Rigorous musical training and strong academics
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: Sign up for email updates on the school website to learn about open houses and auditions. 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. 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)
Safety & Vibe
Faculty & Staff
Advanced Foreign Language
AP/IB Arts, English, History or Social Science
AP/IB Math or Science
Programs & AdmissionsFrom the 2021 High School Directory
Voice, Instrument, and Composition
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.
OfferingsFrom the 2021 High School Directory
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
Contact & Location
129 West 67 Street
Manhattan NY 10023
Trains: to 66th St-Lincoln Center; , to 72nd St; , , , to 59th St-Columbus Circle
Buses: BxM2, M10, M104, M11, M20, M5, M57, M66, M7, M72
This school is in its own building.