For student musicians everywhere, finding a place to practice can be an arduous task. Finding a room with good acoustics that is also comfortable, well-lit, sound-proof-and available-is almost unheard-of.
Now, thanks to the generosity of three members of MIT's Council for the Arts, MIT students will have a better chance of finding both.
Yesterday, a suite of eight new practice rooms was dedicated in Building 4, marking the end of a four-year project taken on by Associate Provost for the Arts and Professor of Music Ellen T. Harris, who led fundraising efforts. Funding for the rooms, named the Council for the Arts at MIT Practice Room Suite, was provided by Council members Leonard `Bud' Bezark '49, Marty Rosen '62, and an anonymous donor. The Council for the Arts at MIT is a volunteer advisory group of alumni and friends who provide support for many performances, exhibitions, arts facilities and co-curricular programs.
The idea was conceived at the Council's Annual Meeting in 1990, when Professor Harris reported that the growing popularity of MIT music courses and private lessons had brought with it a severe shortage of practice space, creating frustration and inconvenience for students as well as for their music coaches and ensemble leaders. Traditionally, MIT students have practiced wherever they could-in dormitories, the basement of Kresge Auditorium, one of the few tiny piano rooms in the Stratton Student Center, or the music classrooms on the first floor of Building 4. But until now, MIT has never had rooms specifically designed for music practice.
"I hated to practice on the piano in my dorm because it was in such awful condition," said Erin McCoy, a junior double-majoring in music and cognitive science. "And practicing in the Building 4 music rooms can be a tremendous hassle: there are classes in those rooms from 9am to 5 pm almost every day, and in the evenings, chamber groups and other student music groups have the rooms reserved. So the only times to even get a room were usually very early in the morning or very late at night. Mostly it was just incredibly difficult to get a room at all, since then there were only five on the first floor.
"The new practice rooms are life-saving," says Ms. McCoy. "So far this term, I've had no trouble at all finding a room to rehearse in, whether it's for the Chorallaries or for the various other chamber ensembles I'm a part of. The new practice rooms have made it immensely easier for all musicians to practice in a comfortable space where they know they will not be disturbed-or disturb anyone else."
The new suite, located in Rm 4-260, were designed by MIT staff architect Melanie Brothers in consultation with members of MIT's Music Department, including pianist and MIT music lecturer David Deveau. Mr. Deveau is pleased not only with the increased music practice space now available for students, but with the actual rooms themselves.
"Acoustically, they are wonderful-not too live, not too dead. Aesthetically, they are also very pleasing," he said. "The lighting is quite good, with plenty of daylight coming in. The color scheme is attractive, yet not distracting. And the rooms are climate controlled, and very comfortable to work in." Comparing them to the practice rooms at highly regarded music schools like the Juilliard School of Music and Oberlin College, Mr. Deveau proclaimed that "what we now have at MIT is much better."
So far, MIT students seem to be just as excited about the new rooms. "I have never found a place I enjoy practicing in as much as these rooms," said Surekha Vajjhala '96, who plays violin in a quartet with three of her sisters. "The rooms are cheerful-bright, carpeted, well-lit, clean and spacious."
"They're beautiful," agreed freshman Matt Congo, who plays the piano and saxophone. "It's a very quiet place; you can accomplish a lot because you feel so removed from campus."
Composer and violinist Yumi Oshima '95 said she appreciates the full-length mirrors, which are "crucial in correcting bad technique and bad posture." She also noted that the rooms meet her needs as a composer, allowing her the privacy and isolation to concentrate without distractions.
The new rooms are also a source of pride and gratification for the three who supported the project. A retired manufacturer who is now taking piano lessons, Mr. Bezark said he was not involved in music while he was at MIT but has always been "fascinated" by the musical talents of MIT students "whose primary interests usually lie elsewhere." By helping to make the dream of new practice rooms a reality, Mr. Bezark said he's getting "vicarious pleasure by encouraging students to do the things I was never capable of doing."
In the past 10 years, enrollments in MIT music courses have increased steadily from 800 in 1983-84 to nearly 1,200 this year. In addition more than 400 musicians participate each year in various music ensembles as noncredit students. "Those numbers don't reflect still other students the additional students not involved in music programs who merely want to maintain their musical talent and training through practice," Professor Harris said. "Students who want to practice the piano have an especially difficult time finding an adequate facility with an adequate instrument," she added, noting that the Institute is now seeking donations of pianos for the new practice rooms.
While access to the Council for the Arts at MIT Practice Room Suite is limited to students who are members of performing groups affiliated with the MIT Music Section, the rooms have already made life easier-and the idea of practicing more attractive-to many MIT musicians. "It used to be a big hassle to get into the music classrooms in Building 4," said Roy Rasera, a graduate student in Materials Science and Engineering who plays viola. "That was a pain, so I never practiced. Now it isn't, so I do practice!"
And for many, the rooms are a tangible recognition of the increasingly strong interest and participation in music at the Institute. "Music at MIT is expanding at an enormous rate," Ms. McCoy said. "Things like new practice rooms are really only the first step to insuring that students here can pursue all the music they want to at MIT."
A version of this article appeared in the March 16, 1994 issue of MIT Tech Talk (Volume 38, Number 26).