With Stanford University’s $112 million Bing Concert Hall set to open this Friday, many student musicians and dancers are questioning how student groups were selected to perform in the inaugural season.
More than 20 professional musicians and musical groups are scheduled to perform after Bing’s opening on Jan. 11. About a dozen student groups are also listed online to perform during the inaugural season, including Stanford Taiko, Stanford Laptop Orchestra and the Stanford Symphony and Philharmonic Orchestras.
The Stanford Symphony Orchestra will play seven times, and the Stanford Philharmonic Orchestra will play four times. Both orchestras are affiliated with the Department of Music.
The majority of the dozens of music and dance groups at Stanford will not perform at Bing at all this season. Student musicians and dancers say they are confused about the process by which groups were chosen to perform, and concerned that in the future, groups not affiliated with an academic department will be at a disadvantage when trying to schedule a performance slot.
Questions surround the selection process
According to Stephen Sano, chair of the Department of Music, independent groups will be required to submit an inquiry that will be reviewed by the Bing Concert Hall Users Committee, which includes representatives from the Stanford Arts Institute, Stanford Live, the Department of Music, the Department of Theatre and Performance Studies and the ASSU.
Decisions regarding student performances in the inaugural season at Bing were made by the Department of Music and Stanford Live, the home for performing arts on campus, Sano said. He noted that the Department of Music was not involved in selecting which unaffiliated groups were scheduled to perform.
The two main concerns when choosing groups to perform were hosting a variety of sounds and ensuring that each group would be able to set up and perform in a specified amount of time, according to Sano.
“As with any programming decisions, a lot of thought has to go into how the different components of the performance balance each other, and flow as a complete program,” Sano said.
Michael McKenna ’16, who sings in Stanford’s oldest a cappella group, the Mendicants, said that he did not understand why the Mendicants were not invited to perform at Bing when another a cappella group, Talisman, will be performing during the inaugural season.
He thinks that there should have been some kind of screening process to determine which groups received invitations.
“So many people are going to want to use Bing that there is no way to let everyone in,” McKenna said. “There has to be some way to designate what groups get time to use it. Whether that’s by audition or not, I don’t know.”
Talisman is the only student group listed in the online schedule that is not affiliated with an academic department. However, in an email statement to the Daily, Stanford Live artistic director Jenny Bilfield said that there would be a reading of an opera in spring that is unaffiliated with the Department of Music.
Performing groups in the spotlight
Students are flocking to the groups that will perform in the new space, including the orchestras. According to Sano, orchestra audition numbers increased dramatically this year – a trend that he attributes to the buzz surrounding Bing.
Sano hopes that Bing will not only attract Stanford students to musical groups, but also attract the nation’s best student musicians to Stanford.
“We are actually already making plans to leverage the concert hall as a recruiting tool for the musical arts on campus,” Sano said. “To have a world-class hall specifically designed as a concert hall and not a multi-use facility provides our students with a heretofore unavailable kind of learning facility.”
Gabriel Ehrlich ’15 was one of the many students who decided to audition for the Stanford Symphony Orchestra after hearing about the construction of Bing. Ehrlich said that he noticed a rise in interest in the symphony as Bing has received more publicity.
“People who didn’t audition last year, like me, made it a priority this year,” Ehrlich said. “The space and equipment will inspire me to play better and practice harder.”
Ehrlich, who took a tour inside Bing, said that he was particularly impressed with the acoustics of the hall, and could “hardly tell the difference” between the sound at the back of the main section and in the seats right behind the orchestra.
He also noticed several unique features that will benefit student musicians, such as specially designed cello chairs and built-in hydraulic risers.
A stage for all
Ehrlich predicted that the average student artist will not be heavily impacted by Bing’s opening, as most smaller groups will continue to practice and perform in Braun Music Center.
Michelle Xu ’16 is a member of two of these smaller groups. She dances with Urban Styles, a contemporary dance group, and Alliance, a hip-hop group.
While several student dance groups that are affiliated with academic departments, such as “movement-driven band” The Chocolate Heads, will be performing at Bing, both Urban Styles and Alliance will continue performing in Cubberley Auditorium, which Xu said is inconvenient.
“The stage is too small so we are forced to change some of the routines and cut some people out just so we can fit everybody onto the stage,” Xu said, adding that she has not visited the Bing Concert Hall.
Xu said that she was unsure how Stanford Live and the Department of Music selected student dance groups to perform, and wishes that her groups had been given the chance to compete for an invitation to perform at Bing.
“I definitely like the idea of having the opportunity to take initiative and audition for the space,” Xu said.
However, some students believe that auditions for performances are unnecessary, and that student groups should be able to book performance times and attract their own audiences instead of relying on Stanford to advertise and sell tickets for performances.
“Bing is a part of Stanford. All music groups should be able to use it,” said Lissette Valenzuela ’16, a member of the Stanford Wind Ensemble, which will be performing at Bing. “I don’t think it should be exclusive. It’s meant to be used by everyone.”
Shannon Xue ’16, a member of the Stanford Symphony Orchestra and Alliance, agreed. Xue, who has practiced in Bing with the orchestra, said that all student music groups could benefit from the size of Bing and its superior technology in comparison to Stanford’s other performance venues.
“It’s such a new place and all the groups should have an opportunity to explore their sound quality there and have a chance to perform for a general audience,” she said.