President’s Pages in Princeton Alumni Weekly
Making Music at Princeton
May 13, 2009
Shakespeare tells us that “the man that hath no music in himself . . . is fit for treasons, stratagems, and spoils.” Whatever the merits of this claim, we do not have to worry that it applies to our students. From September until May, Princeton is awash in music, from formal recitals in Taplin Auditorium to freewheeling jam sessions in Café Vivian; from the works of classical composers to the music of laptop computers; from grand productions involving multiple art forms to a cappella beneath a moonlit arch.
Indeed, it would take more than one President’s Page to even briefly describe the extraordinary range of student-generated instrumental and vocal music that is presented on our campus in any given year. Last month alone you could have listened to the Princeton University Orchestra under conductor Michael Pratt perform works by Richard Strauss and Schumann, or the Princeton University Glee Club perform Bach’s Mass in B Minor under the direction of Richard Tang Yuk. You could have attended jazz vespers at the University Chapel — part of a flourishing jazz program headed by composer and trumpeter Anthony Branker ’80 — or a vocal recital by Adam Fox ’09 in fulfillment of his certificate in musical performance. You could also have caught the Nassoons, Princeton’s oldest a cappella group, harmonizing beneath Blair Arch, or the Princeton University Players presenting Orpheus Waking, a new student-written musical, at 185 Nassau Street. And for those with an interest in composition, there was the annual spring concert of the Undergraduate Composers Collective; while for those with a taste for musical fusion, there was a concert sponsored by the Romanian Students and Scholars Association, featuring Romanian-American jazz. And this does not begin to capture works performed by faculty, musicians-in-residence, and visiting artists.
What I can attempt to capture in this President’s Page is the spirit that informs and, in a real sense, unifies the music that pervades our campus. This spirit, which marks our approach to the creative and performing arts in general, reflects a strong belief that studying, performing, and composing music should not be the exclusive domain of a professional conservatory, but should be included as an integral part of a liberal arts education. Indeed, our certificate program in musical performance, which attracted 29 students last year, requires participants to major in another field while giving them a clear curricular structure in which to develop their instrumental or vocal talents. I like to think that Princeton is one of the few places where you will find alumni such as Jonathan Vinocour ’01, an outstanding chemistry major who earned a certificate in musical performance and, after a stellar beginning to his musical career, will be joining the San Francisco Symphony as principal viola this fall.
Just as our student musicians embrace a wide variety of academic fields, much of their musical activities are themselves multidisciplinary. Princeton’s celebrated Laptop Orchestra, for example, was founded by Associate Professor of Music Dan Trueman *99 and Professor of Computer Science Perry Cook and brings together students from these and other disciplines to explore entirely new ways of making music. Other productions involve close collaborations between scholars and performers, ranging from Baroque opera to the works of 20th-century Russian composer Sergei Prokofiev, often within a framework of related courses, exhibitions, and conferences. And there are countless opportunities to blend the talents of actors, dancers, and musicians, such as a joint project of the Princeton Shakespeare Company and the Princeton University Orchestra in which Shakespeare’s play and Mendelssohn’s music were united in an unforgettable production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
Princeton’s music department has recognized the importance of incorporating a performance component into its offerings since its formative years before the Second World War, when it established a strong relationship with the orchestra and glee club. It has also played a crucial role in anchoring the musical arts within a rigorous but supportive academic setting. Today, together with the Lewis Center for the Arts, the Department of Music and its musical performance program are creating new opportunities for students to express themselves in virtually every conceivable musical form, while forging multidisciplinary connections that will enrich the musical experience of these talented young musicians and all who hear them.