Special Music School

Grades: K-12
Staff Pick

Our Insights

What’s Special

Rigorous musical training and strong academics

The Downside

Many hours practicing doesn’t leave much time for playdates; high school in windowless basement rooms

The Special Music School offers intense musical training along with rigorous academics. It's tough to get in—400 children audition for just 15 kindergarten seats—but for those who are admitted, the opportunities are extraordinary.

The school, which has refused our repeated requests to visit, has evolved from its original mission—to replicate the strict focus of the music schools of the former Soviet Union—into a school that balances musical training with academics, music theory and music history, says Principal Katherine Banucci-Smith. The school's academic test scores are among the highest in the city.

Banucci-Smith, principal since 2010, graduated from Oberlin Conservatory, where she studied voice. As a child she played violin. She was formerly assistant principal at River East Elementary School.

The New York City Department of Education is responsible for the academic classes, while the Kaufman Music Center provides students with full music scholarships. The curriculum includes two private instrumental lessons each week and group classes in music theory, solfège (ear training), music history and chorus. At the end of 5th grade, all students must audition to be readmitted to the middle school, and very few leave.

For admission in grades K-2, no previous musical training is necessary. However, parents must ensure that their children will practice every day, which doesn’t leave a lot of time for playdates. Children in grades 3 and up must audition on an instrument.

Originally serving grades K-8, the school has expanded to include grades 9-12. The high school is housed in the Martin Luther King, Jr. Educational Complex, a couple of blocks away. The classrooms are on a lower floor that doesn’t have windows, according to parent comments. 

The high school admits only 50 students each year and has a total of 200. In addition to majoring in instrumental music, voice or composition, students may choose from a number of Advanced Placement courses. Spanish is offered as a foreign language. Clubs include chess, robotics, sailing and comic books. Teens participate in almost a dozen PSAL sports, such as bowling, cross country, wrestling, volleyball and basketball.

All prospective high school students are invited to audition in instrumental music, vocal and/or composition, according to the school website. Teens take a music theory test and participate in a mini improvisation workshop. Vocalists and instrumentalists may be asked to sight-read. Composers will be asked to discuss their music, ideas and compositional processes.

Members of the first graduating class of 2017 won acceptances to The Juilliard School, Columbia University, Eastman School of Music, New England Conservatory, Barnard College, Wellesley College, Oberlin College and McGill University, among many other schools, according to the school's website.

SPECIAL EDUCATION: There is a special education teacher who works with individuals and small groups of children to help them stay in the general education classrooms.

ADMISSIONS: Open houses are offered four times a year in the lower school. Testing for kindergarten begins in September. The younger children are asked to clap, sing and move to music; they are assessed based on their pitch, sense of rhythm and musical memory. The high school has two open houses in October. For 9th grade, preference is given to continuing 8th-graders (though in 2016 only about seven seats went to them), and then to the rest of New York City by audition, grades, test scores and an interview. The school occasionally has seats for students in upper grades—in a recent year, there were five spots open in 10th grade. Applications are available on the school's website or by calling the school. (Lydie Raschka, web reports and school data, March 2018)    

 

 

 

 

School Stats

Academics

School
Citywide
How many students graduate in 4 years?
 
100%
Average daily attendance
 
92%
How many students miss 18 or more days of school?
 
34%
How many parents of students with disabilities say this school offers enough activities and services for their children's needs?
 
88%
How many parents of students with disabilities say this school works to achive the goals of their students' IEPs?
 
100%
From the 2019-20 School Quality Guide and 2019-20 NYC School Survey

Students

298
Number of students
848 Citywide Average

Race/Ethnicity


School
Citywide
Low-income students
 
22%
Students with disabilities
 
14%
Multilingual learners
 
1%
From the 2020-21 Demographic Snapshot

Safety & Vibe

School
Citywide
How many students were suspended?
 
0%
How many teachers say order and discipline are maintained at this school?
 
100%
How many students say they feel safe in the hallways, bathrooms and locker rooms?
 
93%
How many students think bullying happens most or all of the time at this school?
 
