By Bill Cutter
In 1884, 23 years after the founding of MIT by
William Barton Rogers, the Banjo Club and Glee Club are launched and
the orchestra appears in the first of many incarnations. (Glee in this
context does not refer to the mood of the music or its singers, but to
a specific form of English seventeenth and eighteenth century part
song known as a glee.) MIT's student
newspaper "The Tech" gave the
following accounts of the inaugural performances of our first musical
Of the Glee Club, the Tech wrote:
The audience showed it's
appreciation of the concert by encoring almost every number. The
chorus from Fra Diavolo and the guitar solo by Mr. Steele were
received with loud applause, but the solo by Mr. LaTrobe, with
yodeling by Mr. Krepe, brought down the house….
Much of the success of the
evening was due to the excellent management of Mr. Underhill who
acted in the capacity of both pianist and conductor. The club is
rather weak in first tenors and needs a little more practice,
otherwise we think it will compare favorably with the glee clubs of
Of the Banjo Club, the Tech pontificates:
With the amount of enthusiasm
which has been shown in musical matters this term, it seems that the
attempt to form a Banjo Club ought to be a successful one. The
advantages of such a club to the Institute we have spoken of before,
and will not bring up again; but we would advise the club to have a
more careful organization… so as to avoid numerous errors. Only
those men should be admitted who have proved themselves competent
players to a committee chosen for that object and a small admission
fee should be charged, so that the club can pay its expenses as it
goes, and not run up a bill.
Of the Orchestra, the Tech warns that Handel's
"Largo" may be "too heavy" a diet for the orchestra:
The men who are in the orchestra
must realize that time for practice is short and precious, and they
should make up their minds that if they are to accomplish anything at
all, it will be only by doing their best at rehearsals – there must
be no cutting, and no fooling when present.
We are sorry to know that the
music selected for this year is to be all a heavy character. The
"Largo" is all right in its place, but what the orchestra needs
to do first is to "feel" each other, and to be able to play
together. Light, popular dance music will accomplish this quicker
than anything else.
A year later, both the orchestra and the banjo
club were disbanded for lack of support. In 1890 the Banjo Club was
revived and a Mandolin Club was added.
The three musical clubs: Glee Club, Banjo Club,
and the Mandolin Club were then united in the "Combined Musical
Clubs". From 1890 to 1900 these clubs also represented the main
aspect of music at MIT, until 1920, when a jazz band was added. The
membership varied between 14 and 21 men in the Glee Club; between 8
and 14 in the Banjo Club (which on occasion included guitars) and
between 4 and 11 in the Mandolin Club. There were also a few
chamber ensembles active during this time including a piano quintet,
a string quartet, and a piano septet.
A typical program of the Combined Musical Clubs
contained soloists, a minstrel show, and the usual novelty acts of
yodeling and whistling. In 1910, the three clubs set out on their
first major concert tour which took them to Buffalo, Detroit,
Chicago, Rochester and New York City.
The novelty acts seemed to capture the
imaginations of the critics around the country and of a few of these
acts, the critics reported:
P.C. Davidson, class of '24,
amused the gathering by playing both a banjo and the cornet at the
same time. This difficult feat was accomplished by the aid of a
mechanical hand which enabled him to play the banjo with his foot.
He fingered the banjo with his left hand and the cornet with his
An unusual mode of entertainment
was employed at the Combined Musical Clubs smoker Friday evening when
those in charge of the entertainment surprised the assembly by
presenting an attractive young lady, who performed for the clubs by
giving a ballet dance and an exhibition on the violin. A surprise
had been promised the men of the clubs and received great applause
The dancing girl appeared first
as a Russian Girl in red boots and a red coat trimmed with white fur.
After executing a Cossack dance, she retired to change her costume,
returning in a green ballet dress. She danced once and then rendered
a classical selection on the violin concluding her recital by dancing
and playing the violin at the same time.
The non-musical benefits of the Musical Clubs were
stressed in a kind of recruitment ad which appeared in the Tech in
Perhaps one of the greatest
desires of the clubs is to get some entirely new and original
specialty numbers for their concert program. Any freshmen who can
perform on any kind of foreign instrument, whether national or merely
odd, or any men who can exhibit clever dancing or any extraordinary
stage tricks will be urgently sought by the clubs.
The social advantages of the
clubs are unequalled by any other organizations at the Institute.
Besides getting to know the many men in the clubs intimately, the
travels of the clubs to their various concerts make it possible to
meet a wide range of people from inmates of girls' finishing
schools to the business men of Boston.
The roaring twenties saw creation of bigger (if
not better) musical programs at MIT including the birth of a new
orchestra with 31 members in 1920 and 50 members in 1921. However,
following a longstanding tradition, the orchestra expired after two
In 1923, through the initiative of one S.H.
Townsend, a Choral Society (like the Glee Club, a men's chorus but
whose purpose was neither too lowbrow nor too highbrow) came into
being and lasted for two years.
