School of Performing Arts Gains New Space

There’s a very common call that can be heard when one walks into the Conservatory of Music: “The practice rooms are occupied!” And it’s not just the practice rooms that are in use – the Fred Lowe recital hall, the Memorial Chapel, University Hall, classrooms in both Fine Arts and Watchorn Hall, and open spaces in Casa Loma and the Student Health Center, all have regular visits from students, ensembles, and community members working to hone their technique and musicianship. 

The music buildings are some of the oldest on campus, with photos of them from the university’s archives dating back almost a century. A class catalog from 1933 shows the original offerings for lessons in piano, organ, violin, and voice, though over the years this has grown to include almost every instrument. With the increase of musical offerings, there have been many creative steps taken to make the most use out of available space. For example, parts of the Student Health Center have been turned into offices for some of the music department faculty and students have sometimes rehearsed in the Watchorn basement, which is normally used for storage. Other students will occasionally practice outside if the weather is nice. 

The limited space sometimes results in students having their rehearsals in the early morning or in the evening. Many students will also practice in the middle of the night, when the buildings are mostly empty and it’s easier to claim a preferred practice room or classroom. As the music department-run Community School of Music, CSMA, also uses the classrooms and practice rooms, it can sometimes get a little crowded.

“If you’re in Fine Arts, it’s fine. If you’re in Watchorn, it’s a bit harder,” composition major Imani Kyami ‘26, said. 

Piano performance major Emma Linderman ‘25, agreed. “It’s definitely a bit hard to get a practice room. It really depends on if there’s a concert or event coming up, how many people want to practice, and for piano majors, what pianos we’re willing to play on.” 

The Conservatory of Music hosts over 100 events annually. During the majority of the school year, those subscribed to the Conservatory’s email list will find long lists of recitals and events occurring every week, with an increase in student performances towards the

end of every semester. 

Dr. Joe Modica, co-director of the School of Performing Arts and director of the Conservatory of Music, is very excited about the prospect of additional space. 

“Our music program has grown, and so we’re trying to figure out a space for not only our Conservatory of Music stuff but also for the Community School of Music and the Arts” Modica said. “The CSMA is currently housed about three and a half miles from here, and we wanted to bring it back to campus. So when I learned that Henchske was basically unoccupied, I asked to take a look at it and see if it would fit our needs, and it did. So fortunately, the Administration was supportive of us moving over there.” 

Due to the distance from the main Conservatory buildings – namely, Watchorn Hall and Fine Arts – the practice rooms in Henschke will be booked via 25Live, to avoid students walking across campus with their instruments only to find that there are no rooms available. These rooms will also have keycard access, meaning students won’t have to call Public Safety and worry about losing valuable practice time.

The building is already nearly finished with renovations, with teachers in the CSMA program as well as several Conservatory professors already moving into the building. Faculty members, such a Dr. Kay Nevin, have expressed excitement for their new office spaces.

“Hopefully in April we’ll get CSMA moved over there. And then in the fall, it’ll be open for Conservatory students and the dance studio will be open,”  said Dr. Modica. “They’re working on it now. I was just over there a few days ago and they were painting and fixing everything up.” 

He added that alongside the additional practice rooms, there would be professors’ offices and more classrooms, including one that could be used as an additional recital hall and another dedicated to jazz. There will also be a brand new dance studio for those in the Theatre and Dance program. 

Modica explained, “I’m excited because we’re trying to build the dance program here, and on the bottom floor we’ll convert a large classroom into a new dance studio. Brand new sprung floor and mirror and ballet bars. Very excited about that that we’re going to have an actual functional dance studio. New sound system, it’s going to be cool. “ 

Kyami agreed, saying that while there were already two buildings with several practice rooms for musicians, “the new building will be really good to have.” . During the original announcement by Dr. Modica at the beginning of the semester, other students shared this sentiment, especially the idea of having alternate spaces for community students that will help free up classroom space. With a growing dance program, the addition of Henschke Hall will be a benefit to students of multiple disciplines. 

In 2022, the School of Music and the department of Theatre and Dance combined to form the School of Performing Arts. The music department, which has been a staple part of the university since its founding, received status as a conservatory in 2022 and held an opening ceremony during the homecoming of that year. A fresh new space will allow for the School of Performing Arts to further its services to both students and the local community.

Photo by Hayleigh Yeoh.

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Kae Yeoh is a sophomore majoring in music performance. Besides music, Kae enjoys reading, videography, and the occasional game.

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