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Letter to the editor: A response to “We Can Do Better for the Arts”

The issues raised by Alli Rath (“We Can Do Better for the Arts,” Oct. 2, 2013) should concern all of us who believe that the arts have an indispensable role to play in a Stanford education. As the editorial points out, there have been numerous instances where demand for slots in applied classes– especially in studio art– outstrips supply.

The problem that Rath describes with respect both to Art and to Music has to do not only with an insufficient number of instructors to meet the need for such classes, but also with a lack of adequate space. The chairs of the arts departments and the deans in H&S have been aware of this problem for some time and have been taking various steps to address it. There is progress to report on both fronts.

On the space front, the McMurtry Building, due to open in 2015, will allow the Department of Art and Art History to make better use of studio classrooms thanks to increased storage space. In Music, the piano studio (“small and cramped, resulting in a room crammed with pianos to the point of poor acoustics,” according to Rath) has recently received a substantial upgrade.

This past summer the department replaced all of the studio’s pianos (a motley collection of worn-out, retirement-ready instruments) with brand new Yamaha NU-1 pianos. These space-saving hybrid instruments combine mechanical acoustic piano action with digital sound production, substantially improving the classroom experience. Students can now learn the mechanics required to play a traditional acoustic piano (in different historical temperaments, if they so wish), while listening through headphones. All the faculty who tested the pianos last year raved about them.

It’s important to recognize how all the new buildings function in various ways as teaching and learning spaces. With Bing Concert Hall, for example, we now have a facility to teach large ensemble performance properly. Hundreds of students, whether in the Symphony Orchestra, the Jazz Orchestra, and Early Music Singers, or in student groups such as Talisman, Fleet Street Singers, and Mariachi Cardenal, have benefitted from this expansion of music performance space.

On the instructor front, there has been a VPUE-supported initiative to offer additional arts courses, such as Internet Art, Cell-Phone Photography, and Sound and Image, designed specifically to address the new Creative Expression requirement. Not only has the piano studio been upgraded; the class piano instructor position has been converted from half-time to full-time, and capacity in voice lessons has been increased, specifically to reduce the wait-list that the department has each quarter.

In addition, the curriculum has been expanded to offer private instruction in rock guitar and rock drums, a Baroque Soloists string ensemble, and a Chinese Music Ensemble.

Alli Rath no doubt speaks for many students and faculty in expressing the view that we can do better in the arts. Stanford is indeed committed to doing so, as I hope the above examples illustrate.

Stephen Hinton is Denning Family Director of the Stanford Arts Institute and Avalon Foundation Professor in the Humanities.


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