The University’s School of Music is one of the most prestigious places in the country to study fine arts. With 15 different departments ranging from conducting and musicology to drama and jazz improvisation, the school is a gem for students looking for a highly competitive academic environment and first-class artistic training. Each year thousands of students audition for acceptance, and a select few are permitted to attend – making the concentration of talent truly staggering.

Sarah Royce

Just scroll through the alumni list – in addition to big names like James Earl Jones and Gilda Radner, the school has churned out a host of Broadway stars, acclaimed company dancers and professional orchestral musicians. If you were fortunate enough to see the Joffrey Ballet this summer, or the National Tour of “Les Miserables” or hear the music to the Broadway show “Avenue Q” – you would have witnessed the talents of University School of Music grads.

But unfortunately, the school and its talent go virtually unnoticed by the vast majority of the University population.

Most students are not even aware when a performance is going on, unless they themselves are a part of the School of Music. Performances generally come and go, generating little buzz around campus – often-times playing to empty seats due to low ticket sales. In a campus of more than 37,000 students, one would think selling out the 650-seat Mendelssohn Theatre or even the 1,300-seat Power Center would be a relatively easy task. But unfortunately, only 26 of the 59 School of Music productions sold out last season.

What is ironic is that we all go to such lengths to get to the right party or the right bar – we spend money on cabs, on cover, on drinks, walk literally miles in the snow during the ruthless Michigan winters – but free, student-produced performances at the Frieze Building often can’t muster a crowd of 50 people.

However, only some responsibly falls on the apathetic shoulders of University students. The rest must go to the University and School of Music administration – who have been rather lax on getting the word out about fine arts on campus.

So without further adieu, here are my personal suggestions for getting the School of Music back on the map and filling those concert halls and theatres this upcoming academic year:

1) There needs to be strong communication between the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts and the School of Music. Whenever there is a performance that relates to an LSA class, students should be encouraged, if not required, to attend. For example, all students in Ralph Williams’s Shakespeare lecture last year should have been required to attend the School of Theatre and Drama’s production of “Romeo and Juliet” – that class alone could fill more than half of the Mendelssohn Theatre. Not to mention that Shakespeare’s plays are best seen, and not read, anyhow.

2) The University should invest in what many schools refer to as Arts Dollars – student vouchers intended for arts-related events. Considering students are usually short on cash, these vouchers could be an incentive to do something free and different on a Thursday night. Arts Dollars could treat students to two, maybe three School of Music performances per academic year and come together with a schedule of events highlighting performance locations, dates and times.

3) The School of Music needs to do a better job promoting its own productions. A single sign hanging over the Diag and a short review on the back page of the Daily is just not going to cut it. If desperate students can poster the entire campus with sublet signs, the School of Music can do the same. The best advertising I’ve seen is usually done in the Frieze Building itself, which doesn’t do much for the rest of campus.

4) If the School of Music has a hard time filling seats now, just wait until people need to trek up to North Campus to see a performance. With the coming of the much-anticipated Walgreen Performing Arts Center, theatre students will find themselves relocated to North Campus as soon as the fall 2006 term. With the Frieze Building gone, it is imperative that the performance venues remain on Central Campus – particularly for student-run productions like Basement Arts.

But at the end of the day, the success of these suggestions depends on our own motivation.

According the School of Music website, there are more than 200 events and performances happening in the next 365 days, and that doesn’t include the free student-produced shows that take place all over campus each weekend. It’s not as easy as lying around watching TV, but the extra effort pays off. So the next time you happen upon a poster for an orchestra concert or a musical, don’t just keep walking. Write down the dates, buy tickets and go – if nothing else, it’s a nice change from the bar scene. And most likely you will not be disappointed.

 

Dibo can be reached at wdibo@umich.edu.

 

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