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Taylor's Leadership Will Be Missed

GUEST COMMENTARY

By Maryanne Fenerjian

Thursday, as degrees are conferred and video memories are made, the Commencement Choir will be conducted by Beverly Taylor for the last time. Many will express surprise and regret at the news that Ms. Taylor ("Bev" to her many singers) is soon to leave Harvard/Radcliffe. Others, who have observed the administrative indecision over contract negotiations during these past three years, must now accept the failure of their efforts to secure a long-term commitment from Harvard for this talented musician, patient teacher and outstanding person.

This fall, Bev will assume directorship of one of the nation's premiere academic choral programs, that of the University of Wisconsin, Madison. As one who has sung under Bev's direction in the Radcliffe Choral Society (RCS), Harvard/Radcliffe Chorus (HRC) and Harvard Summer Chorus, I have been given this opportunity to discuss her departure, in terms of both historical perspective and future impact.

Beverly Taylor arrived at Harvard/Radcliffe as Associate Director of Choral Activities in the fall of 1978; her hiring coincided with that of Jameson Marvin, who was named Director. Responsibility for each of the Holden choruses would rest with one conductor; Bev was assigned to RCS, while Marvin was to lead the Harvard/Radcliffe Collegium Musicum and Harvard Glee Club. In addition to her duties with RCS, Bev established HRC, a now-thriving chorus of 200 voices drawn from Harvard and the larger community, which brings student musicians into contact with more experienced performers.

It is my understanding that Dr. Marvin became discontent with the existing structure of the choral program over time, and, three years ago, convinced Dean of Students Archie Epps to initiate changes that would bring all three Holden choruses under his directorship, ostensibly to allow him to prepare more joint works and to address a perceptual problem among a minority of RCS members - namely, that their status was lower in the eyes of incoming first-years because they were conducted by the Associate Director of Choral Activities.

This did not consider the opinion of those students who favored Bev's conducting style. Why the plan did not consist of affording all three choruses the benefit of both conductors' expertise remains unclear; however, a large number of concerned students, alumni and music professionals held the opinion that the choral program at Harvard/Radcliffe would be considerably weakened by the loss of a senior conductor.

Dean Epps circulated a survey to evaluate Bev Taylor. The response overwhelmingly praised Bev and argued against the establishment of a stylistically monolithic choral program. Music professionals pointed to Bev's superb teaching skills, technical proficiency and commitment to women's choral singing; that the women singing under her direction are coached toward vocal warmth and maturity of tone, rather than the boy-choir shrillness common to many women's choruses, was highly lauded. In light of the favorable comments, Bev was offered a two-rather than one-year contract, and was invited to reapply for her position at its conclusion; however, one is baffled that the Dean's office ignored the weight of professional opinion, pursued the reorganization and left Bev uncertain of her future.

This leap of illogic failed to take into account Bev's outstanding work with RCS, the skill required to coax musical excellence out of inexperienced singers and the enthusiasm with which Boston-area critics, players and audiences receive Bev's concerts, as well as her fine international reputation. Did anyone imagine that she was invited to England, the Scandinavian countries or Poland to enjoy miles of shimmering tropical beaches? The want of security prompted her to initiate an outside job search. To her credit, she was considered for several of the nation's top positions and, unlike many junior faculty members who do not receive tenure, remained committed to giving her Harvard and Radcliffe groups top priority throughout the grueling interview process.

The aesthetic sense with which the singer-artist interprets music becomes refined under the influence of more than one conductor. The facility with which the singer-athlete masters vocal mechanics varies by coaching method. The understanding of the singer-student is enhanced by exposure to more than one musical viewpoint.

The loss of Beverly Taylor will hobble the choral program at Harvard/Radcliffe in each of these areas. More tragic is the loss to each singer-person of Bev's remarkable insight, integrity and friendship.

In appreciation of her many contributions to the musical life of Harvard/Radcliffe and her unique personal qualities, the Commencement issue of the Harvard Gazette will feature a parting interview with Bev, which can be read either as introduction or farewell. For hundreds of singers who have benefited from her acquaintance and wish her every success in Wisconsin, that farewell is as fond as it is, decidedly, reluctant.

Maryanne Fenerjian is a member of the Harvard-Radcliffe Class of 1982.

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