Composite image of various musicans

Greetings from the Amherst College Music Department!

The Music Department offers an exciting array of performance opportunities for students of all levels and backgrounds. These include four choral groups, an orchestra, a jazz ensemble, a contemporary music ensemble, classical chamber music groups, jazz combos, early music, world music, and opera and musical theatre. We would like to invite you to participate in our performance program and in the many concerts to be given during the year.

Please plan to attend the Music Orientation Meeting at 6:00 p.m. on Sunday, September 1, 2019 in Room 3, Music Center. We look forward to meeting you, discussing our programs, and answering your questions. Pizza will be served after the meeting. There will be a music showcase concert following the orientation meeting/pizza party starting at 7:30 in Buckley Recital Hall. Descriptions of our performance groups are below and information about taking individual lessons can be found at the attached link.

Placement for Music Theory and Musicianship Courses 

The music major engages students in musical practices (e.g. performance, improvisation, and composition) and intellectual explorations surrounding those practices (e.g. the anthropology, history, and theory of music). Depending on past musical experience, students may enter the music major from a number of different angles. For more detailed information about placement and pathways through the music major, see: Placement for Music Theory and Musicianship Courses.

Musical Performance Opportunities

Choral Society performing

Choral Music

The Amherst College Choral Society, made up of four singing ensembles, is directed by Dr. Arianne Abela. The ensembles perform a varied selection of music ranging from major classical works with and without orchestra, to folk songs, spirituals and jazz. The Concert Choir (SATB) rehearses Mondays 7-9 pm and Wednesdays 8-10 pm. The Chorus (soprano/alto), established in 1979, rehearses Mondays 8:30-10:30 pm and Thursdays 6:45-8:45 pm. The Glee Club (tenor/bass), established in 1865, meets Mondays 8:30-10:30 pm and Thursdays 9-10:30 pm. The Glee Club, over 150 years old, is the fifth oldest collegiate choir in the United States! All three choirs sing in a variety of styles and languages. Members of the Concert Choir, Chorus, and Glee Club are able to enroll for one-half credit any or all semesters if they desire to do so. The fourth group, The Madrigal Singers, is student-directed and focuses on early music. Its singers come from members of the other three ensembles, and auditions will be held separately once the Choral Society is established. Choral society most recently toured to the Baltics (Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia) in summer 2019.

Vocal placements for the Choral groups will be held Saturday, August 31 through Tuesday, September 3 in room 3 of the music building.  Visit  to sign-up for a time. If you have any questions, please contact Arianne Abela, Director of Choral Music at 413-542-2484 or by e-mail at or contact Assistant Director Gil Wermeling '19 by e-mail at  Don't miss an opportunity to have fun and enjoy music making with a great community!

Classical music practice

Classical Instrumental Music, New Music

The Amherst Symphony Orchestra (the "ASO") is the centerpiece of the college's classical instrumental music program. Led by Senior Lecturer & Director of Instrumental Music Mark Lane Swanson, as many as sixty Amherst College students participate (supplemented by up to ten students from Hampshire College and UMass Amherst). On three concert programs per semester, the ASO performs ambitious and exciting masterpieces from the standard 18th, 19th & 20th century repertoire. You may participate in orchestra either as an extracurricular pursuit or may enroll in orchestra as a half-credit (Music 139h), and you do not need to be majoring in music or taking lessons to participate; but in order to assure high performance standards, attendance and preparation expectations are the same for all. The ASO rehearses t/th 7-9:30 p.m., divided between sectional and tutti work. There is a 15-minute "candy break"--a fun time to relax and socialize with other orchestra members. The ASO devotes its 2019-2020 season to the music of Russia, featuring works by Shostakovich, Tchaikovsky, Stravinsky, Mussorgsky, Rimsky-Korsakov, Glazunov, Rachmaninoff and many others.

Many orchestra members also participate in Chamber Music (see below). Finally, the New Music Ensemble presents contemporary "classical" solo and chamber music by recent composers, on an ad hoc basis based on student interest, with direction and guidance by Mr. Swanson. Many instrumentalists also support Amherst student composers by performing in original student honors projects as well as composition class end-of-semester recitals.

AUDITIONS FOR ALL CLASSICAL MUSIC INSTRUMENTAL ACTIVITIES (ORCHESTRA, CHAMBER & NEW MUSIC) FOR THE 2019-2020 ACADEMIC YEAR will take place on Monday, Sept. 2, 2019, from 10 a.m. - 6 p.m. Sign-up sheets are posted on the bulletin board just inside the front entrance to the Music Building. You are highly encouraged to audition even if you are not sure you have time your first semester at the college, or if you feel you are "rusty" from the summer! If you have any questions, or cannot make the 9/2/19 audition date, please e-mail Mark Lane Swanson at to set up a more convenient time to meet. We aim to make this one-time only hearing as stress-free as possible and need to hear only one minute each of something slow and something fast.