The Society was favorably reviewed in the Boston
Those who think it a pity that
the old-time college glee club, with its simple minded repertory,
should be altogether supplanted by the newer type of collegiate
singing society braving even the intricacies of Palestrina, Milhaud,
and Gustav Holst, should approve conditions at the Massachusetts
Institute of Technology.
However, in 1925, the Choral Society disbanded and
an attempt was made to revive it by offering a course in choral
singing. The idea of the educational value of music – to the
extent that credit should be offered, the sense for quality and the
idea of learning through doing, were expressed beautifully by Stephen
S. Townsend in a letter to the Tech in the April issue of 1925. The
following is a short excerpt from that letter:
To the Editor:
I have been asked for my estimate
of the course in choral singing which has been among the general
studies given during the past year. Personally, I see nothing in
its results but grounds for definite optimism.
The love of singing is almost as
universal as the religious instinct. It finds expression in many
ways and many times, because of a fatal self-consciousness, its
normal expression is rigidly suppressed. I have felt that to bring a
group of men together, to give them music of sound quality and
historic significance, to make for them an opportunity to sing this
music, thereby learning it as it can be learned in no other way, was
to define a program of definite educational merit.
The most important innovation of the twenties was
that it became customary to employ expert "coaches" for the
various groups. These individuals were older and more experienced
men who functioned both as conductors and as the person responsible
for choosing the repertoire of the ensemble.
Those first "coaches" included Doc Eisenberg
who was a graduate of MIT and of the Harvard Medical School. After
studying medicine for six years he went abroad and studied music as
well as medicine. At the time he agreed to coach the jazz band at
MIT, he had already become known as one of Boston's most famous
dance orchestra leaders.
The first formal concert program at MIT, that is
to say, a program containing no novelty acts, no magicians, and no
yodeling, occurred in 1926 and included music of Porpora, Beethoven,
piano music of Schumann, and a trio of Cesar Franck. Another
chamber music program in the same year introduced harpsichord music
to MIT students. (Only thirty years later, in 1956, did MIT purchase
its own harpsichord – from a fund accumulated through parking
The most farsighted suggestion of the twenties
appeared as an editorial in the Tech on January 8, 1926 - a fervent
plea for an auditorium. Up to this point, Walker Memorial served as
a dining hall, a concert hall, and the site of commencement
ceremonies where it was reported to have "filled up to an
Kresge Auditorium would not become a reality until
1955, 29 years later!! Funny that we're currently in the same
predicament. We've been waiting for a new rehearsal facility for
the performing ensembles at MIT since 1976. Odd that some wheels of
progress turn extremely slowly at MIT.
A tremendous change in the musical activities at
MIT occurred in the thirties.
Among the reasons were better and sustained
leadership, re-organization, and initiative shown for the first time
by the faculty and dormitory committee.
While the programs between 1883 and 1930 hardly
change, the difference between programs of 1932 and 1933 are
In a program dated April of 1932 there is the
usual hodge podge of choral, solo, banjo, piano, and instrumental
music, concluding the concert with school songs. One year later,
the Glee Club presented their own program which included works of
Bach, Palestrina, Monteverdi and Carissimi. The Instrumental Club,
now called the MIT Little Symphony offered a Mozart symphony, a
Beethoven Overture, and the Blue Danube Waltz of Strauss.
The latter programs were Sunday afternoon concerts
and were followed by a social where tea was served. These concerts
became very popular with students and faculty alike. Occasionally,
there were spoken program notes given by a faculty member from the
New England Conservatory which explained the compositions to the
audience and gave a number of historical facts about the composers.
In 1934, combined concerts with the Wellesley
Choir (an all female college) were introduced and this became an
annual event. In 1936, Metropolitan Opera soprano Eleanor Steber was
guest soloist on an MIT choral program. Ms. Steber sang the "Waltz"
from Romeo and Juliet by Gounoud; Debussy's "Beau Soir", and
Frank La Forge's "Song of the Open". The MIT Glee Club was
conducted by William Ellis Weston, who had dedicated fifteen years to
the improvement and success of the Glee Club – the only musical
club to exist without interruption since 1883.
The MIT Orchestra's first bona fide
conductor appeared in 1937. Jacques Hoffman had been a member of the
Boston Symphony and his first program with the MIT Orchestra had as
soloist the brilliant first horn player of the BSO, Willem Valkenier.
The program included Haydn's 6th symphony; Mozart's Concerto for
Horn; and Tchaikowsky's "Swan Lake".
The high quality of all of the music programs
continued thereafter with spectacularly large numbers of singers and
an impressive list of prestigious guest soloists.
In 1939, the Glee Club appeared for the first time
at "Tech Night at the POPS", a tradition which continued until
1956. The POPS are the Boston POPS orchestra, now conducted by Keith
Lockhart but brought to international recognition by Arthur Fiedler
who invented a for orchestral concerts which is still used as a model
today. The concerts typically began with light classics and
conclude with arrangements of popular music of the day . The Glee
Club also began the tradition of joining with women's colleges to
enable both groups to explore the rich and more plentiful mixed
chorus repertory. Schools such as Colby College, Wellesley College
and Simmons College were among the collaborators.
