The Flourishing of Choral Music at Harvard
Harvard’s distinguished and celebrated choral tradition, the oldest collegiate choral program in the United States, continues vibrantly today. The Harvard Glee Club is one of eight faculty-led choral ensembles at Harvard.
Undergraduates can choose among the Harvard Glee Club (60 men), the Radcliffe Choral Society (60 women), and six mixed-voice choirs. The Harvard–Radcliffe Collegium Musicum (65 mixed), together with the Glee Club and Choral Society, is conducted by Andrew Clark, Director of Choral Activities; these three comprise the traditional Holden Choruses. The Harvard University Choir (50 singers) is under the direction of Edward Jones, Organist and Choirmaster of the Memorial Church; Jones also conducts the Harvard–Radcliffe Chorus, an oratorio chorus of 180 singers drawn from the larger Harvard community and the Cambridge area. The Kuumba Singers (100 singers) is under the direction of Sheldon Reid; Skills for Singing numbers 20 students, directed by Beth Canterbury, who train for future membership in HRC or one of the Holden Choruses; and the Holden Chamber Ensembles perform one-on-a-part chamber choral or instrumental music, drawing singers from the three Holden Choruses and the University Choir.
Andrew Clark is himself the chief director of the Glee Club, Choral Society, and Collegium. He shares the directorship of each with one of the professional Resident Conductors; and student conductors direct smaller subsets within each chorus. The eight choral ensembles join sixteen a cappella groups and about 55 musical/dramatic productions each year, offering an abundance of singing opportunities for undergraduates. The Holden Choruses annually perform with professional orchestras and soloists, regularly present world premières, collaborate with community and campus organizations, experience master classes with world-renowned artists, and tour internationally and throughout the United States.
In addition to its choral ensembles, five orchestras, five bands, and some thirty-five vocal and instrumental chamber ensembles make up a very full performance community at Harvard; the vibrant arts scene produces nearly 450 music concerts anually, in all genres and forms.
Undergraduates in the Harvard Music Department may pursue an A.B. degree with a concentration in music, and graduate students complete a Ph.D. program in historical musicology, ethnomusicology, theory, or composition. There is also an A.M. program in Performance Practice designed for a small number of specialized students engaged in careers as performers and teachers, and a dual-degree program run jointly with New England Conservatory.
Andrew Clark, Director of Choral Activities
Andrew Clark is the Director of Choral Activities and Senior Lecturer on Music at Harvard University. He serves as the Music Director and Conductor of the Harvard Glee Club, the Radcliffe Choral Society, and the Harvard–Radcliffe Collegium Musicum, and teaches courses in conducting and music theory in the Department of Music. He has led Harvard’s Holden Choruses in performances at the Kennedy Center, in cathedrals in Salzburg and Vienna, and throughout Germany, southern Europe, and the United States. Clark developed several Harvard residencies with distinguished conductors and ensembles, and conducted the Boston premiere of John Adams’s Pulitzer Prize–winning On the Transmigration of Souls with the composer present in the spring of 2011. His first studio recording with the Holden Choruses, featuring the choral music of Ross Lee Finney, will be released in 2013.
Prior to his appointment at Harvard, he was Artistic Director of the Providence Singers, and served as Director of Choral Activities at Tufts University for seven years. He previously held conducting posts with the Worcester Chorus, Opera Boston, the Boston Pops Esplanade Chorus, and the Mendelssohn Choir of Pittsburgh, the chorus of the Pittsburgh Symphony.
He has commissioned numerous composers and conducted important contemporary and rarely heard pieces as well as regular performances of choral-orchestral masterworks. His choirs have been hailed as ‘first rate’ (Boston Globe), ‘cohesive and exciting’ (Opera News), and ‘beautifully blended’ (Providence Journal), achieving performances of ‘passion, conviction, adrenalin, [and] coherence’ (Worcester Telegram). Clark has led ensembles in prominent venues including Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, Cathédrale Notre Dame de Paris, Boston’s Symphony Hall, and throughout Europe and North America. He has collaborated with the Pittsburgh and New Haven Symphonies, the Rhode Island Philharmonic, Boston Philharmonic, Stephen Sondheim, and many others.
The Radcliffe Choral Society
The Radcliffe Choral Society was founded in 1899 by Radcliffe President Elizabeth Cary Agassiz and is one of the oldest collegiate women’s choruses in the nation. In 1917, under the leadership of Dr. Archibald T. Davison, RCS and the Harvard Glee Club established a fifty-year tradition of collaboration with the Boston Symphony Orchestra. When Wallace G. Woodworth assumed conductorship in 1925, he began the group’s tradition of domestic and international tours, and the Choral Society grew into a select and distinguished ensemble.
Elliot Forbes became conductor in 1958, bringing the Choral Society great critical acclaim for performances around the world. Among other honors, RCS participated in the Grammy-nominated performance of Mozart’s Requiem at President John F. Kennedy’s funeral. F. John Adams became the conductor of the Choral Society and the Glee Club in 1971, one year after the Harvard–Radcliffe merger. F. John dissolved the Choral Society to form the mixed-voice Harvard–Radcliffe Collegium Musicum. Many people were then dissatisfied with the limited opportunities for female choral singers on campus, and there was soon a call for the re-establishment of RCS as a choir in its own right. Priscilla Chapman became the conductor of the newly reformed Radcliffe Choral Society in 1974. Under the direction of Chapman’s successor, Beverly Taylor, RCS further established its international reputation by commissioning new works, touring around the world, and winning prizes at international competitions, and commissioning new works.
In 1995, Jameson Marvin became the conductor of the Radcliffe Choral Society and continued to build its standing as one of the premier collegiate choruses in the United States. RCS hosts a quadrennial Women’s Choral Festival, which will be taking place this February, and has continued its distinguished touring tradition by traveling on domestic tours each spring and on an international tour every fourth summer, most recently to Eastern Europe where it won first place in the international Sounds of June Competition in Petrinja, Croatia. Under the current leadership of Andrew Clark, the Choral Society continues to perform a rich and distinctive repertoire, embracing nine centuries of choral literature. One of only five Harvard organizations to still bear the Radcliffe name, the Radcliffe Choral Society is proud to honor its history and legacy by celebrating excellence in women’s choral music and the extraordinary community formed through its music-making.
Beth Willer, Associate Conductor
Beth Willer is recognized for her work with women’s voices, serving as a conductor of the Radcliffe Choral Society since 2008. As Founder and Artistic of Boston’s Lorelei Ensemble, Ms. Willer shows commitment to the expansion of repertoire for the women’s vocal ensemble, actively commissioning and premiering more than thirty new works since 2007, while uncovering lesser-known works for the Medieval, Renaissance and Baroque periods.
Additionally, Ms. Willer serves on the faculty of The Boston Conservatory as director of the Women’s Chorus and Interim Director of Choral Activities. Previous to her current positions, Ms. Willer has conducted ensembles at the New England Conservatory Preparatory School, the Walnut Hill School, and the Boston Arts Academy. A candidate for the D.M.A. in conducting at Boston University with Ann Howard Jones, Ms. Willer holds degrees from Boston University and Luther College.