Sydney Maltese | Staff Writer
Chautauquans often speak about how much the presence of young artists and musicians contributes to the atmosphere on the grounds. It seems as though creativity walks up and down the avenues all day and far into the night, with music drifting out of this hall or that.
Five years ago, the Chautauqua Foundation’s Idea Campaign sought to improve the halls from which the music flows at Chautauqua. The generosity of many dedicated Chautauquans made possible an expansion and renovation to the School of Music.
The renovations and new facilities have earned Chautauqua, among other things, the endorsement of Steinway and Sons and the increased ability to recruit the highest-caliber students, as well as a reputation for environmental consciousness.
“These new and renovated facilities paved the way for our designation as one of four Steinway Festivals recognized nationally,” said Marty Merkley, Institution vice president and director of programming. “We are now judged as having the best facilities of any major music festival in the country.”
After the renovations were completed five years ago, Oliver Dow, managing director of the School of Music, can now schedule its thousands of events — including rehearsals, lessons and performances — far more efficiently, while at the same time increasing the school’s ability to produce public programming.
“All throughout the day on most days, there is a public event going on here at any time,” Dow said. “Before 2005, there were maybe three master classes a week. That’s the effect of what the Idea Campaign has done for the music festival program.”
In planning the renovations and construction, architects noticed a key aspect the School of Music lacked was a centralized campus, as compared with other institutions.
“It’s kept the students much more contained — it’s easier to communicate with them now, because they’re mostly on the campus,” Dow said. “I can schedule much more efficiently, because there are facilities which I directly have control over.”
Music School Festival Orchestra Music Director Timothy Muffitt said that having a music campus on the Institution grounds allows for more collaboration and easier communication within the department.
“Now, you’re more likely to run into your colleagues, you’re more likely to share ideas. It’s a campus,” Muffitt said. “It’s all the reasons why having a vibrant downtown is important to a community. We’re bringing people together, and there’s a great synergy that’s come through this.”
Before Fletcher Music Hall was constructed and McKnight Hall was renovated, Dow scheduled music events in halls that were not designed exclusively for musical purposes, including Smith Wilkes Hall and the Hall of Christ. The School of Music also lacked a facility of its own that would house the entire school — faculty and students, about 200 people — all at the same time for school-wide meetings.
“What (Fletcher) allows us to do in scheduling is that it’s changed the program of the music school, and therefore it’s changed the program of the whole Institution,” Dow said. “It’s changed the flow and ebb of people to the north end of the grounds. I hoped it would, and I can see that now, after five years, it really has.”
The practice shacks, longtime icons of music at the Institution, were also renovated, due to the support of 42 donors. Each shack now boasts climate control and bears a plaque with the name or names of the donors who sponsored the renovation or of a loved one honored by a donor.
“All of our students are intense about their work. Having a controlled environment makes a huge difference for the people practicing and for rehearsal,” Dow said.
Marlena Malas, School of Music voice chair, said students who have returned to visit the facility after a number of years are astounded by the changes.
“People who have been here before for many years are just astounded, thrilled by it. It’s the best thing that could have happened,” she said.
Rebecca Penneys, School of Music piano chair, planted a memorial garden in honor of her parents around the renovated Sherwood-Marsh Studios to add to the atmosphere. The renovations also allowed an increase in piano studios.
“We can have more people teaching than just two at a time. We have five rooms,” Penneys said. “It was really nice to reconfigure the space so that we got more out of it.”
The School of Music staff agrees that five years later, the changes to the campus have had an incredible impact on the quality of the program.
“To talk to them is to know what a difference it made in their ability to recruit students, in the comfort of their daily existence and the flexibility of additional rehearsal time,” said Geof Follansbee, CEO of the Chautauqua Foundation. “What was exciting was to see the community come together and embrace the whole renovation and the larger gifts that made possible the new facilities — Corry Hall, Cornell Hall, Office Depot Hall and Fletcher Hall.”
In total, the campus includes those four new facilities, Sherwood-Marsh Studio, Jane Pearson Hultquist Auditorium at McKnight Hall, the practice shacks, the Penneys Garden and the Piano Lovers’ Patio, and the James and Shirley Flynn Courtyard.
“Chautauquans’ relationships to the school are very much as audience, and to see them embrace it and vote with their checkbooks about the importance of Chautauqua training and inspiring young artists was impressive and uplifting,” Follansbee said.