A Brief Guide to Music@Harvard

Harvard offers many opportunities for musicians, and all the information that you receive may be extremely overwhelming.  Here, we've attempted to organize some of the basic information about all the different opportunities on campus. As you probably already know, Harvard offers no performance concentration, so all performance opportunities come through student-run extracurriculars.


There are four main orchestras at Harvard: the Harvard Radcliffe Orchestra (HRO), the Bach Society Orchestra (BachSoc), the Mozart Society Orchestra (MSO), and the Harvard Pops Orchestra (Pops).  They each generally perform four times a year, twice in the fall semester and twice in the spring, with possible additional performances during ArtsFirst Weekend in early May.  The four orchestras are distinct, but share much common ground. HRO is the large, while the other three are smaller.  BachSoc is student-conducted, while the others have faculty conductors.  A chart for comparison is provided below:

  HRO BachSoc MSO Pops
Size ~100 ~50 ~40 ~50
Conductor Federico Cortese Jesse Wong '12 Edward Jones Allen Feinstein '86
Repertoire Standard Orchestral
(11-12 season)

Standard / Chamber Orchestral
(11-12 season)
Chamber Orchestral
(11-12 season)
Pops - classical, etc.
(11-12 season)
Auditions Anything;
5-7 minutes
2 contrasting selections, sightreading 2 contrasting excerpts Anything; 5 minutes
Rehearsals M/Th 7-9:30PM W 7-9:30, Su 2-4:30 Tu 7-9:30 Tu 4-6:30
# of Concerts
4 + ArtsFirst 4 +/- ArtsFirst 4/5 + ArtsFirst 3 + ArtsFirst
Founded 1808 1954 1984 1996
Contact hro@hcs.harvard.edu bachsoc@hcs.harvard.edu mso@hcs.harvard.edu pops@hcs.harvard.edu

Of course, this chart is by no means indicative of each orchestra - as wishy-washy as it is, they each have very different feels.  We encourage you to audition for all of these ensembles, attend the first few rehearsals - stay for the first concert cycle, and talk to upperclassmen about their experiences.


ArtsFirst is a celebration of the arts at Harvard that takes place annually on a weekend in early May. Student art is displayed throughout the campus, and Saturday afternoon hails the Performance Fair, where chamber ensembles, choirs, bands, orchestras, dance troupes, and other performance groups take part in concurrent 20-minute demonstrations in venues all over campus. The evenings are usually taken by large-scale concerts: for example, ArtsFirst 2007 included two performances of Mahler's Symphony No. 2 by the combined forces of the Harvard-Radcliffe Orchestra, the Harvard Glee Club, the Radcliffe Choral Society, and the Harvard-Radcliffe Collegium Musicum.


The orchestra scene is by no means the only way to play at Harvard!  Most notably, pit orchestra opportunities are expansive.  Each year, there are two major opera productions: the Dunster House Opera in February, and the Lowell House Opera in March.  Both productions feature ~30-member orchestras.  DHO has a student music director (many of whom went on to become BachSoc music directors) , while LHO has, in the past few years, been directed by Channing Yu '93. In addition, the Harvard Radcliffe Gilbert and Sullivan Players puts on two productions a year, both featuring pit orchestras of ~25 members who rotate between 9 shows.  Freshmen can also participate in the Freshman Musical, a production written and produced entirely by the freshman class. A number of other musicals also feature pit orchestras - this spring has involved productions of Sweeney Todd and Jekyll and Hyde. More information about musical theater productions can be found at the Harvard-Radcliffe Dramatic Club website.


The Harvard University Band is the university's official marching band that travels with the sports teams and performs at halftime shows. In addition, the Wind Ensemble, Flute Ensemble, Harvard Undergraduate Drummers (THUD), and Jazz Bands offer opportunities for non-string musicians.


No mention of music at Harvard can go without mention of the ample opportunities for chamber music. The Brattle Street Chamber Players is Harvard's premier 13-member string ensemble, performing broad-ranging repertoire of standard, seldom-performed, and newly-composed music for strings since its founding in 1998. In addition, the Harvard Baroque Chamber Orchestra performs on authentic baroque instruments. The Mariachi Veritas de Harvard, Recklez, and the Harvard Chinese Music Ensemble offer performance opportunities to those interested in ethnic music.

Two chamber music courses are offered through the music department: Music 187r and Music 180r, the latter of which requires audition with an existing ensemble. Outside of that, the Mather House Chamber Music series offers chamber music coaching to ensembles for a fee.

Several upperclass houses, such as Leverett, Dunster, Lowell, and Adams, also provide opportunities for chamber music performances at the Master's Residence and/or Library. Musicians interested in community service should also be sure to check out MIHNUET, a program in which musicians perform in nursing homes and hospitals around the Boston area.

For those of you keyboardists, two other clubs are the Harvard Organ Society and the Harvard Piano Society, both of which sponsor recitals and masterclasses.


Musicians should look at the music section of the Office for the Arts, which offers information on finding private instructors, the music lesson subsidy program, free BSO tickets for Harvard students, the Harvard/NEC 5-year joint program, and much more. Also, the music department website has much more information about actually concentrating in music at Harvard.