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In response to overwhelming student need for additional practice space, the music department sacrificed a set of offices on the fourth floor of Lyons Hall over the summer, replacing it with 10 modular soundproof rooms, each equipped with an upright piano. Nine are for individual use or lessons, and one is large enough for ensemble playing. All are available to anyone in the BC community and are filled with the sounds of music day and night.
On a Wednesday afternoon in December, sheet music propped before her on the piano, Caroline Marcotte ’07 sang Brahms’s lieder “Die Mainacht” in mezzo-soprano in one of the new seven-by-eight-foot music practice studios on the fourth floor of Lyons Hall. She was taking a break from studying; it was exam week, she explained, motioning at her T-shirt and sweatpants, and for her, time in the practice room is relaxing. Marcotte is a music and history major with one semester of German under her belt. She can pronounce most of the lyrics now, she said, though she is still working on her R’s.
Next door, Jon Stoltenberg ’08 was playing one note at a time on the piano, trying to write a four-part harmony for a take-home final. He doesn’t usually play piano, he said. He plays guitar and viola, and he usually drops in around eight p.m. without a reservation, two or three times a week. “That’s the beauty of the new practice rooms,” he said. “No more trekking to Mary House on the Newton Campus after hours, hoping you can find a practice space.”
Pristine on Monday mornings, the seven-day sign-up sheets outside the practice rooms are by the afternoon dotted with names and initials, scheduled and rescheduled with strike-throughs, scratch-outs, arrows, and smudges. Rush hour is midday, 11 to two. Most of the pianos were brand-new in October, but after three months of constant use, they all need tuning.
Arranged as a rectangular block of cells in the middle of a large space, the rooms seem soundproof while you are playing an instrument, said Molly Brass ’08, who was practicing for a piano lesson. When you stop, she said, muffled notes are a reminder that you’re not alone. A corridor lined with window bays surrounds the cellblock. On blustery days the wind howls, and when it’s quiet, a steady background electrical hum can be heard—a perfect F sharp.
A few students say they’ve practiced before sunrise and seen night janitors finishing up their shifts. “I live here at least three hours a day,” said Patrick Boyle ’06, a music major planning to audition for conservatories. Boyle likes the reaction time of the keys on the piano in room B. He plays an octave, and the high C pings a half step lower than the middle one.
Outside the large ensemble room, beneath the filled-up reservation sheet, there are black scuff marks and discolorations on the white wall. It is the only wall with such wear, as if it had been leaned against time and again by people who were waiting.
Martin Baker ’09 takes whichever room he can get between classes. At five p.m. on a December evening, he was there for his third session that day, he said, and he thought he might be onto something. “I improvise until I hit on something good,” he said of his folk/rock/classical/jazz-inspired piano creations. He played a short passage he had recorded on his cell phone that morning to jog his memory. Baker is self-taught and has been in and out of bands, he said. He likes to play in the dark, and composes by the light that glances in from the hallway through the practice room’s glass door.
Read more by Cara Feinberg