General Information

The performing arts at Sarah Lawrence are set in the context of a very unique liberal arts program—one stressing independent, individual inquiry where teaching is not about handing down wisdom or theory and learning is not about the systematic memorization of facts. To be a composer or any other artist at the College requires that both teacher and student are open to discovering the deepest sense of self. As a teacher I am primarily interested in what makes up my students' imaginations. In order to advise them I need to know a lot about them as human beings—whatever they feel comfortable to reveal to me—everything from their musical preferences to how they like to have fun. And every student is different, and every student changes along the way. So the approach to teaching is different in each case, even during each individual conference. Some students need more formal approaches than others who might need to experiment with a certain freedom. Somehow in this process there is an extraordinary interchange between student and teacher that allows for understanding to occur, for music to be made.

The following are some excerpts from the article, "Chester Biscardi Takes His Music on the Road," an interview with Mr. Biscardi by Lisa Wlodarski for Sarah Lawrence Magazine.

  • "Often for contemporary composers, and contemporary artists in general, you're always in the process of reinventing the whole art form. Everything is available: abstraction, consonance, dissonance and so on," Biscardi says. "I think that's really confusing to some students."
  • Perhaps his colleagues [at seminars he does across the country] also hope that a dose of the type of teaching Biscardi does at Sarah Lawrence will spur their students on to more creative experimentation with their many musical options.
  • "I'll go to these seminars, and the students have clearly done all of the technical study, but they are kind of shy about experimentation and being open about who they are as people," Biscardi says.
  • "They want to know exactly how you did it. They'll say, 'Where do your initial ideas come from?' I'll have different answers. The pitch, the rhythm of a piece depends on the way an idea evolves," he explains. "They'll ask, 'Why do you have the harmony there?' And I'll say, 'Because that was the right one.'"
  • Some students have a hard time with that, he says.
  • "Often they've been told that each note has to have a very specific place dictated by some sort of system, but not all music is written that way," he says. "A problem in the twentieth century is that the academy has produced a lot of people who write by the book."
  • Biscardi attributes this to a lack of consistent individual attention.
  • "When I do these seminars, I teach as if I'm teaching at Sarah Lawrence, and students always respond to it," he says. "When I teach composition, that is such an individual experience with each student. I'm trying to understand what kind of person she or he is, what kind of music he or she wants to write, and how to reveal that."
  • Biscardi says he returns from his travels to Sarah Lawrence grateful that he has the luxury here of working one-on-one with his composition students.
  • "Every time I go away and I teach a seminar, I come back feeling absolutely sure that I would not want to be teaching at any other place than Sarah Lawrence."


There is no separate application procedure for the Music Program. Students apply directly through the College's Office of Admission. We believe that each person is self-actualized and that auditions are irrelevant except for placement at the right level of ability. We encourage students to submit creative materials along with their general application to the College. During the first week of registration and orientation in the fall, auditions are held for placement reasons only; emphasis is on self-directed study, not competitive performance.

Performance Opportunities

Ongoing opportunities for student performances include Music Workshops, Concerto Evening (by audition), and the various outlets provided by the many performance ensembles in the Music Program (e.g., Winter and Spring Chorus and Orchestra Concerts, and so on). By audition, students have the opportunity to share with the larger college community the results of their sustained work in performance study by presenting a Senior Recital.

One of our objectives is to expose students to the many and varied ranges of musical experience and to give them an opportunity to hear their own teachers as well as guest artists perform and talk about their work in an intimate setting. The Concert Series features faculty and guest artists in chamber and orchestral performances as well as in jazz and world music venues. Music Tuesdays is a component that consists of various programs including student/faculty town meetings, concert presentations, guest artists’ lectures and performances, master classes, and collaborations with other departments and performing arts programs. The Concert Series and Music Tuesdays are part of the Concert Attendance Requirement. Master Class, taught by members of the music faculty as well as guest artists, is a series of concerts, instrumental and vocal seminars as well as lecture/demo presentations of music history, world music, improvisation, jazz, composition, and music technology. Recent Guest Master Teachers have included Milton Babbitt, Phyllis Bryn-Julson, John Cage, Elliott Carter, George Crumb, Mario Davidovsky, David Del Tredici, Robert Dick, Philip Glass, Stuart Isacoff, James Levine, Stephen Sondheim, Joan Tower, Dawn Upshaw, Christian Wolff, Yehudi Wyner, Copland House, Cygnus Ensemble, The Da Capo Chamber Players and The New York New Music Ensemble.

Only 30 minutes from New York City, students can get a shuttle from campus to the train station to take advantage of the myriad musical performances in the city. Student discount tickets are arranged for productions at the Metropolitan Opera, concerts at Carnegie Hall, performances of the New York Philharmonic at Lincoln Center, as well as the many prestigious chamber music series that take place in and around Manhattan.

For more information on campus happenings, check out our Student Life and Student Involvement information or see the The New York Times Arts Index and Time Out New York for things to do in the metro area.

Work Opportunities

Students, including those on work-study grants, are hired as receptionists for Marshall Field House, as Library Supervisor and Library Assistants in the Music Library, as music copyists, and as student Publicity Manager and student House Manager. Outside of the College, performance and research internships are carried out with such organizations as Carnegie Hall, Philip Glass' Music At The Anthology and his Looking Glass Studio, Meredith Monk's The House Foundation for the Arts, The Kennedy Center, Atlantic Records, The Loft Recording Studio, The New York Philharmonic, and The New York Youth Symphony. Students are often representatives to such organizations as the American Composers Orchestra and Classical Singer.

Frequently Asked Questions

I just want to study music. Why shouldn't I go to a conservatory?

Sarah Lawrence College has always made a serious commitment to the arts but that is grounded in the value of a well-rounded liberal arts education. In addition to rigorous training in your chosen field of study, supporting courses in philosophy, history, sciences, mathematics, visual arts, dance, theater, languages and literature will help you develop a far deeper understanding and insight in your chosen field. We find this often opens many more doors for our students than they might have considered without this broader exposure.

Why doesn't Sarah Lawrence require auditions to get in?

Because our approach to education is one of self-directed study—not competitive performance. The education you'll receive here offers personal exploration as well as conservatory training in pure technique. Our innovative educational approach is modeled on the Oxford tutorial system, whereby each student works with an academic advisor known as a "don" to shape a course of study that is most meaningful to your interests and talents.

What sort of outcome, tools or skills can I expect from my years at Sarah Lawrence?

We believe the most profound learning takes place when your education is linked to your particular interests and capabilities. And our approach fosters the ability to take intellectual and creative risks. So you'll learn your strengths and weaknesses; develop creativity and tenacity; hone communication skills as well as polish performance skills. The better you learn how to invest your own talent and intellectual resources, the more effectively you can enter the working world knowing how to focus your talents and communicate your ideas.

What sorts of careers have Sarah Lawrence music grads had?

They're all over the map…from classical to soundtrack composers; from philharmonic violinist to lead guitarist; from opera singer to folk singer/songwriter; from elementary school teacher to conservatory master. Their divergent paths reflect the personal perspectives gained from a liberal arts foundation in the performing arts. See Noted Alumni for just a few.