A Night at the Symphony

By Leigh M. Wilson

An Orchestra Fit for Harvard

“Harvard’s arts department [has] got no clout except for association with Harvard like please HRO sounds worse than my high school orchestra. if you were really that passionate about being an artist you would have went to a conservatory.” – Harvard Confession #3108

This anonymous opiner raised an argument we’ve all heard before: that student art is low-quality and that the arts departments (including Music, Art, Film, and Visual Studies, and Theater, Dance & Media) aren’t worthy of Harvard. Several of Harvard’s undergraduate music barons assembled in the comments to condemn this unfortunate post and offer their rebuttals. (Here are five quick counters.)

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In Defense of the Wind Ensemble

It’s Friday, Feb. 28, and you have tickets to the Harvard Wind Ensemble concert in Lowell Lecture Hall. You arrive at 7:55 p.m. and go to take your seat — there are plenty to choose from, as you’re one of only about 25 there. The band members, dressed in black dress clothes, take their seats on the center of the floor — there is no stage — and music director Mark E. Olson of the Office for the Arts comes out from the left wing and addresses the audience directly, providing some anecdotal information about the music in between pieces. The atmosphere is casual, and you notice many musicians are listed on the program as “guests”: students from other Boston schools to fill in the gaps in instrumentation from which HWE suffers. You enjoy about an hour’s worth of wind ensemble music by William Schuman, Julius Fučík, and Alan Hovhaness, among others.

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Doping at the Philharmonic

Every year, graduate student musicians pursuing their M.M. degree in Performance join the audition circuit in search of an orchestral job. In the preceding months, they might spend more than eight hours each day practicing the lists of excerpts each orchestra provides — maybe Oklahoma is this month, then Nashville three weeks after, then Pittsburgh a couple of months out. They fall behind on schoolwork, regularly skipping class to practice. Years of preparation goes into these auditions, but a shaky finger, quivering lip, or sweaty palm has cost many serious musicians a much-needed job.

What if that could all go away? What if you could buy a clear mind and a relaxed body? It wouldn’t exactly make you a better musician, but it might bring out your best at a time when your best isn’t physically available.

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Beethoven Dead at 250

The event planners had everything ready. Nearly the entire guest list had RSVP'd, from big names to friends-of-friends. A few celebrated early in the evening, but then someone very unwelcome came, many started feeling ill, and just like that, Beethoven’s 250th birthday party was ruined.

2020 marked the year 250 A.B. (Anno Beethoveni), and the classical music world had extensive programming slated to celebrate. Nearly every orchestra — amateur and professional — had plans for a special emphasis on Beethoven’s music — symphony cycles, recording projects, or simply more Beethoven than usual; that is, until a global pandemic shuttered these plans.

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The Music School’s Dilemma

“If you are a talented musician and dedicated scholar, choosing between in-depth music training and a liberal arts education can be a tough decision.” – Harvard College promotional material

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