Students sign petition calling for more practice rooms

by Debby Cobon | 5/9/19 2:10am

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Practice rooms located in the basement of the Hopkins Center are in short supply for student musicians.

by Lorraine Liu / The Dartmouth Staff

Frustrated by the limited availability of practice spaces, student musicians are planning to send a petition to the administration of the Hopkins Center for the Arts asking for the installation of more practice rooms for students early next week as part of upcoming renovation plans. The petition currently has over 175 signatures from current and former students who are a part of student performance groups and ensembles.

According to the petition, the greatest issues of concern are the limited number of practice spaces available per student and the current inefficient use of some spaces. Only six practice rooms stay unlocked for student use, yet the student groups that require these spaces — including the Barbary Coast Jazz Ensemble, Dartmouth College Glee Club, Dartmouth College Gospel Choir, Dartmouth College Marching Band, Dartmouth College Wind Ensemble, Dartmouth Symphony Orchestra and Handel Society of Dartmouth College — comprise over 200 students, the petition reads.

The petition was started by Zoe Yu ’19, a violinist for the Dartmouth Symphony Orchestra, who said she was motivated by her music teacher to compile the frustrations felt by many student musicians. 

“I wanted to take action for a while,” Yu said. “Every single time this term I have gone to practice, over 80 percent of the time I haven’t been able to find a room. It’s frustrating when our orchestra conductor tells us all to practice but there’s literally no space available.” 

Dillon Ford ’20 said that the limited amount of practice space affects students before they are even part of the Dartmouth music community, adding that the process for incoming students’ decisions to join a musical group is further complicated by a lack of rooms. Ford, who plays bassoon in the Wind Ensemble and saxophone in the Barbary Coast, said this dilemma has been present since the beginning of his music career at the College. 

“The first week I was here was especially bad, because every single freshman who wanted to audition for a group had to practice for their auditions, and there was only a half dozen practice rooms to be used,” Ford said. “It’s not uncommon to find all the practice rooms occupied, so I try to schedule around times when I think people won’t be in the rooms.”

The use of practice rooms is not just limited to members of the previously named student groups; the availability of these spaces impacts students in a cappella groups, students who receive private lessons and anyone taking a class in the music department, according to the petition. 

“I think anyone can appreciate the need to find a good study space,” Ford said. “I’ve had friends who have taken classes in the music department where they need to use one of the practice rooms to prep for a midterm and can’t.”

Furthermore, not having a space to practice affects the quality of music produced in performances, according to Alyssa Gao ’20, the student manager and violinist for DSO.

“Having spaces open is definitely going to help with students feeling prepared to go to rehearsal or play in a concert,” Gao said. “Not being able to find a room to practice in means you’ll go into rehearsal and haven’t warmed up or looked at the piece in a while.”

Gao said many of the issues student musicians face can be feasibly resolved and do not require substantial changes, especially since the Hop is already planning to begin renovations. 

“I definitely think there are measures the Hop can take now,” Gao said. “For example, there are rooms in the Hop that are technically practice rooms but are always locked because they have grand pianos in them. Only a select number of students who have keys can get in, so it’s pretty much impossible to access those spaces, and a lot of the times that I have walked past these rooms, no one is even in them.”

However, other proposals suggested by the petitioners, such as utilizing former practice rooms at the Paddock Music Library, may be more difficult to achieve. The music and performing arts librarian at Paddock, Memory Apata, wrote in an email statement that using the Media Room of the Paddock Music Library as a practice space is not feasible and would cause disturbances. 

“The space in question is currently in use by the library, contains essential equipment and is often used by students, faculty and staff for various reasons to support research needs,” Apata wrote. “Turning this into a practice room would directly impact library staff who are already affected by noise from the Moore Theater directly above the library and the adjacent dance studio.”

Apata wrote that a more “logical” solution to the problem described by the petitioners would be to demand a system that allows students to book spaces, which would make the use and management of current practice rooms be more efficient. 

“It is likely that there are patterns of higher and lower traffic throughout the day in the Music Department practice rooms,” Apata wrote. “It is common practice at larger schools for music departments to have a sign up at the beginning of the semester so that all students have a regular practice time.”

According to Gao, the number of signatures demonstrates that the lack of practice spaces is an issue that students across the music department care deeply about, whether they’re involved with an ensemble, taking private lessons or just recreational musicians. 

“I think a big problem might just be that the Hopkins Center doesn’t realize that this is a problem,” Ford said.