By Haley Zaremba
Have you completed a performance-oriented Bachelor’s in Music and are now considering your next step? Torn between pursuing an MM in Music, an Artist Diploma or a Professional Studies Certificate?
If you are a talented musician with professional aspirations and you’re unsure which path to take to further develop your potential especially in classical performance, you are not alone. Trying to navigate your next step can get complicated. This article helps break down the differences between post-Bachelor’s programs along with their advantages and targeted outcomes.
Who are ADs and PSCs designed for?
Artist Diplomas (ADs) and Professional Studies Certificates (PSCs) are designed to help outstanding musicians who have the talent, drive, and dedication to become professional musicians. But they need more customized assistance to reach a level of excellence and professionalism to optimize their abilities and kickstart their careers.
AD and PSC programs are intended for musicians who are already performing at a very high level. The vast majority of these programs are for classical and orchestral performance, but there are some programs that offer tracks for jazz and contemporary music.
Some schools provide even more non-traditional tracks. Longy School of Music outside of Boston, known for its strong social justice focus, offers a three-year undergraduate diploma program with core classes including improvisation and eurythmics. Participation in Longy’s Teaching Artist Program is also required.
What is the difference between an AD and PSC?
While the content and intended outcomes of AD and PSC programs have significant overlaps, there are a few key differences.
A Professional Studies Certificate (PSC) is a one-year program. The Artist Diploma (AD) is typically a more in-depth two- or three-year track. The AD is more competitive, with comparatively few openings available. AD programs are also frequently accompanied by significant financial aid packages.
ADs tend to be reserved for the most talented and promising students. At Manhattan School of Music in New York City, for example, only one AD candidate is chosen each year across all disciplines. In the words of Director of Enrollment Jonathan Herbert, this is a student “whose performance level is of the highest international standards, significantly above the level required of doctoral or Postgraduate Diploma students.”
PSCs, by comparison, are a slightly less competitive option, with more slots available but with very similar curricula and often very similar outcomes.
The University of Denver Lamont School of Music offers both an AD and a PSC track. According to Enrollment Specialist Angela Mitchell, “The Artist Diploma is our top program, and these students serve as role models for their fellow students and peers. While participating in appropriate large and small ensembles as assigned, they often assume a leadership position.” By comparison, “The Certificate (PSC) is a perfect program for someone looking for a little polishing between undergraduate and graduate degrees, or before entering the professional world after a degree.”
In many cases, students who are not accepted into AD programs will choose to pursue or be offered a slot in a PSC program instead. While ADs are considered to be more exclusive, it doesn’t mean that a PSC is less worthy or less worthwhile. A PSC can be an excellent option for students who don’t want to set aside another couple of years of school before entering the professional music world or gearing up for a major competition.
Why pursue an AD or a PSC?
ADs and PSCs are for students who want to perform or conduct at the highest professional level. According to Paul Cortese, Director of the Summer Music Institute at Texas Christian University’s School of Music, this kind of post-graduate program “allows an individual to perfect their musical craft in a supportive learning environment, providing valuable time to reach musical maturity before having to deal with the many challenges, frustrations, and distractions inherent in a professional musical career.”
These specialized programs also tend to offer key networking and performance opportunities outside of the university or conservatory. They help build students’ performance résumés and potentially open doors for their careers after graduation.
Graduates of AD and PSC programs frequently go on to:
• Successfully apply and get accepted to graduate programs, often with the intention of getting a doctorate.
• Perform professionally with renowned orchestras, opera companies, and chamber ensembles.
• Perform as soloists.
• Win major awards and competitions.
Prerequisites for an AD or PSC
Most schools offer ADs and PSCs as post-Master’s programs. Some schools, however, allow those with or without a Bachelor’s degree to apply and audition.
Candidates should have a strong background in performance or conducting, with a résumé and audition to back that up. Applicants are highly encouraged to enter international competitions prior to applying to one of these programs.
In the case of the Artist Diploma, some schools require students to pass an Entrance Jury midway through the program in order to determine whether they may stay enrolled for the second year of the program.
