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Campus planning may include concert venue

Students and faculty members of the music department expressed the need for a large space

The lack of a large-scale concert venue on or near campus — an issue many students and faculty members in the Department of Music consider a priority — has come to the forefront since the Jan. 25 release of the strategic planning interim reports.

In its interim report, the Committee on Reimagining the Brown Campus and Community pointed to the lack of “a dedicated space for musical performance suitable for ... academic programs in the performing arts.” The committee also noted that pursuing a concert hall is a “need we intend to explore in greater depth over the coming weeks.”

Brown is currently the only Ivy League institution without a major concert hall, but the University offers musical venues for small groups and audiences in buildings like the Perry and Marty Granoff Center for the Creative Arts and Sayles Hall.

Todd Winkler, professor of music and former music department chair, said it has been the mission of every music department chair for the past 150 years to advocate for a designated space to perform. So far, “every attempt has failed,” he said.

“We realize this is something Brown needs to look into,” said Iris Bahar, professor of engineering and co-chair of the committee.

Winkler said the committee addressing the issue is an “exciting” step. “It seems like the initiative is coming from the University that this is a topic that should at least be considered,” he said.

Many ambitious and experienced musicians at Brown “want to be able to be in the orchestra and experience a concert venue,” said Grace Stokan ’16, who plans to concentrate in music. “It is almost like the University pushes them aside,” she added.

“I think the students and faculty are on the same page,” said Alex Warstadt ’15, a music concentrator.

“You cannot take an ensemble, put them in a room and tell them to just make music,” Winkler said. The spaces currently available on campus do not cater to a musician’s needs, he said. A concert hall must take acoustics into careful consideration and offer a large stage suitable for an ensemble, Winkler added.

“You wouldn’t imagine that a biology department wouldn’t have lab space to do their experiments,” Winkler said.

Warstadt said such an orchestra performance in Sayles Hall “does not look very professional.” The stage offers no real seating arrangement, and “it was very hard to hear the soloists because the sound was so muddy,” he added.

Stokan said that when she was choosing between colleges, she felt other universities “understand the merit in music and are committed to that.” She said that the music facilities at Brown did not convey that message.

“The challenge here is trying to find the right balance,” Bahar said. The committee must consider proper size, utility and multi-purpose usage of a future space. Dedicating a space exclusively to musical performances could limit its potential uses, Bahar said.

Warstadt said he believes a concert hall would be well used, because the University does not currently have the capacity to host large-scale events inside, he said. The chorus and orchestra perform multiple times per year. He pointed to the recent tribute to former President Ruth Simmons, when the chorus and orchestra teamed up to perform Beethoven’s “Symphony No. 9.” “We couldn’t fit all the musicians in the space on campus, so we filled up Veterans Memorial (Auditorium) downtown,” he said. Many guest lecturers and large events could also use the space, he said. “We couldn’t have the Dalai Lama speak on campus, so the event had to be downtown,” he said. He also cited the University presidential inauguration, which is held outdoors, as another example of a use for a concert venue.

Though the committee has acknowledged issues relevant to the music department, the next steps forward are unclear. The role of the committee is to come up with recommendations, Bahar said. “We can make suggestions, but it certainly is not for us to make final decisions,” she said.

Over the next few weeks, the committee will meet with other strategic planning committees, department heads and focus groups to gather information. At the beginning of April, the committee will “come up with a concrete list of recommendations and prioritize them,” Bahar said.


A previous version of this article incorrectly referred to Tom Winkler as an associate professor of music. In fact, he is a professor of music. The Herald regrets the error.



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