Hall.

Jordan Hall

Jordan Hall is NEC's central performing space, and certainly its most famous. Officially opened in 1903, Jordan Hall was the gift of trustee Eben D. Jordan II, a member of the family that founded the Jordan Marsh retail stores and himself an amateur musician.[26][27]

The dedication concert of Jordan Hall, performed by the Boston Symphony Orchestra, took place on October 20, 1903. Newspaper accounts deemed the hall "unequaled the world over," and The Boston Globe reported that it was "a place of entertainment that European musicians who were present that evening say excels in beauty anything of the kind they ever saw."[28]

A major renovation to the performance space was completed in 1995.


Admission to NEC can be rigorous and, like Juilliard and other performance-focused conservatories, is based primarily on a competitive live audition. The conservatory offers degrees in orchestral instruments, conducting, piano, jazz studies, contemporary improvisation, opera and voice (performance and pedagogy), composition, music history, and music theory.

Artist Diploma

The Artist Diploma (AD) is the highest-level performance designation offered at NEC. It is currently available in three categories: Instrumental Performance, Opera, and Orchestral Conducting. The program is extremely selective with only one to two candidates admitted to each of the programs per year. AD students are awarded a full tuition scholarship and a $10,000 stipend for both years of the program, and they are often featured in special performances and events.[29]

Doctoral programs

The Doctor of Musical Arts degree (DMA) is a rigorous and selective program intended for performer-scholars who combine the highest standards in their major area with proven accomplishments in musicology and music theory. It is designed to provide professional musicians with the necessary knowledge and skills for artistic, cultural, social, and educational leadership.

The DMA degree is offered in performance, classical composition, Jazz and Contemporary Improvisation, and music theory. NEC enrolls a small class of 8-12 students each year to ensure the highest degree of flexibility and individual attention.[30]

Dual-degree programs

The conservatory offers five-year joint double-degree programs with Harvard University and Tufts University.[31] These programs allow students who have dual passions in both music and another field to have access to the world's best resources for both pursuits.

Preparatory School

New England Conservatory's Preparatory School is an open-enrollment institution for pre-college students. The preparatory school offers music classes and private instruction for young musicians, and fosters over 35 small and large ensembles. Students enrolled in the Preparatory School may participate in the Certificate Program, allowing students to achieve their optimum performance skills, competence in music theory, and a knowledge of the literature that includes choral, orchestral, and chamber music, as well as solo repertoire. The Preparatory School also offers programs in jazz, Contemporary Improvisation, and baroque music, as well as offerings in early childhood music education.[32]

The orchestra program includes four full orchestras with winds, brass, percussion, and string players; four large string orchestras; and String Chamber Orchestra. NEC Prep is home to the Youth Philharmonic Orchestra (YPO) as well as the NEC Youth Symphony. The Youth Philharmonic Orchestra headed by David Loebel is perhaps the most selective group at the school. All of the orchestras perform at least twice each year in NEC's Jordan Hall. Youth Philharmonic Orchestra (YPO) and Youth Symphony (YS) are both touring ensembles. Recent tour destinations have included Iceland, Ireland, Norway, and Spain. In February 2019, YS traveled to Italy, and in June 2019, YPO traveled to Central Europe.

School of Continuing Education

NEC's School of Continuing Education offers classes in several fields including music history, music theory, and Alexander technique.[33]


See New England Conservatory alumni for a list of members of the alumni community.
See New England Conservatory past and present teachers for notable members of the faculty.

Demographics & Diversity

A pioneering institution from its inception, NEC has always accepted students regardless of their race. The first African American to receive a diploma from NEC was Rachel M. Washington, who earned a diploma in voice in 1872. The first black students to earn bachelor’s degrees were Anna Bobbitt (Gardner) and Luther Fuller, both in 1932.

Some of the most famous African American alumni include Florence Price, Coretta Scott King, J. Rosamond Johnson, Cecil Taylor, D. Antoinette Handy, McHenry Boatwright, and Denyce Graves. NEC’s black faculty members have included talents such as Jaki Byard, George Russell, and Carl Atkins.

NEC also has a long history of awarding honorary degrees to significant black artists such as Roland Hayes (1961), Marian Anderson (1964), Coretta Scott King (1971), William Grant Still (1973), Miles Davis (1986), John Birks “Dizzy” Gillespie* (1991), Aretha Franklin (1997), Quincy Jones (2010), Herbie Hancock (2018), and Jessye Norman (2019).


Although the institution is known today as New England Conservatory, both the National Historic Landmark and the National Register of Historic Places nominations designate "New England Conservatory of Music" as the name listed in these registries.[2][34] Both registries list NEC's primary building, which includes Jordan Hall, as a place of historic significance.