AD or PSC vs. MM
Students looking for a strong educational base should plan on following the traditional track of getting a Master’s in Music (MM) before dedicating an additional year or two to get an AD or PSC.
Some schools do allow students to take an AD or PSC program without first getting the MM. However, students who choose this path should be certain they’re comfortable skipping the more fundamental elements an MM offers.
Master’s programs can offer a number of benefits for performers. In addition to opening up career opportunities in teaching, as well as preparing students to continue on to a doctoral program, an MM can also help students expand their repertoire and expose them to different areas of music and musicianship.
Programs changes due to the pandemic
Music schools have had to adapt to the COVID-19 context, with flexible innovations including video lessons and performances, as well as creative virtual collaborations. All of the schools MajoringInMusic.com reached out to for this article have so far either fully returned to in-person lessons and recitals with some increased safety precautions, or plan to do so in the coming year. Program requirements have not changed.
Transitioning into the professional world
Megan Susuico-Scott, a current AD student at University of Redlands, decided to pursue an AD because of her excellent experience with a professor in her MM program. She realized that spending another two years studying under this professor’s guidance would greatly improve her chances of becoming a successful professional violinist.
“My professors have worked with me on every project I’ve wanted to complete, be it auditions, forming extra chamber groups, teaching strategies, or anything else,” she says. “I feel much stronger and more prepared for becoming a professional musician with this assistance, and I am excited to be transitioning into the professional world.”
Megan is now preparing her second of three recitals; playing chamber music and performing in the university orchestra; substituting in orchestras in Southern California; and preparing audition materials. When asked for advice for prospective students, she offers: “For anyone considering pursuing a PSC or AD, I would recommend taking an honest look at where you are now and where you want to be in five years. Then, try to find a program and a teacher who you think would best propel you towards your goals. Be open to trying new things.”
Meeting new career challenges
Daniela Guzmán-Égüez is a soprano from Quito, Ecuador who received an Artist Diploma from the Lamont School of Music. In addition to her AD, she holds a Bachelor’s in Music from Lamont, a Master’s in Music from Texas Christian University, and she spent years performing and teaching at a university in her home country.
When Daniela turned 30, she began to face new challenges in her career. Her voice began to undergo changes, and she needed to re-train her instrument. The AD was more than just a postgrad program. It was an opportunity to focus on what mattered to her, study with financial freedom, and re-train her voice after being away from school for an extended period of time.
“I personally did not want an academic degree because I no longer wanted to do academic research but needed the time and tools to just sing, sing, sing,” she shares. The Artist Diploma at Lamont offered a full-tuition scholarship. Its full course load allowed her to secure a student visa as an international student. In comparison, the PSC classes were part-time only and did not offer full tuition.
Daniela will perform in two future operas with leading orchestras in Ecuador. She is also slated to perform in the title role of Cinderella with the Loveland (Colorado) Opera. In addition, she is currently affiliate faculty at Regis University in Denver, where she enjoys teaching small classes of dedicated students.
Recommendations for prospective PSC and AD students
To improve your chances of getting into the program of your choice, build an impressive performance history. Take time to perform in as many contexts as possible. Enter as many competitions as you can. These will demonstrate your dedication to your craft and provide a breadth of experience for showcasing your talent.
PSC and AD programs require huge amounts of dedicated studio time. Therefore, it’s essential to have good chemistry with teachers and program directors. According to Daniela Guzmán-Égüez: “Take lessons with all the teachers that may interest you before making up your mind about an AD or a certificate program.” Megan Susuico-Scott also recommends setting up trial lessons with any professors you’re considering studying under.
With the right preparation and motivation, an AD or PSC can open up incredible opportunities and take your talent to the next level. The faculty and peers you’ll meet can also offer a world of possibilities for your performance career.
Haley Zaremba is a writer and researcher with an MFA in Food Studies from American University of Rome and a BA in Media Studies from University of San Francisco. Her writing ranges from music and culture to energy and the environment.
Photo: Megan Susuico-Scott teaching a young student – photo by David Scott