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A Space for Music: Music on the Hill

“VOTED, to establish the Professorship of the History and Theory of Music in the College of Letters” —August 7, 1895

And so the Department of Music at Tufts University was born. Assuming the new professorship—which was supported by income generated from Metcalf Hall—was Leo Rich Lewis (1865–1945), a Tufts alumnus, French instructor, and local Renaissance man who went on to lead all the college’s musical endeavors for 50 years. An inspiring teacher, composer, and conductor, he wrote the music for the Tufts “Alma Mater” in 1898, and helped Tufts earn the nickname “the Singing College.”

In 1945, Thompson Stone (1883–1972) assumed the chair as the second Austin Fletcher Professor of Music. Stone was the conductor of Boston’s venerable Handel and Haydn Society and a guest conductor of the Boston Pops. Upon his retirement in 1954, Kenneth MacKillop (1900–1982) took over. Under his guidance, the music faculty expanded from two to six people. Collaborating with the conductor Sarah Caldwell, MacKillop also brought the Opera Company of Boston to the Tufts campus.

In 1972, T.J. Anderson became the fourth Fletcher Professor and chair. One of the leading composers of his generation, Anderson had a global vision that helped Tufts keep pace with the university’s growing multicultural environment. During the 1970s and ’80s, the department gained a reputation as one of the most inclusive and international music programs in the country, as Anderson introduced music from the Western art and world traditions as well as from the African-American experience.

Music’s Many Homes
In its 111-year history, the Tufts Music Department has resided in several locations around the campus. The first department chair, Leo R. Lewis, lectured in Ballou Hall, where concerts were given in the Coolidge Room. In 1899, the department occupied two rooms on the top floor of Goddard Gym (now Goddard Hall and part of the Fletcher School): one for instruction and rehearsals, the other for the music library. In 1930, the old Chemistry Lab on Boston Avenue officially became the “Music House.” The department remained there until 1955, when it moved to the newly built Edward E. Cohen Arts Center (now Aidekman Arts Center). Outgrowing its basement facilities, the music department came full circle in 1991, when faculty and department offices were relocated to 20 Professors Row, home to Professor Lewis for 50 years.

With the move to its stunning new building, the music program enters another exciting phase in its history.

Music Groups at Tufts
Even before the department’s official inauguration, music was a vital part of life at Tufts. The first vocal group, the Glee Club, was formed in 1865. Instrumental ensembles also sprang up; the Banjo Club, founded in 1888, became the Mandolin and Guitar Club, which often accompanied the Glee Club.

Musical opportunities at Tufts expanded with the entrance of women in 1892. Jackson College for Women was established in 1910, and six years later, the Jackson Glee Club added a welcome infusion of soprano to Tufts melodies.

In 1868, the Tufts Choir began singing at Sunday services at Goddard Chapel and at college ceremonies. The choral program now consists of the Chamber Singers, the Opera Ensemble, the 60-person Chorale, and the Gospel Choir, which boasts a membership of 160 students.

The well-loved male a cappella group, the Beelzebubs, was started by Timothy Vaill and three classmates in 1962. The Bubs, consisting of about a dozen members, immediately became a Tufts tradition. The group’s female counterpart, the Jackson Jills, formed a year later, and in 1984, the Amalgamates, Tufts’ first co-ed a cappella group, made its debut. Each ensemble performs at campus events, represents Tufts around the world, and raises money for the university and other educational organizations.

In 1925, a full orchestra replaced the Mandolin Club. After a hiatus in the 1960s and ’70s, the Tufts Symphony Orchestra was reborn, and now boasts more than 70 members.

Since the College Band’s first appearance at the Bates-Tufts football game in 1903, a variety of wind ensembles have tooted at Tufts. In addition to the pep band, the department sponsors symphonic wind ensembles, jazz big bands, and small jazz improvisation groups.

The past quarter century has witnessed an explosion of diverse musical organizations at Tufts. Some 19 ensembles represent music from all over the world. In addition to the orchestra, bands, and choral groups, they include Kiniwe: West African Music and Dance Ensemble, Javanese Gamelan Ensemble, Arabic Music Ensemble, Early Music Ensemble, Klezmer Ensemble, Flute Ensemble, Tufts Composers, and the New Music Ensemble.

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