Music at Amherst College 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. In addition, a Fine Arts course, first offered in 1865, included lectures on music by Professor Edward Hitchcock.
Extracurricular music also came early to Amherst. The five-member "Donizetti Glee Club" spent the summer of 1862 on a singing foot-tour of the White Mountains. This organization eventually became known as the Amherst College Glee Club. It achieved such popularity that, in 1877, the College added Frederick Zuchtmann to its faculty as "Instructor in Vocal Music" and incorporated the Amherst College Musical Association.
The Musical Association had a membership of roughly a third of the College, according to the Amherst Student in 1877. Its first class of 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 the first American college glee club to take its music abroad, touring England for four and a half weeks before enthusiastic audiences. Also in 1894, President Seelye appointed William P. Bigelow (AC 1889) as the first Professor of Music at Amherst College. Since at that time Harvard was the only other American school having such a position, this was a somewhat radical step. But other educational institutions soon followed: Columbia, Dartmouth, and then Williams College, which appointed Amherst alumnus Sumner Salter (AC 1877) as Professor of Music in 1905. The early visions of Dr. Edward Hitchcock and Rufus B. Kellogg became reality.
Bigelow's most significant contribution to music instruction at Amherst 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. But his influence also helped to give the College a musical atmosphere that benefited individual students and affected campus life as a whole.
Around the turn of the century, the College Songs which eventually became an estalished part of Amherst's heritage proliferated to a great degree. Alumni Draper C. Bartlett (AC 1903), James S. Hamilton (AC 1906), and Jason Noble Pierce (AC 1902), as well as Professors Bigelow and John Genung, produced the bulk of the "College Song" prototypes in the few decades around 1900.
Foundations were thus laid for a musical life intrinsic to the Amherst experience today. The original, experimental department has grown to a full-size academic field, with a building of its own and eleven Majors in 1989. The Glee Club spends much of its time performing in international tours, festivals, and radio shows; and for the enjoyment of the campus community, the Club's "Home Concerts," first held in College Hall, now draws crowds in Buckley Recital Hall. Other groups have generated from the Glee Club and matured in their own right: the Double Quartet (DQ) and Zumbyes (two prototype a cappella groups), the Women's Chorus, and the mixed Concert Choir, which evolved as a result of coeducation. Lately, these singing groups have been joined by the Sabrinas, the Madrigal Singers, the Gospel Choir, and the Rhythm and Shoes revue company; the College Band has also been firmly reestablished. Concert seasons in College Hall and in Buckley draw well-known professionals for the enrichment of the entire community.