Klaus Liepmann Years
The year 1946 saw the formation of the Women's
Glee Club at MIT which combined with the Men's Glee Club to perform
Handel's Messiah with the MIT Symphony Orchestra. Yet, during this
flurry of exciting musical developments, there was one casualty.
After 52 years of uninterrupted existence, the Banjo Club expired.
1947 was a watershed year for Music at MIT with
the arrival of Klaus Liepmann, MIT's first first full-time professor
of music and the founder of MIT's music program.
In true MIT tradition, the orchestra members took
the initiative to approach the Dean of Students with the request to
make Liepmann's association with music at MIT permanent. The
following is an excerpt from an account of the conditions set down by
MIT's president and several deans which led to Mr. Liepmann's
acceptance of MIT's offer to become Director and Professor of
Some of the most important education takes
place outside of the curriculum. We believe that extracurricular
activities should have educational as well as recreational value
Our students are used to 'interacting with'
experts in Aeronautics, Physics, Mathematics, etc – the least we
can do is to provide them with professional leadership in music as
We find that our graduates are frequently
deficient in matters of a "liberal education". We should
improve our program in general education and we consider music an
important part of it.
Mr. Liepmann was born in Kiel, Germany, in 1907.
After attending grammar school there until 1919 he went to Hamburg,
where for the next six years he attended high school, received
private instruction in violin, viola, and piano; and studied ensemble
playing at the Hamburg Conservatory of Music. He continued his
studies for five more years at the Academy of Music in Cologne, then
in 1931 he became concertmaster of the Berlin University Orchestra
and Director of Hamburg University concerts. After coming to this
country in 1933 Mr. Liepmann took several positions in the New York
City school system. He came to Yale University in 1936 for further
study and research, and from 1939 to 1944 he directed the Yale
Symphony Orchestra and conducted ensembles. During the latter part of
the war he was Music Advisor of the Army's First Service Command, in
which capacity he supervised music education and recreation in all
Army camps and hospitals in New England. Professor Liepmann is the
author of "The Language of Music".
From what I have read about Klaus, he was a
passionate champion of music education and a teacher who truly
understood and valued the unique qualities of MIT students. Of MIT
musicians, Mr. Liepmann wrote, "You will never believe how much
enthusiasm, talent and skill exist among young Americans, especially
among those whose mental curiosity and searching minds drive them to
study science and engineering, until you have given them
opportunities to make music in their free time."
Liepmann also understood that what these young
players and singers may "lack in technical proficiency, they will
compensate with their power of concentration, their ready grasp of
structural points, and above all, with their unbounded enthusiasm."
Some of the many innovations and highlights of
Maestro Liepmann's tenure include:
The hiring of "ringers" and professional
soloists - for as Mr. Liepmann notes – "what could be more
inspiring for an orchestra than to collaborate with the
concertmaster of the Boston Symphony in a performance of the
Beethoven violin concerto as happened in 1968. He continues by
saying, "when it comes to soloists, everybody knows the
excruciating experience when a well-meaning amateur is let loose on
"Why do the nations…." from Messiah. Solo arias and
recitatives should under no circumstances be entrusted to untrained
voices. This would expose the composer, the audience and the
singers to a great number of unfair hazards and indignities.
Liepmann also believed that the occasional
mixing of professionals (known as ringers) with amateurs produced
the happy union of common sense and average human aspirations with
examples of highest personal perfection.
Liepmann hired additional music faculty
including John Corley, who was founder and conductor of the MIT
Concert Band, a position he held for 50 years! This group was
formed to solve the problem created by a surplus of wind players.
The MIT Choral Society, which began with 16
singers and who met at Liepmann's home, grew rapidly under the
enthusiasm of its new maestro. The repertoire began to include major
works of the choral/orchestral repertoire. Works such as Handel's
Judas Maccabeus; Mendelssohn's Elijah; Bach cantatas' and Haydn's
Creation, all accompanied by the MIT Symphony began to find their way
into the hearts and minds of MIT students. In 1952, a performance of
Brahms Ein Deutsches Requiem set a new standard of excellence.
The Choral Society performed with a chamber
orchestra made up of players from the Boston Symphony with soloists
Helen Boatwright and Paul Matthen. Other notable soloists who graced
the performances of the MIT Choral Society included New York City
Opera and Boston native contralto Eunice Alberts as well as Wellesley
college graduate and New York City Opera soprano Phyllis Curtin.
The late 50's also saw the creation of Course 21
(aka, Humanities – at MIT, all major disciplines and buildings are
identified by number) This was a huge step in the history of MIT
demonstrating the Institute's commitment to expanding its course
offerings beyond technical, mathematical and scientific studies
affording our students a more well-rounded education.
In 1955, Kresge Auditorium at MIT (the
long-awaited and still the only major performance space at MIT) was
dedicated in a gala ceremony which included the world premiere of
Aaron Copland's "Canticle of Freedom" which was commissioned
for the occasion by the Choral Society. It is a bit embarrassing to
report that in a letter to his dear friends, the Fines, Copland wrote
of a rehearsal of his new work – "I dashed up (to Boston) one
evening to hear a rehearsal (of my Canticle) and (between us)
despaired of Liepmann getting any results out of those forces. I
wish I could hear it performed properly."
