You are viewing this article in the archives. For the latest breaking news and updates in Ann Arbor and the surrounding area, see
Posted on Sun, Jan 29, 2012 : 5:58 a.m.

Pinched for space: University of Michigan music school wants upgrades

By Kellie Woodhouse


Michigan student Matt Armbruster, of Washington D.C., looks for an empty practice room as he carries his cello down the hall at the Earl V. Moore Building on Tuesday.

Melanie Maxwell I

In the fluorescent-lit basement of a 1960s-era building on the University of Michigan's North Campus, violin chords mix discordantly with the boom of the trumpet and the deep notes of the cello as hundreds of music students spend thousands of hours each day practicing their art.

Their practice time, many of them say, is the most important element of their studies at the University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre and Dance, a school regularly ranked as one of the top five music schools in the country.

"We practice every day," said sophomore vocalist Sara Bonner. "Our classes are important, but we're here for our instrument."

Musicians at U-M are expected to practice, on average, four hours a day.

But existing facilities, or the lack of them, make optimal practicing difficult.

During the 2010-2011 academic school year there were 1,156 students enrolled in SMTD, the vast majority of them in the music program.

There are 50 practice rooms open to all students.

"We have students that are hanging out the windows," said vocal professor George Shirley. "The practice facilities are inadequate to service the students. They have to wait in line to use the facilities, the rooms are small and they're not up to par with facilities that are being constructed now.

"There are students sitting on the floor waiting to gain access to some of the classrooms where they also practice," Shirley said.

Students, faculty and staff say it's not uncommon for students who want to practice midday to have to wait in a line. The practice rooms are open from 6 a.m. until 2 a.m.

Joshua Glassman, a senior vocal major, said that he recently was unable to warm up for a lesson because "there was a line of students waiting down the practice hallway for a room." Another time he had to wait 30 minutes before a practice room opened up.

Glassman's experience is not unique.

Junior cello major Peter Garrett became so frustrated with waiting for practice rooms that he wrote a six-page paper on the topic for an English class last semester.

"We need more practice rooms. Just sheer numbers," Garrett said.

In addition to the 50 rooms open to all students, the school has another 22 rooms available to pianists and an additional 30 rooms reserved for expensive or heavy instruments, such as the organ, harp or drums. Those rooms are locked and solely available to students majoring in the specialized instrument.

Due to the lack and condition of practice rooms, students often use empty classrooms to warm up and rehearse.

"Sound isolation is poor so we try to restrict the amount of practicing that is done at the times that courses are meeting because of the sound bleed-through," explained Steven M. Whiting, SMTD's associate dean for graduate studies.

It's that very bleed-through of sound that makes it difficult for students to practice outside of SMTD facilities. The noise of practicing is often disruptive to roommates, dormitories and other campus areas.


Michigan student Michael Flinn, Chicago, takes a break from practicing his double bass to work on homework outside of his practice room at the Earl V. Moore Building.

Melanie Maxwell I

Inadequate facilities

The Earl V. Moore Building, the music program's main facility, was at the time of its construction in 1964 an architectural gem of campus. Designed by renowned architect Eero Saarinen, the mind behind the St. Louis Arch, the facility was built on a serene patch of North Campus and features large windows and brick walls throughout.

But like any nearly 50-year-old building, it has inadequacies. The practice rooms are small, square, windowless closets located in a low-ceilinged basement.

When the Moore building was first constructed some of the school's most popular programs, including its musical theater, jazz and performing arts technology units, didn't exist and U-M's theater and dance programs weren't yet under the purview of the school.

"No one could foresee how these departments would become essential parts of SMTD's vibrant programmatic diversity," Dean Christopher Kendall said in an e-mail.

As a result the school has experienced growing pains over the past decade.

At least 12 basement rooms that once served as practice rooms have been converted to Graduate Student Instructor offices or closets to accommodate for a lack of appropriate storage.

While most of the music program classes and offices are housed in the Moore building, faculty offices and studios that don't fit in Moore are located in a building at the edge of North Campus, about three-quarters of a mile from the Moore building. Offices and studios are also located on five floors of the Burton Memorial Tower.

"This building is a historic building and I don’t think we should leave it but I certainly would love a bunch of money to make it work," said SMTD facilities manager Mary-Alice Wiland. "Music has changed and our needs have changed."

