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La Scena Musicale - Vol. 21, No. 3 November 2015

New Facility at Western

by Kiersten van Vliet / November 1, 2015

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Western University

There’s a new face to music making in Southwestern Ontario. After Orchestra London was forced to close its doors in late 2014 due to financial mismanagement, the Don Wright Faculty of Music at Western University made a significant investment in the London arts community that will assuredly pay dividends for years to come.

Dean Betty Anne Younker has worked with architects and the two previous deans, Robert Wood and Jeffrey Stokes, to construct a music facility to match the caliber of Western’s music programs.

“The building is a silent participant in the learning of music,” stressed John Nicholson of Nicholson Sheffield Architects, in charge of the project. At capacity for a number of years, the old Music Building was simply not enough to sustain the vibrant and expanding faculty.

The first phase of the construction involved renovating one section of the existing Music Building that was built in 1972, and constructing two buildings on either side of the renovation. In addition to numerous practice rooms and studio spaces, the renovations will add a new 50-seat recital hall – a smaller version of their 250-seat von Kuster Hall – as well as space for the Early Music Studio, the Percussion Suite, and the Piano Technology Program. The new building also preserves the iconic architecture of the Western campus with its characteristic stone façade. These renovations follow the state-of-the art 2008-9 renovations of the faculty’s 400-seat Paul Davenport Theatre.

With the first phase of construction nearing completion, the faculty moved into the new building this past summer. That doesn’t mean that summer programs were put on hold; in fact, the school seemed busier than ever, hosting PercShop – a percussion workshop for high school and university students and adults – as well as the 2015 Ontario Youth Choir. In addition, this was the inaugural year of Music Theatre on the Thames, a music theatre intensive program, which culminated in a successful production of Little Women.

Community music initiatives such as the Young Winds Program and the New Horizons Adult Band have already benefitted from the new space. The first reviews from students, faculty, artists and audience members are overwhelmingly positive. From providing a home for students, faculty and programs, to connecting with and providing a space for amateur musicians and the London community, the new Music Building will form an integral part of the music-making experience in London.

“It is not simply a building. It is the acoustic, aesthetic and physical environment that enhances, encourages and accommodates what we do at Western. It is where we as educators, learners and audiences share the powerful experience of music,” states Dr. Jill Ball, Assistant Professor of Percussion and division co-ordinator of Winds, Brass, and Percussion.

A significant portion of the $25-million project is being raised through the private sector, including from Western alumni and friends of the faculty. Nonetheless, Western is still looking to fund two large rehearsal classrooms (for opera, large orchestral, and wind band ensembles) that will form a critical part of the Music Building’s infrastructure.

The next phase will be the demolition of the unrenovated sections of the old Music Building and completing the ground, lobby, second, and third floors of the bloc. A third phase may include renovating the Music Library, housed in Talbot College.

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