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Dissonance In the Department


By James Gleick

Some longstanding gripes about the way Harvard treats its musicians surfaced this week in a petition signed by 414 students, including nearly all of Harvard's active instrumentalists.

The students name several specific areas--pianos, rehearsal facilities, funds for sheet music and courses for performers--that they consider examples of neglect by a University unsupportive of the creative arts and a department devoted to musicology rather than performance.

Elliot Forbes '40, chairman of the Music Department, said yesterday, "I rejoice in this increased interest in making music," and that the petition was "music to my ears." He has been fighting for years, he said, to obtain funds for pianos and rehearsal facilities from the administration.

Among the Harvard buildings not equipped with pianos is Sanders Theatre, where Harvard's major student orchestras and choruses perform regularly, often renting a piano at a cost of $300 for one evening.

Forbes said yesterday that he asked the administration to buy a piano for Sanders this fall, as he has several times in the past. A piano would pay for itself "in a very short space of time," he said, since the University could charge rent to outside groups.

However, Forbes said the Music Department will not grant the main request in the petition, for the expansion of Music 180, the department's only course in performance.

Music 180 accepted about 30 of 100 students who auditioned for it this fall.

Forbes said that the department simply does not have enough money to expand the course, and that its limited enrollment did not indicate a general neglect of performers.

In addition to Music 180, Forbes said the department supports performers in two ways: by teaching "basic piano," to ensure that concentrators do not graduate without a minimum competence in keyboard technique; and by granting independent-study credit for music lessons outside the University.

Music 180 was the center of a controversy earlier this fall, when Leon Kirchner, professor of Music and the course's instructor, admitted some students who had not auditioned and others who were not enrolled at Harvard.

Students rejected from the course complained that Music 180, like Harvard's student orchestras, should give priority to Harvard undergraduate musicians. The Harvard-Radcliffe Orchestra and the Bach Society Orchestra have maintained that since they receive no financial support from the University they are under no obligation to exclude outside musicians.

In response to an inquiry by Archie C. Epps III, dean of students, Kirchner said that he had been familiar with the playing of the students who did not audition, and that the non-Harvard students were going to function as instructors in the course.

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