Music needs hall, not bathroom stall

Western lacks the world-class performance hall to match its world-class program. The Don Wright Faculty of Music could lose students without facility investment.

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

Practising in a washroom stall

Jonas Hrebeniuk

A LITTLE HOT SAX IN THE BATHROOM. It's a sad state of affairs when Music students must play in the washrooms in order to get decent acoustics. A new recital facility would remedy the problem.

Bathroom acoustics aren’t cutting it anymore; music students and faculty agree Western is in dire need of a performance hall.

“In the last few years the Don Wright Faculty of Music has grown immensely,” second-year music student Heather Hutchison explained. “Western needs facilities to match the world-class program we offer.”

The Don Wright Faculty of Music is the second largest music program in Canada.

James McKay, chair of the department of music performance studies, concurred. “We desperately need a concert hall for the proper performances of our orchestra, chamber orchestra, opera, bands, five choirs, jazz and contemporary ensembles.”

Current facilities cannot keep up with growing demand for practice and performance areas. Although scheduled renovations in Talbot College will address the lack of practice space, a performance hall is not in the works, Hutchison said.

Under the current system, performance options for Western musicians are limited. Hutchison said Von Kuster Hall located in the Music Building is great for recording small ensembles, but the stage is not large enough to accommodate choirs and orchestras.

Bigger venues on campus such as Talbot Theatre and Alumni Hall create an array of sound, space, and set-up problems. Hutchison noted the acoustics at Alumni Hall were equivalent to performing in a bathtub.

Recent initiatives have seen orchestra and choir performances moved to Toronto venues with proper acoustics and higher seating capacities. “Hundreds of people were willing to drive through rush hour traffic just to hear us properly,” Hutchison said.

Von Kuster Hall

“I conducted the orchestra and choirs last March at the Weston Recital Hall in Toronto. This is one of the best acoustical spaces in the world and an excellent model for what we need here,” McKay said.

Hutchison started a petition this summer in response to Western’s Campus Master Plan "a 10-year building and renovation plan released in June " that did not include plans for a proposed recital hall.

She created a Facebook group “Western Needs a Performance Hall” that has gained over 300 supporters from students and faculty.

Hutchison and other petitioners have sent letters to members of Western’s Board of Governors, stressing the need for a new facility.

Dean of Music Robert Wood said Western deserves a first-class concert hall, but admitted the financial hurdles are daunting.

“There just isn’t always the money where there is a will,” David Bentley, faculty representative on the Board, said. “The pricetag on it is approximately $30 million. There just isn’t that money available.”

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