Music at Amherst Collection
The Music at Amherst Collection documents the evolution of musical instruction, performance, and composition at the "Singing College," as Amherst has been called. Music has been a part of Amherst College life almost from its beginning, when the Trustees in 1833 appropriated $50.00 annually for the improvement of sacred music during Chapel and other devotional occasions. These monies went toward purchases of music and the salary of a director/part-time instructor. Amherst was also an early (if limited) advocate for the inclusion of music in the academic course, offering a Fine Arts course beginning in 1865 that included lectures on important composers by Professor Edward Hitchcock, Jr.
Extracurricular music also came early to Amherst. An instrumental band (the "Paean Band") formed in 1824, only a few years after the founding of the college in 1821, and remained an important part of student life for over a decade, including among its members such notable early Amherstians as Henry Ward Beecher. Organized secular vocal music made its first appearance as early as 1855, when the "Cinyrea" Glee Club was likely founded. Its success inspired a proliferation of such groups, perhaps the most notable of which was the five-member "Donizetti Glee Club," which spent the summer of 1862 on a singing foot-tour of the White Mountains, the first tour outside of the college made by any Amherst musical group. Organizations such as these directly led to the creation of the Amherst College Glee Club in 1865, an institution that is still in existence today. It achieved such popularity that, in 1877, students of the college hired Springfield music instructor Friderich Zuchtmann to direct its rehearsals, and incorporated the Amherst College Musical Association to better oversee the musical spirit of the college.
The Musical Association had a membership of roughly a third of the College, according to the Amherst Student in 1877. Its members sang in the Glee Club, played in the banjo and mandolin clubs, or simply attended a variety of rehearsals and lectures on voice culture. In 1894, under the direction of Edward Sumner, the Musical Association became one of the first American collegiate musical groups to take its music abroad, touring England for four and a half weeks before enthusiastic audiences. Also in 1894, President Gates appointed William P. Bigelow (AC 1889) as the first Professor of Music at Amherst College.
Among Bigelow's most significant contributions to music instruction at Amherst, in addition to pioneering the college's music curriculum, was the creation of a large-scale, hands-on workshop Oratorio Chorus of students, faculty, and professionals, chosen to perform selected masterworks that were studied in class. His influence was perhaps the single largest factor in the development of Amherst's now long-standing reputation as the "Singing College."
Around the turn of the century, the College Songs which eventually became an estalished part of Amherst's heritage proliferated to a great degree. An annual college-song contest hosted by the class of 1887 inspired such student composers as Draper C. Bartlett (AC 1903), James S. Hamilton (AC 1906), and Jason Noble Pierce (AC 1902), as well as Professors Bigelow and John Genung, to produce the bulk of the college songs still sung on campus today.
Foundations were thus laid for a musical life intrinsic to the Amherst experience today. The original tiny and experimental department has grown to a full-size academic field, with seven dedicated faculty, a building with full musical facilities, and an average of twelve graduating majors per year. Student singing groups have continued to proliferate, from the academically supported Choral Society (made up of the Concert Choir, Women's Chorus, Glee Club, and Madrigals Singers) to the many student-directed a cappella groups, which include the Double Quartet (DQ), the Zumbyes, the Sabrinas, the Bluestockings, Route 9, and Terras Irradient. Instrumental music has also flourished, with a large professionally directed Symphony Orchestra, Jazz ensembles, and various chamber groups. Concert seasons in College Hall and in Buckley draw well-known professionals for the enrichment of the entire community.
Timothy J. Dickey (AC 1989), Fall 1989
Revised by Walker Boyle (AC 2013), Summer 2013