Could NEC Save Music Training at Harvard?

Small joint program attracts students with conservatory, liberal arts study

When the time comes time for college applications, academically-minded students with musical inclinations often face a difficult decision. Go to a conservatory, where they can study with expert teachers of their instrument and be motivated by the company of other performers? Or go the liberal arts route and continue their non-performance studies?

This fall, six students did not have to decide, as Harvard and the New England Conservatory (NEC) launched a joint program for undergraduates. Although the joint curriculum is still tiny, it may well be an answer to the prayers of Harvard musicians who have struggled to obtain institutional support for their performance training.

A LONG TIME COMING

Yale College currently offers a joint program with Yale’s Graduate School of Music. Columbia University’s undergraduates have long been able to receive training at the Juilliard School. Many other schools give academic credit for concert training. Tufts undergraduates have the option of enrolling in classes at NEC. Even MIT offers credit for private lessons. But for years, undergraduate musicians have bemoaned the lack of opportunities for performance training within the Harvard curriculum.

According to Peter L. Anderegg ’04, an alumnus who graduated with a degree in Mathematics and is currently studying for a masters’ degree in cello performance at Juilliard, staying serious about music while at Harvard was possible, but took a lot of initiative and personal effort. “I found that it was certainly possible to maintain a serious level of playing while being a regular Harvard student; however these activities were entirely self-directed, without any assistance or guidance from the university.”

Although it offers a plethora of courses in music theory, composition, and history, Harvard’s Music Department only offers three performance-oriented courses: Music 180r: “Performance and Analysis,” Music 93r: “Supervised Reading and Research,” which is limited to members of the Harvard-Radcliffe Orchestra (HRO), and Music 91r: “Supervised Reading and Research,” an independent-study course.

A number of Harvard graduates, like Anderegg, have pursued careers in music during their time at the College. Yet such students have had to seek out their own teachers and resources in the Boston area and make use of their summers to attend festivals in order to stay at a competitive level during their four years in Cambridge.

Anderegg’s sister, Francesca J. Anderegg ’04-05, who is now studying violin at Juilliard, agrees: “I think there is a lot to offer at Harvard, musically, although sometimes you have to work a little harder to create the experience that you want.”

The landscape has not been completely devoid of resources. The Office For the Arts at Harvard (OFA) offers a Music Lessons Subsidies Program, which provides assistance for approved students to take private lessons, but subsidies are generally capped at $250 per semester. Peter Anderegg calls the program well-intentioned, but grossly inadequate.

“The Music Lesson Subsidies Program is entirely insufficient for students who are preparing for professional careers. Lessons at this level are $100-$200 per hour” Andregg says, adding that “at conservatory, lessons are at least once weekly.” He nevertheless feels that the OFA “is great at supporting classical music on an amateur level”.

Francesca Anderegg mentions the invaluable benefit of having an active concert artist like Dwight P. Robinson Jr. Professor of Music Robert D. Levin ’68 on campus as one of the highlights in her Harvard musical experience. However, she notes that there are virtually no other concert artists on Harvard’s faculty, and that Levin’s performance schedule means his presence is “necessarily limited.”

Through its “Learning from Performers” series, the OFA brings well-known artists to campus to run workshops and master classes throughout the year. Past guests have included Quincy Jones, Lynn Harrell, and Yo-Yo Ma ’76. In addition, members of the Ying Quartet, who act as Blodgett Artists in Residence, are available to help student instrumentalists a few weeks out of every semester. But while these events are unique, one-time opportunities for musical enrichment, Harvard musicians say that finding and arranging regular lessons with a private teacher is a more important, and more difficult, task.

“If I hadn’t been admitted to the NEC program…finding a teacher in Boston would have been a prime concern,” says Baritone vocalist John Kapusta ’09. Luckily for him, he arrived during a year when the situation was changing for Harvard musicians.

ELITE OF THE ELITE

According to Levin, the NEC/Harvard program emerged after “years of discussion between the two institutions.” Details about the history of the negotiations are murky, but a group of administrators such as Dean of the College Benedict H. Gross ’71 and NEC President Daniel Steiner ’54 succeeded in implementing the program this fall.

