Students in Service and Leadership at Harvard

R-A-D: The Story of RCS

What is RCS? 

The Radcliffe Choral Society (RCS) is a treble (meaning soprano-alto voices or higher voices) choral ensemble of about 40-60 members, open to any student at Harvard University. It was founded in 1899, by Elizabeth Cary Agassiz, the first president of Radcliffe College and as one of the only five organizations today to still bear the Radcliffe name, RCS continues to proudly honor its history and legacy by celebrating excellence in women’s choral music and the extraordinary community formed through its music-making. The ensemble performs a distinctive repertoire spanning nine centuries of choral literature: sacred and secular, a cappella and accompanied, collaborative and choral-orchestral. Featuring a student led a cappella group, 'Cliffe Notes, RCS aims to foster the appreciation of women's choral music through the commission of new works (often by female writers and composers) for soprano and alto voices, high-caliber performances, music festivals in as well as annual domestic and international travel.

One of the ways in which RCS continues to honor its Radcliffe history is by singing songs from Radcliffe College including its alma mater. 

RCS' Organizational Structure

RCS is one of the three main choirs forming the umbrella organization, the Harvard Choruses, which also includes Harvard Glee Club (tenor-bass student choir, meaning lower voices) and Harvard-Radcliffe Collegium Musicum (mixed voices student choir, meaning all voices). There is a fourth choir called Harvard-Radcliffe Chorus but it is a community choir and thus, not entirely a student-led organization. All three student choirs are led  and conducted by the Director of Choral Activities (currently Dr. Andrew Clark) but each choir also has a resident conductor (RCS’ is currently Meg Weckworth) who acts as an assistant conductor or in some cases, the main conductor when the DCA is working more closely with another choir. What makes the Harvard Choruses interesting is that RCS, HGC and HRCM are not only faculty-conducted choirs and music department courses that members can take for credit but they are also student organizations at Harvard and more importantly, student-managed 501(c)3 non-profits organizations.

An interactive diagram of Radcliffe Choral Society's basic organizational structure in relation to the Harvard Choruses as a whole. 

RCS Student Leadership: Manager

Along with president, manager is the highest level of student leadership in the Harvard Choruses and is a year-long position running from January to January. The manager of RCS acts as an arts administrator running the day-to-day operations and activities of the organization, including its 20+ member executive committee. This involves:Along with the faculty, the manager also helps develop short and long-term strategies for our individual choir and Harvard Choruses program. Around October, the president and manager begin the process of appointing a new manager. Once the new manager is determined by end of November, the outgoing manager starts preparing the new manager for their term through transition meetings, email introductions to existing contacts and other logistical changes. By January, the new manager officially takes on their role and the outgoing manager becomes manager emerita for a semester to help support the new manager.

A sample timeline of a manager's schedule and responsibilities over the course of 2 weeks - this timeline was taken from the two weeks leading up to our holiday concert

Student Leadership: Challenges 

Given the rather unique but complicated organizational structure of RCS, one challenge student leaders face is navigating the different relationships that exist with the various stakeholders (members of the choir, faculty, administration, our alumni foundation, etc) involved, especially in the context of decision-making. Being a student leader of RCS can be great because you have so much capacity for impact due to the weight of the power given to the students and the amount of respect the faculty have for the mutual partnership established with the students. However, it also means learning to balance the different domains of our roles and the relationships we have with other roles. For example, when am I a manager in Harvard Choruses? The leader of a student-run Harvard organization? The student of a faculty-led choir? The CEO of a non-profit? A singer in a music ensemble?  When is Andy our boss as the director of Harvard Choruses? Or our professor? When is he just a faculty adviser to our student organization? When is he a board member on our student-run non-profit?

Due to the complexities of these relationships, there are a lot of blurred lines surrounding student agency and decision-making. Who gets to be a part of what decisions and in what way? How do we balance the voices of all the stakeholders, especially between students and faculty? How can we ensure that student leaders are making an informed decision? How do we respect the process while still making room for flexibility in light of new information? The issues with decision-making are further exacerbated by the lack of clarity surrounding voting procedures and interpretation of outcomes. This research project seeks to clarify these questions, to start honest conversations with student leaders and artistic staff about the unique challenges our organization faces and to develop recommendations and guidelines for voting that can be eventually be codified in our by-laws. 

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