Mr Liepmann recalls memorable performances with
members of the Boston Symphony of the Verdi Requiem and Bartok's
Cantata Profana in particular. Additional contemporary music
presented were works of Hindemith, Ives, Honegger, Messiaen, and
The Choral Society also began to be regular
contributors to MIT festive occasions such as the centennial in 1961
and the inaugurations of four MIT presidents.
Klaus initiated the first concert trips to Europe
with the chorus traveling to Germany, England, Paris and Brussels.
Liepmann tells us that "the underlying thought was that long before
anyone had even thought of a Peace Corps, here was a chance to
communicate through the arts with the European countries."
Some of the most noteworthy performances included
concerts with students of the Paris Conservatory, and with the
student orchestras with the University of Bonn, the Technological
Institute of Darmstadt, and the student orchestra of the Academy of
Music in Berlin. Liepmann was proud of the fact that American and
European students could come together to perform great music of a
common inheritance while during the same time discussing the problems
of their age and the future of mankind.
Of one particularly touching moment during one of
their tours, Liepmann recounts "a rehearsal was held in a school
building in the center of Frankfurt which still bore excruciating
testimony of the bombings of the recent war. We rehearsed a Haydn
Mass with the windows open, because if was July. At the "dona
nobis pacem" (give us peace) all the windows in the narrow
Frankfurt streets filled with people. The streets also began to fill
with curious and astonished and still frightened people – the
Americans were singing "dona nobis pacem" in Germany and with the
music of the great Joseph Haydn.
On another trip, Liepmann tells of one passport
and all of the choirs' railway tickets going missing. "Have you
ever tried to smuggle a 7 foot tall American into Germany, Belgium,
and France without a passport…or 65 American singers in and out of
the railroad stations of Germany without railway tickets?"
Apparently, he did.
In 1962, on the Choral Society's third trip to
Europe the chorus donated its concert proceeds for the reconstruction
of the famous St. Peter Mancroft Cathedral in Norwich, England. The
church was in the process of repair and filled with scaffolding
reaching high up into the spire. When a curious MIT student of
architecture climbed the scaffolding despite the interdiction posted
everywhere, the Deacon of the church greeted him upon his return to
terra firma with the words, "young man, this is the closest
to God you will ever be."
At a concert in Berlin, the guest orchestra were
no less than the wind players of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra.
The beginning of the program consisted of acappella music of Aaron
Copland, Finney, and Bach. Liepmann had to stop the program when he
heard the philharmonic players warming up in the basement of the
hall. Klaus turned to the audience and said "not everybody is in a
position to hush the Berlin Philharmonic."
Maestro Liepmann also initiated the Spring
Festivals of Music at MIT in 1962. This series was inspired by an
anonymous American benefactor who said "If they delight European
audiences, why should they not be featured in America?" The Choral
Society shared honors with the Glee Club, the orchestra, the band,
the jazz orchestra, and the Logarhythms (one of MIT's student-run
all male acappella groups) In these concerts, Randall Thompson
conducted the Concert Band and the Glee Club in his "Testament of
Freedom". Wellesley College joined the MIT Glee Club in a
performance of Purcell's "Fairy Queen" and Vassar and MIT
presented the first American performance of Haydn's only opera
seria, "Orfeo". When 65 members of the Boston Symphony joined
the Glee Club of MIT and Douglass College in a performance of "The
Seasons" by Haydn, the orchestra players reveled in the delightful
music which had not been played by the BSO in 39 years! At the
musicians suggestion, Mr. Leinsdorf re-instated the piece soon after
into the repertory.
In 1965, during the third MIT Spring Festival, the
Choral Society together with with the Mount Holyoke Glee Club joined
in a memorable performance of Beethoven's "Missa Solemnis" and
later combined with the Sarah Lawrence Choir in a presentation of
Orff's "Carmina Burana" and with the Smith College Choir, a
performance of Milhaud's "Les Choephores".
In 1971, the Glee Club together with the Douglass
College Choir and the Haydn Orchestra of New York and three prominent
soloists gave a performance of Haydn's "The Seasons" in Lincoln
Centers Alice Tully Hall in New York City.
The occasion was the Music Festival in honor of
Dr. and Mrs. James R. Killian.
Liepmann retired in 1972 and programmed Bach's
"St. John Passion" as a final farewell to his beloved MIT
The following is a letter Professor Liepmann
addressed to the Tech Talk in 1990. The letter speaks for itself of
the delightful qualities of this extraordinary man. It begins with
the heading "De Profundis".
Two days ago our PO Box in
Westport contained a letter from the Alumni Association of MIT
addressed 'to the family of Prof. Klaus Liepmann.' It began, 'We
recently received notification of the death of Prof. Klaus Liepmann.
Please accept our sincere condolences.'
