When the chair of University of Wyoming’s music department, Theresa Bogard, interviewed for a position at the university 24 years ago, she was told the department would be getting a new building “soon”. Now, nearly a quarter of a century later, the newly renovated performing arts center is finally here. But before the renovations, conditions were bleak.
Percussion professor Steve Barnhart says that prior to the renovations, there was nowhere to practice. “I had students, in fact, who would use the freight elevator,” he laughs. “They would roll an instrument on the elevator and practice as it went up and down.”
Now, the Buchanan Center for the Performing Arts has brand new practice spaces for individual musicians and ensembles. But for years, the art, theatre, and music departments shared the same building, and even after the art department moved into its new building in 2012, space was still tight, especially for the music department.
“[We had] faculty teaching in practice rooms and four adjuncts sharing one studio,” says Theresa Bogard. “So they would have to really manipulate their teaching schedules so that they could all go in, and since most of the adjuncts drive from Denver, Boulder, Northern Colorado area, it was a real scheduling problem.”
Bogard is responsible for many of the improvements made to the performing arts center. In addition to extra practice rooms, her department now has a dedicated choral rehearsal room and recital hall. She says the recital hall, in particular, solved a lot of issues for the department.
“Before we had this venue,” says Bogard, “we would have solo recitals in the concert hall and there would maybe 100 people there, but here are 700 seats in the concert hall. It would be kind of like playing a tennis match in a football stadium.”
Natural light pours into the new and renovated spaces through large windows and skylights. It’s a stark contrast to the almost dungeon-like architecture of the original building, which was constructed in the 1970s. But perhaps the most important renovations in the building are the least obvious. The renovated basement, where the percussionists practice, now features walls that are 8 inches thick and panels built out 2 inches from the walls.
These thick walls and acoustic panels help swallow the loud sounds produced in the basement, which is crucial. Before the renovations, Bogard says the noise isolation in the building was so poor, musicians experienced hearing loss.
“It’s been an issue from the very beginning,” she says. “Some of the rooms were so loud that they were above 90db and within 15 minutes you could have permanent hearing loss. And we had faculty and students in there all the time rehearsing.”
Steve Barnhart says that his predecessor once tried to put carpet on the walls of his office to help dampen the sound, but the effort was ineffective. Barnhart also says poor sound insulation wasn’t only a problem for the musicians, either.
“Many times in my old office, I would get complaints from the theatre department because I was too loud,” he says. “Even my own colleagues in music would come next door and say, ‘uh, we can hear the triangle coming through the wall, can you tone it down?’”
Marsha Knight, who teaches dance and was on the committee for the renovations, says “[The noise] would spill into the hallways and somebody might be teaching a lecture course next door and they would be hearing jazz music, and so the difference is truly impressive.”
Much like the music department, Knight says on top of the sound issues, the theatre and dance department didn’t have enough space.
“Faculty were in funny little office spaces, students were rehearsing in hallways,” says Knight. “This happened all the time—rehearsing in lobbies, trying to grab hold of any kind of found space to do what they were supposed to do for their classes.”
So why did it take so long for these renovations to be made? There just wasn’t enough funding, says Theresa Bogard. In addition to the $42 million allotted by the UW Board of Trustees, both the music and theatre and dance departments paid out of pocket for parts of the renovation. And even that wasn’t enough to address all of the problem areas of the old building.
One need only travel in the basement between the old and new wings to see where funds ran out. Halfway through the hallway that connects both sides, there’s a line—fresh paint on one side, old paint on the other.