Holden Choirs Singing the Blues

When Constance DeFotis was reappointed by the College to co-conduct the Holden Choirs last semester, she wrote in an e-mail to another choir, “Miracles are possible; my faith is restored!”

DeFotis wasn’t the only one who expressed surprise. Several student leaders of Holden Choirs—composed of Harvard-Radcliffe Collegium Musicum, Harvard Glee Club and Radcliffe Choral Society (RCS)—say they were taken aback by the decision.

“When we were informed of the decision to have Constance conduct us next year, everybody exchanged glances and the energy in the room dissipated,” says a senior member of the RCS executive committee who did not wish to be named. “This is exactly what we didn’t want to happen,” she adds.

But rather than direct their displeasure at DeFotis, students say they object more broadly to the choirs’ current system of rotating conductors.

Difficulties Adjusting

When the College hired DeFotis in 1996 to help longtime director Jameson Marvin conduct the Holden Choirs, Marvin decided to switch to a system that rotated conductors—against the recommendation of a committee he had convened.

Composed of nationally acclaimed choral conductors, the committee suggested that rotating conductors could lead to problems in the future and told Marvin that it is a practice rarely employed by other choruses.

Before Marvin implemented the system of rotating conductor, he had exclusively conducted Collegium and Glee Club.

Under the new system, now six years old, each chorus has changed conductors twice, on average, in the past three years.

Many student say the problems the committee foresaw appear to have come true. Students in each choir say they are dissatisfied with the rotations, which require constant adjustments to the styles of different conductors.

“You have one conductor, you’re working toward one goal,” says a senior member of Holden Choirs. “Then conductors switch, and it leads to a whole change in styles and aims. It can be very frustrating,” she says.

Holden members say the starkly different styles of their two conductorsferent styles of their two conductors—Marvin and DeFotis—exacerbate the problem.

“[Marvin]focuses on blend, balance, pitch and intonation to achieve a particular vocal sound that he is famous for around the country,” says Glee Club Manager Jonah M. Knobler ’03.

He says DeFotis, on the other hand, is less concerned with sound and more concerned with expression, textual interpretation and the communicative aspects of music.

Contract Renewal

When DeFotis’ contract was up for renewal last semester, a number of the singers tried to dissuade the College from renewing it.