A conservatoire is a college for the study of music and the arts, typically in the continental European tradition. Several faculties and departments make up the conservatoire such as strings, piano, vocal, opera, acting, dance, etc.
Each student is assigned to a department, depending on their discipline, to begin their committed and exclusive study of their instruments or performance art. Faculty and staff train these aspiring musicians and performers, both individually and in ensemble.
For the serious performer, winning a place in one is to assume a coveted life trajectory. Many talents throughout history were born and moulded at these institutions which have existed since the Italian conservatorio of the 15th century.
In the UK, these specialist music schools are usually contrasted with university music departments. While conservatoires provide an education in practical music making, the latter offers a more academic study with a focus on things like history, analysis, criticism, harmony, and counterpoint, as well as the philosophy and psychology of the performing arts.
Therein lies the major distinction between both types of institutions. Deciding whether to go to a conservatoire or a university ultimately depends on the wants and needs of the individual.
For the budding soloists, chamber musicians, or orchestral performers of tomorrow, the conservatoire remains the obvious choice to apply to.
It is the last bastion to uphold the classical tradition of individual and superlative training of performance, conducting, or composition to a professional standard. Where the opportunities to perform, conduct or have their music played solo or as part of an orchestra, ensemble or ban are the norm, not exception. Where students not only sharpen their technical skills, but learn how to develop professionally as musicians and performers.
Corey Mitchell, winner of the inaugural special Excellence in Theatre Education Award from the Tony Awards described it best, saying “the greatest strengths of a conservatory program is the laser focus on skills—the regimented and tested tracking of young artists. Additionally, conservatories tend to offer access to theatre professionals and professional experiences.”
From dedicated teaching to state-of-the-art facilities, these four institutions show why they are the leading conservatoires in the UK today:
With a wide range of foundation, undergraduate, postgraduate and research programmes on offer, this is where talented and innovative performers and creators can come together to train, collaborate, research, and perform.
Within its inspiring creative, intellectual and physical spaces, a supportive faculty of talented artists and practitioners teach an innovative curriculum to instil technical excellence and to enable each creative artist to flourish.
Here, students get to develop their performance skills in a variety of formal and informal settings in its unique suite of performance venues, which combine large-scale, professionally equipped spaces with more intimate studios and chamber venues.
At this Arts Council England and Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education-accredited school, young talents are transformed into resourceful, enterprising, and adaptable artistic leaders who are able to succeed in the profession and make a positive change to society.
Regularly named as one of the UK’s top institutions for graduate employability, the school takes pride in their alumni, many of whom go on to careers as leading artists, practitioners, innovators, and educators in music and dance in the UK and internationally.
Located in the heart of Manchester, the Royal Northern College of Music (RNCM) is home to an international musical community of 880 students from almost 60 different countries.
For undergraduates, there are three undergraduate programmes offered: Bachelor of Music with Honours (BMus), Bachelor of Music with Honours in Popular Music, and Graduate Diploma of the RNCM/Bachelor of Music.
Advanced studies take place at The RNCM Graduate School where one can specialise in performance (including conducting), composition, musicology, music psychology, and music education. The 2017 Postgraduate Taught Experience Survey (PTES) ranked RNCM as second in the UK for student satisfaction with postgraduate programmes.
Performance is at the heart of RNCM. Wide-ranging opportunities are available for performance and personal development opportunities within and outside of the college. From performing for orchestras to opera to Big Band, all these activities are geared towards enhancing students’ professional skills and employability.
The Platform, RNCM’s international centre for ensemble and vocal training, provides over 400 opportunities each year for students to participate in auditions, education projects, and public performances in the UK and mainland Europe.
Kathryn Rudge, (mezzo-soprano, 2011) said: “I am so grateful to have had so many performance opportunities at such an early stage in my development as it has provided an excellent foundation for me to build on. I am very proud to say that I studied at the RNCM.
It’s hard to beat the setting for which the training for a career in performance or its related professions takes place in at the Royal Welsh College of Music (RWCM). The stunning architecture here include an acoustically excellent chamber music recital hall, a beautiful courtyard theatre, state-of-the-art movement and dance studios, an impressive foyer space and exhibition gallery.
“It’s a microcosm of the arts world under one roof and, for a few years, you have access to it all,” said Catrin Finch, international harpist and RWCMD Artist-in-Residence.
World-class training at this Cardiff institution are sourced from teaching staff with their own professional experience to ensure its courses are informed by the latest demands of the arts and creative industries. Inspirational figures within the RWCM’s wider network, which includes international artists, directors, conductors and other practitioners, provide regular input to the National Conservatoire of Wales’ curriculum.
Collaboration is encouraged both inside and outside the college. Performers regularly train alongside composers, designers, backstage specialists, and arts managers, while students of all disciplines work side by side on concerts, exhibitions, opera, drama and musical theatre productions throughout the year.
The college also collaborates with organisations including the Welsh National Opera and the BBC National Orchestra of Wales, as well as with up-and-coming writers, emerging theatre directors and composers.
Since 1965, the Leeds College of Music (LCoM) has expanded and transformed into the leading European conservatoire of today. In 1993, it launched the first Jazz degree in Europe and in 2004 became the first UK conservatoire to offer Popular Music, Music Production, and later Music Business.
Over 1,900 musicians undertake the variety of programmes offered here, which range from undergraduate and postgraduate degree courses to numerous short courses and Junior LCoM for those aged nine to 18.
Its MMus/PGDip Creative Musician qualification is a uniquely flexible course, which allows students to focus on different creative specialisms from one trimester to the next. During the one-year program, students get to collaborate with leading composers, performers, and producers as they develop their skills as professional-level musicians.
Meanwhile, its BA (Hons) Music degrees or Foundation Degrees is a solid first step towards a career in today’s dynamic music industry. The BA (Hons) Music (Jazz), for example, is taught by qualified teaching practitioners with the aim of shaping students to be forward-thinking and creative artists, grounded in the tradition but with a hunger to take music to new dimensions.
*Some of the institutions featured in this article are commercial partners of Study International