The New England Conservatory of Music (NEC) in Boston, Massachusetts, is the oldest independent school of music in the United States, and it is widely recognized as one of the country's most distinguished music schools. NEC is especially known for its strings, piano, woodwinds, and brass departments, and its prestigious chamber music program.
The conservatory, located on Huntington Avenue of the Arts near Boston Symphony Hall, is home each year to 750 students pursuing undergraduate and graduate studies along with 1400 more in its Preparatory School as well as the School of Continuing Education. At the collegiate level, NEC offers the Bachelor of Music, Master of Music, and Doctor of Musical Arts, as well as the Undergraduate Diploma, Graduate Diploma, and Artist Diploma. Also offered are five-year joint double-degree programs with Harvard University and Tufts University.
NEC is the only music school in the United States designated as a National Historic Landmark and it is a pending Boston Landmark. Its primary concert hall, Jordan Hall, hosts approximately 1,000 concerts each year.
In June 1853, Eben Tourjée, at the time a nineteen-year-old music teacher from Providence, Rhode Island, 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 a school based on the conservatories of Europe. The group included 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 ultimately rejected Tourjée's plans, arguing that it was a poor idea to open a conservatory amidst the nation's political and economic uncertainty that would lead up to the American Civil War.
Tourjée made his next attempt in December 1866, when he again met with a group of Boston's top musicians and music patrons. Among Upham, Ditson, and Dwight at this meeting were Carl Zerrahn, a popular Boston conductor, and Charles Perkins, a prominent arts patron. In the thirteen-year interim, Tourjee had founded three music schools in Rhode Island, and this time was able to win over his audience. The men agreed to help Tourjee, and The New England Conservatory officially opened on February 18, 1867. It consisted of seven rooms rented above Music Hall off Tremont Street in downtown Boston. In 1870 it moved to the former St. James Hotel in Franklin Square in the South End.
The NEC campus consists of three buildings on both sides of Gainsborough Street, between St. Botolph Street and Huntington Avenue, one block from Symphony Hall. The Jordan Hall Building, whose main entrance is at 30 Gainsborough Street, is NEC's main building, home to Jordan Hall, Williams Hall, Brown Hall, the Keller Room, the Isabelle Firestone Audio Library, the Performance Library, professor studios/offices, and practice rooms. The second building, at 33 Gainsborough, is the Residence Hall, a coed dormitory which also houses the Harriet M. Spaulding Library and the "Bistro 33" dining center. The St. Botolph Building, at 241 St. Botolph street, contains Pierce Hall, a computer laboratory, the electronic music studio, and the majority of the school's classrooms and administrative offices.
Jordan Hall is NEC's central performing space. Opened in 1903, Jordan Hall was the gift of New England Conservatory trustee Eben D. Jordan the 2nd, a member of the family that founded the Jordan Marsh retail stores and himself an amateur musician. In 1901, Jordan donated land for NEC's main building, while also offering to fund a concert hall with a gift of $120,000.
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."
A major renovation project was completed in 1995. The renovated hall proceeded to win the 1996 Massachusetts Historical Commission Preservation Award, the Victorian Society in America's Preservation Commendation, the 1996 Boston Preservation Alliance Award, the Illuminating Engineering Society of North America Award of Merit, and the Illuminating Engineering Society 1996 Lumen Award.
Admission to NEC 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.
The conservatory has served as a training ground for orchestral players to fill the ranks of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, much like the Curtis Institute serves as a training ground for the Philadelphia Orchestra, although composers, pianists, and singers are offered courses of study as well.
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.
NEC Prep is home to one of the world's leading youth orchestras, the highly selective Youth Philharmonic Orchestra (YPO) as well as the NEC Youth Chorale who have performed for prominent world figures including the Pope at the Vatican in the past years. The Youth Philharmonic Orchestra headed by David Loebel is arguably the most selective group at the school. The Preparatory School also houses the Massachusetts Youth Wind Ensemble (MYWE), a highly selective touring wind ensemble open to advanced high school woodwind, brass, and percussion players directed by Michael Mucci. The Preparatory Jazz program offers a Jazz Certificate that focuses on ensemble performance, the primary expression of jazz, supported by private lessons and a comprehensive group of courses covering jazz skills. Jazz ensembles range in size from small groups (combos) to the Youth Jazz Orchestra.
New England Conservatory's School of Continuing Education allows members of the surrounding community to experience the benefits of New England Conservatory's world class instruction, offering classes, lessons, and ensemble opportunities to musicians of any background. At NEC's School of Continuing Education members can participate in chamber, jazz, and vocal ensembles, an opera studio, an adult chorale, a klezmer band, and a community gospel choir. In addition, NEC's School of Continuing Education offers classes in several fields including music history, music theory, and Alexander technique, many of which are instructed by members of the New England Conservatory college faculty.
NEC is co-founder and educational partner of From the Top, a weekly radio program that celebrates outstanding young classical musicians from the entire country. With its broadcast home in Jordan Hall, the show is now carried by National Public Radio and is heard on 250 stations throughout the United States.
Although the institution is properly known as New England Conservatory, both the National Historic Landmark and the National Register of Historic Places nominations call out "New England Conservatory of Music" as the name of the historic designation. Also, despite the statement on the subject's web site, there is only one listing for each program, which covers the whole main building, including Jordan Hall, and no separate listing for Jordan Hall.