For at least a decade, according to Whiting, the school has been asking university administrators for funds to expand the Moore building in order to provide one space for classes, offices and more practice rooms.

Funding, however, hasn't been easy for the school to come by.

"It has been an issue since I came to the university in 1987," Shirley said.

According to Shirley, faculty were optimistic a facility improvement was imminent when Kendall assumed deanship of the school in 2005. At that time Kendall, former dean of the University of Maryland music program, had overseen design and construction for a $130 million state-of-the-art performing arts center at Maryland.

"But he's not at present been able to move the plan for a new (or expanded) building forward," Shirley said. "There are other units on campus that are deemed more important, I guess, when it comes to providing updated facilities, so the School of Music continues to languish."

SMTD has not been entirely ignored by the general fund.

Three years ago the school's windows and HVAC system were replaced. The $43 million Charles R. Walgreen, Jr. Drama Center and Arthur Miller Theater, a performance venue for the theater unit of the school, opened six years ago. The theater was constructed with a mix of university funds and donations received during the school's Michigan Difference fundraising campaign.

Losing out?

Victor Huls, a freshman cellist, says that if he had chosen a school solely on its classroom and practice facilities, he wouldn't have chosen Michigan.

"I tried to factor it in," said Huls, who came to U-M to study under cellist Richard Aaron. "But if I had only worried about practice rooms, I wouldn't have come here. They're just really small and . . . not that comfortable."

The worry, faculty and students say, is that if U-M's music facilities can't compete with other top programs, the music program will gradually slip in eminence.

"Many factors influence a student's decisions about which college to attend and their experiences once there," Kendall said. "To ensure that we remain a national leader in the performing arts, we need to continue addressing physical plant challenges to meet essential requirements for our programs."

Shirley put it more bluntly.

"A school that ranks as high as the University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre and Dance does, it's a real detriment to not have a facility that can compete with facilities at other universities," he said. "If we can't offer our students facilities, practice space and performance facilities, then we lose out to other universities."

The University of Denver opened a state-of-the-art performing arts center in 2002 that features practice rooms equipped with technology to simulate a range of different performance spaces, including large concert halls. Indiana University's Jacobs School of Music has more than 170 practice rooms.

"It makes my mouth water," Shirley said. "It's hard to compete with those facilities, especially in this day and age where tuition is costly and students want to go where they can get the best bang for their buck."

Kellie Woodhouse covers higher education for Reach her at or 734-623-4602 and follow her on twitter. An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified Victor Huls faculty advisor. regrets the error.


Kim Martin

Tue, Feb 7, 2012 : 3:28 a.m.

I graduated from the music school and am happy to say that the practice/rehearsal room situation has taught me great organizational skills! I learned how to plan around rush hour practice room traffic, cruise for empty practice rooms, schedule quartet rehearsals and reserve rooms far in advance, and knew when to stay home to practice. I never had to wait more than five or ten minutes to get in a room. As mentioned earlier, it IS a problem that students leave their belongings in rooms for more than 15 minutes which prevents others from using the space (I'm guilty of this. You run to Beanster's or to the library to make a copy and then all of sudden 30 minutes have passed...I'm sorry!). And I'm going to have to say is clearly posted that practice rooms are for CURRENT STUDENTS (not for recent grads or community members) and TEACHING IS NOT ALLOWED IN PRACTICE ROOMS OR CLASSROOMS. Finally, sitting on The Couch and chatting with friends is not actively waiting for a practice room.


Mon, Feb 6, 2012 : 6:42 p.m.

