Finding the next generation of musicians to study at Peabody often requires significant outreach and resources to attract and nurture applications from students whose talents, perspectives, and ambitions will enrich the Conservatory.
The Conservatory’s new Blue Ribbon Scholarship Program is helping a broader and more diverse pool of talented high school students consider Peabody as a destination. Now in its third year, the initiative works directly with institutions that serve potential applicants, encouraging them to nominate two students to receive scholarships of $25,000 or more should they be accepted at the Conservatory.
John Huling, director of admissions, says the program is opening up new avenues for students who previously might not have considered Peabody. “We’re paying a lot of attention to access,” says Huling. “How do we make sure talented potential applicants know they have a shot at Peabody? This program is helping us reach new students.”
The venture has grown quickly from an effort to increase Peabody’s visibility at performing arts high schools to an ambitious initiative that has expanded past traditional outreach and into strong partnerships with youth orchestras and national organizations.
Three years ago, the program attracted nine applications and four enrollments from five target performing arts high schools in the South, Midwest, and on the West Coast. This year it has attracted 39 applications from 26 high schools, youth orchestras, and music mentoring organizations.
Peabody faculty members have been essential to the effort. Velvet Brown, who teaches tuba at the Conservatory, accompanied Huling on a trip to the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra’s Talent Development Program last year to help students get a better glimpse of the Peabody experience.
The Atlanta program had three seniors who played tuba. Brown gave them each a lesson and answered questions about why Peabody might fit their musical trajectory.
“You’re entering into their space,” Brown observes, “where they’re comfortable. They were really eager to learn. It was a lot of really good hands-on work, and I enjoy that.”
One student applied and received a Blue Ribbon scholarship. But Brown also sees benefits beyond immediate recruitment. “Of course, we want to inspire them to come to Peabody,” she says. “But we also need to inspire them by saying: ‘You can do this. You’ve worked hard. Continue.’”
Adrienne Thompson manages the Atlanta Symphony’s Talent Development Program. In the previous 25 years, her organization had sent only one student to Peabody. In the last two years, five of the eight seniors in her symphony’s senior cohort applied to the school.
“Our mission is to get students into the best conservatories,” says Thompson. “The outreach gives a strong incentive to consider Peabody.”
The Blue Ribbon program’s resources and the personal pitch to students show them a pathway to Peabody and to a future career. “What it proves to our students is that this is not just a pipe dream,” observes Thompson. “Brown is a role model to them. They see her in the position that she’s in, and it gives them the courage to be successful in reaching their goals.”
Other stakeholders — including alumni and potential funding organizations — are also taking note. As more students learn about opportunities at Peabody, the Conservatory becomes a known entity where it may not have been before.
Huling says the initiative is expanding, including a partnership with El Sistema USA — an organization that seeks empowerment for under-advantaged young people through early music training — that will feature larger aid packages for students with greater need.
He believes Peabody’s investment will pay increasing dividends for students and for the Conservatory.
“Word catches on that students [accepted through the program] are coming to Peabody,” he says. “We hope to become a familiar institution to these schools and encourage more students from their programs to con- sider Peabody for the next chapters in their musical and dance careers.”
— Richard Byrne