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Musing on music

Among USF’s recent construction projects is the new School of Music building – and as it nears its slated spring completion, music faculty are considering how the building will change USF’s and Tampa’s music scene.

According to the USF School of Music website, the site is about 104,000 square feet. It boasts a 500-seat concert hall and an intimate, 100-seat recital hall, as well as rehearsal rooms and composition labs.

The building’s opening signals the closing of a music department endeavor that’s trudged on for over two decades.

USF’s College of the Arts dean Ron Jones said in an interview with the St. Petersburg Times that the concert hall is “probably the most sophisticated space just for music anywhere in the Tampa Bay area.”

William Hipp, interim director for USF’s School of Music, said that the halls are designed “strictly for concerts” with retractable curtains and other methods to adjust acoustics.

“For example, the chorus will have the curtains totally drawn so the sound can reverberate,” Hipp said.

Hipp said that the building has already scheduled its first confirmed music event: a two-day gala concert running from April 2-3.

USF’s Director of Jazz Studies and saxophonist Jack Wilkins said that after years of watching the construction rise and fall on proposal lists, it was encouraging to finally see it approved.

“One of our professors, Bob McCormick, is in his 30-something year here and he always tells the story that when he arrived and interviewed for the job, they told him that a new music building was on the way,” Wilkins said.

During his 17 years at USF, Wilkins has performed shows on campus – like the Monday Night Jazz Series in Theatre I and II – and at larger venues like St. Petersburg’s Palladium Theater or with the Florida Orchestra at the Straz Center.

Wilkins said he enjoys playing at these locations, but he is also excited to witness a USF concert stage with acoustics created purely for musical performance. Venues like the Straz Center are designed to host dramatic plays and bombastic Broadway hits as well.

“I think the point (Jones) is making is those were built as multi-use facilities, with stage productions and such,” Wilkins said. “So they weren’t built acoustically just for music, and this hall is specifically designed for music performance.”

Wilkins said one of his favorite musical experiences was performing with legendary jazz composer Chick Corea in 2006. The musicians played at Orlando’s Rollins College, the Palladium Theater and USF’s Theatre I – but now Corea could perform his compositions under the concert hall’s acoustics.

USF music professor Paul Reller said that he was already able to tour the hall and building. He said that the walls have separate spaces rather than touching corners so vibrations can bounce off them, and the concert hall contains a overhanging “cloud.”

“They’re going to have curtains that will close along the side of the walls,” Reller said. “They have a cloud that will come down over the stage and is adjustable; and the cloud itself is an amazing feat of engineering. It weighs many, many tons.”

However, Reller said that the concert hall’s attention to detail is more meant for jazz ensembles and string quartets than loud guitar. Reller said he has played at events ranging from the eclectic Bonk Festival of New Music at the Salvador Dali Museum to shows in the early ’90s with his alternative band Clang at the Ritz.

“When it comes to rock music, you don’t need acoustics to be that great,” Reller said.

According to Reller, Tampa’s venues incorporate “all kinds of highbrow and lowbrow places,” and that the new music building will reside in the former category.

“I just think it’s an amazingly refined space to hear music – I haven’t heard it yet. There’s not paint on the walls or anything,” Reller said. “But from what I think it’s going to be, and from the artists’ renderings and descriptions, I think it’s going to be amazing.”

USF music professor and trombonist Tom Brantley shares his colleagues’ enthusiasm about the new building and said he believes the addition will be “nothing short of fantastic.”

Yet, he also said that the best way to hear live music in Tampa is on campus regardless of the new music facilities because of the sheer number of jazz and classical performances.

“I am astonished that we do not have larger audiences at our multitude of concerts (with) our huge population of students, faculty and staff – much less the Tampa Bay community,” Brantley said in an e-mail.

Brantley, who played overseas in August at an Austrian classical festival, said that musical outlets like USF’s School of Music endure because they bring in global talent and faculty.

“The love of great art music is universal,” Brantley said.