Conservatory vs. Liberal Arts University: Oh, how I was wrong

by Miles Mykkanen, Voice

As a sophomore in high school, my friend’s mother asked me if I wanted to go to Juilliard.  I responded with something like, “Nah, I could never see myself at a conservatory!”  I always envisioned college as my chance to step outside of my comfort zone and experience new things: take a social anthropology course, get involved with student clubs and organizations, study abroad, befriend a science major…  In my mind, an arts conservatory wasn’t going to give me the kind of background that a liberal arts university would offer.  Oh, how I was wrong!  (Except for befriending a science major…I’m still working on that.)

My first year at Juilliard was all about finding my groundings within the school, developing my circle of friends, and experiencing everything New York City has to offer.  Not long into my second year, I was asked to join the Juilliard Student Council.  The council had only been in existence for nine months at that point and there was a team of about five dedicated students.  Together we cultivated the group, built our presence on campus, and became an organization that the student body now uses to voice their concerns and ideas.  I have been on the council for four years now and currently serve as the Chair; it’s the perfect opportunity for me to mingle with friends from other divisions and focus some energy away from the practice room.

Language, travel, and culture have always interested me.  One of the reasons I love opera is that I get to study different societies from around the world.  Classical singers have to refine their linguistic toolbox to the extreme of sounding like a native speaker.  One of the most thrilling opportunities I had during my undergraduate studies was receiving Juilliard’s Lucrezia Bori Grant.  The Bori Grant allows singers and collaborative pianists the opportunity to travel to any country and study its language.  After my third year at Juilliard, I received the grant and traveled to Rome for three weeks.  I had the time of my life––taking language classes all morning into the early afternoon and sightseeing Rome’s museums and landmarks into the evening.

Attending a conservatory ended up being the best decision I ever made.  Of course I received the top-notch music instruction Juilliard is known for, but I never would have guessed I would have the extracurricular activities that one normally thinks exclusive to four-year universities.  When prospective students ask me what is the most surprising thing about Juilliard, my response is two-fold, “First, everyone is extremely nice and helpful!  Secondly, each student has the chance to mold their own educational experience into what they need.”  Juilliard wants its students to be well-rounded artists who are capable of living as educated citizens.  I have the artistic education I always hoped for, while also being able to develop my other passions.