Safe Haven for Us Oddballs

Yesterday I had the great pleasure of lecturing on Cage and my own music at the Hartt School in Hartford, at the invitation of Robert Carl and Ken Steen. I’m always joking with them about doing endorsements for the place, and I might as well proceed. Hartt is one of the few graduate schools I recommend for my own students and for those who share my anti-establishment musical interests – others are CalArts, Mills College, Yale, and Wesleyan. But Yale and Wesleyan accept only a tiny number of students and are all but impossible to get into; Hartt has significantly more slots open. Hartt doesn’t seem to have the reputation it did in the mid-20th-century, and I can’t figure out why. I was certainly aware of it as a teenager, possibly because my first composition teacher Alvin Epstein studied and taught there, whereas I was in my 30s before I heard of Bard. One never really knows what goes on in a department from the outside, but the atmosphere there seems enviable, the faculty open-minded and mutually supportive. I’ve sent two students there now, and both of them have been amazed what’s been required from them in learning ear-training, score-reading, and other nuts-and-bolts topics. They take musical education very seriously. The students call it “Boulanger Lite,” and the curriculum does seem copied from the Paris Conservatoire. Nevertheless, it’s one of the few places where one could pursue microtonality, Downtown music, and even conceptualism without drawing down faculty discouragement, PLUS study electronic music in friendlier softwares than Max/MSP and Supercollider. I was very impressed this time with the level and camaraderie of grad students. I got to sit in on Robert’s “Cage, Carter, and Crumb” class, and he was running circles around me in the Cage analysis department. Maybe being slightly underrated is what gives a music department a vibrant energy, while acquiring the “prestige” label turns it into a nest of vipers. If I could do grad school again, I can’t imagine a place I’d rather do it than Hartt.


  1. says

    I’m a graduate of Hartt and it’s gratifying to read your positive assessment. Robert was a personal mentor to me before I even attended the school and let me say that his generosity of spirit sets the tone for the entire composition department. They’re simply a great group of people in addition to being excellent composers and teachers.

  2. says

    Having graduated from Hartt in May, I agree whole-heartedly. Gann is one of my favorite composers (and writers on music), and I am disappointed I missed this lecture.

  3. Richard says

    Kyle, I think it’s just a matter of time before “oddballism” becomes the norm in Music Departments. Of course, in the future, there might not be any Music Departments.
    KG replies: I hope you’re right, but hidebound academics have shown an astonishing capacity for replicating themselves.

  4. Casey says

    Aww, you’re making me jealous, I applied for the PhD program at Hartt and didn’t get in, they told me they were only accepting 1 or 2 people. I got the sense that it was a very special department when I went for my interview. Oh well, I’ve ended up at another school at least closer to NYC where us composers are left to our own devices.
    KG replies: Oops, sorry. Well, if it’s consolation, I went to Northwestern myself, and had a good time there *because* it was such a weak department that I was always free to do my own thing. I’ve often told students that going to a mediocre grad school was a good idea. It’s only lately that I’ve been considering the possibility that a strong grad school might be stimulating.

  5. TawnieO says

    I’ve just been hired to teach composition at Hartt as an adjunct next semester. I already had the impression that it was a great place; glad to have that confirmed by your post!