Not enough practice rooms suggest too many students admitted to the program. Having said that there are perhaps other solutions than building new spaces. One important observation- A2 's lack of mmusic venues and mmusicians willing to play; Students need practice other than on their scales and technical hard work; Consider performing in public as an option. There's more than one way to practice; Visit any local mmusic venue. A same 'ol group at one club; a mainstay for quite sometime gets old. I visited the Raven; a mmusic club that calls themselves such but allows for the audience to mostly ignore what's being played. I sat about 20 feet from the group and could barely hear the keyboardist. This told mme that in fact the audience could give a damn about who was performing. That leads to other questions as well. There was no cover and usually isn't on that night but if there was, I wonder who would attend. The leader of the group owned one of the great Jazz venues in town that had to close for lack of attendance. That fact plus another one folded not too much later for the same reason. Why is that when the locals complain there is the lack of venues? I think it has to do with the same old same old. So there's mmy point; or one of them. You students need to get yourselves out there; if you have time; If you're practicing for free then why not do the same thing in town? It doesn't have to be at a Jazz club. Any place will do for a string quartet or any instrument combination for that matter. There is a need for new blood in this town and I hear about it but I don't see it. Why not? I'mm sure there's lots of reasons but I need to be convinced that this town thinks it needs mmusicians at all. If it does, then it's not showing it too well. I know A2 is a great place to live; mmusic everywhere we look will make it much better wouldn't you say? Good luck students; work hard, play hard and let's see you Shine!

Kim Martin

Tue, Feb 7, 2012 : 3 a.m.

As important as performance practice is, it is nowhere close to the kind of work that needs to be done in a practice room. It's a great idea to get music students out in the community but it is not a solution to the lack of practice rooms.


Tue, Jan 31, 2012 : 2:37 p.m.

There is an abundance of practice room space soon to be available, called Baits I. The university needs to convert some of those dorms to practice rooms, should be very inexpensive, they just need to lock the suite bathrooms and put in a security presence. That's a huge amount of space. They could use every other or every two rooms, and skip floors, to keep the noise from disturbing other students. This isn't a long-term fix, but it does fix the problem come Fall semester.

Wolf's Bane

Mon, Jan 30, 2012 : 6:19 p.m.

My suggestion is to let University of Michigan purchase the land that currently houses Liberty Plaza Park and the adjacent lot occupied by the Kempf house and build a large scale School of Music. A centrally located School of Music would have a lot of perks for the downtown come summers! The Kempf house and the park are just relics and need to go.


Mon, Jan 30, 2012 : 6:42 a.m.

I'm currently a student at the School of Music. The majority of my homework, like other music majors, is to practice. If other students at the university had trouble getting their work done due to a lack of library facilities, a library would be built immediately. Unfortunately, funding for new music facilities has obviously not been a priority despite the school's reputation as one of the best in the country. If the university wants to continue having its music program be one of the best, support -- specifically financial support for new practice rooms -- is needed for the program to continue to thrive. No student should be prevented from reaching their potential due to financial difficulties. The financial difficulties in this circumstance do not revolve around tuition, but around students having the resources they need in order to do their work at the best of their abilities.


Mon, Jan 30, 2012 : 2:57 a.m.

It'd be nice to see the music school get a big contribution to expand.

Billy Bob Schwartz

Mon, Jan 30, 2012 : 2:23 a.m.

The Earl V. Moore School of Music building was a huge improvement over the school of music buildings it replaced. These included the School of Music building on Maynard Street across from the current entrance to the parking structure, and Harris Hall (or Hairy Hall as it was sometimes called), where the band was headquartered. The practice rooms on Maynard were horrible and way, way too few in number. The building only remained standing out of habit. It pains me to hear of the awful practice room problem in the "new" music school. Practice time is the most valuable commodity to a music school student. Often, students are expected to practice 4 hours a day on their primary instrument and 2 hours a day on their secondary one. When and where can they do that in the current situation? I also dislike the use of practice rooms for storage and offices. It reminds me of another such development. Do you remember the swimming pool and bowling alley in the basement of the Union? No? Hmm. Maybe they were turned into offices. I disagree, by the way, with the idea that all musicians are poor. Many are engaging in their art at great sacrifice, but there are those with money. I mean, with m-o-n-e-y. Also, there are many philanthropists who could help out, and of course, the usual University funds should be available. Unfortunately, it's hard to convince people that there is a gem here than needs saving. I just hope that the U will find a way to create a superior facility for our music school. It's remarkable in many ways, and should be housed in a remarkable environment.

Lindsey Bordner

Mon, Jan 30, 2012 : 1:59 a.m.