Master Class opportunity

Chamber Music

The Chamber Music program offers Amherst College musicians an opportunity to collaborate on a more intimate scale with fellow student musicians as coached by faculty and guest professional artists. There are three department-sponsored chamber music options open to you: extracurricular participation (about two hours per week, coordinator by Mr. Swanson and generally recommended for first-years); enrollment in Music 140H (a half-course coordinated by Mr. Swanson); or the most intensive, Music 310 (offered spring 2019 only), taught by Professor David Schneider. Coachings by Mr. Swanson, Amherst faculty, and guest artists are available under all three options; often, internationally renowned artists on the Music at Amherst series offer intensive master classes during their visits to rigorously prepared chamber groups as selected by Mr. Swanson, Professor Schneider, and/or private studio teachers. Last year, for example, Amherst students were coached by the Juilliard Quartet! More information on the chamber music program may be obtained during the instrumental music auditions (see schedule above), or by emailing Mark Swanson at

Jazz Ensemble and Combos


The Jazz Performance Program (a part of what is known as Jazz@Amherst) offers students the opportunity to perform in the Amherst College Jazz Ensemble and/or our Jazz Combo program.. There are also numerous opportunities to study jazz through courses, lessons, and Five College interchange. To learn more about the performance program, contact Director of Jazz Performance Bruce Diehl (, 413-542-8308) and read below. For academic advising related to jazz, contact Professor Jason Robinson (, 413-542-8308).

Under the direction of Bruce Diehl, the Jazz Ensemble performs on- and off-campus concerts and rehearses on Monday and Wednesday evenings. The yearly performance schedule includes appearances at collegiate jazz festivals and occasional tours. Guest artists regularly appear with our groups; recent guests have included Jeff Holmes, Ingrid Jensen, Ryan Keberle, John Hollenbeck, Stephan Crump '94, Dave Holland, and Vijay Iyer. The yearly Robin McBride '59 Jazz Commission Series gives the opportunity to work directly with a current jazz composer and witness the creative process through the performance of a new piece crafted specifically for the personnel in the group. The Jazz Ensemble is comprised of the typical instrumentation (including male and female vocalists) and has occasional needs for supplemental instruments including clarinets, flute, French horns, tubas and strings. All musicians are encouraged to participate in our Jazz Combos program. These groups focus on improvisation, ensemble concepts, standard repertoire, and offer the opportunity to develop original compositions and arrangements. Jazz Combos are coached twice a week by Bruce Diehl, David Picchi, Carl Clements, and Geoff Cunningham. They perform many times throughout the semester at various on- and off-campus venues, including performances within the Jazz@Schwemm's performance series scheduled in October and March of each year. Rehearsal times for the jazz combos vary according to group members' availability. We encourage each participant to earn credit for their participation in these performance opportunities. It is also possible to audit the course.

Students are encouraged to develop their jazz performance skills within a larger course of study that explores the theoretical, historical, and cultural contexts of jazz, African American music, and popular music. For example, students may elect to take Music 226 (Jazz History to 1945), Music 227 (Jazz History After 1945), the Music 113/246/247 series (Jazz Theory and Improvisation), Music 243 (Jazz Form & Analysis), and Music 439 (Improvised Music: Spectrum, Theory, and Practice), among other jazz-related course offerings. For 2019-2020, Music 113 is offered in the Fall (and is considered a minimum skill level for those students who wish to be in our combo program), and Music 246 is offered in the Spring.

Jazz Jam Sessions take place at regular intervals. We view these as a chance to build a strong jazz community among members of the jazz combos and the jazz ensemble, as well as a chance to meet and play with area professionals. The opening Jazz Session is on Monday, September 2 at 8:30 p.m. in Room 7.

Auditions for Jazz Emsemble and Combos will take place Sept. 3 - Sept. 6, 2019. Please sign up for a time on the bulletin board outside Bruce's office (Room 216) and download the audition piece from the Jazz@Amherst website. The first meeting for all jazz ensemble and combo participants will be Wednesday, Sept. 11 7:00 pm, (9:00 p.m. for Combos) all in Room 7. Contacts: Bruce Diehl (, 413-542-8308) and Professor Jason Robinson (, 413-542-8208). Please also visit the jazz@Amherst website at Note that an exciting opportunity to meet our wonderful Adjunct Jazz Faculty will be when they perform on Sunday, Sept. 8 in Buckley Recital Hall at 7 p.m.

