Choral and Vocal Programs

The Vassar College Choir, formed in 1971, is an auditioned mixed choral ensemble of approximately 50 singers conducted by Christine R. Howlett. Repertoire includes a cappella and accompanied works from the Renaissance to the 21st century as well as major works for orchestra including Haydn’s Lord Nelson Mass, Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, Requiems by Mozart, Brahms, Duruflé, and others. Recent premieres include works by Tarik O'Regan and Leonard Enns, with an upcoming commission by Trevor Weston. The choir has toured in Cuba, England, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, and Uganda, and has performed at the Rose Theater at Lincoln Center and Carnegie Hall. All Vassar students are invited to audition for the choir. Visit our webcasts to view recent concerts.

Rehearsals: Wednesday, 5–6:30 p.m. and Thursday, 6:45–8:15 p.m.

The Vassar Women’s Chorus is an auditioned ensemble that was formed in the fall of 1997. The group has revived a tradition from Vassar’s past in the context of Vassar’s present coeducational mission. Repertoire includes a cappella and accompanied works from the Renaissance to the 20th century. This ensemble is open to all Vassar women by audition.

Rehearsals: Please check the Schedule of Classes for the most up-to-date rehearsal schedule (Fall: MUSI-054-01; Spring: MUSI-056-01.)

The Vassar (Women’s) Choir was founded in 1876 by Charlotte Finch, class of 1872. When Vassar became coeducational in 1969, it took two years for the first mixed chorus, now known as the Vassar College Choir, to be formed. During this time, the Women’s Chorus went through several transformations before being known as the Vassar College Women’s Chorus. Repertoire includes a cappella and accompanied works from the Renaissance to the 21st century. The Women’s Chorus has performed in Chicago, Boston, and Philadelphia, and has toured in Turkey and Spain. All three ensembles (Vassar College Choir, Women’s Chorus, and Madrigal Singers) toured in Oxford, London, and Paris during spring break 2012. The ensemble debuted at the Rose Theater of New York’s Jazz at Lincoln Center in 2009 and was honored with invitations to perform at conferences for the American Choral Directors Association and the National Collegiate Choral Organization in 2010. Recent premieres include works by Eleanor Daley and Joelle Wallach. All Vassar women are invited to audition for the chorus. All current members must re-audition each year. Christine R. Howlett, conductor.

The Vassar College Chamber Singers is an ensemble of 10 to 20 singers auditioned from members of the Women’s Chorus and College Choir. This group specializes in a cappella music, from the Middle Ages through the 20th century. The ensemble performs two or three times a year, often taking on special projects, such as Handel’s Messiah (2004) and Bach’s St. John Passion (2007).

Rehearsals: Wednesdays, 3:00–5:00 p.m. Additional rehearsals by agreement.

Vassar Chamber Singers, directed by Drew Minter, is a select ensemble of singers whose musical and vocal skills are already significantly developed. To audition, singers in their freshman or sophomore years must first be a member of one of the two larger choirs, the Vassar College Choir or the Vassar Women’s Chorus. As the group meets only twice per week, a high level of commitment is required. Most of the members are given regular solo opportunities in the ensemble’s concerts. While the group performs a wide-ranging repertoire, it is centered in the early music (medieval through Baroque) and contemporary repertoires. Special performances have included Handel’s Messiah (2005) and Bach’s St. John Passion (2007), both with Baroque period orchestras.

Vassar Opera Workshop is a semester-long project of a staged opera or scenes, concentrating on role preparation both from the musical and acting points of view. The workshop considers preparing an opera role or partial role, historical and stylistic concerns, diction and language, and movement techniques. Auditions are held in the fall, and notices are sent to all the voice teachers in advance of the auditions. Opera workshop presents at least one performance at the end of the spring semester and, while not a full production, includes some production elements. Regularly scheduled rehearsals take place second semester from 3–7 p.m. on Fridays (all students must be available during this time), with additional coachings and extra rehearsals scheduled by appointment. During the last two weeks of the semester, rehearsals are especially heavy.

Projects over the past several years have included: “Houses that Jacques Built,” a pastiche of the works of Jacques Offenbach; “Between a Rock and a Hard Place: The Ariadne Project,” scenes from six operas about the mythological character Ariadne; Pauline Viardot’s Cendrillon (complete opera); scenes from five operas based on the Orpheus myth; “Brush Up Your Shakespeare,” a review of scenes from operas by Gounod, Bellini, Britten, Purcell, Vaughan Williams, and Verdi based on Shakespeare’s plays; an extended version of Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas; “Magic in Handel’s Magic Operas,” a collection of scenes from various operas and oratorios by Handel. Rehearsals are regularly scheduled throughout the semester, with additional rehearsals and coachings added as needed, especially towards the end of the semester leading up to the scheduled performances. Please contact Drew Minter for further information.

