By Daniel Johanson
Just 24 of the 33 practice rooms on the ninth floor of the Auditorium Building have pianos. Eight of these 24 rooms have grand pianos, but this is not enough for the students who specifically major in piano performance, where the demand for quality is much higher.
The other 15 rooms have upright pianos, for use by instrumentalists and vocalists who need a pitch reference for their music or a rehearsal space with accompanists.
The rooms are in constant use and need for a conservatory where current enrollment is at 485 students, and the demand for more practice spaces is becoming more evident.
Aaron Gottl, a graduate student studying cello at CCPA, was recently appointed a senator in the Student Government Association, where he is working to assess the shortage of practice spaces.
“The bottom line is we need more spaces to practice,” he said. “During peak hours, students are constantly going to administration and asking if there are available classrooms.”
Matthew Peckham is also a graduate student studying vocal performance and has experienced this firsthand.
“I walk through the main block of practice rooms first, but during the early afternoon, they’re usually all full,” Peckham said. “If I have time, I go over to the Harold Washington Library. I never expect to find a practice room in the middle of the day, so I usually practice in the morning or the evening.”
The lack of practice rooms is a constant problem for music students, but it seems as though the university’s recent expansion affords more solutions.
“The students and faculty I’ve talked to have said that when the Wabash [Building] was first in the planning stages, there were going to either be more practice rooms in the Wabash in spaces allotted for CCPA, or they were going to take spaces from the Auditorium Building from other departments and move them to the Wabash building,” Gottl said. “This would allow the growing conservatories to take over more floors in the Auditorium Building.”
While pianists are most affected by the lack of rooms, the effects of this trickle down to every other student.
“It involves everyone,” Gottl said. “Certainly pianists are the most affected, but pianists will sometimes compromise and go into the rooms with the upright pianos, and that’s affecting everyone. Vocalists and instrumentalists that need pianos are then unable to find spaces because pianists are using the other rooms.”
Alyssa Conde, graduate student in piano performance, has experienced this first hand.
“Most of the time, I do have a grand piano because I practice in the morning, and luckily I have my three hour block in the afternoon, which is the busiest time,” she said. “At least twice a week, I find myself having to use a non-piano major room. This is before or after my three-hour block, late morning or late afternoon.”
Conde is one of 40 piano majors, and each pianist is expected to practice at least four hours a day. With only eight rooms designated in the entire conservatory, this can be a challenge for many.
Gottl proposed an interesting solution to the lack of practice rooms and the consequent problems.
“Something I’m really energized about is the possibility of getting our own student government association,” he said. “I know that’s not unheard of, but as far as I know, we have no large student representation in the entire performing arts.”
A common product of performance departments is the separation of specific concentrations. To some extent, this makes sense for the development of skills that are specific to their work, but after these compartmentalizations are deeply ingrained, large-scale issues become hard to address.
“It’s fine to be compartmentalized, but we don’t have to exist solely within those spaces,” Gottl said. “It would also be a way to bond and make one of the predominant colleges of the university really flourish and have our needs met.”
It’s not just the quantity of practice rooms that need addressing, as there are a number of other issues that conservatory students have on their minds.
“I want to make sure that we have carpeting replacement, general things that would be great improvements at very little cost,” Gottl said. “Something that I really want to do with this possible forming of the student body for CCPA is to get these practice spaces updated. If new spaces aren’t available now, then we can at least update the old ones to reflect what the rest of the university is doing with their green energy initiatives. If motion sensitive panels were to control the lights and the fans, the energy savings in time would be well-worth the cost of the hardware and installation.”
CCPA makes up such a significant percentage of the university, and in order for students’ work to flourish, Gottl and other CCPA students will be making strides to make sure they are heard.