This article originally appeared on November 12 in Spectrum, the blog of the Columbia Spectator and appears by permission of the Spectator.
Through a partnership program between Columbia or Barnard and Juilliard, exceptionally talented students whose skills range from astrophysics to modern dance can receive a B.A. from Columbia or Barnard and an M.M. from Juilliard in only five years. We caught up with [three of them]: freshman harpist Sam Karlinski, freshman pianist Conrad Tao (Pre-College ’11), and sophomore pianist Jingxuan Zhang to find out more about what the program has to offer.
So, how does the Barnard-Columbia-Juilliard program work?
Karlinski: I go down to Juilliard once or twice a week. We have weekly one-hour lessons, as well as a weekly two-hour studio class.
Tao: The program is a great opportunity for students pursuing music seriously. ... In addition to a full course load up here in Morningside Heights, we take weekly private lessons at Juilliard and also have the option of being in a chamber music group there. There is also an option in our fourth year to begin pursuing a master’s degree in music at Juilliard! Add that all up and we have the awesome option of receiving both a B.A. and a master’s degree in all of five years.
Zhang: Because of the rigor of this program, people in this program need only 96 credits to graduate—of course major requirements still apply. We don’t get a diploma from Juilliard; however, we can directly audition for the master’s program at Juilliard after three years, if [we] choose to do the accelerated program. Many people elect to stay all four years because Columbia’s awesome.
Why were you interested in applying to the B.C.J.?
Karlinski: Right now I’m not sure if I want to go into music or science, so that’s why I’m here!
Tao: There’s simply nothing like it. To be surrounded by a world-class community both academically and musically is something I just couldn’t pass up … while I was applying to schools, it just seemed like the best of both worlds! I’m happy to say that this expectation has proven true, and then some.
Zhang: Although I love music, I felt that it is important to know more about “other” things. It’s very vague, but I wanted to be well-rounded and be knowledgeable about multiple facets of life—literature, culture, history, science, etc. This is the best of both worlds, except you have to be ready to work your ass off.
Are you involved in any music-related groups on campus?
Karlinski: Right now I’m not involved in any musical group on campus, I’m focusing a lot on solo right now.
Tao: Regrettably, no. I hope to be part of a new-music group at some point!
Zhang: I auditioned and am currently in the Columbia Orchestra. I also play in the Columbia Classical Players concert series.
Do you have any independent projects apart from the program?
Karlinski: I’m preparing some recitals for Boston and Chicago [and] I’m also working towards some big competitions—keep your fingers crossed for me!
Tao: I have been performing actively as a concert pianist for about five years now.
Zhang: No. Currently, I’m too preoccupied with sorting out my life through all this mess (I’m also not good enough yet).
How did you get involved in music?
Karlinski: No one really remembers why I started asking to play the harp, but when I was 8, I began pestering my parents about it. Ten years later and here I am!
Tao: When I was 18 months old, I found myself on my piano bench—my sister, five years my senior [she graduated from Columbia last spring], was studying piano when I was born and plunked out the notes to “Mary Had A Little Lamb” by ear. I suppose you could say it spiraled out of control from there. I started violin lessons a bit before I turned 3, “formal” piano lessons at the age of 3 (teaching 2-year-olds was considered a liability in this lawsuit-happy country!), and composition lessons at 5.
Zhang: My parents wanted me to play an instrument because it’s good for coordination and intellect. They asked me what I wanted to play, so I picked the piano, since it is the “manliest” instrument to me—I’m now 13 years older, and I still think it’s badass.
What type of music/bands do you guys listen to?
Karlinski: I listen to pretty much everything. My only requirement is that if there is a singer, he has to actually be singing. None of these Auto-Tuned talk-singing excuses for music for me!
Tao: Currently digging new stuff by Bjork, Florence and the Machine, Beth Ditto, Azealia Banks, Rustie, Dominique Young Unique, Gang Gang Dance, Oneohtrix Point Never, and Men. I know I’m forgetting stuff. New Beyoncé album is great (“Countdown” just kills), new Gaga is distressingly deliberate, and that She & Him Christmas album is surprisingly not terrible. Oh, and the Tune-Yards record is probably my favorite album of the year.
Zhang: I’m really one-sided. I love classical. I think modern music has become too loud. Don’t get me wrong, I love the genius of Billy Joel, Michael Jackson, and some others that I just can’t think of right now.
What type of music career do you want to pursue?
Karlinski: If I were to go into music, I think I’d really like to be a soloist.
Tao: One that I’m enjoying every millisecond of.
Zhang: I really enjoy teaching. Not kids, because it can be frustrating. Maybe a college professor? It would be nice to have a solo career, but it’s really hard to make yourself stand out among the numerous well-trained and talented musicians out there.