Early Music 

The Five College Early Music Program welcomes students who wish to sing or play Medieval and Renaissance, Baroque, and Classical music. There are several groups, including the Five College Early Music Collegium, a select SATB choir which sings a cappella and with winds and strings. It will rehearse this fall at the University of Massachusetts on Tuesday evenings. Euridice Ensembles include a baroque chamber orchestra, meeting Thursdays early evening at UMass, and 17th- and 18th-century chamber ensembles, open to modern string and wind players. We hope to have a couple of these ensembles meeting at Amherst College at mutually convenient times. Period bows are provided for string players. Individual instruction is available on Medieval and Renaissance instruments, of which the department has a substantial collection. There are openings for singers as well, all voice ranges accepted. Singers are needed for the Collegium (SATB small choir), Voces Feminae (women's choir) and the 17th-Century Song Seminar (singers interested in solo/duo repertory). We also have a Medieval Ensemble, viol consorts, beginning and advanced recorder ensembles, and lute group lessons.

If you would like to sing, or you already play an early instrument or wish to learn, or wish to transfer some of your skills from modern strings, winds, brass or keyboard to early instruments, please contact Mr. Robert Eisenstein in the Early Music Program Office (413-538-2079 or 413-538-2306), or by e-mail at The Early Music Website is https// Painless auditions will be held Tuesday, Sept. 4 from 6:00 - 7:00 p.m. in Room 7 of the Music Center at Amherst College. Just show up during the audition/information time; no need to schedule in advance. It will be first-come, first-serve, and the audition will only take five minutes of your time.

World Music 

The world music performance program includes the study of vocal and instrumental music in any area for which there is an interest and for which a teacher can be found. Amherst students are also encouraged to participate in the Five Colleges World Music Ensembles. Each semester, Professor Jeffers Engelhardt sponsors performance opportunities for those with experience or interest in traditional and popular music and dance from around the world.

Concert Office 

The Music at Amherst Series brings top-of-the-line classical, jazz, new music, and world music artists to Amherst College's Buckley Recital Hall. These concerts and free master classes run throughout the academic year. You are welcome at all of these events. Free student rush tickets are available on the night of the show. That means that, beginning in 2019-2020, you can enjoy more than $1,000 worth of concerts during your time at Amherst. Don’t miss out. Read more here.

M@A, the Music at Amherst Series 2019-2020

Enjoy a rich assortment of performances:

In SEPTEMBER, we kick off the season with Brazilian-born singer Luciana Souza exploring saudade, or yearning, through poetry by Leonard Cohen, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Emily Dickinson, and Souza in her own arrangements in The Book of Longing, featuring guitarist Chico Pinheiro and bassist Scott Colley. In OCTOBER, pianist Paul Lewis returns to Buckley to perform on the Hamburg Steinway D that he helped select for the Amherst Music Department. Lewis performs works by Haydn, Brahms, and Beethoven.

NOVEMBER brings yMusic, whose virtuosic execution and unique configuration (string trio, flute, clarinet, and trumpet) have attracted the attention of high-profile collaborators, including Paul Simon, Bill T. Jones, and Ben Folds. The ensemble performs works by Sufjan Stevens, Son Lux, Caroline Shaw, Gabriella Smith, and Andrew Norman. Five days later, violinist Leila Josefowicz appears on the Buckley stage alongside pianist John Novacek for an evening of chamber music performing Stravinsky, Janáček, Knussen and Ravel.

In the Spring we look forward to two FEBRUARY quartets: First, on Valentine’s Day, the Dover Quartet performs with baritone Davóne Tines. Tines joins the quartet for Barber’s Dover Beach and Caroline Shaw’s By and By; and then on Leap Day (February 29), the Grammy-winning Parker Quartet returns to Buckley for an encore performance. Renowned for its dynamic interpretations and polished, expansive colors, the group has rapidly distinguished itself as one of the preeminent ensembles of its generation. Parker performs works by Esa-Pekka Salonen, Szymanowski, and Beethoven.

In MARCH it gets technical with pianist Dan Tepfer, who composes music with the help of artificial intelligence. Bringing together his undergraduate studies in astrophysics with his passion for music, his groundbreaking multimedia project Natural Machines integrates computer-driven algorithms into his improvisational process. And finally, in APRIL, pianist Jeremy Denk, winner of a MacArthur "Genius" Fellowship and the Avery Fisher Prize, offers J.S. Bach’s Well-Tempered Klavier, Book 1.

Students can attend any of these events by getting FREE student rush tickets on the night of the show. You can read more about the artists, their repertoire, and how to purchase tickets at

You can earn a little extra spending money by ushering for series and other departmental events. For more information on tickets, ushering, or general concert information, please contact Alisa Pearson, manager of concert programming, production and publicity, at, or stop by the concert office in Room 101 of the Arms Music Center when you are on campus. We look forward to seeing you!

Sincerely yours,

Jason Robinson, Chair, and the members of the Music Department