A day earlier, a letter by a
professor of German at the Albany State University of New York was
forwarded to me by the MIT office of personnel. It seems the
professor is preparing a book about former German-speaking emigrees
with reports and materials that document their life and activities.
The professor, whose name was new to me, added, 'I am assuming that
he is probably no longer alive, but there may be members of the
When I called the Alumni Office
and asked from whom they received notification of my death, they said
they did not know, but that they received a check for MIT from an
alumnus 'in memory of Prof. Klaus Liepmann.' I assume that money
doesn't lie--so it must be true. Never mind the amount of the
check--suffice it to say that it was more than $25 and less than $1
However, at the risk of
interrupting a further flow of money to MIT, I declare hereby to my
friends and enemies and to the Pension Office of MIT that I am at the
moment alive and kicking and that as Mark Twain would say, the
notices of my death are exaggerated.
That letter of the Alumni
Association asks my family for data and an obituary 'so that caring
classmates can be informed.' They have no data and there are no
caring classmates--because I am not an alumnus of MIT. However, just
in case: the News Office has more data about me than anyone ever
wants to have, including a curriculum vitae which I wrote myself and
which would make a nice obituary.
And finally – I suppose as a
sort of consolation prize – they offer my family 'a complimentary
subscription to Technology Review.' It is said that those who are
falsely accused of death may expect a long life. Under those
circumstances, a complimentary subscription to Technology Review
might come in handy.
in the Music Department
1950's saw even more luminaries join the music faculty at MIT or
serve as artists-in-residence. One of the first such artists was
jazz trumpeter Herb Pomeroy.
Herb Pomeroy still remembers the day in March 1963
when the distress call came from MIT. It was the late Professor Klaus
Leipman, founder of MIT's music program, saying in his thick German
accent, "We have a jazz band here that is so bad… we don't
want them representing MIT." Professor Leipman said he had
suggested to the members of the Techtonians, then a student-led jazz
band, that they either disband or get someone to "upgrade"
them. "Your name was the one that they asked for first,"
Professor Leipman told Mr. Pomeroy.
At age 33, Mr. Pomeroy was already well into a
successful career as a jazz trumpeter, arranger, composer, leader of
his own big band and member of the jazz faculty at Berklee College of
Music. But he agreed to rehearse the group for the remaining six
rehearsals in the semester – for $30 a rehearsal – and then
decide if he wanted to stay.
Thus marked the beginning of a 22-year career at
MIT for Mr. Pomeroy, who went on to found the Institute's
award-winning Festival Jazz Ensemble (FJE) and develop it into one of
the country's top collegiate jazz bands. From 1963-85, Mr. Pomeroy
led the FJE to national acclaim through performances and festival
appearances in New England, the Midwest and at Switzerland's
prestigious Montreux Jazz Festival, brought dozens of specially
commissioned compositions into the FJE's library, and paved the way
for the enthusiastic continuation and development of jazz ensembles
In 1966, David Epstein joined the faculty and took
over responsibility of conducting the MIT Symphony. Dr. Epstein
expanded MITSO's audience by mixing new and rarely heard works with
those of major composers in the same program, engaging professional
and student soloists, and planning and leading tours throughout the
United States and abroad. He wrote insightful listener notes and
embarked on an ambitious commercial recording venture with the
orchestra, which has preserved on the VOX label more than a decade of
its finest performances. Due primarily to his drive to raise its
artistic goals and standards, the orchestra became the first
co-curricular performing ensemble through which MIT students could
earn study credit toward a degree.
"David Epstein's contribution to the vitality
of music making at MIT is broad and deep," said Professor Marcus
A. Thompson, a violist who collaborated frequently with Dr., Epstein.
He noted that Dr. Epstein's "scholarly inquiry" into
structure, tempo and articulation provided guidance for performers to
make better interpretive decisions. "Some of this inquiry grew
out of the obvious pleasure he took in teaching as well as learning
from students and colleagues in the MIT scientific community,"
A 1952 graduate of Antioch College in Yellow
Springs, Ohio, Dr. Epstein had graduate degrees from the New England
Conservatory, Brandeis University and Princeton University. He
received a Ph.D from Princeton in 1968. His farewell concert was a
performance of Beethoven's 9th Symphony with the MIT Concert Choir
and professional soloists.
In 1968, important American composer Elliot Carter
was visiting composer and humanities professor. The 70's saw the
addition of other world-class musicians to its faculty including
Pulitzer prize-winning composer John Harbison; concert violist Marcus
Thompson; and Jeanne Bamberger, whose research in music cognition is
interdisciplinary: integrating music theory and practice, modes of
representation, and recent approaches to cognitive development.
Professor Bamberger's work focuses on close analysis of children
and adults in moments of spontaneous learning. Professor Bamberger,
was a student of Artur Schnabel and Roger Sessions, performed
extensively in the US and Europe as piano soloist and in chamber
music ensembles. She attended Columbia University and the University
of California at Berkeley receiving degrees in philosophy and music
theory. Her books include "The mind behind the musical ear (1995),
and "Developing musical intuitions".
