Howard Music Hall Chandler Lasch | Col­legian

It’s 3 p.m. on a Monday, and Howard Music Hall is full of prac­ticing musi­cians who have just come from class. As you walk down the hall, a soprano with her face turned away from the window belts a high “C,” only to be drowned out by the pianist in the next room who’s pounding out his Rach­maninoff con­certo for com­pe­tition next week. The rest of the hallway is a clashing cacophony of brass, strings, and cymbals, accom­panied by frag­ments of hallway chatter.

The music hall practice rooms need better sound­proofing. The con­stant noise dis­tracts prac­ticing musi­cians, and the con­sciousness of other lis­teners dis­courages their cre­ativity during practice ses­sions. If even four of the hall’s 23 practice rooms had sound­proofing, then music stu­dents, who make up about one-third of the total student body according to an estimate from The Col­legian last year, would benefit greatly from having an occa­sional oppor­tunity to practice in silence.

Music department chairman James Holleman said sound­proofing was dis­cussed before the ded­i­cation of Howard Music Hall in 2003. The music department for­merly shared the Sage Center with the art and theater depart­ments, and the sound coming from the upstairs practice rooms in Sage often dis­turbed other activ­ities in the building. But Holleman said he per­sonally opposed sound­proofing the new practice rooms when they moved to Howard because he believed the sound-filled atmos­phere creates an envi­ronment of pro­duc­tivity.

“When we’re sharing a building with art and theater, it’s noise,” Holleman said. “If you’re just a music facility, then it’s activity, and I think activity is pos­itive.”

Some stu­dents agreed with this per­spective.

“I kind of like that it’s not sound­proofed because it helps us get over our­selves,” senior Micah Heinz said. “I may be more com­fortable in per­for­mance because people have heard me mess it up a thousand times down­stairs.”

Voice teacher Kristi Matson also noted that the sound creates a sort of cama­raderie in the hallways, even though it can dis­tract.

Nev­er­theless, many stu­dents dislike the sit­u­ation as it stands.

“When you are working really hard on a piece, and a lot of other sounds are fil­tering in through the walls, it just breaks down your con­cen­tration,” junior pianist Molly Schutte said.

Others said they often feel nervous to express them­selves freely during practice times, since the sound carries so well. Even upper­classmen with years of expe­rience feel self-con­scious when curious passersby steal a glance through the window to see who is playing.

“I remember when I started prac­ticing for the con­certo com­pe­tition last year,” senior vocalist Katie Scheu said in an email. “One of my pieces was full of vocal trills, which I didn’t know how to do yet. My voice teacher rec­om­mended I take a few sheets of paper with me to the practice rooms so that I could tape them to the door when I started working through those trills. Imagine wob­bling your voice up and down until you can achieve a full operatic trill — it’s totally embar­rassing until you get it right.”

The solution, then, is to provide a few — perhaps four — practice rooms with com­plete sound­proofing, leaving the rest as they are. This way, the department can retain its active and com­radely atmos­phere, while also allowing stu­dents the oppor­tunity, on occasion, to practice in solitude. The jazz room in par­ticular should receive sound­proofing, since it often houses full bands that create large dis­trac­tions for other musi­cians.

Noise iso­lation requires sound-blocking mate­rials, such as a heavy and properly-sealed acoustic door, according to Brian Atkinson, client devel­opment manager from ABD Engi­neering and Design in Grand Rapids. Holleman esti­mated the cost to sound­proof one of the smaller rooms would cost approx­i­mately $2,000.

The practice room should be a place where stu­dents can exper­iment with new ideas without strains of French horn fil­tering in from the next room or the con­sciousness of other lis­teners shat­tering the imag­i­nation. While stu­dents should learn to ignore outside com­motion to some extent and not allow them­selves to become too affected by self-doubt, every musician needs an occa­sional hour of solitude to focus his or her thoughts. Let’s allow practice time to be practice time and save per­for­mances for the semester’s end.

Brooke Conrad is a junior studying English.