24%
How many students say that some are bullied at their school because of their gender or sexual orientation?
 
16%
From the 2019-20 NYC School Survey and 2019-20 NY State Report Card

Faculty & Staff

School
Citywide
How many teachers say the principal is an effective manager?
 
93%
10.3
Years of principal experience at this school
7 Citywide Average
153
Number of students for each guidance counselor or social worker
313 Citywide Average

Teachers’ Race/Ethnicity


How many teachers have 3 or more years of experience teaching?
 
92%
Are teachers effective?
From the 2019-20 NYC School Survey, 2019-20 School Quality Guide, 2019-20 Report on School-Based Staff Demographics, 2019-20 NY State Report Card, 2021 Guidance Counselor Report and this school's most recent Quality Review Report

Advanced Courses

Which students have access to advanced courses at this school? Learn more

Calculus

 
9%

Computer Science

Not offered in 2019-20

Physics

 
81%

Advanced Foreign Language

 
5%

AP/IB Arts, English, History or Social Science

 
71%

AP/IB Math or Science

 
18%

Music

 
100%
From unpublished, anonymized data from the class of 2019-20 provided by the New York State Education Department, brought to you by

College Readiness

School
Citywide
How many students graduate with test scores high enough to enroll at CUNY without remedial help?
 
94%
How many students take a college-level course or earn a professional certificate?
 
83%
From the 2019-20 School Quality Guide
How many students filled out a FAFSA form by the end of their senior year?
 
96%
From the 2020-21 FAFSA data released by Federal Student Aid, brought you by From unpublished, anonymized student-level data for the class of 2011-12 provided by the New York State Higher Education Services Corporation (HESC) in coordination with the National Student Clearinghouse (NSC), brought to you by
For more information about our data sources, see About Our Data · More DOE statistics for this school

Programs & Admissions

From the 2021 High School Directory

Voice, Instrument, and Composition

Admissions Method: Audition

Program Description:

We offer students the opportunity to major in Instrumental Music, Voice, or Composition. Students receive approximately 10 hours of music instruction throughout the week. Professional musicians lead large ensembles, chamber groups, and private study. Students work with visiting artists through master classes. Upperclassmen choose from a variety of interest-based electives including Orchestral Conducting, Entrepreneurship, Recording and Production, Jazz History and Theory.

Offerings

From the 2021 High School Directory

Language Courses

Spanish

Advanced Placement (AP) courses

AP Calculus AB, AP English Language and Composition, AP U.S. Government and Politics, AP United States History, AP Music Theory, AP English Literature and Composition, AP Computer Science A, AP Spanish Language and Culture

Boys PSAL teams

Badminton, Baseball, Basketball, Bowling, Cross Country, Handball, Outdoor Track, Soccer, Volleyball, Wrestling

Girls PSAL teams

Badminton, Basketball, Bowling, Flag Football, Handball, Indoor Track, Soccer, Softball, Volleyball, Wrestling

Coed PSAL teams

Double Dutch

Read about admissions, academics, and more at this school on NYCDOE’s MySchools

NYC Department of Education: MySchools

Contact & Location

Location

129 West 67 Street
Manhattan NY 10023

Trains: 1 Line to 66th St-Lincoln Center; 2 Line, 3 Line to 72nd St; A Line, C Line, B Line, D Line to 59th St-Columbus Circle

Buses: BxM2, M10, M104, M11, M20, M5, M57, M66, M7, M72


Contact

Principal: Katherine Banucci-Smith

Parent Coordinator: Lisa Stump

Website

Other Details

Shared campus? No

This school is in its own building.

Uniforms required? No
Metal detectors? No

Comments

  • Is this your school? Please post any news, updates, events, changes, or other information!
  • We welcome questions, open discussions, and disagreements but comments with personal attacks, rude language, or those with seemingly malicious intent will be deleted.
  • Very long comments, those that contain links, or repeat comments may be blocked by our spam filter.
  • Problems? email us at [email protected].
  • Users must comply with our Terms of Use.

×