A History of the Music Department

Portrait of the Glee Club circa 1890
The Glee Club circa 1880, before Amherst hired its first music professor

By Jeremiah Phillips '22

“The study of music in Amherst dates back to 1900 approximately and may be described briefly as the beginning of a process of education, the object of which is to acquire the ability to listen intelligently to music, Naturally such a process and education lasts as long as one lives.”

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Jeffers Engelhardt headshot

Prof. Engelhardt co-publishes with students

Chorality's Sonic-Social Relationships

Professor Jeffers Engelhardt published an article co-authored with Kate Bancroft '23, Alex Rule '23 and Charlotte Wang '24 in Rsonance: The Journal of Sound and Culture (University of California Press).


A video introduction to the Music Department by Professor Jason Robinson

Major Explorations: Music

Whether singing is your passion, or composing, or playing the violin or saxophone, or producing beats and rapping, or writing about music, Amherst is home to many musical opportunities. If you can imagine it, then you can do it.

David Reck with veena shot from above

In Memoriam: Professor Emeritus David Reck

A model of creative, interdisciplinary teaching

David taught at Amherst for over thirty years, holding appointments in the departments of music and Asian languages and civilizations before retiring in 2006. Thanks to the range of his talents, curiosity, generosity, and expertise, his teaching indeed embraced music of the whole earth. Many of his courses were legendary, with scores of students gathered in Buckley Recital Hall to learn about David's three Bs—Bach, the Beatles, and Bollywood—and a large part of the football team learning to sing South Indian ragas. At the ends of semesters, the corridor outside David's office swelled with fantastic musical instruments handmade by students in his course called "The Sound Machine”—a testament to David's conviction that students learn about the material and spiritual foundations of music by making and doing. 

Music at Amherst Presents clarinetist Anthony McGill

An interview from October 24, 2021

Anthony McGill, principal clarinet of the New York Philharmonic and the first African American principal player in the organization’s history, talks with Professor David Schneider about his return to the Buckley stage.

In Stravinsky's Orbit: Responses to Modernism in Russian Paris

Headshot of Moricz with white building with arches in background

A 2020 book by Professor Klára Móricz

The Bolsheviks’ 1917 political coup caused a seismic disruption in Russian culture. Carried by the first wave of emigrants, Russian culture migrated West, transforming itself as it interacted with the new cultural environment and clashed with exported Soviet trends. In her new book, In Stravinsky's Orbit: Responses to Modernism in Russian Paris (University of California Press), Klára Móricz explores the transnational emigrant space of Russian composers Igor Stravinsky, Vladimir Dukelsky, Sergey Prokofiev, Nicolas Nabokov, and Arthur Lourié in interwar Paris.

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In Rehearsal: The Amherst College Concert Choir with the Kaleidoscope Vocal Ensemble

September 27, 2019

On the eve of the Kaleidoscope Vocal Ensemble’s Sept. 19, 2019, debut performance at Amherst College, the octet rehearses the final movement of Musikalische Exequien by Heinrich Schütz (1585-1672) with the Amherst College Concert Choir. Directed by Arianne Abela.

Jason Robinson's Resonant Geographies

A 2018 interview marking the release of a new album

Robinson's concert-length suite Resonant Geographies, released on March 1, 2018, from pfMENTUM acts as a meditation on the relationship between geography and personal history, structure and expression.

An Interview with Professor Darryl Harper

Professor Darryl Harper ('90) discusses his student days at Amherst in this 2018 interview

Darryl Harper ’90 majored in music at Amherst and went on to earn advanced degrees at Rutgers University and the New England Conservatory. Now a jazz clarinetist and composer, he credits Amherst with teaching “skills that are going to serve you no matter what you do.”

An Old Crime, a New Opera

Sawyer conducting while reading from music stand. Colleagues in background

A 2017 feature on Professor Eric Sawyer's opera The Scarlet Professor

Two Amherst professors teamed up with students and professional actors to dramatize the true, local story of a Smith faculty member’s arrest.

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Lucky Soprano

Alison Wahl against clapboard building in black and white

2017 profile on opera singer Alison Wahl '08

The peculiarity of making a living as a classical singer is not lost on Alison Wahl ’08. “I pay my rent,” she says, “by making weird noises with my face.” But Wahl is pretty sure she landed in the right place: “I keep coming back to music, because I find it more interesting than anything else.”

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Listening Through History

Schneider coaching a string quartet

A 2016 Q&A with Professor David Schneider

As he marks 20 years of teaching at Amherst, Professor David E. Schneider discusses his love of music, his career as a musicologist and how his classes have evolved over the decades.

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Not Your Typical College Orchestra

Mark Swanson conducting with baton with audience in background
Director of the ASO Mark Swanson

A 2015 feature on the Amherst Symphony Orchestra

“Outside of a conservatory setting, this is probably the largest all-student orchestra among liberal arts colleges that plays at such a high level,” says conductor Mark Swanson. Since 2001, Swanson has transformed the ASO from a small college orchestra half composed of hired local professionals to an orchestra ranging in size from 60 to 80 student musicians.

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