Texas Uproar Over Harpsichord Education

by EMA Staff
Published March 19, 2024

Facing budget cuts and with shifting educational priorities, the College of Music at the University of North Texas, in Denton, plans to eliminate its harpsichord lecturer position and hire a professor of organ and harpsichord.  

UNT’s Winspear Auditorium in the Murchison Performing Arts Center (wikicommons photo by Craig D. Blackmon, courtesy of Holzman Moss Architecture)

A news article, published last week in The North Texas Daily, laid out the dispute: “One hundred and fifty people, including students, faculty and alumni, signed a petition, and faculty wrote letters urging the College of Music to reconsider its decision not to renew the contract of its only lecturer of harpsichord.”

The article continued, “In summer 2023, College of Music Dean John Richmond made the decision to let Lecturer of Harpsichord Bradley Bennight’s contract expire at the end of the spring 2024 semester. The petition says the loss of the harpsichord lecturer position and the changes that would follow, in combination with previous cuts and any future cuts, could ‘severely cripple, if not destroy’ the college’s early music program.”

In response, CoM Dean Richmond, in a nine-page memorandum, wrote that he is “committed to the Early Music Program at UNT, to harpsichord as an ongoing part of our instructional program, to careful stewardship of our resources, and to full transparency in our administrative process.”

UNT’s College of Music’s French double-manual harpsichord (Photo by Nolan Wilkinson/North Texas Daily, used with permission)

Baroque oboist and conductor Billy Traylor, founder and artistic director of the Austin Baroque Orchestra – and a Ph.D. student at UNT – recently wrote of “changes/cuts proposed to be made to the early music program at UNT that have the potential to hobble the program, and that many of us fear could lead to its demise.”

Its effects would be felt far beyond the UNT campus, Traylor continued, since “UNT’s early music program provides HIPP [historically informed performance practice] training to many students who will be part of the next generation of early music professionals, some of whom may choose to stay in Texas. More early music performers living in our state is, I believe, a positive thing both for logistical reasons and to help continue to demonstrate to the broader early music community that our field is very much alive in Texas.”

Over the years, UNT’s Baroque orchestra has appeared four times at EMA’s Young Performer Festival (YPF), which brings together top collegiate and pre-collegiate ensembles from across North America.

Read the Faculty and Student Petition, dated Feb. 28, 2024

Read the University’s Reply, dated March 6, 2024

Read The North Texas Daily news article, dated March 10, 2024

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