Composite image of various musicans

Greetings from the Amherst College Music Department!

From courses to ensembles to individual performance instruction, the Music Department offers many ways to deepen your experience with music. During the challenges of COVID-19, we're hard at work to develop ways to make the study of music as robust as possible. This includes careful attention to distancing requirements for in-person instruction, innovative approaches to teaching and studying remotely, creative approaches to multi-site networked performance so that musicians can perform together at a distance, and much more. We're very excited to learn about your interests and look forward to meeting you soon!

Please plan to attend the online Music Orientation Meeting (date and time TBA, during Orientation). The meeting will take place via Zoom and a link will appear here and in the Daily Mammoth prior to the meeting. You'll get the chance to meet many of the faculty and staff in the department, learn about opportunities and ways to get involved, and have a chance to ask questions and connect with others. Our ensembles will share videos of recent projects and performances as well. Join us!

Where To Start With Courses, Ensembles, and Lessons

There are numerous ways to study music in the department. For some, this might mean taking a music history course, or a music theory course, or taking lessons, or performing in an ensemble. And that's only a small sampling of all that's available. There are many courses without requisites, a sampling of which include:

  • MUSI-101, 105, 109, 110, 111, 123, 126, 127, 128, 225, 226, 227, 232, and 238.

Students wanting to study musicianship and/or theory should consider taking MUSI-111, 112, 113, or 241, which serve as requisites for other courses in the department (and for the Music major). For these courses, we strongly encourage you to complete the online music theory placement exam. This will help provide members of the department with a useful starting point in discussing appropriate courses with you. Completing the exam should take less than 30 minutes. Professor Amy Coddington will evaluate placement exams and consult with students. Questions may be directed to Professor Coddington (acoddington@amherst.edu) or Bruce Diehl (for jazz, bpdiehl@amherst.edu). For further information see: Placement for Music Theory and Musicianship Courses.

The department also offers a range of ensembles that include multiple choral groups, an orchestra and chamber ensembles, a jazz big and combos, and additional opportunities to study musical traditions from around the world. Details about our performance programs are below and at the Learn, Play & Perform link.

Are you interested in taking lessons? If so, you're in the right place! We have a large roster of incredible individual performance instructors who offer lessons at every level, from beginner, to intermediate, to advanced. If the instrument you are interested in isn't currently offered at the college, we'll do our best to find you a local teacher. A roster of our individual performance instructors is here, and full details about lessons are at the Learn, Play & Perform link and here.

Musical Performance Opportunities

Your Amherst College ensemble directors are committed to making great music with you even in these challenging times!  To the degree possible and as allowed by the College, we all plan to offer robust in-person performing experiences while adhering to strict protocols intended to ensure your health and safety.  We also plan to make use of available technology and applications for enjoyable and educational remote performance for those off campus as well as on campus.  We look forward to welcoming you to our ensembles and hope you will investigate and inquire about ensemble performance as early as you can!

Choral Society performing

Choral Music

The Amherst College Choral Society, made up of four singing ensembles, is directed by Dr. Noah Horn in the fall semester, due to Dr. Arianne Abela's maternity leave. The ensembles perform a varied selection of music ranging from major classical works 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 virtually at the start of classes. Visit https://bit.ly/AmherstChoralVocalPlacement to sign up for a time. If you have any questions, please contact Dr. Noah Horn, Interim Director of Choral Music, at nhorn@amherst.edu, or Assistant Director Theo Peierls '20 at tpeierls19@amherst.edu. We will have in-person rehearsals using safe and socially distanced practices for those on campus, and offer many opportunities to participate for those off-campus, including the option to join in for real-time rehearsals, virtual choirs, masterclasses, singing lessons, and more. Don't miss an opportunity to have fun and enjoy music making with a great community!

Classical music practice

Classical Instrumental Ensembles: from Chamber Music to Orchestra

In a normal year, the Amherst Symphony Orchestra ("ASO") would form the centerpiece of the department's classical instrumental music program.  Led by Senior Lecturer & Director of Instrumental Music Mark Lane Swanson, anywhere from 50-80 Amherst College students have participated in three concert programs per semester in ambitious and exciting repertoire drawn from the Baroque, Classical, Romantic and Modern eras.  For the 2020-2021 academic year only, our on-campus classical instrumentalists will rehearse and perform in person in a variety of configurations ranging from duos, trios and quartets to smaller chamber orchestras, reflecting our need to socially distance.  We do expect to continue to present three live concerts per semester with limited in person audiences, live streamed from Buckley Recital Hall or other venues on campus.  As in the recent years, our classical program will be "themed" (previous "seasons" have focused on American, Latin-American & Spanish, French, Russian and "epic" symphonies).  For 2020-2021, we will feature music celebrating the 250th anniversary of the birth of Ludwig van Beethoven, the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment guaranteeing women's right to vote, and the work of Black American composers for the concert hall with particular emphasis on works addressing issues of social justice.

