Debunking Amherst’s Music Lesson Crisis

Despite its intended goal of increasing the accessibility of music lessons, a recent policy change thwarted some students’ attempts to register for lessons this semester. The Student investigated the source of the difficulties and the outlook for prospective enrollees.

Debunking Amherst’s Music Lesson Crisis
At the start of the semester, some students had their enrollment in music lessons unexpectedly revoked. Photo courtesy of Claire Beougher ’25.

When I signed into my Workday account last November to choose my classes for the spring semester, my primary goal was balance. After a humanities-heavy first semester on campus, I was eager to craft a diverse schedule that allowed me to explore my various interests. I managed to secure spots in my top four choices: developmental psychology, art history, Russian literature, and introductory Spanish. But what I was most excited about out of all of my courses was my fifth, non-academic selection — beginner piano lessons.

Let me be clear: I don’t have a musical bone in my body. My closest relationship to music dates back to the two-week period I played the violin in fourth grade, and of course, the abhorrent, off-key singing in the shower that I do now.

Last semester, I took a course called “Music and Totalitarianism” with Professor Klárá Móricz. Luckily for me, that class was more centered on music’s place in history rather than the practice of music itself. At the suggestion of my professor and my developing interest in classical music, I became really excited about the idea of taking piano lessons. So I sent in my Workday override request (required because it counted as a fifth, half-credit course) and was officially approved to start taking lessons.

But on Feb. 2, I received an email from Workday that read, “Piano Lessons. Override: rescinded.” I was surprised at how abruptly my request was denied, and I waited on an explanatory email from the department, which never came. When I learned that the same thing had happened to many of my friends who had signed up for music lessons, I became even more curious about the causes of this mass-rejection.

It turns out that at the same time I was registering for my own lessons, the music department was undergoing a significant policy change regarding eligibility for lessons. In an attempt to attract more students, the music department had made the decision that after the fall semester, they would do away with one of their previous requirements — that students have at least one music class on their transcript — to qualify for free lessons. The only requirement now was that the class had to be taken for credit.

The policy change reflects a general effort in the music department to increase accessibility. Professor and Chair of Music Darryl Harper hoped that lifting the requirement would encourage more students to get involved in the department since it would eliminate scheduling barriers. In addition to lessons, he noted other changes intended to increase accessibility. “Our efforts have included a revision of our requirements for the major, the development of several new courses, and various revisions to our constellation of music lesson courses,” Harper said.

But the unprecedented nature of the change interfered with the department's goals. Harper explained that the problem had a lot to do specifically with the limitations on Workday, explaining that there had never been a problem with students overriding music lessons before, since there were always far more spots for lessons than students who signed up for them. The department had to deal with a much larger group of applicants than ever before because of the policy change. “This was in part our goal,” Harper said. “Unfortunately, though, we fell behind in managing the enrollment for these courses in the way you normally see enrollment managed for other courses at the college: students register during a first round of registration; the following week, the faculty makes cuts to courses that are overenrolled; and then the students have another week to revise their registration.”

The timing of the new policy also contributed to the registration issues. “By the time we had done the enrollment management work, it was well after the second round of registration. This meant that students had to adjust their schedules during Add/Drop at the beginning of the semester,” Harper said. “This was confusing and frustrating for a lot of students, and we recognize we have to improve our timing going forward.”

As an active member of the music community on campus, Charlie Odulio ’26 appreciates the sentiment of the change, but agrees that it needs refinement. In addition to playing trumpet in the Amherst Symphony Orchestra, Odulio currently takes piano lessons with Dr. Hiromi Fukuda. Although he was not personally impacted by the music lesson shortage because he had previously been taking lessons, he was excited about the premise of dropping the corequisite and wishes it had been thought through better. “I think ideally, any student that’s interested in taking lessons should be able to. It’s a really excellent thing,” Odulio said. “Practically speaking though, you can’t pay for everyone. Even the money aside, it’s about finding enough instructors to teach.”

In addition to planning, he pointed to communication as an area where the department fell short. “I think the primary issue with what happened this semester, at least as I observed it, was that it seemed like people were going to be able to take lessons, and they were excited for that, and then they weren’t [able to]. It was a let down,” he said. “So I think the bigger thing moving forward would be to just have a more open line of communication with what the situation is.”

Harper says that better communication is indeed one of the primary goals the department is keeping in mind as it moves forward. Harper cites poster campaigns, an updated website delineating current music lesson requirements, and Daily Mammoth announcements as the ways in which they have tried to be more proactive with their communication thus far.

“We hope all of these steps will put us in a position to communicate more clearly with students during Roster Management Week,” Harper said. “We expect to be able to maintain our newly increased enrollment of roughly 200 students for the fall semester.”

As for me, I’ve sent in another override request via Workday for beginner piano lessons for the upcoming fall semester. And hopefully this time, I’ll be able to secure a spot.