School of Music gets top players

While Tom Bergeron MUS ’08, who had worked for three years as a freelance professional trumpet player, had considered getting a master’s degree before, the financial burden deterred him from doing so. But when the Yale School of Music eliminated tuition last fall, the 25-year-old said, he decided to apply to the School rather than follow his prior plan to become a cruise ship musician.

After an anonymous $100 million grant made the school free for students, the level of selectivity at the School increased as applications soared. The School of Music admitted just 125 of 1,496 applicants for this year’s entering class — the first class able to apply under the new policy — and only Julliard had a higher yield rate this past year, Deputy Dean Thomas Masse said. The year before, the School received 754 applicants, about half the number it received this year, and the acceptance rate was 15.9 percent two years ago, but only 8.5 percent last year, Masse said.

Some professors said they believe the grant is attracting students with higher levels of expertise. Scott Hartman, a trombone professor since 2001, said he believes more qualified students applied this year than in previous years.

“I find that the number of marginal students remained similar to earlier years, but that more highly qualified students applied to the school,” Hartman said in an e-mail.

School of Music Dean Robert Blocker said the gift will influence more than just the cost of tuition, and the grant’s significance will be felt in areas other than just the School of Music.

“That gift was significant not only to the school, but to the University,” he said. “The donors intended for it to be a transformative foundation … to build the school on a strong foundation.”

Students’ explanations of why they applied to the School — and whether the decision was influenced by the grant — varied.

Bergeron, for example, would not have attended music school at all without the help of the grant. Since he had already begun his post-collegiate career, he said, it would have been difficult for him to both put his career on hold for two years and pay full tuition prices. But Bergeron said the School of Music has been very supportive of his professional commitments.

“YSM provides a great environment for me to grow as a musician in the classroom, in the practice room, and in the field,” Bergeron said in an e-mail. “YSM, and especially my teacher, Allan Dean, have been very supportive of my freelance work, despite the occasional conflict it poses to my school commitments. The school realizes that gaining professional experience is one of the most valuable ways in which young musicians grow.”

While some students said they would not have been able to attend the school at all without the grant, most students said it was the quality of education that most influenced their decision to attend Yale’s music school.

Elizabeth Fleming MUS ’08 actually turned down an offer from the University of Georgia, where she was given full tuition and a stipend of $12,000 per year for playing in an ensemble, to study at Yale. She said her lesson with horn professor William Purvis convinced her to attend Yale, but she also said the grant helped to influence her decision.

“The professor was more of a persuasive tool than the cost; although, free is nice, too,” Fleming said in an e-mail.

Ryan Jackson MUS ’08, an organ student at Yale’s Institute of Sacred Music, said his professor — who Jackson said is one of the leading organists in the world — was the main reason he decided to attend Yale.

Last fall’s donation was the largest single gift in the School of Music’s history.

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