By:  | 

The Future of Music at YU

“Music expresses that which cannot be put into words and that which cannot remain silent.” Victor Hugo, author of Les Miserables, beautifully expressed what so many of us instinctively feel. Music, in whatever form we prefer, carries so much meaning. Whether our thing is jazz, rock, indie, alternative, or kumzits, we’ve all been hit before by the power of a song, a lyric, a tune, or a melody. Our music speaks to us. And that power is made possible by people who dedicate their time to the intense study and practice of music. Those who choose to study music in college—major or minor—do so because they have a passion and a gift for that thing which we all connect to.

The other week, I was speaking to a friend who’s majoring in sociology, with plans to go into chinuch. We were talking about the classes he needs to take, and what’s it like to be in one of YU’s smallest majors. He remarked, only half-jokingly, that he hopes he will be able to finish his degree before the sociology department closes down. At a relatively small university such as ours, this is an unfortunate, but necessary, reality. With limited budgets already, the university just doesn’t have the money for smaller departments and majors. When crunch time comes, the “extras” are the first things to go. With beloved head of the music department, Professor Noyes Bartholomew, retiring after this year, the question has to be asked—what will happen with the music department? To go straight to the source, I asked the good professor himself.

In articulating Yeshiva’s vision of the liberal arts, Professor Bartholomew wrote that: “I do believe that the College fully understands that the presence of the arts in a curriculum is a significant part in the forming of cultured students. The non-verbal arts, after all, comprise expressions, or projections, of human knowledge and emotion for which, frequently, no words suffice. In this sense, artists express themselves in the non-verbal arts through languages, each with its own syntax but without the precision of the texts of poetry and other verbal literature, but languages which, once encountered and experienced deeply, enrich a person’s life.” This ideal echoes the vision and direction of any quality liberal arts college.

Oftentimes, we study art not for what we can do with it, but for what it can do for and to us. With that in mind, he continued, Yeshiva faces very real, very significant monetary concerns. Professor Bartholomew told me that “the budgetary reality that Dean Eichler must deal with is almost overwhelming. The higher administration keeps calling for cuts.” The idea of hiring a full-time professor for the art department has been something which has been on the ‘back burner’ for many years now, but has always been passed up for more hiring needs in larger departments such as psychology and the natural sciences. “Until the university’s financial difficulty eases”, says Bartholomew, “arguments for new hires are difficult to support.”

Practically, this means that the current adjunct professors and other part time faculty in the music department will have to fill the gap, and continue to provide all necessary courses. This semester, the music department offers eight courses, four of which are being taught by Professor Bartholomew. Without hiring a new full-time professor, it is hard to see how the music department will pick up the slack. Someone will also have to fill Dr. Bartholomew’s place as department advisor. This means a faculty member who has both the knowledge of the department and the time available to not only teach courses, but also advise and guide music majors and minors with their programs. While YU clearly needs to keep budgetary concerns at the forefront, the university must also maintain vibrant, relevant programs in its smaller departments if we are to be a liberal arts club.

Aryeh Tiefenbrunn, music major and founder of the YU Music Club, remarked to me that the music department at YU is not intended to make the university a competitive music program. At the end of the day, YU doesn’t have the resources or numbers to be Berkley, or even Columbia or a similar program. But that’s also not what we’re trying to be. The music department here, more than anything, gives a place to students with “a serious interest in music, who have just never been exposed to much music education in their lives.” Being a music major or minor at YU is a fantastic way to take a casual passion and talent for music to the next level. If a student takes his music studies here seriously, they will prepare him for graduate level music programs.

But although the university perhaps can’t be expected to be concerned with expanding the department, it definitely should be concerned with making the music department the best it can possibly be. To encourage growth and development within the music program, students need to see that the university has their interests in mind. This comes out, very often, in the small details. Aryeh told me that the classrooms for music classes still do not have whiteboards outfitted with staff lines (for music notation), which should be standard issue. It’s the little things like this where the university has a chance to strengthen the department and show that they care, and these opportunities should not be passed up. Again though, many of the issue come down to the constant tension YU faces between maintaining healthy, vibrant departments on the one hand, and healthy, vibrant finances on the other. With all this in mind, we’re left with a bit of a question mark as to the future of music here at YU. After corresponding with Professor Bartholomew, however, I felt reassured by his closing words: “Trust that well-intentioned people will do everything possible to keep music healthy at the College.”