Mr. Harbison is one of America's most prominent
composers. Among his principal works are three string quartets, three
symphonies, two operas, and the cantata The Flight Into Egypt, which
earned him a Pulitzer Prize in 1987. The Metropolitan Opera premiered
his opera The Great Gatsby, in December 1999.
Harbison's music is distinguished by its
exceptional resourcefulness and expressive range. He has written for
every conceivable type of concert performance, ranging from the
grandest to the most intimate, pieces that embrace jazz along with
the pre-classical forms of Schütz and Bach, the graceful tonality of
Prokofiev, and the rigorous atonal methods of the late Stravinsky. He
is also a gifted commentator on the art and craft of composition and
was recognized in his student years as an outstanding poet. (He has
written his own libretto for Gatsby.) Today, he continues to convey,
through the spoken word, the multiple meanings of contemporary
Mr. Harbison regularly lends his gifts as a
teacher to the upper level composition classes and to the Chamber
Music program where he is a coach.
Marcus Thompson, violist, has appeared as soloist,
recitalist, and in chamber music series throughout the Americas,
Europe, and the Far East. He has been a soloist with the orchestras
of Atlanta, Chicago, Cleveland, Saint Louis; The National Symphony,
the Boston Pops and the Czech National Symphony in Prague. He
performed the West Coast Premiere of the Harbison Viola Concerto with
the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra; the Chicago Premiere with the
Chicago Sinfonietta, and recently gave the Boston Premiere with the
New England Conservatory Honors Orchestra. In recent seasons he has
received critical acclaim for performances of the Penderecki Viola
Concerto with the MIT Symphony Orchestra in Boston, and in London.
Mr. Thompson earned the doctorate degree at The
Juilliard School and is currently the Robert R. Taylor Professor of
Music, heading programs in chamber music and performance studies at
MIT. He is a member of the viola faculty at New England Conservatory
of Music and violist of the Boston Chamber Music Society.
Pianist David Deveau joined the music faculty of
the MIT in 1988, and was appointed Senior Lecturer in 1995. He has
also served on the piano faculties of the Boston Conservatory,
Carnegie Mellon University, and Boston University.
Deveau has earned enthusiastic praise from major
publications including the New York Times ("revealing virtuosity…a
deeply thoughtful, artistic personality with a most supple, fluent
technique"), The Boston Globe, the San Francisco Chronicle, the
Minneapolis Star-Tribune, The American Record Guide, and the
His major orchestral engagements over the last two
decades include performances with the Boston Symphony, Boston Pops,
San Francisco Symphony, and Minnesota Orchestra, as well as with the
Houston, St. Louis, Pittsburgh and Pacific Symphony Orchestras. He
has also been soloist with the Juilliard, New England Conservatory
and Carnegie Mellon Philharmonic Orchestras, collaborating with such
composer-conductors as John Harbison, Oliver Knussen and Gunther
David Deveau is co-director with Marcus Thompson
of the Advanced Music Performance Seminar which offers approximately
fifty scholarships and fellowships annually for private lesson study
to MIT students based on competitive auditions that are held once a
year at the beginning of the fall term. The Emerson Music Performance
program is funded largely by a generous donation from Mr. Cherry L.
Emerson (SM, 1941) who remains a strong supporter of the arts at MIT.
The program is intended to assure the continued growth of the
individual and to encourage participation in the MIT musical
community of the most accomplished student musicians. Scholarship and
fellowship offers are made to those whose skill and potential are
recognized at the time of the audition.
Oliver and the MIT Concert Choir
John Oliver joined the faculty at MIT and worked
with Liepmann conducting the Glee Club and Choral Society in 1964.
At the time of Liepmann's retirement in 1972, Mr. Oliver had
recently (1970) organized the Tanglewood Festival Chorus, the
official chorus of the Boston Symphony Orchestra.
When the baton was passed to John Oliver, the
members of the Choral Society were a mix of students, faculty, staff,
and friends of MIT with a typical membership of one hundred singers
whose mission remained to learn and perform major works of the
During Oliver's tenure, more and more students
were interested in being a part of this excellent choral ensemble.
It became apparent that either more rigorous audition criteria were
needed to control the size and quality of the group; or that it would
be possible to populate this symphonic-sized chorus entirely with
students. Oliver eventually made the difficult decision to limit
membership to MIT students.
The 90's were truly the golden years for the
Concert Choir. With an annual operating budget of over $40,000, the
choir was able to take on a major work with professional orchestra
and soloists each semester. Programs included the usual St. Matthew
Passion of Bach, Mendelssohn's Elijah, as well as lesser known
works such as Flos campi of Vaughn Williams; Der Erste Walpurgisnacht
of Mendelssohn, and Canti di prigionia, of Dallapiccola. One
particularly ambitious programs included not only the devilishly
difficult "Les noces" of Stravinsky, but also Chinese Folk Songs,
by Bright Sheng.