See also


  1. ^ As of June 30, 2009. "U.S. and Canadian Institutions Listed by Fiscal Year 2009 Endowment Market Value and Percentage Change in Endowment Market Value from FY 2008 to FY 2009" (PDF). 2009 NACUBO-Commonfund Study of Endowments. National Association of College and University Business Officers. Archived from the original (PDF) on December 14, 2017. Retrieved March 4, 2010.
  2. ^ a b "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. July 9, 2010.
  3. ^ "Best Music Schools In The World For 2019 > CEOWORLD magazine". CEOWORLD magazine. March 23, 2019. Retrieved August 22, 2020.
  4. ^ "New England Conservatory of Music | school, Boston, Massachusetts, United States". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved August 22, 2020.
  5. ^ "Programs of Study". New England Conservatory. Archived from the original on February 20, 2010. Retrieved March 4, 2010.
  6. ^ "Award Recipients & Honorees". Retrieved August 22, 2020.
  7. ^ "No Other Like It". The Boston Globe, LXIV No. 113. October 21, 1903. p. 1.
  8. ^ "New England Conservatory of Music" (PDF). National Park Service – National Historic Landmarks Program. Retrieved April 9, 2015.
  9. ^ Fitzpatrick, Edward. A history of the New England Conservatory of Music, unpublished school records, 1967. p. 13-16.
  10. ^ "from Archives & Special Collections, Director/President Eben Tourjée". New England Conservatory. Retrieved September 13, 2022.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  11. ^ Samuel, Elizabeth I. (1951). "An Amazing Career: Life of Eben Tourjée". Alumni Opus: 14 – via New England Conservatory Alumni Association.
  12. ^ Fitzpatrick, Edward. A history of the New England Conservatory of Music, unpublished school records, 1967. p. 35-38.
  13. ^ Fitzpatrick, Edward. The Music Conservatory in America. Unpublished DMA dissertation, Boston University, 1963. p. 330-31.
  14. ^ Fitzpatrick, Edward. The Music Conservatory in America. Unpublished DMA dissertation, Boston University, 1963. p. 355, 371.
  15. ^ McPherson, Bruce and James Klein. Measure by Measure: A History of New England Conservatory from 1867. The Trustees of New England Conservatory of Music, Boston, MA, 1995. pp. 35, 40.
  16. ^ McPherson, Bruce and James Klein. Measure by Measure: A History of New England Conservatory from 1867. The Trustees of New England Conservatory of Music, Boston, MA, 1995. pp. 28.
  17. ^ Morrow, Jean and Maryalice Mohr, Guide to the archives at New England Conservatory of Music. Boston: New England Conservatory. pp. 26-27.
  18. ^ Ledbetter, Steven. "Program Notes." 90th Anniversary of Jordan Hall at New England Conservatory. Boston: New England Conservatory of Music, 1993. pp. 14.
  19. ^ Morrow, Jean and Maryalice Mohr, Guide to the archives at New England Conservatory of Music. Boston: New England Conservatory. pp. 28.
  20. ^ Morrow, Jean and Maryalice Mohr, Guide to the archives at New England Conservatory of Music. Boston: New England Conservatory. pp. 29.
  21. ^ McPherson, Bruce and James Klein. Measure by Measure: A History of New England Conservatory from 1867. The Trustees of New England Conservatory of Music, Boston, MA, 1995. pp. 131-136.
  22. ^ McPherson, Bruce and James Klein. Measure by Measure: A History of New England Conservatory from 1867. The Trustees of New England Conservatory of Music, Boston, MA, 1995. pp. 143-147.
  23. ^ Notes, v. 31 no. 1 (2005). pp. 4.
  24. ^ Madden, Corey. "Artist as Leader: Tony Woodcock". Thomas S. Kenan Institute for the Arts, University of North Carolina School of the Arts. Retrieved September 12, 2022.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  25. ^ "Senior Administration". Retrieved September 16, 2022.
  26. ^ Southworth, Susan & Southworth, Michael (2008). AIA Guide to Boston (3rd ed.). Guilford, Connecticut: Globe Pequot Press. pp. 230–231. ISBN 978-0-7627-4337-7.
  27. ^ "The New England Conservatory of Music". The Journal of Education. Sage Publications. 60 (2): 48. June 30, 1904. JSTOR 44065323 – via JSTOR.
  28. ^ "Jordan Hall History". Handel and Haydn Society. Archived from the original on September 13, 2010. Retrieved March 4, 2010.
  29. ^ "Artist Diploma". Retrieved August 19, 2022.
  30. ^ "Doctoral Study at NEC". Retrieved August 19, 2022.
  31. ^ "Course Offerings". New England Conservatory. Archived from the original on February 20, 2010. Retrieved March 4, 2010.
  32. ^ "Certificate Programs". Retrieved August 19, 2022.
  33. ^ "Continuing Education". Retrieved August 19, 2022.
  34. ^ "National Historic Landmark nomination for New England Conservatory of Music". National Park Service. Retrieved March 4, 2010.

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