Instrumental Ensembles

The Vassar College Orchestra is a full symphony orchestra of about 60 students. The group meets twice a week and gives two or three concerts per semester, performing master works of the symphonic repertoire. Participation is open to all students by audition regardless of their chosen majors.

The Vassar College Orchestra provides unique performance opportunities for both rising and established instrumentalists. The symphonic repertoire covers a wide spectrum of genres and is selected with focus on the technical and musical development of the students

Soloist Competition

Each year the Music Department holds a competition to provide Vassar students the opportunity to perform as soloists with the Vassar College Orchestra. The competition is open to instrumentalists and vocalists. Students audition with a movement of a concerto, an aria, or a short piece for solo and orchestra. Auditions are held during the last week of the fall semester, and students perform the following spring.


Eduardo Navega conducts the Vassar College Orchestra.

The Vassar College Chamber Music program offers students opportunities to participate in string quartets, piano trios, wind quintets, and other less traditional formations depending on the repertoire. The groups perform once each semester in the recital hall and several times in other venues on and off campus. Participation is open to all students by audition and may be taken for credit.

Directed by Eduardo Navega, the Vassar College Chamber Music Program features students grouped in string quartets, piano trios, woodwind quintets and a wide variety of repertoire-specific ensembles including brass, guitar, percussion, and singers. All groups receive weekly coaching sessions and perform once per semester in the recital hall and several times at other venues, both on and off-campus.

The Vassar College Chamber Music Program offers an excellent opportunity for players to enhance their musical abilities, improve their performance confidence, and develop interpersonal skills within small group settings. Students are able to refine their artistry in a stimulating musical environment.

At least once a year, the department brings to campus a renowned chamber group to perform in the concert series and to work with the chamber ensembles in master classes. Recent guest groups include the Miro String Quartet, the Avalon String Quartet, the Oberlin Pianoforte Trio, and the Borromeo String Quartet, among others.

The program welcomes players of all levels and makes every effort to place individual players into ensembles with whom they may feel most comfortable. Participation is open to all students by audition.

The Vassar College Community and Wind Ensemble, conducted by James Osborn, is a 50-member ensemble of student and community musicians. The group is open to all woodwind, brass, and percussionists by audition. The ensemble plays three concerts a year, one in the fall semester and two in the spring, and features various works of the wind ensemble and band repertoire. Recent concerts have featured works by Percy Grainger, Eric Whitacre, Jan Van der Roost, Joseph Willcox Jenkins, and Dmitri Shostakovich.

The Vassar College Jazz Ensemble is a 20-piece group of student musicians playing saxophones, trumpets, trombones, piano, double bass, guitar, and drums; vocalists are often featured as well. It performs literature ranging from the Big Band Era to jazz-rock fusion. The Jazz Combo program offers students the opportunity to play in smaller ensembles with a strong focus on jazz improvisation.

The Vassar College Jazz Ensemble, directed by James Osborn, usually performs two concerts each year in the Martel Recital Hall and also plays for dances and other concerts on the Vassar campus and in the local community. Open to all students by audition, the Vassar College Jazz Ensemble rehearses from 7:00 – 9:30 on Monday evenings.

The Jazz Combo program offers students an opportunity to play in smaller ensembles with a strong focus on jazz improvisation. The jazz combos give students at intermediate and advanced levels an opportunity to explore jazz idioms in an intimate group setting. The combos rehearse once or twice a week and perform in concerts and less formal settings in the Martel Recital Hall, the Villard Room, the Mug, the Aula, and other venues on and sometimes off-campus.

The Mahagonny Ensemble, founded in 2000 with a performance of the Kurt Weill operetta, Mahagonny Songspiel, is a completely student-run musical ensemble dedicated to promoting the creativity of instrumentalists, singers, and composers interested in performing and writing contemporary classical music. Our goal is to give a voice to unique works from the last 100 years that may otherwise not be heard at Vassar.

The Mahagonny Ensemble is a member of the Vassar Student Association, through whom we acquire a great part of our funding and support. Our conductors and officers are all active students at Vassar College. The ensemble rehearses regularly during the academic year, leading to one public concert each semester presented under the auspices of the Vassar College Music Department. The ensemble also commissions works from alums and holds a student composer competition each year to premiere new works of current students. We also occasionally produce additional, smaller performances for such venues as dorm functions, student parties, faculty engagements, and special events. Over the past few years, Mahagonny has been featured in Modfest, the Vassar Music Department’s annual modern music festival.

