For all the flak Detroit receives for its infamous, dangerous
reputation, it is better known in local circles as a cultural mecca
for its artistic forums. The Detroit Symphony Orchestra has a
long-standing history as one of the city’s biggest draws, as
music legends flock to play in its hall. Now, as the DSO completes
its three-phase move into its newly remodeled home, the Max M.
Fischer Music Center, Detroit’s educational community has
discovered yet another reason to laud the contributions of the
arts.

Mira Levitan
A billboard announces the plans for the project, which will also include increased activity with Detroit public schools. (FOREST CASEY/Daily)
Mira Levitan
Visible construction vehicles dot the areas surrounding the Max. (FOREST CASEY/Daily)

While historic Orchestra Hall has undergone restorations before,
Phase One of the Max Project marked one of the most intensive.
Prior to the renovation, DSO musicians battled with makeshift
dressing rooms and cramped, sometimes nonexistent, storage space
for their instruments. Stephen Millen, the Detroit Symphony’s
vice-president and general manager, said, “Today, the
musicians not only have roomy and comfortable dressing rooms. They
also have instrument storage spaces, a large lounge area,
individual practice rooms and ample library space.”

In addition, the Orchestra Hall staff received expanded offices
to enhance their work environment, and a number of larger bathrooms
were added. Customer amenities increased to include more food
concessions and extra room to move and schmooze during
intermissions.

“Although the acoustics in the building are some of the
best in the world, the hall did not have the amenities, for either
patrons or artists, that most audiences and performers are
accustomed to today,” Millen explained.

But the restorations were not merely to benefit the faculty and
patrons. The DSO also recognized a need to improve the Hall’s
neighborhood and environment.

Millen notes, “The DSO management, musicians and board all
realized that in order for the Orchestra to prosper and grow, it
was necessary to provide an ideal environment for performances that
went beyond acoustics and an attractive hall … The city
needs to be developed, neighborhood by neighborhood, and we believe
that The Max — and its important neighbors in the midtown
area, such as Wayne State University, the DIA (Detroit Institute of
Arts), the Science Center and the University Cultural Center
Association — have already done much to transform the
immediate area surrounding us.”

In Phase Two of the operation, the Jacob Bernard Pincus Music
Education Center provided young music aficionados the opportunity
to improve their skills through more intimate training with the DSO
musicians. The Pincus Center is an extracurricular resource for an
assortment of students, regardless of their ages. After its opening
this past October, the Detroit community was introduced to a new
technological age in music education.

“The youth orchestra members are afforded the opportunity
to train not only with DSO musicians, but with world-class guest
artists as well,” explained Charles Burke, the Detroit
Symphony’s Director of Education. “The space also has
the infrastructure to support future educational endeavors such as
special audio/video projects, Internet broadcasts and distance
learning, computer listening stations, online music workshops and
more.”

As Phase Three of the Max Project nears completion, Orchestra
musicians prepare for a slightly different role. Though they have
already initiated their teaching careers at the Pincus Center,
where youth orchestras from all over the region can receive special
attention from DSO musicians, they will take on the roles of
Detroit Public School instructors beginning in January 2005. The
Fine and Performing Arts Academy joins the Detroit Symphony in this
educational venture, which will cost more than $100 million when it
is finished. The new school, the Ford High School for the Fine,
Performing and Communications Arts will incorporate the
broadcasting and theater arts in addition to an enhanced music
education program.

Burke said, “Our goal is to have a DSO musician working at
the school each week. He or she will provide coaching, master
classes, individual lessons as well as training sessions with the
high school’s orchestra, band and jazz band.”

Although the music center is undoubtedly an expensive
undertaking, the DSO hopes its development will prove to be
beneficial to all involved, particularly the greater Detroit
community. Millen concludes, “With the excitement and new
life that institutions like these are bringing to this area, and
with the corporate development that is going on elsewhere in the
city, we are confident that Detroit is well on its way to
reclaiming its mantle as one of America’s great
cities.”

Click
“http://www.michigandaily.com/pages/pdf/2004-02-05wcenter.pdf”>here
to view the center spread as it appears in print (requires Acrobat
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