MIT Chamber Choir
Seeing the need for an even higher level of
music-making to challenge the evermore talented and ambitious
incoming students, Maestro Oliver also formed the MIT Chamber Choir
whose mission it was to perform significant works of the acappella
repertoire along with smaller choral works requiring instrumental
accompaniment and particularly Bach cantatas. This smaller, more
select ensemble also served the purpose of creating solo
opportunities for the more advanced student singers who seem to be
more plentiful with each passing year. On more than one occasion I
heard Maestro Oliver marvel over the technical facility of a young
MIT singer – often a totally untrained singer who just happened to
possess the facility to negotiate difficult melismatic Baroque
passages. He would often remark that "they have no idea how hard
this is…..and they're probably better off."
All the while Oliver was building choral music at
MIT he continued his professional association with the Tanglewood
Festival Chorus and his own chorus the John Oliver Chorale. When
asked to compare his work with the two very different worlds of
professional and student music-making he replied, "the MIT sound is
younger. You don't get the depth of sonority that you find in the
professional [singer] which is dark and rich. It is a younger,
cleaner, airier sound. It's beautiful."
John went through many accompanists during his
time at MIT – one would become the chorus master of the
Metropolitan Opera Chorus – until I came onto the scene in 1990.
John and I met by chance at Tanglewood when I was asked to accompany
a masterclass he would be doing with the Young Artists Chorus of the
Tanglewood Institute. The work to be rehearsed was Britten's
"Cantata Academica". At the conclusion of a very inspiring and
fast-paced rehearsal (typical for John Oliver) the maestro asked me
if I would be interested in accompanying the choirs at MIT. I was
delighted to be asked and agreed to do an audition with him later
that week which would involve playing solo repertoire, sight-reading,
and open-score reading. I passed the audition and began as John's
assistant in the Fall of 1990.
It was here that I witnessed first hand the
masterful rehearsal techniques that John employed no matter what the
level of the chorus. He firmly believed that there was no magic to
reading music. You simply have to do it…and do it often….and you
must read everything at tempo…even the very first read-thru.
It was incredible to witness this group of bright
young non-musicians display their powers of focus as they attempted
to tackle even the most complex of Bach fugues or the most dense
harmonies of Poulenc. It didn't matter to John that there was
very little actual sound during this first read-thru. He knew that
these probing minds, while not realizing the pitches and rhythms with
any accuracy whatsoever, were appreciating every clever compositional
device that passed by their analytical eyes. He was fond of
exclaiming "Perfect!" at the conclusion of our first disastrous
rendition which never failed to elicit many guffaws and chuckles from
Anzolini and MITSO
Succeeding David Epstein's thirty-three year
career as conductor of the MIT Symphony was Yale-educated conductor,
Dante Anzolini has conducted with great success in
Europe, North and South America. His broad repertoire encompasses
most major works from the symphonic and operatic repertoire as well
as 20th and 21st century works. He is a strong advocate of new music
and young composers, and has conducted numerous world-premieres of
operatic and symphonic works. In addition to his work with the MIT
Symphony, Anzolini is Music Director of the Orchestra of the Teatro
Argentino Opera Theater, in La Plata, Argentina.
The first European tour in MITSO's history took
place in May 2000 under Anzolini's direction. The orchestra
presented four highly acclaimed performances in important venues in
Prague, Brno (Czech Republic), Budapest and Vienna. A performance in
Prague's National House, arranged by special invitation from the
Czech Nuclear Society, honored ten years of Czech-American nuclear
cooperation and symbolized Czech-American friendship. The event was
part of a formal celebration naming Prague as the Principal Cultural
Capital of Europe in the millenial year.
The MIT Symphony Orchestra undertook a second
European in May of 2002. MITSO performed at King's College Chapel in
Cambridge (England), at St. John's, Smith Square in London and at the
principal venue of the Bath International Music Festival. The tour
concert program featured MIT Professor Peter Child's Jubal,
Penderecki's Viola Concerto with MIT Professor Marcus Thompson as
soloist, and Mahler's Symphony No. 1. This highly successful tour
was sponsored in part by the Cambridge-MIT Institute.
Harris and the MIT Concert Band
Succeeding the fifty year tenure of John Corley as
conductor of the MIT Concert Band is Frederick Harris. One of Dr.
Harris's first mission was to expand the repertoire of the Concert
Band with forays into wind chamber music and more symphonic wind
repertoire. Harris also took charge of the Festival Jazz Ensemble
thereby creating a more consistent and unified mission as well as
higher standards for the various diverse wind groups.
In a recent interview with Jazziz Magazine,
Frederick Harris, director of wind ensembles since 1990 said: "At
MIT everything is taught through a hands-on approach … These
students are building robots, doing internships at NASA, and so on.
When they take on a subject like jazz, they want to get their hands
dirty right away. And they want to work at the highest level
To commemorate the 80th birthday of Gunther
Schuller, world-renowned composer, conductor and advocate of jazz and
classical music, the MIT Wind Ensemble honored the composer with a
concert which highlighted his advocacy for other musicians.
The recipient of a Pulitzer Prize for composition,
Schuller became a leader in a new style of music, said Frederick
Harris, music director of the ensemble.
