Last year, after having taught at traditional academic institutions for more than 30 years, I arrived at Juilliard to serve as chair of the Liberal Arts Department. Needless to say, Juilliard is no typical college or university. I’ve thought a good deal about the differences, since students often ask me how Juilliard differs from traditional American colleges and universities, and what they might be missing by having chosen a conservatory.
Let’s start with the obvious. Juilliard students suspect that at most universities, especially at the big state schools, a lot of time is spent partying. It’s true—there’s no denying it. Juilliard is most definitely not a party school. It’s a practice and practice more school. Students at other institutions, free from the pressures of practicing and performing, appear to be able to spend half their time just chilling out. (No doubt an important activity.) However, it’s worth noting that the best students at universities spend a great deal of time reading, writing, solving equations, working in labs, etc. To excel at anything, long hours are involved.
What about Greek life? We have none, but rest assured, sororities and fraternities are no substitute for the kind of social life that New York makes possible. Sports and marching bands?
Juilliard is certainly in a position to have a spectacular marching band, but let’s face it: we won’t be sending any teams to the Rose Bowl.So if you have your heart set on cheering wildly for a team that has festooned mascots, you are indeed out of luck (although even Juilliard has a mascot: it’s the penguin). This, however, is no great shakes if you are not a sports fan, and if you are, there are all of those New York teams, especially the one that wears those glorious pin stripes.
On a more serious note, Juilliard students do miss out on the breadth and range of courses found in university curricula. While it’s possible for Juilliard students to take courses at Columbia and Barnard, this does require an extra effort. Our Liberal Arts Department is expanding in order to meet these needs within our walls—temporary though these walls may be. When the Juilliard renovation is completed, the building will include a new writing and communication center, a first for the School. And, to state the obvious, students learn not only in the classroom. The city itself provides almost unlimited opportunities for expanding one’s horizons, although you first must find an exit out of the building to take advantage of them. Speaking of exits and the building, there is construction at other institutions, but it’s not as intense as it is here. As a matter of fact, no college or university I’ve ever been at is as intense as Juilliard—even without the construction.
From day one I was struck by the sheer energy of the place. Everyone is on the move, going places (even if it is not to where they had expected), and accomplishing things. This produces, amid all the very real stress, an optimism about life’s possibilities and an expectation that life can be truly fulfilling. These sentiments are pervasive at Juilliard—not the case at most colleges and universities. Further, students come from around the globe to attend school here. And while this is true at many other colleges, the proportion of international students at Juilliard (they comprise roughly one third of our student body), as well as the intimacy of life here, makes the School a far more cosmopolitan place than many universities and enlarges one’s sense of the world and the interconnections between its peoples.
Perhaps the greatest difference, however, is the extraordinary collection of talent here at 60 Lincoln Center Plaza. There are very few academic institutions that can come close to matching the level of excellence exhibited by Juilliard’s students and faculty. When colleagues from around the country ask me what it is like at Juilliard, I try to describe what it is like to be surrounded by so many people who are so good at what they do. My colleagues are impressed—and often a bit envious.