- So...do you guys only play Bach?
- Well then, what do you play?
- How often do you perform?
- How big is BachSoc?
- Why would I want to play in a chamber orchestra?
- How is BachSoc run?
- Wait...so BachSoc has an undergraduate conductor?
- What about musical standards under a student conductor?
- Who will the conductor be this year?
- What sorts of people are in BachSoc?
- How do I audition?
- How much of a time commitment is BachSoc?
- What else does BachSoc do?
- I play piano. Is there any way for me to get involved with BachSoc?
- What if I have more questions?
Heh, that's usually the first question we get - and the answer to that is no. We do admit, however, that the name is quite misleading. The orchestra was founded in 1954 with the purpose of performing music for chamber ensemble, particularly Bach and his contemporaries, but it's more of a historical relic now, as we have long since expanded our repertoire. However, we do still play some Bach - three years ago, we played the Orchestral Suite No. 1 at our October concert, and last past year, we played the Cantata No. 140 ("Wachet auf") with the Harvard University Choir at our December concert. Last year, we had Webern's transcription of Bach's Ricercar from "Musical Offering" on our October program.
We've got an exciting season lined up - check out our season schedule on the performances page. Some exciting past works performed have included the Brahms and Beethoven 4th Symphonies, Mendelssohn's Hebrides Overture, Ravel's Mother Goose Suite, Beethoven's Symphonies No. 7 and 8, Mendelssohn's Symphonies No. 3 ("Scottish") and 5 ("Reformation"), Schumann's Symphony No. 2, Copland's Appalachian Spring, Brahms' Variations on a Theme by Joseph Haydn, Barber's Adagio for Strings, and Debussy's Petite Suite. While we cannot play works scored for large orchestras, such as Mahler Symphonies, our repertoire includes an expansive variety of works from all time periods. Take a look at our history and performances sections to take a look at our past and present (and future!).
We generally perform twice each semester in Paine Hall, although we also occasionally perform in Sanders Theater.
One of BachSoc's unique features is its size: it is a fairly small orchestra, with only about 40-50 members. Check out our 2011-2012 roster here.
For many of us with backgrounds in large youth orchestras, BachSoc provides a refreshing experience for musical collaboration. Unlike in an orchestra of 80-100, in BachSoc, each string player makes a sizable contribution to the section's sound, and each wind player can frequently play principal parts. We are also better suited for performing some outstanding works that full symphony orchestras are often too large to perform properly. Of course, this also precludes us from performing pieces scored for larger orchestras, but the advantage is sheer intimacy. You will discover that unlike in larger orchestras, where if you're sitting in the middle of the violin section, you may never even meet the third trombone player, in BachSoc everybody gets to know each other extremely well, making rehearsal something always cohesive and enjoyable.
BachSoc is entirely student-run, and even boasts a student conductor. There are usually anywhere from 2 to 3 general managers who take care of the logistical issues, and an extensive staff whose functions include coordinating publicity, ticket sales, social functions, and more. Check out our contact page to see what sorts of staff positions are available. Members who started out as freshmen have gone on to be managers and even conductors of BachSoc.
With a different conductor each year, the dynamics of the orchestra vary from year to year, making each season truly unique. If you stay for four years, it's like four different orchestras for the price of one! It's a great way to experience a diverse range of musical talent and techniques, and members of the orchestra will tell you that rather than generating a sense of discontinuity between the years, the conductor turnover only serves to draw the members of the orchestra closer to each other.
Never fear. Many of our members were skeptical of this at first, too, and have been thrilled to find that BachSoc holds some of the highest, most professional musical standards found at Harvard. While the student-run aspect of BachSoc makes things feel much more cozy and accessible for everyone in the ensemble, that hominess comes at no expense of musicality or organization. Of course, the only way to prove this would be for you to experience this for yourself - come to the first few rehearsals in the fall. We hope that you will also be pleasantly surprised, just as we all were.
This past March, members of the orchestra elected Jesse Wong '12, who is currently a senior in Pforzheimer House. Jesse has much experience as both a pianist and a conductor. Read more about Jesse here.
Well, the easiest way to put it would be to say everyone. There are some music concentrators, but a fair share of pre-meds, chemistry, classics, government, and other concentrators as well. BachSoc members are passionate about many different things and participate in many other organizations on campus. Of course, some are also in other music groups, such as HRO or MSO. In terms of class, we have a pretty even split - this past year, for example, we had roughly 26 freshmen, 15 sophomores, 13 juniors, and 6 seniors. Our retention rate is among the highest of any Harvard orchestra. This may sound cheesy, but BachSoc is a group where we strive for the highest standard of musical excellence and have a lot of fun doing something we all love. BachSoccers are among the most dedicated individuals you'll ever meet.
Auditions are held at the beginning of the year. You can sign up with us at the Activities Fair, or after that, online. Our auditions are very relaxed - you will play for 5 to 7 minutes in front of our Music Director, our General Managers, and perhaps the principal player from your section. Each auditionee will be asked to prepare two contrasting selections from your instrument's standard repertoire for about 5 minutes of total playing time, and will also be given a short excerpt to sightread. Our electronic sign-up will be posted in our auditions page by August 28, so check back then!
Rehearsals are held every Wednesday from 7-9:30PM in Paine Hall and Sunday from 2-4:30PM in Holden Chapel. Aside from these rehearsals, there will occasionally be sectionals, scheduled at your section's convenience. Although this may sound intense - 5 hours of rehearsals a week! - we assure you that this does not in any way preclude you from joining any other extracurriculars. Members of BachSoc are very active in other clubs and sports, including other musical ensembles.
BachSoc starts every year with a classy reception (with classy snacks) welcoming new members, and embarks on a retreat in late September/early October for a fun-filled day of rehearsing, world-class (sort of) athletics, and, always, great food. Other BachSoc traditions include Monday night and post-concert appetizers at Uno's, and The Feed, a large banquet for all BachSoc members at the end of the year.
Musically, BachSoc hosts two competitions each year, a composition competition and a concerto competition. Rules for this year's competitions are now posted here. In addition, BachSoc members are always interested in chamber music. Groups composed of BachSoc members have put on multiple concerts, and we often also get calls for (paid!) gigs.
There are circumstances under which BachSoc may need a pianist, depending on the piece being performed. For more information, e-mail the Music Director at email@example.com. You may also consider entering our Undergraduate Concerto Competition - for four of the past five years, the winner has been a pianist: Stephanie Brinton Parker'10 and Lindsey Brinton '12 performed Poulenc's Concerto for Two Pianos, Alex Bernstein '10 performed the Ravel Piano Concerto, Charlie Albright '11 performed the Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 1, and Nora Bartosik '08 performed the Grieg Piano Concerto. Also, many pianists have been excellent composers, so we encourage you to submit an original composition to our annual Composition Competition. Read more about our competitions here. In addition, many of our past conductors have backgrounds as pianists, so start fine-tuning your conductings kills, and you may one day find yourself on our podium!
Send us an email! Reach us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We welcome any inquiries regarding BachSoc, music at Harvard, even the meaning of life.