"He is a huge proponent of taking jazz and
classical and fusing them together," he said, noting that
Schuller is known for this "Third Stream" style. "It
was a term he coined describing the respectful co-existence of the
stream of classical music with the stream of jazz music creating a
'third stream' -- a fusion of the two."
The MIT Wind Ensemble will showcase both the
classical and the jazz elements of Schuller's work, but will perform
only one piece that he composed, "Blue Dawn Into White Heat."
Fred earned a Master of Music Degree from New
England Conservatory and his Ph.D. from the University of Minnesota.
His teachers included Frank Battisti and, Gunther Schuller. Dr.
Harris was a conducting student at The Schweitzer Institute of Music
at the Festival at Sandpoint and an auditor of the Tanglewood Music
Center conducting program. As the first recipient of the Boston
University Tanglewood Institute Frank L. Battisti Conducting Award
Residency, he served as the assistant conductor of the 2001 Young
Artist Wind Ensemble. During the summer of 2002 he served as
Co-coordinator of the Boston University Young Artists Wind Ensemble
at Tanglewood and again as assistant conductor.
One of the most recent trends, not only at MIT,
but across the US, is a keen interest in world music. MIT responded
to the natural curiosity of our students to explore this music by
adding three distinguished ethnomusicologists to our music faculty.
Gamelan Galak Tika, directed by Evan Ziporyn, is
the Boston area's first Balinese gamelan. A community ensemble in
residence at MIT, Galak Tika was founded in September 1993 for the
purpose of studying and performing both traditional and modern
Balinese music and dance, as well as to develop new works in
collaboration with Balinese and American artists. Evan Ziporyn is
the Kenan Sahin Distinguished Professor of Music with degrees from UC
Berkeley. He is a composer/clarinetist whose work draws equally from
world and classical music, the avant garde, and jazz. As a member of
the Bang On A Can All-stars, he has performed at international venues
across the globe, including Lincoln Center, Kennedy Center, London's
South Bank Center, the Holland Festival, Australia's Adelaide
Festival, and the Warsaw Festival.
Rambax MIT, directed by assistant professor
Patricia Tang, is a performance ensemble that focuses on the sabar
drumming and dance traditions of Senegal. Dr. Tang is a graduate of
Harvard University and is an ethnomusicologist specializing in West
African music. Having conducted research among Wolof griot
percussionists in Senegal, she studied sabar (Wolof drum) with Lamine
Touré and members of the ensemble, Group Rimbax.
George Ruckert is a Senior Lecturer in Music with
a Ph.D in Ethnomusicology from UC Berkeley. After receiving a
master's in western theory and composition, he became a student of
the renowned Indian sarodist, Ali Akbar Khan in 1967. A co-founder
and administrator of this master's important center for North Indian
classical music in California.
Current Music "Section"
Upon the retirement of John Oliver, I was
appointed Director of Choral Programs at MIT in 1996. 10 years
later I am happy to report that the choral program continues to
attract energetic and talented singers who make me incredibly proud
to stand in front of them and make music together. We have weathered
diminishing funding by finding creative ways to program and
collaborate with MIT ensembles, local universities (including Tufts,
Brandeis, Brown, and Wellesley) and most recently with the University
of Lausanne…our first international collaboration.
We are particularly proud of the fact that we have
premiered new works of our own John Harbison as well as faculty
members Edward Cohen, Charles Shadle and myself. We have enjoyed
collaborations with the MIT Symphony, particularly in our performance
of Beethoven's Choral Fantasy for the 50th Anniversary of
Humanities at MIT. There were also wonderful performances of Ralph
Vaughn Williams "Dona nobis pacem", Purcell's "Come ye Sons
of Art", and Stravinsky's "Symphony of Psalms". I have fond
memories of our first European tour in 1999 which took the choir to
Budapest and Vienna singing the music of Brahms, Schumann, and
American colonial composer William Billings.
Under my direction, the MIT Chamber Choir
performed it's first full production of the opera "Dido and
Aeneas" collaborating with the talented faculty of the Theater
section. We also premiered the first choral drama of American
composer Libby Larsen. Most recently, the Chamber Choir offered
their first evening of opera scenes and choruses under the
directorial guidance of Theater Arts faculty member, Michael Oulette.
Today, the Music Section, as it is known, is
thriving with the number of students participating in both performing
ensembles and music courses at an all-time high. We offer
introductory, history/literature, theory/composition, performance,
world music, special topics, and media courses as part of a
curriculum that is the envy of some conservatories of music. In
fact, the first level of our Harmony and Counterpoint class is
regularly oversubscribed (we currently have four sections of 25
students each) and our music history classes now regularly offer such
specialized and intriguing topics as "Shakespeare at the Opera"
and "Folk music of the British Isles". There is no shortage of
innovation and enthusiasm for the work of our department and we
delight in having the largest enrollment of all of the humanities
I know that the entire music faculty would agree
that we feel extremely fortunate to be sharing our passion for good
music with students who truly understand that music is for the heart,
the mind, and the soul.