Vassar College

The well-rounded musician

Vassar's Music Department dates back to the very opening of the college in 1865, and with great intention the college doesn't have a conservatory program where musical immersion would crowd out most other learning. Vassar remains committed to graduating well-rounded majors like senior Vince Vincent, who deepen their musical insights and abilities by exploring the wide range of the liberal arts.

Vincent, an aspiring operatic baritone, was selected this past summer for the internationally renowned Aspen Music Festival, and came back convinced that, "Because I'm not from a conservatory, I'm able to offer more to a festival like Aspen. I bring knowledge from a sociology or psychology class to the character that I'm singing, the music I'm singing, and I can also bring knowledge of the time period of the music."

As he explained, "When you're singing a Schubert art song, or a Schumann art song, it's so valuable to know what was going on in the context of that period, what was going on in the poet's life. Also, at Vassar I've not only been able to study the poet's language, but also the culture of the language."

It's also no coincidence that Christine Howlett, Vassar's Director of Choral Activities, is not only Vincent's major advisor, but that he also considers her his "life mentor and coach."

"When you walk into Skinner Hall [where the Music Department is housed], it's a family," continued Vincent. "All the students talk to each other, it's not competitive. We all want each other to succeed. We have some incredible faculty here, some world-renowned performers who have crazy schedules, but they're still putting the time in for you. For the confidence that I have developed to pursue a music career, I give full credit not to myself, but to the professors in our department."

What's fascinating is that Vince Vincent came to Vassar convinced he was pre-law, and now his sites are set on the Met. With his senior recital this Saturday at 1:30pm, he will be among dozens of Vassar student musicians – music, political science, cognitive science, and film majors alike – whose talents will be on stage this weekend at Skinner Hall, beginning this Friday at 8:00pm with the Vassar Women's Chorus.

Led by Christine Howlett, the ensemble will perform two very different works written specifically for female voices.

"American composer Virgil Thomson's Seven Choruses of the Medea of Euripides is based on Countee Cullen's English translation of the Greek drama, explained Howlett. "Each section is a short, almost miniature reaction to the text. This challenging work is rarely performed due to the extremes in vocal range." The evening's other composition, the Mass for Five Voices by Francesco Gasparini (1661-1728), comes from a unique period in Venetian history when the ospedali – hospitals or orphanages – trained young girls in the art of music in a conservatory-like setting. Antonio Vivaldi was one of their teachers.

Saturday evening at 8:00, the Vassar College Orchestra will perform the Elegy for Orchestra by John Corigliano, the Cello Concerto in A-minor, op. 33, no. 1, by Camille Saint-Saëns (with Vassar's cello instructor Sophie Shao as soloist), as well as Mendelssohn's Symphony in D, op. 105, no. 5, the Reformation Symphony.

To round out this weekend musical feast, James Osborn will conduct the Vassar College and Community Wind Ensemble, beginning Sunday at 3:00pm. Their program will include: Scenes from the Louvre by Norman Dello Joio; Suite Francaise by Darius Milhaud; Pineapple Poll by Arthur Sullivan, arranged by Charles Mackerras; Prelude, Siciliano and Rondo by Malcolm Arnold, arranged by John P. Paynter; and Armenian Dances by Alfred Reed.

Admission is always free to the Music Department's year-round concert series. Visit or cal (845) 437-7294 for more information.

[This article by Jeff Kosmacher, director of media relations at Vassar College, was originally published on November 15, 2007 in the Taconic Press "Weekend" section.]

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Vassar College is a highly selective, coeducational, independent, residential liberal arts college founded in 1861.

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