Recent Repertoire

  • Arvo Pärt, Summa for Strings and Choir
  • Aaron Copland, Nonet for Strings
  • Randall Thompson, The Road Not Taken
  • Maurice Duruflé, Ubi Caritas
  • Benjamin Britten, Sinfonietta
  • Elliott Carter, The Harmony of Morning
  • Elliott Carter, Musicians Wrestle Everywhere
  • Aaron Copland, Appalachian Spring, original version for 13 instruments
  • Pascal Dusapin, Umbrae Mortis
  • Charles Ives, The Unanswered Question
  • Gyorgy Ligeti, Ejszaka and Reggel
  • Gyorgy Ligeti, The Alphabet
  • Witold Lutoslawski, Dance Preludes
  • James MacMillan, A Child’s Prayer
  • Gian Carlo Menotti, The Unicorn, the Gorgon and the Manticore
  • Darius Milhaud, La Création du monde
  • Francis Poulenc, Un Soir de Neige
  • Steve Reich, Music for Pieces of Wood
  • Carl Ruggles, Angels
  • Igor Stravinsky, Dumbarton Oaks Concerto in E-flat for Chamber Orchestra
  • Igor Stravinsky, Mass
  • Igor Stravinsky, Octet
  • Toru Takemitsu, Bryce

The Vassar Camerata, founded in 2004, is the college’s only student-run Baroque ensemble and performs all types of early music from before 1800. Our conductors and officers are all active students at Vassar College. Though we don’t use original instruments, we do rehearse and perform using 18th-century performance practices.

The Vassar Camerata was founded in 2004 by students in conjunction with the music department, and is the college’s only student-run early music ensemble. We specialize in music dating from a broad and diverse span of time, c. 800–1800. The group consists of a chamber orchestra and choir (hence the name “Camerata,” derived from its former usage to denote chamber music or a musical gathering of friends) and includes students from all majors and musical backgrounds.

Auditions are normally held at the beginning of each semester, and while participation in other choral or instrumental ensembles in the department is encouraged, it is not required. Interested students must be able to read music and be enthusiastic about the opportunity to collaborate with their peers in creating an enjoyable but well-prepared program. The aim of Camerata is to engage students in making music from a very different time, in order to more fully appreciate its beauty and value as well as to be able to perform it with integrity, understanding, and sincerity. Recently, the Camerata Orchestra acquired a set of baroque bows to be shared among all its members during rehearsals and performances, giving us access to more informed performance practice as well as a unique opportunity to gain experience with authentic baroque bow technique.

Rehearsals for both ensembles take place on Monday, Wednesday, or Thursday evenings, twice a week according to changing semester schedules. Every year, the choir and orchestra present a selection together, which is rehearsed throughout the semester both separately and together, giving vocalists and instrumentalists the opportunity to perform with one another.

Recent Repertoire

  • Arcangelo Corelli, Concerto Grosso Op. 6, No. 8 (The "Christmas Concerto")
  • Henry Purcell, O Sing Unto the Lord; Trio Sonata No. 9 in F (The "Golden Sonata")
  • Georg Telemann, Overture in G minor
  • George Frideric Handel, selected Concerti Grossi
  • Antonio Vivaldi, Credo;Concerto in G Major; Flute Concerto in D Major (Il Gardellino), RV 428; Concerto (Alla Rustica), RV 151; Magnificat, RV 610
  • Franz Joseph Haydn, Missa Santi Joannis de Deo (Little Organ Mass)
  • Johann Sebastian Bach, Cantata "Gottes Zeit ist die allerbeste Zeit," BWV 106
  • Orlande de Lassus, Magnificat Praeter Rerum Seriem
  • Josquin des Prez, Absalon Fili Mi; El Grillo; Missa Pange Lingua
  • Heinrich Biber, Battalia a 9
  • Selections from the Cantigas de Santa Maria, 13th century
  • Dietrich Buxtehude, Pange lingua gloriosi; Wie schmeckt es so lieblich und wohl
  • Jean Baptiste Lully, De Profundis
  • Francesco Geminiani, Concerto Grosso Op. 3, No. 3
  • Marc-Antoine Charpentier, Messe de Minuit pour Noël
  • Thomas Tallis, Psalm Tunes from Archbishop Parker's Psalter