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Class of '96 Has Many Musicians

By Hyun Soo Kim

The Class of 1996 includes an unusually high number of unusually talented musicians. As a result, more freshmen are participating in MIT's music performance groups than ever before.

"The perception is that music groups have a greater role at MIT," said Concert Director Clarise E. Snyder. "Over the past 10 years, there has been an increase from 60 music performances to 125 performances [annually] by MIT music groups."

For example, the Chamber Music Society has a record 23 chamber music ensembles this year, said Marcus A. Thompson, director of the society. Usually, there are only 18 groups, he said.

Increase in freshman quality

In addition to the quality, the quantity of student musicians is on the rise as well. "We've seen a sudden jump in quality," Thompson said.

A whopping 31 freshmen were accepted into the MIT Symphony this fall, according to manager Edmund A. Jones. This increase is especially evident in the first violin section, which is twice a large as last year's.

The concert band, which does not require a preliminary audition, has also enjoyed an increase in freshmen membership this year, said to Director John D. Corley.

"There are years when we've had to struggle to find French horns. Now we have eight French horns," he said.

Snyder said the increases have been seen across the board.

"People are beginning to find out that music is good at MIT just like everything else," Thompson said. "One reason seems to be due to the admissions office, which is sensitive to the needs of MIT's music programs. Also, with the new provost for the arts and the new drama program, there is a focus that the arts are important for students at MIT."

Freshmen eager to participate

Musicians applying to MIT often send tapes of their performances along with their regular applications to try to win a special recommendation from the music department. Last year, the admissions office received 86 tapes from applicants; 92 tapes were sent in the previous year.

"For the past two years we've seen more tapes than ever before," said Margaret E. Devine, the administrative assistant in the music office.

Approximately 40 percent of the tapes from the freshman class were recommended as above average or outstanding, she said. Good recommendations are a positive factor for musicians in the admissions process, she added.

However, the admissions office does not make a concerted effort to seek out musicians, according to Elizabeth S. Johnson, associate director of admissions.

"We just have a more (musically) active freshman class this year," she said. "No one really knows why. It may have been some program in elementary school."

Bassoonist Christina Park '96, who plays in the Chamber Music Society and the Symphony, said she discovered MIT's music program when she saw compact discs recorded by the MIT Symphony years ago. "I was shocked that science and technology people were recording," she said.

Many freshmen musicians said they considered the strength of MIT's music programs when deciding what college to attend. Although it was not a decisive factor, "it sweetened the deal," according to Leonard H. Kim '96.

"I want to be a biologist, but I also want to continue in music and reach a higher level of performance," said violinist Ai-Sun Tseng '96.

Park agreed. "In high school, [music] was a big part of my life. I don't want to give it up."