Students in Service and Leadership at Harvard

Blueprint for Action Part I- The Lack of Emphasis on Musical Service at Harvard

Countless studies show that music could potentially serve as a beneficial, cost-effective method of combating negative emotion and facilitating mood management. Exposure to music has been found to have a positive impact on quality of life and emotional, mental well-being across an individual’s lifespan. With this information in mind, it is crucial that student musicians at Harvard are well- informed about the benefits of music that can go far beyond the enjoyment individuals receive as audience members in the fancy concert halls. With the abundance of musical talent amidst the Harvard community, there is much potential for a healing impact to be made, especially in underserved, underprivileged youth populations. Furthermore, serving others through music can be a powerful vision that connects student musicians at Harvard, perhaps even refueling their passion for music that has faded due to burnout. 

After interviewing Harvard student musicians from different music organizations, with a primary focus on members from the Harvard Radcliffe Orchestra, I compiled and analyzed their responses to various questions regarding music and service. Out of the many student musicians I interviewed, four students shared particularly insightful experiences and opinions regarding music and service at Harvard. Short excerpts from these four interviews were included in the video above. 

From these four interviews, as well as the majority of the responses I received from other student musicians, it is clear that students do not feel that there are accessible opportunities for musical service at Harvard. Angela Li ‘24, who is a violinist in the Harvard Radcliffe Orchestra and was an Outreach Director last year, expressed the difficulties she faced in facilitating a service-minded vision within the organization. She mentioned that it was hard to have the bandwidth to initiate any outreach efforts due to the fact that Outreach Team members were instructed to help with “logistical tasks such as planning for performances.” This reveals that performance-based organizations have a clear priority for performance over service, and do not seem to emphasize nor facilitate enthusiasm for serving our community through music. Peter Jin ‘25, a member of the Harvard Glee Club and a previous member of the Harvard Din & Tonics, shared about his experience with musical outreach, but only to very privileged populations for the purpose of financially funding the organization. This cycle of constantly “shuffling money” to fundraise for acapella tours, “essentially the opposite of service,” seemed to distort and twist the definition of what musical service and outreach should look like. 

However, it is clear from my interview responses that student musicians do see the potential in music for service, and have a heart to use their musical talents to give back to others. These responses further support the need for more music service opportunities to be created at Harvard.


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