“We recognized [the joint program] was in both of our interests,” Steiner says. “NEC was losing students because the students wanted a strong liberal arts program.”

Steiner, a lawyer by profession, has a longtime connection with Harvard. He graduated from Harvard College and Harvard Law School and served as Secretary of the University Committee of Governance, General Counsel, and Adjunct Lecturer in Public Policy at the Kennedy School of Government.

In an e-mail, Gross also expresses enthusiasm. “I was happy to support it,” he writes, adding that he “will look for other such collaborations to support students in the performing arts in the future.”

Gross also cites Knafel Professor of Music and Chair of the Music Department Thomas Kelly as a major influence on the final negotiations for the program. Kelly could not be reached for comment.

According to Thomas Novak, Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid at NEC, about one hundred students applied for the program last year, seven were accepted, and six enrolled. Four of these six are freshmen and two are sophomores. Novak says roughly the same amount of students will be admitted yearly, and that there are no plans to expand that annual number.

The process was staggeringly selective. Each student had to apply separately to the two institutions. Those who were accepted to both and had indicated their interest in the joint program were reviewed by the two admissions committees, and final decisions were made as to which talented few would compose the first class of joint-degree students. Some applicants were even accepted to both institutions separately, but not to the joint program.

Novak specifies that applicants in the joint program had to be in the “highest level of the NEC’s admissions pool” because all those accepted must be able to handle an accelerated program that puts them at the level of first year master’s degree students after three undergraduate years, instead of four.

For those first three years of their education, students in the joint program are essentially regular Harvard students, except they join a private instructor’s studio class at the NEC. But other than private music lessons and workshops, they take all of their classes at Harvard. After the third year they have auditions, known as “promotionals,” at the NEC to determine whether they can continue for their Masters’ degree. The fourth year is spent at both institutions and the fifth is spent entirely at the NEC.

As could be expected, balancing a normal course load with studio classes is demanding. “It’s very hard to find time to practice,” admits Aaron T. Kuan ’09, a first-year violinist in the program. Kuan takes partial responsibility for his hectic schedule, though. “I think a lot of this stems from the fact that I am trying to keep the option of other career options in addition to music.”

Kapusta similarly feels that time management is difficult, but says it is nothing out of the ordinary. “As is the case with any other activity here at Harvard and elsewhere, keeping up both academic and outside pursuits is a challenge,” he says. ”[My schedule] receives great priority shifts from week to week, depending on what I have to prepare for each area at a given time.”

Nevertheless, both Kapusta and Kuan express great enthusiasm for the program. “I would have been hesitant to attend a conservatory,” Kuan says, “not being sure I wanted to pursue a music career. I am definitely very happy that the joint program has allowed me to pursue both options before committing unequivocally.”

Novak hopes that, as the program continues to grow, students in it will begin to “have a little bit more of an identity [at NEC]”, and not feel for the first three years that they are just coming there for lessons. Getting involved with chamber music at NEC could be a good way of promoting a sense of connection to the school community, he says.

CHANGING TIMES

The Andereggs feel that the program is exactly what Harvard needs. “I would have loved to do the NEC-Harvard program—I was just a few years too early!” writes Francesca Anderegg

“I think the joint program is a great idea and will increase the number of professional-class musicians who apply and attend the university,” Peter Anderegg concurs in an e-mail.

Although the Andereggs may have arrived too late, Levin says the program gives cause for optimism for the future. “It is the hope of both institutions that the new program will attract students who otherwise might not consider applying to either,” he says.

Kapusta is similarly pleased with the prospects of the collaboration. “While still in its developing stages, that the Harvard/NEC program has finally been realized is a wonderful step towards an extremely beneficial partnership,” he says,

Levin expresses the hopes of many involved with the program: “I look forward to working with students in the new program,” he says, “while seeking expanded opportunities in the future with an eye to fulfilling the dreams of all undergraduates who seek fulfillment in musical performance.”

The program is scarcely four months old, and with plans to keep its enrollment relatively low, it remains to be seen how much of an impact it will have on music education at Harvard, and whether those dreams of which Levin speaks will be fulfilled.