Frequently Asked Questions

So... do you only play Bach?

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 the name is more of an historical relic now, as we have long since expanded our repertoire. However, we do still play some Bach; recent programs have included Webern's transcription Bach's Ricecar from A Musical Offering and the Orchestral Suite No. 4 in D major.

Well then, what do you play?

We've got an exciting season lined up! To give you a taste of our repertoire, past seasons have included numerous Beethoven symphonies, Ravel's Mother Goose Suite, Copland's Appalachian Spring, Barber's Adagio for Strings, Ives' Three Places in New England, Mozart overtures, Rautavaara's Cantus Arcticus, and Mendelssohn's Hebrides Overture. While we cannot play works scored for large orchestras, our repertoire includes an expansive variety of works from all time periods. Take a gander at our 2019-2020 season.

How often do you perform?

We perform two concerts per semester, generally in Paine Hall but occasionally in Sanders Theatre as well.

How big is BachSoc?

One of BachSoc's unique features is its size: it is a small orchestra, generally with 40-50 members.

Why would I want to play in a chamber orchestra?

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 generally 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 large orchestras, where a string player may never actually meet the second trombonist, in BachSoc everybody gets to know each other extremely well, making rehearsals and concerts an enjoyable and collaborative experience.

How is BachSoc run?

BachSoc is unique in that it is entirely student-run, and even boasts a student conductor. There are four general managers who take care of logistical issues and an extensive staff who oversee publicity, ticket sales, social functions, and more. Check out our management and staff page to see what sort of positions we have. Any and all positions are open to everyone, including freshmen and new members, so there are plenty of ways to get involved with running the group.

Wait... BachSoc has an undergraduate conductor?

Yes! In fact, BachSoc's most unique and famous tradition is its undergraduate music director, dating back to our founding. BachSoc has served as a launching pad for several world-class conductors and composers, including John Adams, Alan Gilbert, John Harbison, Hugh Wolff, Samuel Wong, Edwin Outwater, and Christopher Wilkins. Each year, contending conductors audition with the orchestra, and all members of the orchestra vote on their choice of the following year's conductor. The selected conductor must have the vote of three quarters of the orchestra.

What about musical standards under a student conductor?

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 and 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, so come to the first few rehearsals in the fall. We know that you will also be pleasantly surprised, just as we all were.

Who will the conductor be this year?

Our new Music Director for the 2020-2021 season is Soren Nyhus '22.

How do I audition?

Auditions are held at the beginning of the year. You can sign up with us at the Student Activities Fair or online. Our auditions are very relaxed; you will play for 5 to 7 minutes in front of our Music Director and a general manager. Each auditionee will be asked to prepare two contrasting selections from your instrument's standard repertoire (solo, not orchestral) for about 5 minutes of total playing time. Our electronic sign-up will be posted in our auditions page by the beginning of the semester, so check back then!

How much of a time commitment is BachSoc?

Rehearsals are held in Paine Hall every Wednesday from 7-9:30PM and Sunday from 1:15-4PM. 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.

What else does BachSoc do?

BachSoc starts every year with a classy reception 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 great food. Other BachSoc traditions include Monday night trips to Uno's throughout the year 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 open to all Harvard undergraduates, and many BachSoccers play in chamber groups together as well.

I play piano. Is there any way for me to get involved with BachSoc?

There are circumstances under which BachSoc may need a pianist, depending on what pieces are slated for the season. For more information, email bachsoc [at] You may also consider entering our undergraduate concerto competition. We have had many pianists win and perform with us, including Aristo Sham '19 with Chopin Piano Concerto No 1., Allan Yuan '15 with Beethoven Piano Concerto No. 5, Stephanie Brinton Parker '10 and Lindsey Brinton '12 with Poulenc's Concerto for Two Pianos, Alex Bernstein '10 with the Ravel Piano Concerto, and Charlie Albright '11 with the Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 1. We have had many interested pianists who are composers as well, so we encourage you to submit an original work for our annual composition competition. In addition, many of our past conductors have backgrounds as pianists, so start fine-tuning your conducting skills and you may find yourself on the podium one day!

What if I have more questions?

Send us an email! Reach us at bachsoc [at] We welcome any inquiries about anything!


The Bach Society Orchestra hosts two annual competitions - the Concerto competition and the Composition competition - to promote the recognition of musical excellence at Harvard.

More Details

Interested in auditioning for the 2019-2020 season?
To learn more about the process, please click on the link below.

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Bach Society Orchestra
Music Building
Harvard University
Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138

©2021 The Harvard University Bach Society Orchestra

The Bach Society Orchestra is a a student-run organization at Harvard College; The Harvard name is a trademark of the President and Fellows of Harvard College and are used with permission of Harvard University.