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Music majors need practice rooms

Practice makes perfect. But what if there’s nowhere to practice?

While Belmont University is known for its musicians and prestigious music departments, it lacks a vital resource for perfecting music: practice rooms.

With more than 600 music majors, 24 instrumental ensembles, 13 vocal ensembles and numerous non-music majors also striving for a personal best, it’s no wonder Belmont has problems providing the necessary practice rooms for student musicians.

“You have to practice wherever you can find a space,” said Shauna Goldbach, a transfer junior music major. “I’ve had to warm up in the bathroom and an elevator.”

In fact, a recent sign on a door in Belmont Heights Baptist Church read, “Please don’t use this as a practice room unless you’re practicing going to the bathroom.”

While dorm rooms are a popular second choice to practice in, students also have to get creative with space if it means taking a trumpet into a stairwell to practice as students go up and down the stairs between classes.

Approximate numbers make the problem clearer:

• About 40 practice rooms on campus are available for more about 270 music students with an instrumental focus.

• On average, these students are required to practice at least two hours a day.

• More than 50 additional students, with a vocal emphasis, have to practice 30 minutes a day.

Using these estimated numbers, practice rooms would have to be open at least four more hours every day. In order to achieve this, practice rooms would have to either open at 3 a.m. or close at 4 a.m.

Practice rooms are in exceptionally high demand between noon and 2 p.m., since most students have seminars at 2 that require warming up beforehand.

“It’s kind of an unspoken rule that you can practice wherever you can find room, said Erin McLendon, a senior music major. “If it annoys us that’s fine, but accept it and move on because we are all on the same boat.”

Upperclassmen have learned to cope with the limited space, but freshman music student Mackenzie Green still struggles.

“For my voice lessons, seminars, and choir and piano lessons, my homework is practicing,” Green said, and the ongoing search for practice space cuts into the time she can study for other classes.

Many students have been clinging to the hope that the new concert hall, expected to be complete in May 2012, could house new practice rooms. However, Belmont faculty have confirmed that won’t happen.

“The new concert hall is going to be purely a concert hall,” said Dr. Jane Warren, who conducts both Women’s Choir and the vocal ensemble, Session. “I don’t even know if we are going to have a backstage space at this point,”

Warren is realistic about the concert hall but, like the students, she sees a need for additional and updated space for classes, rehearsals and practice.

Her hope is that the section between the Troutt Theater and the concert hall will be renovated for that at some point in the future to add classroom and practice room space.

But that won’t alleviate one other anticipated problem. There is no freight elevator in the new concert hall, so large instruments such as marimbas will have to be dismantled and taken up in the passenger eleavator.

Students knowing what practice options they have can also be an issue, said Dr. Jeffery Kirk, associate dean of performance studies. A building monitor in Wilson, MPAC and Belmont Heights open some classrooms afer hours.

Currently, students can practice in the practice rooms in Wilson, MPAC, dressing rooms and Belmont Heights. Belmont also recently opened the Guitar House on Compton Street as practice space for guitarists and bass players.

“We’re trying to use every bit of space that we have to make sure that at least everything is maximized out, that there’s nothing just sitting there,” Kirk said.

While all available space is being used for practice rooms, Belmont faculty recognizes the need for growth, and Kirk has ideas for the future.

“I know the library has now gone 24 hours, and there’s been discussion on whether or not that’s possible [for practice rooms],” Kirk said. “Right now that’s not something we’ve been able to accomplish, but certainly something to think about.”

While Belmont has yet to make any concrete plans for new practice rooms, they are brainstorming solutions for the future as Belmont continues to expand.

Kirk said he and other music faculty know there is a problem. “I really want to do everything I can in my position as associate dean to work with this. If students can’t get into rooms to practice, they can’t do well in their lessons, improve and go out and do great things.”

Melanie Rankin also provided reporting for this story.

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