A Life Full of Music: A Closer Look at Alumna Dorothy Latham
Boston Conservatory at Berklee President Richard Ortner has enjoyed a decades’-long acquaintance with Dorothy Latham, a Conservatory alumna who came from New Rochelle, New York to Boston in the late 1940s to study piano.
“Dorothy is one of the most interesting people you’ll meet,” said Ortner. “And now she’s working in a place she loves.”
Latham, who celebrated her 88th birthday in August 2016, is enjoying her fourth career at the city’s historic Symphony Hall, home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. A permanent part-timer at Symphony Hall, Latham usually works four concerts a week, from late September to early July.
Latham considers her ushering and coat check gig at Symphony Hall—a position she’s held for more than 20 years—to be the fourth chapter in her storied career. She remembers taking courses with numerous piano and voice professors at the Conservatory, and first putting her talents to use when she served as director of the choir at the Twelfth Baptist Church on Warren Street in Roxbury, Massachusetts, where Latham and her husband, Roland E. Latham, were members and where she continues to worship.
Roland E. Latham, former dean at Northeastern University and a longtime advocate for minority student rights, died in 1986 at the age of 60. The Lathams were featured in a 1981 series on “blacks in the suburbs” that ran in the Boston Globe.
After graduation, Dorothy Latham studied early childhood education at Wheelock and Simmons colleges and worked on the Boston Model Cities Program, on issues of day care, childhood development, and bilingual education. Her interest in the connection between music and education ultimately brought her to a job in the state Department of Education, where she worked for 18 years.
Upon retirement, Latham was looking for something “less stressful” to do and, while attending a concert at Symphony Hall, learned that they hired “older people” to work as ushers. It is a job that Latham enjoys.
“I greet people, make them feel comfortable, answer their questions. I've gotten to know so many regulars. Some of them know my schedule better than I do,” Latham told the Boston Globe in 2002. “If I miss a concert, they come up to me the next week and say, ‘Oh, we were worried about you.’ I love the job, I really do. It's not so much coming to work as coming to a concert."
Latham is just one story that the Conservatory is celebrating as part of the school’s 150th anniversary, a celebration that will culminate with an historic gala emceed by Tony Award–winner and television actor Alan Cumming on May 9 at Symphony Hall. As the school nears its gala celebration, it remembers students—like Dorothy Latham—who embrace founder Julius Eichberg’s vision for training artists that use their talents and love of music to make a positive impact in their communities.