Budding musicians have just been given an exciting new opportunity—to study at the College while simultaneously developing their craft at the New England Conservatory of Music. Without reducing any of the College’s requirements in the liberal arts, this new initiative allows talented musicians the best of both worlds—a broad liberal arts curriculum combined with access to a conservatory environment that Harvard cannot provide.
The new proposal would grant students a master’s degree in music just one year after receiving an A.B. from Harvard. The Faculty Council approved the joint program last week, and the full Faculty should discuss and approve the proposal when it next convenes on April 20.
Harvard has long been a place of criticism—entrenched in a worthy tradition that arms young scholars with tools for casting a questioning eye on great works of literature, challenging widely-accepted scientific research or synthesizing the intricacies of history. However, many students are more prone to writing a sonnet, painting a picture or composing a symphony—and the traditional academic atmosphere at times can feel stifling to creativity, if not downright hostile. This move is a sign of positive changes, legitimizing often disregarded creative impulses. Last month in a small forum in Kirkland House Junior Common Room, University President Lawrence H. Summers expressed a strong commitment to the visual and performing arts at Harvard, and his concerns about the disparity between critiquing and creating works of art echo our own. The arts, like the sciences, thrive on application and practice—not just study and discussion.
Moreover, to stay competitive in the admissions battle, Harvard is right to search out such alliances with conservatories. At least a half dozen other liberal arts institutions have established partnerships with nearby conservatories; Columbia University, for instance, has a similar master’s program with the Juilliard School. These partnerships fill the niche for many musicians who must make the difficult choice between intensive music study at a conservatory and broader liberal arts education at a university. Now at Harvard they can do both.
This new program provides a laudable model for expanding arts opportunities at Harvard, and the University should consider applying it to other areas of the arts which similarly suffer from a lack of practical creative instruction. Harvard should seek additional relationships with other schools to further establish its film, theatre and visual arts programs—while working to improve its own departments as well. And to increase flexibility in students’ academic lives, the College ought to consider allowing already-enrolled students to gain admission into this new music program, instead of limiting it to students who apply before they arrive as first-years. Students who apply later may have a better understanding of their academic interests and commitments. With this small modification, this positive new initiative could be made even better.