WHEN THE HARVARD-RADCLIFFE Orchestra tunes up for its opening concert in Sanders Theatre some two weeks from now, over 15 per cent of its musicians will have no connection to Harvard. The number of outside players has decreased in recent years, but it is still too high.
Yesterday's disclosure by Archie C. Epps III, dean of students, is therefore most welcome. Epps said that he would ask CHUL to pass a rule that would effectively prohibit HRO from admitting outside members without express permission from Epps or his designated representative. Epps said he would insist that the orchestra accept a minimum of 90 percent Harvard musicians, while aiming for 100 per cent. The proposal is long overdue, and CHUL should accept Epps's suggestion.
The conductor of the orchestra, James D. Yannatos, defends his policy by claiming that there just aren't enough competent musicians at Harvard to fill an orchestra--or rather, to fill two orchestras, since Yannatos is nervously aware of competition from the Bach Society.
Most undergraduate musicians, however, doubt that an all Harvard orchestra would be inferior. There are countless capable players at Harvard with no orchestral affiliation; at least three musicians in recent years have been admitted to Music 180, a demanding performance seminar, while seeing what might well have been their places in HRO taken by outsiders. Even the student president of the orchestra acknowledges that admitting only Harvard musicians would not significantly alter the level of performance.
And even if qualify were to suffer, it remains important that the Harvard-Radcliffe Orchestra live up to its name. "No one wants to hear a lousy orchestra any more than they want to watch a lousy football team," Yannatos says. But surely students would rather watch a student football team that loses occasionally than a squad that wins with the help of a few moonlighting Boston Patriots.
The problem stems, not surprisingly, from Harvard's niggardly refusal to support an arts program. Stellar high school musicians choose schools like Yale, where they can receive music lessons and other support; with no solid arts program, Harvard finds it more difficult to recruit good players. In addition, because HRO must support itself, its conductor is less likely to gamble on inexperienced players. For its continuing and unreasonable refusal to support the arts, therefore, Harvard must accept much of the blame for HRO's dilemma.
With or without increased support from the University, however, HRO should aim for an all-Harvard orchestra next year. Many talented Harvard musicians will never again have the chance to play in a high-level orchestra; they deserve to benefit from all the resources of the University, not just its academic offerings. Certainly their needs should override the desire of a few musicians to organize a professional orchestra.
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