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Harrison Keller

Harrison Keller (1889–1979) graduated from Bethany College with a Bachelor of Music in 1908. From 1908–11, Keller studied violin at Stern’s Conservatory in Berlin with Gustav Hollander and Anton Witek.

During the years 1913–14, Keller studied violin with Leopold Auer in St. Petersburg, as well as in Prague and at The Hague. During World War I, Keller served as lieutenant, acting as leader of the 301st Artillery Band in France. Keller was once offered the concertmastership of the Boston Symphony Orchestra but declined in favor of a career in chamber music and teaching.

Portrait image of NEC President, Harrison Keller

About Harrison Keller

He joined the faculty of New England Conservatory in 1921, first chairing the violin department and later the string department. During this period, Keller founded the Boston String Quartet. In 1946, Keller was appointed director of NEC. He was then named its first president in 1951 when NEC became a college. He served in this capacity until 1958, but remained an active voice as president emeritus for many years after his formal resignation. During Keller’s tenure, he increased the prestige of the conservatory faculty, improved facilities, and tripled the amount of the conservatory’s endowment.

During his career, Keller also served as director of the Boston Opera Association, trustee of the Paderewski and Frank Huntington Beebe Funds, and president of the National Association of Schools of Music for three terms. Keller was awarded honorary doctorates from Bethany College (1954), Hartt School of Music (1955), and NEC (1959). Keller was also appointed to the American Academy of Arts.

Harrison Keller Archives

This collection consists of .25 lin. ft or one document case. These records are primarily paper files along with a small number of photographs.

This collection includes the materials created by, and belonging to Harrison Keller, who served as acting director of New England Conservatory from 1946–47; director from 1947–53; and president from 1953–58. The materials in this collection have been stored at NEC since Keller’s tenure.

Access to the Keller Papers is granted by the archivist. Appointments must be scheduled in advance. There are limited restrictions pertaining to this collection.

All copyrights to this collection belong to New England Conservatory. Permission to publish materials from this collection is granted by the Director of Libraries. This collection should be cited as: NECA 1.5 Harrison Keller Papers, New England Conservatory Archives, Boston, MA.

The Harrison Keller Papers are organized into six series:

  1. Correspondence
  2. Bequests
  3. Subject Files
  4. Writings (Speeches/Reports/Tributes)
  5. Concert programs
  6. Photographs


Keller’s correspondence is divided into three categories: correspondence prior to Keller’s presidency; presidential correspondence; and correspondence as president emeritus. 

Keller’s early correspondence dates from 1915-42. There are letters and postcards from Leopold Auer (one of Keller’s teachers), John Alden Carpenter, Ida May Chadwick, Edward Burlingame Hill, Mrs. Edward MacDowell, Wallace Goodrich, and several letters from Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge. Presidential correspondence includes memoranda to faculty and correspondence with Randall Thompson from Harvard University regarding a possible institutional affiliation, as well as correspondence concerning the Walter Naumburg Foundation, the possibility of a French cultural exchange with NEC, and the Berkshire Music Center. One individual folder concerns the status of then-NEC student Sarah Caldwell.

Keller’s correspondence as president emeritus includes further exchanges regarding the Berkshire Music Center and a French cultural exchange, as well as correspondence with Sherwin Badger, chairman of the NEC Board of Trustees, concerning the troubled financial situation at NEC and also the planning for the Firestone Library. Additional correspondents include: Arthur Fiedler; W. McNeil Lowry of the Ford Foundation; Howard Hanson of the University of Rochester; and Randall Thompson from Harvard University, regarding a possible joint degree program between the two institutions. In addition, this category contains letters from Keller to Donald Martino regarding the Paderewski Fund for Composers, as well as several letters/memoranda from Keller to then President Gunther Schuller. One contains background information on Brown Hall; another includes an outline describing alternative teaching methods that could be employed by the Conservatory in the case of lack of funds. 

There is one last letter included, written by Chester Williams to Mrs. Keller after Harrison’s death, describing what his legacy will be at NEC.


Significant bequests described in the Keller papers include the Cobb Walker Library and the Wendell Endicott collection of paintings, as well as a memorandum entitled “Total Funds Received as Gifts, 1931–1946.”

Subject files

The subject files contain a small amount of material relating to NEC’s 90th Anniversary that took place in 1957; a file concerning the planning, construction, and opening of the new dormitory building in 1959; the Harrison Keller String Quartet; and a script for a film about NEC called “Gateway to Achievement.” The film itself has been lost. Also included are information about instruments owned by NEC, Orientation (1955-56), and biographical materials pertaining to Keller.


Keller’s writings have been organized into four categories: speeches at NEC; reports/essays on NEC topics; tributes; and speeches/reports given outside of the conservatory. 

Among Keller’s NEC speeches are statements that Keller gave to the faculty, including one on the occasion of his acceptance as president. Another speech is Keller’s address to the conservatory community on the occasion of the opening of the dormitory and Spaulding Library in 1959. 

Among Keller’s reports/essays concerning NEC are: “A Brief Account of Fund Raising Activities during the period of 1951-1961,” “The Conservatory’s First Century of Progress (February 6, 1970), “An Introduction to Music” and “Notes from Harrison Keller” (January 30, 1963) and a handwritten statement discussing options during NEC’s financial crisis in 1970. 

Keller’s tributes honor Chester Williams, Carl McKinley, Richard Burgin, Wallace Goodrich, and Maurice Fremont-Smith. 

Keller’s writings outside of NEC include addresses to the Hartt School of Music (Commencement 1955) and the Peabody Institute, on the occasion of its 100th anniversary (‘The Future of the Conservatory’ – February 1957). This series also contains reports to the Middle States Association, Music Teachers National Association and National Association of Schools of Music (NASM), the National Federation of Music Clubs (March 1956), and to the President of Mt. Allison University, evaluating that institution’s course offerings.

Concert programs

The fifth series of this collection features a number of concert programs collected by Keller during his days of study in Berlin, dating from 1907-09. These programs were donated by Keller to the NEC library.


There are several photographs in this collection (all 8×10) depicting various events. These events most likely include Keller’s inaugural, Keller’s retirement, and professional organization meetings. Also included are a press photo and a photo that was featured in the 1952 class yearbook.

Series 1:  Correspondence

Box 1 – Folder 1
Correspondence, pre-Presidential

Box 1 – Folder 2
Correspondence/memoranda, Presidential

Box 1 – Folder 3
Correspondence, Presidential, re: Sarah Caldwell

Box 1 – Folder 4
Correspondence, President Emeritus

Box 1 – Folder 5
Correspondence, President Emeritus, to Gunther Schuller

Series 2: Bequests

Box 1 – Folder 6

Series 3:  Subject Files

Box 1 – Folder 7

Box 1 – Folder 8
NEC film script ‘Gateway to achievement’

Box 1 – Folder 9
Harrison Keller String Quartet

Box 1 – Folder 10
Instruments including Gagliano violin

Box 1 – Folder 11
NEC’s 90th Anniversary

Box 1 – Folder 12
Orientation, 1955-1956

Box 1 – Folder 13
International Music Students Federation – Third Symposium

Box 1 – Folder 14
Biographical materials

Series 4:  Writings (Speeches/Reports/Tributes)

Box 1 – Folder 15
NEC Speeches

Box 1 – Folder 16
NEC Reports

Box 1 – Folder 17
NEC Tributes

Box 1 – Folder 18
Non-NEC Addresses/Reports

Series 5: Concert Programs

Box 1 – Folder 19
Concert Programs, 1907

Box 1 – Folder 20
Concert Programs, 1908-1909

Series 6: Photographs

Box 1 – Folder 21