Concert halls and social spaces to draw top performers and students alike
Thursday, June 13, 2013

As the University of Iowa School of Music this year enters its next phase of recovery and renewal—the construction of its new facility—the soundtrack will consist primarily of building sounds and bustling activity, while students and faculty continue their lives in their post-flood home downtown.

Once completed, the new School of Music building will boast performance venues, collaborative spaces for students and faculty, and, above all, a central home for a program whose strength is its people.

The University of Iowa will mark the start of work on replacement facilities for the School of Art and Art History, School of Music, and Hancher during Arts and Minds: A Celebration of Partnership, June 14 on the UI Pentacrest.

Read about other new UI arts facilities, including the forthcoming art building and Hancher on Friday.

“Not only are we going to have state-of-the-art performing facilities for our students and faculty to work out their creative visions, but we’re also going to have a beautiful glass façade that looks directly back on the campus,” says David Gier, director of the School of Music. “We’ll have the best of all possible worlds in our new facility.”

The new building will be situated at the intersection of Burlington and Clinton streets, not far from many of the downtown temporary spaces occupied by the School of Music. The building, which should see substantial completion by fall 2016, will boast a largely glass exterior and a new proximity that will allow the school to better connect its artistic vision with the campus and the community.

Building highlights include:

  • 700-seat concert hall
  • 200-seat recital hall
  • An organ performance hall
  • Opera, large ensemble, and chamber music rehearsal spaces
  • Faculty studios
  • Classrooms
  • Music library
  • Individual practice rooms

“It will be amazing to be back together, in a facility with incredible aesthetics, one that better connects us with the central campus,” says Kristin Thelander, former director of the School of Music who served on the planning committee for the new building. “It will be incredibly beautiful: open, grand staircases; a large concert hall with great acoustics; and a stupendous recital hall with one wall entirely made of glass.”

The new facility’s downtown location will re-establish the school as a vital cultural resource for the university and the community. Gier says the school annually offers more than 350 performances and presentations—free in most cases—that draw the public into School of Music venues, engaging and enriching both the students and community.

Don’t confuse “new” with “bigger”: Gier says the building was designed for 450 to 500 students and 55 faculty—numbers that aren’t much larger than current student and faculty populations.

“Our vision for the future is not for growth in size but growth in quality,” Gier says. “We will continue to recruit the best students from around the world and here in Iowa. Our philosophy is, ‘Let’s get better and better at what we do, not bigger.’ Our current size provides a nice balance for student opportunity.”

Those student opportunities in the new building will go beyond performing in the top-notch recital hall and absorbing the collective expertise of the School of Music faculty. The new building will offer social spaces where students can interact in less structured ways—a vital element in the highly collaborative discipline of music.

“Picture a first-year student walking down the halls and hearing graduate students playing and thinking, ‘Oh, that’s how it’s done!’” Gier says. “Or a composer coming out of his practice room to gather three or four musicians together to read a passage, to answer the question, ‘Does this really work?’ Or students getting together to read chamber music pulled from the in-house library.

“These serendipitous interactions are crucial to the way artists learn—the new building will foster these,” Gier says. “We couldn’t replicate this in our existing state.”

A draw for students and performers alike

School of Music faculty are responsible for recruiting students for their studios, much like Kirk Ferentz recruits student athletes for his football team. Before the 2008 flood, Gier says faculty had recruitment success simply by walking students around the Voxman studios and taking them on stage at Hancher, giving them a taste of where the students could play their music.

“For the last five years, we have not been able to do that, and it has had an effect on our ability to attract,” Gier says. “The new facility is not a panacea—we’re still going to rely on people and programs to be great—but our students will be interested in checking out Iowa because of the new Hancher and the School of Music.”

That starts now, as current recruits will get to experience life in the new facilities.

“We can tell students, ‘You’ll play your senior recital in that new music building. This is not the indeterminate future—this is your future,’” Gier says. “That’s a huge shift for us.”

The shift downtown is huge as well. The post-flood recovery placed the School of Music in numerous spots, but three primary locations (University Capitol Centre and Clinton Street Music 375 and 376) gave faculty, staff, and students a taste of life downtown.

“Music faculty were very much on board with the new facility being built downtown,” Thelander says. “So many faculty have been down there since the flood, and they’ve seen the advantages. They can walk a block and get some lunch or sit and have coffee with students. And students will have an easier time moving from class to class; at our old location, students often could not get from the end of one class and across the river and down to campus in 10 minutes.”

Students won’t be the only ones attracted to Iowa City by the new facility. Gier anticipates the university will host more conferences, and artists touring the country will see Iowa as a desirable location—a sentiment that will grow exponentially with the new Hancher facility opening in 2016 as well.

“I suspect the new Hancher will be bringing the absolute best musicians, dancers, and artists, and we feed off that energy; we benefit greatly,” Gier says. “Our new venues will allow us to host that creative wellspring in a way that was never possible before. We can be a hub of activity for the region and beyond, an absolute destination for artists.”

Gier knows the exciting prospects for the School of Music stem from the university’s unwavering commitment to the arts.

“This could have gone a completely different way: after the flood, the university could have decided, “We’re going to de-emphasize these programs, this is too expensive.’ That’s not what happened,” Gier says. “From day one, there was a focused intent to sustain the level of instruction and to sustain the student experience.

“That has been reinforced during this time, which supports the natural resilience that people have, to take the blows and keep on going,” Gier continues. “Always hearing that message has been tremendously important.”