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Music Department


"The cultural value of music to the college student is nowhere more highly emphasized than at Smith"

So wrote Henry Dike Sleeper, long-time chair of the Music Department at Smith in the early twentieth century, in an article about music at the College. The Department was established in 1903, along with a "concert course" that brought celebrated musicians to the campus. In those years, when one quarter of the student body was enrolled in some form of musical instruction, the "course" brought international stars to the campus, among them Sergei Rachmaninoff, who played his first concert in America here in November 1909. And into the nineteen- seventies the course brought us such organizations and artists as the Boston Symphony Orchestra, the Cleveland Orchestra, Rudolph Serkin, and Marilyn Horne.

Smith's long commitment to musical performance and study is demonstrated by the impressive list of musicians who have taught at the College, which includes composers Roger Sessions, Ross Lee Finney, Alvin Etler, George Walker, Ronald Perera, Stephen Albert, and John Duke, who taught in the Department for forty-four years. From 1939 to 1950, one of the world's greatest musical scholars, Alfred Einstein, the unmatched expert on the Italian madrigal and on Mozart, taught music history at Smith and helped to enrich the extraordinary holdings of its music library soon named for his colleague, composer/conductor Werner Josten. When Josten arrived at Smith, in 1923, he put on a remarkable series of first performances in America of operas by Monteverdi, Handel, and Johann Joseph Fux — a series, like the work of Einstein, that put the musical life of the campus on the international map.

The Department has had a number of graduates go on to distinguished musical careers in performance, among them the soprano Nancy Armstrong (MM '72), the guitar player Peter Blanchette (MM '94), the violinist Alicia Edelberg '72, and the cellist Jennifer Morsches '90. Opera singer Judith Raskin '49, got her start at Smith when her piano teacher, John Duke, gently suggested she discontinue her lessons. This led her to the studio of his colleague, voice professor Anna Hamlin, and the rest, as they say, is history. Composer Alice Parker '47 worked for many years with conductor Robert Shaw.

Other Smith alumnae who have achieved important conducting positions include Amy Kaiser '67, Director of the St. Louis Symphony Chorus, mentored at Smith by Iva Dee Hiatt, and Carolyn Kuan'99, now Assistant Conductor of the Seattle Symphony Orchestra.

Further Smith alumnae who have significant careers include composer and pianist Joan Panetti '65, professor of chamber music at the Yale School of Music; musicologist Lesley Wright '71, chair of the Music Department at the University of Hawaii; and musicologist Sindhumathi Revuluri '00, assistant professor of music at Harvard University.

Current members of the Department include composers, performers, scholars, and theorists well known in their respective fields. A wide variety of course offerings and ample opportunities for performance with choral and instrumental groups allow students to pursue their interests, with professional guidance, in the classroom and in concert.

By celebrating one hundred years of music at Smith we hope to enrich and encourage musical study and performance on the campus for many years to come.

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