Skip to content Skip to navigation
Skip to global navigation Menu

September 1872

Charlotte Finch ’72, organist and teacher of music, began the tradition of organ recitals in the Chapel on Sunday evenings. “Sunday evening,” wrote a student in 1875, “is becoming very attractive through the kindness of Miss Finch, who plays the organ, from a quarter of nine till Silent Time. Long before the appointed hour, the sentimental and musial assemble, listen and become insensibly sadder and wiser. The chapel is not lighted, except by the gas jets each side the instrument, and their uncertain gleams together with the sweet strains, make up an exquisite bit of sentiment in our otherwise practical living…. In the main, “Adagios” are most acceptable, because they best express the emotions of the audience. One charming production is the representation of chimes—charming because they do not call us to a sermon where everyone falls asleep till the Benediction is over. This composition represents the evening bells, the intonation of the priest, the response of the choir and all the melody and fascination of ritualistic worship. The aesthetical and the devotional elements are here most appropriately combined.”
The Vassar Miscellany

Miss Finch died on October 1, 1885, at the age of 34, serving also in the last three years of her life as secretary to the president. The “Saint Cecilia” window to the left of the organ in the Chapel was given by a member of the Class of 1887 in her memory, and the angel it depicts is in her image. Her Sunday recitals were revived in 1908 by Ellen M. Fitz, a Mount Holyoke College graduate, and they continued until Miss Fitz left the college in 1915. Known as “Dark Music” during this period, they preceded the Sunday evening Vesper service.

Ellen Fitz’s successor in 1917, E. Harold Geer, continued the “Dark Music” tradition, moving its time between late afternoon to mid-evening from time to time, including guest organists from other colleges and universities and presenting thematic programs: music from “Allied nations” during World War I, exclusively American or French music, etc. The series prompted comment, criticism, and sometimes humor in The Miscellany News:


“Vassar: ‘Can’t you stay over for Dark Music?’

“Princeton: ‘How dark?’

“Vassar: ‘Dark enough.‘” (1920)

In 1922, an attempt by an “enterprising junior” to transform a recital by the world-famous pianist Harold Bauer in the Students’ Building “into ‘dark music’ was met with applause, and the less self-contained portion of the audience demonstrated by hisses its disapproval of the reappearance of the overhead lights.”

Professor Geer performed his 500th “Dark Music” recital on Sunday, January 14, 1934, and, while the series ended shortly thereafter, he continued to offer organ recitals from time to time. He retired from the college in 1952 and died on December 24, 1957.

The Years