I'm a Masters student in the school of music here. This article has some very true points, and I'm glad they're being shared. I don't agree with this comment: "Of course mid-day is prime time, students want to practice at the most convenient time." -Sallyxyz Yes, mid-day is prime time, but that's not just because it's convenient for us. We have rehearsals, lessons, and performances during the day for which we NEED to warm up. We're not all only trying to practice during mid-day because it's most convenient, or because we're lazy and don't want to come practice at off-peak hours; I've had to stand around and wait for practice rooms even at 10 pm on weekends. The practice rooms are nearly all full at all times. Not to mention the lack of rehearsal space for chamber groups. The only option we are given is classrooms, so later in the evening is of course the best time to try to find a space. My quartet has particular difficulty with this. Because of where my quartet members live and the bus schedules to those places, we are only left with daytimes to rehearse. This means we have to search for an empty classroom while they're all in very high demand. Last Thursday, we found a room and unpacked, then got kicked out for a class. We moved to another open room, and the same thing happened. There were no more rooms and this was our precious weekly rehearsal time, so we ended up dragging chairs and stands to an open area at the bottom of a stairway in order to rehearse. It's a really unfortunate situation. Michigan is such a great music school, and I chose to come here because of the superior training I would receive. But I was surprised and disappointed, having seen the practice facilities of at least 10 major music schools across the country, by the condition of the practice rooms here. They're so dingy and have absolute minimum sound isolation. They're not at all an inspiring place to be spending so many hours every day.


Sun, Jan 29, 2012 : 11:39 p.m.

Why don't they just turn a few houses in Baits 1 into a complex for music study space? It's close to the School of Music and isn't fit anymore to have students living in it. What about students studying in it?


Sun, Jan 29, 2012 : 10:19 p.m.

I am a current music major at the University and I'm happy this is finally being addressed. Last Friday there were nearly two hundred prospective students in the building. Rooms were reserved for the prospectives, and even with their auditions staggered over the day the only guidance that current students were given was to "plan accordingly." It was obvious that many of us wouldn't be able to practice until late that night. Our facilities can't handle that many people, but I agree with Robert that (at least) half of the problem is students' everyday abuse of the "15 minutes" policy: I have only been here for a semester and already I have taken four rooms from students that decide to leave their stuff and go to their dorm, or to the cafeteria, or to another practice room to talk to their friend (effectively wasting two rooms). Often when the 15 minutes are up I can take my pick from several 'held' rooms in the same hallway. I don't usually see lines for a room, but it may be because I am studying performance and education and I'm in class during the busiest parts of the day. I have a tight schedule, and I don't have time to wait around for 15 minutes and then wait for the student to pack their things when they finally come back. In addition to the students failing to follow the policy, the policy isn't even set in stone. The plaques and posters near the practice rooms state that a room cannot be held for over 15 minutes, but the current Student Handbook states that a room cannot be held for over 10 minutes. Last November I went to the main office to ask who I could address these things to, and I was directed to the Facilities Coordinator/Manager. I sent her an email over two months ago and have heard nothing at all. I propose that the primary objective should be to establish and enforce the policy, and only start taking steps towards improving the facilities should the demand for more rooms continue. I like the Moore building, I just don't like the p


Sun, Jan 29, 2012 : 10:20 p.m.



Sun, Jan 29, 2012 : 10:12 p.m.

"If the School of Music only has 50 practice rooms and decided to convert 12 former practice rooms to storage and grad student offices, then they need to live with those decisions...Limit your enrollment based on your facilities. Students are paying very high tuition at UM and deserve adequate facilities." If the SMTD needed to convert practice rooms into storage and GSI "offices", how does that speak to anything else other than the dire need of space? I don't understand how that equates, in your mind, to the school NOT needing the practice space. And as for limiting enrollment based on the facilities: this might make sense on the surface, but the fact is that SMTD enrollment is right around where it should be for a university this big (for comparison, IU has 42k total students, and 1.6k music students. We have about 41.5k total students and 1.2k music students). Imagine if you had a library that could only accommodate 50 students at one time. You would never make the argument, "well, we shouldn't let so many students in if our library can only fit 50 students." No, any sane person would say "we need a bigger library."


Sun, Jan 29, 2012 : 6:41 p.m.

BTW, the building isn't 60 years old. It was opened in 1964. Do the math. Aside from that, it's sad again that the arts are always seen as "frosting on the cake" by society and if one has to build something new, the arts are the last ones to get it. If something has to be "trimmed" the arts are often the FIRST ones to get that.


Sun, Jan 29, 2012 : 5:54 p.m.

