Marvin Can't Fill Taylor's Shoes


The process by which Beverly Taylor was replaced by Jameson Marvin as conductor of the Radcliffe Choral Society was presented in a May article in The Crimson ("Taylor Is Replaced as Choral Director," news story, May 24, 1995) as if all parties concerned were simply delighted by the situation. In fact, the process was troubling and painful to many of Beverly's admirers, who will be left deeply saddened by her departure. As a result of the change, Harvard will lose a brilliant conductor and exemplary human being. At the most recent concert of the HRC, the spontaneous outpouring of support for Beverly from both audience and performers was moving tribute to her many outstanding qualities and a demonstration of support for her continued presence at Harvard.

Sexism was not very for beneath the surface of many of the opinions quoted in The Crimson's article. We are told that Marvin, with his "demanding dynamism," must conduct all three major choruses in order to bring "unity" to the choral program. And RCS member says she thinks "it is more empowering to be able to sing really well than to be conducted by a woman." By contrast, Beverly Taylor is described as more "Laid back" than her successor, even though it is granted that she has a "unique personality." And of course, the implication that RCS does not sing "really well" is contradicted by Ms. Taylor's record of achievement over many years.

Such imprecision of language does a great injustice to Ms. Taylor. It not only falsifies her record at Harvard, but it also present a misleading impression of what has driven this recent shake-up in the choral program. It is true that Beverly is pleasant, courteous and good-humored in her conducting role (if that is what is meant by "laid back"), but she is also demanding, rigorous and highly disciplined. She makes singing both a challenge and a joy for the performers. And if there is anything "unique" in her personality, it is, as Richard Dyer has written of her, that she possesses to a rare degree the capacity to inspire singers at every level to give their very best to a performance.

The article also leaves the impression that RCS members welcomed the arrangements with little, if any, dissent. Some of us (myself included) have received very different impressions from sources we consider reliable and close to the people involved. The matter is, at the very least, highly debatable. But even more damaging to Beverly is that the undergraduate leadership of the chorus seems to have succumbed to a kind of watered-down "feminism" that can all-too-easily be deployed to perpetuate male dominance. To devalue a talented woman because it feels more empowering to be led by a man is a sign of immaturity and poor judgment--forgiveable in the young, but deadly when manipulated by a powerful institution such as Harvard. Marjories Wechsler   Member, HRC