For our returning off-campus orchestral and chamber musicians, we plan a vibrant year of both asynchronous and synchronous performance.  Availing ourselves of applications such as Audacity, Garage Band and Ableton Live, Amherst instrumentalists in remote locations will prepare and perform smaller works to be showcased and premiered in various new formats including a brand new ASO podcast as well as a new weekly classical music "show" on the Amherst student-run radio station, WAMH.  Off-campus musicians will also join on-campus colleagues in weekly ASO Music Town Halls ("Thursdays at 9 EST!") to include micro-lectures by Mr. Swanson, YouTube tutorials, concert excerpts and entertaining and informative videos by YouTube stars (e.g., Adam Neely, TwoSet, etc.).  Town Halls will also feature traditional post-concert orchestra quizzes with prizes and silly and serious multiple choice questions; and we anticipate that your ASO student board will concoct community-building activities in which all may participate online!  

Finally, all classical instrumentalists are invited to attend live streamed performances by world renowned artists on the Music at Amherst series (this year featuring pianists Conrad Tao and Daniil Trifanov, the Calidore and Juilliard string quartets, and the Boston Modern Orchestra Project [BMOP]).  Select Amherst musicians will also participate in online master classes with these artists and everyone is free to virtually "sit in" on these exciting opportunities to learn from the masters!

The classical instrumental program will hold only Online Auditions this year, which can be arranged by emailing Mr. Swanson at mlswanson@amherst.edu.  These are not the high-stress, competitive auditions you might know from urban youth orchestras, but are low-key "hearings" and opportunities to get to know each other.  You should prepare one minute of something fast and technical as well as one minute of something slow and lyrical; we also will ask you to sight read a brief excerpt from our upcoming repertoire.  To expedite the process of assigning students to ensembles so that we may hit the ground running, we encourage you to audition prior to arriving on the campus (although if you prefer, you can wait until Orientation).

Please contact Mr. Swanson or the Assistant Director of Instrumental Music & Graduate Teaching Assistant Cameron Chandler '20 (cchandler20@amherst.edu) to have your questions answered and to arrange an audition time.  Information on instrument lockers in Arms Music Center and practice rooms may be found on the Music Department website and announced in the online Music Department Orientation meeting announced above.

Jazz Ensemble and Combos

Jazz 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 (bpdiehl@amherst.edu, 413-542-8308) and read below. For academic advising related to jazz, contact Professors Darryl Harper (dharper@amherst.edu) or Jason Robinson (jrobinson@amherst.edu).

Under the direction of Bruce Diehl, the Jazz Ensemble performs on and off-campus concerts and prepares for these twice weekly. The yearly performance schedule includes appearances at collegiate jazz festivals and occasional tours (recent tours have gone to Chicago-2017, to Montreal-2012, and to Chile-2006). Guest artists regularly appear with our groups both in performance and in rehearsals. Recent guest artists have included alums Stephan Crump ’94, Darryl Harper ’90, and others including Ingrid Jensen, Samirah Evans, Ryan Keberle, Pete Robbins, Rob Tapper and others. The yearly Robin McBride ’59 Jazz Commission Series gives the opportunity to work directly with a current jazz composer and witness their creative process through the performance of a piece crafted specifically for the personnel of the group. Over the years, we have worked with seventeen composers that include Alex Lee-Clark, Omar Thomas, Jihye Lee, Christine Jensen, Earl MacDonald and others. 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 more in-depth on concepts of improvisation and ensemble presentation through jazz standards as well as original compositions and arrangements. Jazz combos are coached twice a week by David Picchi, Carl Clements, Geoff Cunningham and Bruce Diehl. 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 each of these performance opportunities. It is also possible to actively 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 MUSI-128 (The Blues Muse), MUSI-225 (Jazz Film), MUSI-226 (Jazz History to 1945), MUSI-227 (Jazz History After 1945), the MUSI-113/246 series (Jazz Theory and Improvisation), MUSI-243 (Jazz Form & Analysis), and MUSI-439 (Improvised Music: Spectrum, Theory, and Practice), among other jazz-related course offerings. For 2020-2021, MUSI-113, 128, and 226 are offered in the fall and MUSI-225 in January term.  MUSI-113 is considered a minimum skill level for those students who wish to be in our jazz ensemble and jazz combo program.

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 TBA but usually takes place in the second week of Orientation.

Information and audition signup for Jazz Ensemble and Combos is available here. Auditions will take place Aug. 20-Aug. 28, 2020. Additional information can be found on the Jazz@Amherst website, www.amherst.edu/~jazz.  The first meeting for all jazz ensemble members is tentatively planned for Wed., Sept. 2 at 7pm in room 7 and jazz combo participants for Mon., Sept. 7 at 9:00 pm in room 7. These meetings may need to take place virtually via Zoom. Details to be announced. Contacts: Bruce Diehl (bpdiehl@amherst.edu, 413-542-8308), Professor Jason Robinson (jrobinson@amherst.edu, 413-542-8208) and Professor Darryl Harper (dharper@amherst.edu, 413-542-5316). Additional information at www.amherst.edu/~jazz.