I wonder how many music students were enrolled back in the 1960's when the building was constructed? My guess is the building was designed for X number of students and the UM has significantly increased the number of music students in the past 20 years thereby encouraging the building to become "outdated" and "not sufficient". Also, it's interesting to note that a number of practice rooms were made into offices. I hope the rationale used to convert the practice rooms to offices didn't have something to do with the practice rooms not being used.


Mon, Jan 30, 2012 : 1:53 a.m.

I entered the music school when the building was new: fall of 1964. There were 800-900 students at the time, and practice rooms had not yet been converted to office space. So the practice facilities were adequate then. But with more students and now 12 fewer practice rooms, of course there is a pinch. U-M, time to step up and take care of the situation with more practice rooms.


Sun, Jan 29, 2012 : 5:43 p.m.

Funding, however, hasn't been easy for the school to come by. "It has been an issue since I came to the university in 1987," Shirley said. Well, since 1987, the UM has built many new facilities and buildings around campus. The execs in Fleming decide where the priorities are, and generally, the new facilities are "money generators" such as hospitals or buildings that were funded mostly with donations or buildings that are literally crumbling. If the School of Music only has 50 practice rooms and decided to convert 12 former practice rooms to storage and grad student offices, then they need to live with those decisions. Only accept the number of music students who can utilize 50 practice rooms. Of course mid-day is prime time, students want to practice at the most convenient time. Open practice rooms 24/7, don't allow students to "hold" rooms while they chat with friends. Problem solved. Bigger is not better. Too many students have been admitted in music for the size of the facilities. Who is responsible for that decision? Limit your enrollment based on your facilities. Students are paying very high tuition at UM and deserve adequate facilities.


Sun, Jan 29, 2012 : 5:05 p.m.

Are they also on a reduced class schedule 'cause school on Mondays and Fridays is a bummer? Scheduling rather then occupancy seems to be at the heart of most of UM's facilities space problems.


Mon, Jan 30, 2012 : 1:50 a.m.

As the article stated, music students typically practice every day (or, in my experience in the music school, nearly every day). I don't think extending the times of class offerings to unpopular times such as Monday mornings, or on Fridays, will help the situation. They are two separate issues.


Sun, Jan 29, 2012 : 5:04 p.m.

Here's an idea, accept fewer students.


Sun, Jan 29, 2012 : 4:57 p.m.

As a student who attends the music school for voice, I know for a fact that this dilemma would be half solved if students stopped coveting practice rooms to the point of leaving their stuff in there to "reserve" them for longer than 15 minutes so that they can go goof off with friends while those who actually want to practice are left waiting. I know that this probably didn't make the interviews because we don't want to make the problem sound simple and we want to make the school look solely responsible, but I really feel that his has to be said. It's not as complicated as it sounds.


Sun, Jan 29, 2012 : 3:43 p.m.

It should be noted that Bates 1 is being shuttered permanently which is located right next to the school of music. more news to follow i'm sure

Dog Guy

Sun, Jan 29, 2012 : 2:51 p.m.

Unlike law, medical, business, and science grads, music school alums are not noted for deep pocket contributions to build new buildings. What music school students do offer is the most interesting and entertaining performances in the area, their degree recitals. I have been disappointed in some performances at Hill Auditorium and at The Power Center, but never at a degree recital. Each one I have attended has been a triumph of human creativity with a blithe unconcern for the economically useless diploma being earned, not unlike U of M football.


Sun, Jan 29, 2012 : 2 p.m.

It is also worth noting that the Music school started charging a $200 fee each semester to all enrolles students, regardless of the courses taken. This amounts to a special tuition increase. It was argued that it was special to the SMTD to cover facilities costs. There was no public hearing on the increase. It simply appeared in the tuition bill after a notice was sent to the students (who, as it turns out are not the primary bill-payers). Indeed this current story may be a trial balloon to obtain additional funds. It is curious that there is no comments from the dean, but not surprising given the way the fee increase was handled.


Sun, Jan 29, 2012 : 5:45 p.m.

Fees are hidden tuition increases and a lot of schools are doing that. To add a $200 facilities fee for facilities that are inadequate amounts to fraud.


Sun, Jan 29, 2012 : 1:19 p.m.

No comment from the Dean? Floating a trial balloon with full deniability?