My Musical Enlightenment: A Summer in Vienna


Hey y’all! (Please don’t ask how I picked up y’all…I was born and raised in Northern California and now go to school in Cambridge, and at some point in the not so distant past, started using this traditionally Southern contraction. Don’t worry, I haven’t picked up a drawl though.)

Or should I say, Gruß Gott!

Now you’re just confused.

My name is Isaac Alter, and I’m a rising junior at Harvard College, studying Human Developmental and Regenerative Biology (you know it’s a name from Harvard because it’s long and obnoxious and you don’t know what it means), or stem cell biology, and am minoring in art history and music.  I also am a flutist with the fabulous River Charles Ensemble. 

The reason why I am writing this and have anything potentially interesting to say is because, as suggested by the German greeting above, I spent 7 weeks at the beginning of the summer studying music in Vienna, Austria.  (PSA: Vienna is not in Italy. I had more than one friend who went the entire summer believing I was in Italy).

If you’re thinking, “Wow, what an incredible city to study music in,” you’re right.  For those who don’t know, Vienna has been the center of classical music for centuries, and is still home to some of the most respected musical establishments in the world, including the Vienna Philharmonic and the Vienna State Opera (whose gorgeous building is pictured below).

I won’t bore you with all the details of my trip, but here are some highlights: I saw over 20 operas, including the entire Wagner Ring Cycle, since standing room tickets are a mere 3 euros; I traveled to several nearby cities, such as Salzburg, Bratislava, and Budapest; I met some truly incredible musicians with whom I performed a concert at the end of my time in Vienna; and I learned enough German to trick many people into believing I was a native Austrian.  

As a whole, my Viennese adventure taught me so much about music—I didn’t just get a lot out of my instruction, but I also relished the opportunities to make music with new people whose experiences were very different than mine, and to be completely immersed in music by attending a performance almost every day.  Returning home and no longer having that privilege has reminded me how truly valuable music is in my life. 


Isaac Alter '16 is a flautist in the River Charles Ensemble. He is also the Publicity Manager on the River Charles Ensemble Student Board of Trustees 2014-2015.