University Deep Dive: Manhattan School of Music

Manhattan School of Music’s (MSM) undergraduate program offers majors in Composition, Instrumental Performance, Jazz, Musical Theatre and Voice. For undergraduates, all of these areas of study can be concentrated through Classical or Jazz Studies, except for Jazz Voice and Jazz Composition, which are reserved for graduate students. MSM also offers an exceptionally selective violinist and violist performance program entitled the Pinchas Zukerman Performance Program led by Pinchas Zukerman, an internationally renown violinist and conductor. 

The four year undergraduate Bachelor of Music curriculum encompasses traditional conservatory subjects like music theory and history in addition to a core liberal arts program. MSM values not only the study of music, but the study of the world so as to give its students the skills necessary to succeed as a leader in art and performance. 

Photo by Mariana Vusiatytska

In addition to studying and learning inside the classroom, MSM encourages its students to gain experience outside the classroom by taking advantage of the performance opportunities New York City has to offer. For example, undergraduate Classical Voice students have recently performed with National Sawdust, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the New York Philharmonic, the New York City Master Chorale, and the Verdi Square Performing Arts Festival. Additionally, if going outside the classroom may not work for some students, MSM invites guest performers to perform with MSM Ensembles. Guest soloists such as Paquito D’Rivera, Randy Becker, and Jon Faddis amongst others, have performed alongside MSM’s Jazz Student Ensemble. 

MSM Students at Centennial Concert at Carnegie Hall, Photo taken from MSM Instagram

To learn more about the MSM educational experience, I had the great opportunity to speak with a head of the Jazz Voice Masters degree at Manhattan School of Music, Theo Bleckmann. Bleckmann’s résumé is nothing short of impressive. A Grammy-nominated singer and composer with albums of Las Vegas standards, Weimar art songs, and his highly acclaimed “Hello Earth- The Music of Kate Bush” in addition to premiering new work for The American Composers Orchestra at Carnegie Hall, the New York Philharmonic Biennial, and the LA Biennial, Theo Bleckmann’s talents are second to none. 

With all these accolades, all he’s learned, and all his talents, he teaches his students, as he puts it, “to learn the history and craft at the top level but also kick those rules to the curb at times and build something new,” a lesson he’s learned to implement throughout his career. Bleckmann says, “I try to encourage students to do both, learn and create simultaneously.” 

This advice extends to the nature of MSM students in general as well. Theo says of his students, “I think MSM students learn not only the craft of the music but also how to maneuver their talent in the world of music to become real artists.” In the Vocal Jazz program, students apply this lesson in monthly performances at 55Bar, a New York City jazz staple. Bleckmann says that performing “in front of an actual real audience… changes the game immensely” because it not only applies what students learn in school, but it gives them first-hand experience and a glimpse into the life of a performing artist. 

That Manhattan School of Music requires students to perform outside of school sets it apart from other music and art schools. Bleckmann says of MSM’s performance opportunities that because it is “situated just below Harlem, it offers an artistic haven and a challenge for those who want to be in the thick of the NY music scene to grow and be challenged.” He says MSM “students want to be exposed to the density of talent here.” Through performances at New York City staples like 55Bar, Bleckmann enforces his students’ desires to be exposed to the artistic breadth the city has to offer. 

I think MSM students learn not only the craft of the music but also how to maneuver their talent in the world of music to become real artists

An integral part of both performing in venues outside the classroom and of the curriculum in school is collaboration amongst all artists. Collaboration is such an important part of MSM’s education that Bleckmann says “singers are thrown in with the instrumentalists almost at equal footing, and so co-writing and collaborations happen frequently. We don’t want to only create soloists, but team players and collaborators in all fields of music, including lyric writing, arranging, band leading, etc.” Not only does this type of collaboration benefit students in-class, but also in performances outside school and beyond. Everything Manhattan School of Music does is to help its students become what Bleckmann calls “real artists,” the artists these students are meant to be. 

Manhattan School of Music’s educational program incorporates classical and jazz studies, the humanities, and realtime performances. With internationally renown faculty such as Theo Bleckmann, Manhattan School of Music seeks to make their students the best artists they can be in their own right. One class at a time, one professor at a time, one performance at a time. 

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