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Setting the record straight: Concerns over changes in music understandable, but misunderstood says chair

December 16, 2013

Late last week, just days after the talents of the college’s music and voice students were on display in Eaton Chapel, rumors began circulating that the Department of Music at Beloit was doing away with both its orchestral program, and its choir.  While changes in the program are planned, the college remains committed to providing opportunities for students to participate in orchestral and choral ensembles. 

Music chair Daniel Barolsky talked with the Terrarium about what’s happening, why, and when. A brief recounting of those details, along with opportunities for learning more, appear below.

Investigation ultimately led to rethinking of ensembles.

As Barolsky explained in an email to more than 40 concerned students on Thursday, he was a part of an interdisciplinary taskforce over the summer that consisted of five faculty members charged with mapping a future for the music program at Beloit.  “Our task was, ultimately, to re-build the music program: to create a new mission, a new curriculum, to assess our resources and needs, and to imagine a new staffing plan,” Barolsky said.

One of the central concerns voiced in student emails and on social media had to do with the idea that the college would no longer be hosting a student orchestra. This is true. As Barolsky explained in his email to students (mentioned above):

“For years we've struggled to fill the brass and even the wind sections.  This is not only because we're not a school of music that recruits specific instrumentalists… but because trumpets and trombones, especially, also have the choice to play in wind ensemble or jazz band.  Consequently the music department pays thousands of dollars a year to hire outside players since there aren't enough student brass musicians.”

“We determined we were better off creating these ensembles based on our natural strengths, affinities and resources, rather than forcing ourselves to continue to do this,” Barolsky told the Terrarium.  Reorganizing ensembles in a “more nimble and flexible way” will allow the program to stop being forced to fill vacancies in its orchestra with non-students and allow future faculty and the interests of their students to give shape the playing groups available.

The choral program is here to stay, but may change.

Another rumor was that the choral program was going to be closed down. This is untrue, Barolsky said, but he reiterated that this program should also be open to the influences of future faculty, students, and ideas.

Consultation continues

To inform their work, the summer task force conferred with professors of music at two other liberal arts colleges, as well as some two-dozen additional music professors around the world.  In the fall, members of the group spoke informally with both music students and non-music students at the college, and had directed conversations with Beloit music alumni.

Barolsky says he is happy to continue talking about the plans for the department—plans he and the other faculty involved in the review are excited about and that he is helping implement in the coming months. The department, which is currently searching to fill a tenure-track line in ethnomusicology, also expects to discuss its process and its outcomes with other departments and faculty groups in the spring.