Early Music 

Due to the pandemic and limitations on faculty and students being physically present on more than one campus, most Early Music ensembles will not meet in person during fall semester 2020. There will be an online Renaissance Dance class, a virtual Renaissance dance ensemble (with lots of emphasis on Renaissance improvisation), and a weekly virtual meeting of the Five College Collegium, in which we will consider Renaissance repertoire with scores provided, listen to recordings and discuss. Other options may be possible. Remote private lessons in recorder, lute, viola da gamba and various Renaissance winds will also be available at the usual Five College rates for private lessons. Please refer to the Early Music Program website and the Mount Holyoke and University of Massachusetts course catalogs for descriptions of our usual ensembles- we hope we can return to normal sooner than later!

If you think you might be interested in participating in any of these offerings, plan to sign up for an individual Zoom audition/information session. We will hold these auditions on August 25th through 27th.  The link to sign-up is https://www.mtholyoke.edu/acad/music/auditions (then select  ‘Early Music’). Feel free to write with any questions to Robert Eisenstein, Director of Five College Early Music Program: reisenst@mtholyoke.edu. The Early Music website is https//www.fivecolleges.edu/earlymusic

Global Musical Performance

Global musical performance at Amherst College 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 College Ethnomusicology 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 

In normal times, the Music at Amherst Series, M@A, brings top-of-the-line classical, jazz, new music, and popular and traditional artists to Amherst College's Buckley Recital Hall. These concerts and free masterclasses with Amherst College students run throughout the academic year. You are welcome at all of these events which, due now to the pandemic, will be online for the first time and in some cases come from us from the artists’ own homes.
 
Be sure to tune in for these free one-of-a-kind online events, with music, dialog, and insights into how great music comes to be. You can find us on the Amherst College Music Department website. We are thrilled that this new adventure allows us a closer look at what makes great music so sublime, and look forward to connecting you to great performers and great performances in new and imaginative ways.
 
Mark your calendars, because you will not want to miss any of these great performers:

Kicking off the season, we look forward to Regina Carter and Friends at 8 PM FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 25, 2020. For Grammy-nominated artist Carter, the violin isn't simply an improvisational vehicle; it’s a Rosetta Stone that unlocks the doors to a myriad of cultures, sounds, and worlds apart. Next up we bring you composer and pianist Conrad Tao at 8 PM FRIDAY, OCTOBER 2, 2020, offering a masterclass the next day at 10 AM. Tao has appeared worldwide as a pianist and composer, and has been dubbed a musician of “probing intellect and open-hearted vision” by The New York Times. At the end of October, Calidore Quartet performs for you at 8 PM FRIDAY, OCTOBER 30, 2020, offering a same-day masterclass at 4 PM. Recipient of a 2018 Avery Fisher Career Grant, and a 2017 Lincoln Center Award for Emerging Artists, the Los Angeles Times described the string quartet as “astonishing” and praised its balance of “intellect and expression.”

Spring semester, we are delighted to present Narek Hakhnazaryan, cello, and Daniil Trifonov, piano at 8 PM FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 19, 2021. A masterclass with Hakhnazaryan follows the next morning at 10 AM. Winner of Musical America’s 2019 Artist of the Year award, The Times of London called Trifonov “without question the most astounding pianist of our age.” Hailed by the Washington Post as “a seasoned phenomenon,” his recital partner Hakhnazaryan won the Cello First Prize and Gold Medal at the XIV International Tchaikovsky Competition in 2011 at the age of 22. Also that month, BMOP appears on the Series at 3 PM SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 28, 2021 performing a concert of Music of Amherst Composers, including the world premiere of Lew Spratlan’s Chamber Symphony. Grammy award-winning Boston Modern Orchestra Project is the leading orchestra for commissioning, performing, and recording modern orchestral music. The acclaimed Juilliard String Quartet then returns to the Series at 8 PM FRIDAY, MARCH 26, 2021, offering a masterclass the following morning at 10 AM. The JSQ was founded in 1946 and was recently hailed by the Boston Globe as “the most important American quartet in history”. Finishing the season for us, Nathaniel Dett Chorale performs at 8 PM SATURDAY, APRIL 10, 2021. This is preceded by a same-day masterclass at 10:30 AM with founder and artistic director, Brainerd Blyden-Taylor before the M@A Series concludes with a concert of Afro-centric music by Canada’s first professional choral group dedicated to Afrocentric music of all styles, including classical, spiritual, gospel, jazz, folk and blues.

We look forward to connecting with you!

Sincerely yours,

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