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The Campus Beat: Room for a Tune

Stanford is nothing without its buildings, from the gorgeous Main Quad to Hoover Tower to our impressive sports and engineering accommodations. Half the reason a lot of people wind up on the Farm is its setting—the good weather and the architectural beauty. And the building boom continues, one construction project after another. So how do our music facilities rank amid the high standard of the sandstone arches?

Fortunately, Stanford has been improving them. The LSJUMB has a new industrial-strength Shak suited for all types of abuse, the Bings have generously assisted in financing a new world-class concert hall and the Knoll has been outfitted nicely for all sorts of computer music. Braun Music Center itself was an upgrade a couple decades ago.

We’ve got some good things going on, so what are the setbacks? Let’s start by imagining you’re back at the beginning of freshman year. You’ve played an instrument and want to keep it up while in college. Where can you practice? If you want to put together a small band, where could you rehearse? Few dorms have practice rooms, and though Stanford is good about placing pianos everywhere, many are in inadequate condition. Hoping for some help, you trundle over to the music department.

Practice rooms turn out to have a fee. Over four years, it calculates that you could just buy yourself a cheap drum set at the cost of practicing it. Perhaps you decide to sign up for lessons while you’re at it. They cost $550 per quarter for non-majors? At $55 a lesson, that’s not as extreme as some private lessons go, but on top of tuition, it feels like you just bought an expensive plane ticket and ran into another hidden fee.

And how about group spaces? Unless you’re in a music department-sponsored group and get time and space allotted automatically, you realize you’ll have to be creative in finding places to rehearse. In Cardinal Calypso, after a couple years of scrounging around for rehearsal space, we managed to find a good friend in Roble, where we can store our pans and practice. But taking over dorm lounges isn’t optimal (nor always fair to residents). And louder groups like rock bands don’t have the luxury of their parents’ garage anymore; instead they have to hope one of the few houses with a decent rehearsal room is willing to share. Not to mention transportation difficulties for freshmen who aren’t supposed to have cars but play large instruments.

Suffice to say, when you get to campus, the buildings don’t immediately say, “You can easily practice music here!”

To be fair, I am not blaming the music department on the fees or facilities, because they’re not necessarily their fault. They make lessons and practice rooms available to all students, which I don’t think every college does. Instead I take issue with our priorities more broadly. We all get free Web space and anyone can use the gym for no-cost, small examples of how Stanford’s engineering and athletics are stellar and have been cultivated for a long time. Music and the arts, on the other hand…

Exactly how University-wide budgeting decisions are made, I have not researched. So perhaps there are constraints beyond anyone’s control that leave music less financially and architecturally supported than other disciplines. But to whatever extent the administration has control, I urge for a continued focus on how to improve the music facilities. And I am not suggesting a sacrifice of other parts of the school (or budget) for music; we should work on independently building up the portion devoted to the arts.

Yes, yes, I know that every department and program thinks it needs more resources and support. I’m playing the part of a self-interested musician. But there are a lot of us. And many musicians don’t major in music, so when obstacles pop up, it’s easy to give up and take fewer lessons or forgo an audition. Then, music on campus suffers as a whole. So I say, keep up the improvements. I’ll be sure to come back after graduating to see Bing Concert Hall when it’s finished.

If you think new money should just go to charity, tell Lucas at [email protected]

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