Cost: $21 Million
Central Michigan University's School of Music is one of the oldest academic units on campus. Its lack of a permanent home, however, resulted in a decade-long drive to build a state-of-the-art music building by the early 1990s. At this point, the department was in desperate need of new quarters. Having moved into Powers Hall (the former Keeler Union) in 1961 after moving around campus for decades, the Music Department faced several challenges. Sound management, made difficult by disturbing sounds throughout the building and reverberation throughout the structure, hampered both learning and performance. A lack of large performance spaces and insufficient practice areas were another problem. To compound these issues, enrollment in the music program increased dramatically, like the enrollment of many other Central programs, during the 1950s and 1960s.
By the early 1980s, several University administrators were tentatively discussing plans for a new music building. Initial plans were approved by the state of Michigan in 1983, but a final cost estimate was not delivered until 1986. Funding was not approved until 1994, and construction finally began on August 1, 1995. The building was designed by architect Harley Ellington Design of Southfield. Construction was done by Three Rivers Construction in Midland, which had the building ready to open by the fall of 1997. With a total cost of $21 million, the building contained 119,000 square feet of usable space that included a 500-seat recital hall and a 110-seat chamber hall. There were also rehearsal rooms, music technology laboratories, teaching studios, practice rooms, and offices.
Both visual and acoustic characteristics were given careful consideration during the design and construction phases. The building was designed with a light-colored limestone masonry exterior and a white interior accented by an abundance of natural daylight. Natural maple wood and a dark purple palette offset the lighter tones throughout the building. Acousticians from the Talaske Group of Chicago helped design some of the advanced acoustic features within the structure, including soundproofing technology between rooms and adjustable acoustical shells that could be raised or lowered depending on the type of performance underway in a performance hall. The building itself is actually composed of three separate buildings joined by two-inch wide silicone and rubber joints designed to dampen the transfer of sound between buildings.
The new Music Building was equipped with some of the most advanced music technology available at the time. New instruments and equipment were purchased with some of the funds. The Music Department actually sold 33 pianos in preparation for the arrival of new ones. The large recital hall featured a state-of-the-art sound system for recording performances, light and audio control booths, surround sound capability, and a fiber optic system that allowed CMU public broadcasting to play live performances on the air. The performance hall also featured a new concert grand organ that was custom built for CMU by Casavant Frères, a Canadian company that has been handcrafting organs since 1879. The organ features three keyboards, a pedal board, and a total of 3,321 pipes ranging from 8 inches to 20 feet in length. The organ alone took two months to install and calibrate.
Although colloquially referred to as the Music Building, the structure itself has no official name. However, several rooms within the building have been named in honor of CMU alumni and former faculty. The Norman C. Dietz Band Hall was named after the director of CMU bands during the 1950s and 1960s. The GR "Rollie" and Olga J. Denison Music Resource Center is named after two graduates and ardent supporters of the CMU music program. The Nancy Page Smith Viola Studio is named after a former string teacher in the Mt. Pleasant Public School system. Many other rooms within the building are similarly dedicated.
The Music Building underwent a $425,000 repair project in 2008. The top three courses of exterior masonry, or about 3,400 blocks of limestone, were replaced in their entirety. Additionally, another 130 blocks from various locations around the structure were cracked and were also replaced. The building continues to be the home the School of Music today.