Music has occupied a place of prominence at Vassar College since its founding, in its curriculum, faculty, student activities, and facilities. Formed in 1865, the Department of Music offers an extensive program encompassing opportunities for majors and non-majors to explore performance, composition, history, and theory in depth. Students are encouraged to gain a broad perspective in several or all of these areas. With a student-to-faculty ratio of approximately eleven to one, and an average class size of fifteen, the department is able to support individual students as they work to realize their full musical potential.
Students may join a range of ensembles, from small chamber groups to opera productions, including Choir, Women’s Chorus, Madrigal Singers, Orchestra, Wind Ensemble, Jazz Ensemble and Combos, and Opera Workshop, as well as the student-run Camerata and Mahagonny Ensemble. Performers are encouraged to participate in Monday afternoon student recitals, chamber music, and concerts of works by student composers; the most advanced give junior and senior solo recitals. There are additionally numerous independent a cappella singing groups and student bands on campus.
Belle Skinner Hall of Music
The Music Department resides in the Belle Skinner Hall of Music, a beautiful neo-Gothic building that opened in 1932. At the heart of the building are the Mary Anna Fox Martel Recital Hall and one of the finest college music libraries in the country. There are also several classrooms, including Thekla Hall (a small recital hall), an Electronic Music Studio, and twenty-one practice rooms, nearly all furnished with grand pianos. Vassar maintains a large collection of instruments, including over 65 Steinway grand pianos, seven pipe organs, six harpsichords, the Darlington Collection of early keyboard instruments, and a miscellany of non-Western instruments.
The George Sherman Dickinson Library is one of the largest and finest collections of music, sound recordings, and books about music possessed by any college in the United States. Its holdings include some 30,000 scores, 30,000 sound recordings in various media, and 20,000 books and periodicals. A lending collection of records and CDs is also available to the college community, and the library contains listening facilities.
Concerts and Lectures
The Department of Music regularly presents concerts, master classes, and workshops by visiting artists and ensembles as well as by members of the faculty. All events are free and open to the college community, and most are also open to the public. Guest artists have included Jessye Norman, Richard Stoltzman, Dawn Upshaw, Dizzy Gillespie, the Kronos String Quartet, John Cage, Alla Rakha and Zakir Hussein, Chanticleer, Malcolm Bilson, Tafelmusik, and the American Symphony Chamber Orchestra. Public performances by students are an important part of this concert series. The Vassar College Music Colloquium presents lectures by visiting and faculty scholars. Each winter a festival of new music, the Modfest, features music by contemporary composers.
Information about general scholarship funds may be obtained by writing to the Director of Financial Aid at Vassar College. A number of special scholarships that cover fees for performance study are awarded each year on the basis of merit and need. Information about these may be obtained from the same office.