By Mari de Napoli

When I was a prospective graduate student, I looked at my list of schools and kept asking myself, “How will I know this is the right place for me?” My main priority was finding the best fit with both a private teacher and overall degree program, but there were additional facets for which I was looking. I learned a lot about myself during my undergraduate years and knew I was investigating more than just graduate degree programs...aspects like location and performance opportunities mattered to me, too. Now in my second year of study, I can genuinely say that choosing Bienen for my master’s has surpassed my expectations.

Here is a peek at my condensed list of why Bienen has been the right place for me:

My Professor

Without a doubt, my professor Blair Milton was the top reason I came to Bienen. I knew from speaking to some of his current students and from our trial lesson that he would be a great fit for me. I wanted someone who would challenge me artistically, deepen my technical skills, and ultimately gear me up for professional auditions. I have been astounded by Professor Milton’s generous mentorship, depth of knowledge, and ability to equip his students to become their own teachers.

Performance Opportunities

Having acquired a solid academic foundation from my undergraduate degree, I was looking for more high-level performance opportunities during my graduate studies. At Bienen, I’ve been lucky enough to sit as principal in almost every Northwestern University Symphony Orchestra concert, solo with the Baroque Music Ensemble, and learn from the Dover Quartet in chamber music coachings. By the time I’m finished with my degree, I will also have performed three solo recitals.


I hoped that the classes offered at Bienen would further help me with becoming a well-rounded musician, and they have. By the time I graduate, I will have taken one year of violin/viola pedagogy courses and one year of orchestral repertoire/audition preparation classes. These two focuses have been essential in providing me with the right resources for post-graduate work. Both professors who teach these respective classes are absolute powerhouses in their field. In addition to these courses, I have taken a music education class, Alexander technique, a music entrepreneurship/career innovation course, and a musicology class—all of which have contributed to making me a more balanced musician! Plus, if you want to venture beyond Bienen’s course catalog, Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Business offers business classes that non-Kellogg graduate students can take, too.

Greater Northwestern Community

Though my program is my priority, I was curious about what Northwestern as a whole might offer me. So, I joined a club! I love being outdoors and my passion for gardening led me straight to Wild Roots, a gardening club. I’ve been fortunate enough to make close friends outside of Bienen, spend time outdoors, and sustainably grow food that we donate to help fight food insecurity. Northwestern also has tons of cool non-academic mini courses, such as the five-week wine appreciation class I’m taking at Norris University Center right now!

New City

As someone who was born, raised, and educated in Los Angeles, I was ready for a new adventure. I was hoping to find a new home that would excite me and possibly leave the door open for me to stay after graduate school. I’ve loved living in Evanston so far (well, I could do with a shorter winter) and have plans to stay for a few more years after graduation. I love what Chicago has to offer: proximity to Lake Michigan; biking opportunities; fun sports teams; endless social activities downtown; tickets to the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Civic Orchestra of Chicago, Lyric Opera of Chicago, Grant Park Music Festival, and historic jazz clubs like the Green Mill; and so much more.

In reflecting on why I chose Bienen, I feel more positive than ever that I’m here in the right place and during the right time for me.

Mari de Napoli is a second-year master’s student studying violin performance.

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