Inside the Yale School of Music and how it works
Perhaps because the Yale School of Music is often confused with Yale's Department of Music, or maybe because I myself am only crossing the threshold of undergraduate education, the first thing I hear from Martin is a three-minute explanation as to why Yale School of Music is different from the music department.
Photo of Martin Bresnick, provided by Martin Bresnick
Martin Bresnick, Charles T. Wilson Professor in the Practice of Composition at YSM, has taught at the school for almost 40 years. Having studied at the University of Hartford, Stanford University, and the Universität für Musik und darstellende Kunst in Vienna, he went on to teach young musicians at different institutions around the world, including the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, Eastman School of Music at the University of Rochester, and the Royal Academy of Music in London.

Teaching alongside extraordinary faculty consisting of Christopher Theofanidis, Hannah Lash, Aaron Jay Kernis, and David Lang, the professors are looking for the most talented composers they could find. "We typically, at any given year, have applicants that number about 175, and we have openings for five students," Martin says, explaining just how competitive it is to get into the school. "This is a very small window that students have to get into our program." Because of that, you have to send your best music in the best performances that you can record, since your colleagues are doing the same.

The professor admits that the faculty has a terrible time picking only five to six people out of 175 because they have wonderful applicants coming in that they just can't admit. There is also the interview part, which you will get invited to if you seem like a good prospect to the school. "We only interview 12 people, and you get to sit and talk to us … about music, and [we] get to know you," Martin tells me.

Although you have other requirements in the application process such as GRE, the professor says it is almost a formality. "The most important thing by far is whether we think that the music is exciting, lively, and interesting," he mentions. "There is nothing you can study, there is no book you can read, you just write the very best and most imaginative music you can, get it performed beautifully, and take your chance."
Photo of Martin Bresnick, Aaron Kernis, and David Lang at the Yale summer program at Norfolk, Connecticut
Yale being the only Ivy League school that has a conservatory in the middle of it isn't the only reason why it makes the institution unique — as a composer, you are given the chance to perform your music at six concerts per year, where the school gives you the performers that you need in order to play and represent your music. "Your activities as a composer are the most significant activities that you do," Martin states.

While preparing students for the future, the institution also connects them with the past. "We don't give up on any end of that criteria," Bresnick shares. Expecting young musicians to be competent in the musical traditions that were inherited from the past, the faculty also provide a chance to experiment and do electronic music, computer music, and sound installations. Since Yale has robust theater, art, computer science, architecture, and other programs, students can collaborate and have many possibilities open to them to explore.

"Our students all pursue different directions, so there isn't one thing that we … expect our students to know in particular," Martin notes. For instance, Andrew Norman, a composer for the Los Angeles philharmonic, writes large symphonic works at the school, whereas Trevor Gureckis works in film and does orchestrations for Hollywood's film scores. The students also get to choose the studio and the faculty members they want to work with, which, in the professor's words, the opportunity to study with a variety of people whose approaches are so different is a huge part of the school's success.

Although there are only five to six new students coming into the school, the community is very diverse, coming from different parts of the world. "We have a student from Auckland, New Zealand, and a student from Oberlin College in America who is actually Korean American," Bresnick elaborates, talking about how YSM has musicians from Mexico, Australia, the US, and will also be admitting a student from Germany this year.

Towards the end of our interview, Martin gives simple, yet very crucial advice: keep up your imagination, listen to good music, write good music, have it well-performed, and get good recordings of the work that you do.
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