Haggar piano: shrouded in mystery, controversy

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Luke Hollomon, Staff Writer

There was a time when the brick corridors of Haggar rang with music. It was a period when Cap House was not the only performance opportunity there, and burgeoning musicians had free rein in Haggar. But then, there was silence.

Not so many years ago, a small upright Kawai piano had its own spot in the building. It was not upstairs. It was not locked away in a practice room. It was in a public and open space.

“[It] was awesome,” said ’12 alumna Amanda Polewski in an interview with former University News managing editor Christian Howard published in the newspaper in 2009. “People would sit down and play jigs, and random people would just stop and step-dance to the music.”

Fun though it was, the piano, placed in Haggar in the fall of 2002, was never without controversy. Multiple editorials, appearing in the since discontinued “Editorial Page” of the University News written by the “Editorial Board,” blanketed the pages of this newspaper back in 2003.

“The piano downstairs [brings] arguably tasteless and unquestionably loud piano pop…making music in that space is at least inconsiderate,” said one writer, to which 2003 grad Brendan Cronin replied, “Let the people have fun. Students should not be criticized for the desire to relax and have fun.”

That back and forth was echoed by other comments, enough to show that the public piano was far from unanimously liked.

Six years of quiet in the commentary section later, the piano, almost mysteriously, disappeared in 2009. It was quietly Saran-wrapped and swept away into the old Dominican Priory.

Kelly O’Neal, senior coordinator of concerts and events, told the University News in an interview with Howard that she had heard many complaints from staff about how the music was disrupting meetings and their work in the offices in Haggar.

O’Neal also said that she had sought multiple solutions to the piano problem, including asking for quieter playing and assigning quiet hours, but the recommendations were all ignored by students.

Once the piano was removed from Haggar, it was shrouded in mystery for the next 18 months. As memories of its presence in Haggar began to fade, then juniors, now ‘12 graduates Joe Swope and Susan Gigante went to work to restore its place in the foyer.

Howard’s story in 2009 described how Swope and Gigante, both student government senators, worked to restore what Swope considered “Haggar’s public soapbox [that] unified our campus.”

After crafting a poll to gauge student sentiments on the matter, Swope said he “found that the results were overwhelmingly in favor of having the piano restored.”

But that is where progress halted. According to the minutes from Student Government meetings, the issue of the restoring of the piano was raised more than once, but always faded without any results.

Gigante had said at the time that it would be highly unlikely for the piano to be restored to Haggar. As a solution, Gigante suggested that the piano be moved from storage and into the New Residence Hall to be available to a high number of students.

Two years later, in October 2011, Gigante’s wish was granted. Student Government worked with facilities staff to place the old Haggar piano in the New Hall. The small upright once again had a home.

Even now, tucked away in a residence hall, there is still controversy about having a piano in such a public space. Multiple complaints were brought to RAs about the noise, which can be heard in many first floor rooms and certain ones up to the third floor. To help, “piano hours” have been implemented, allowing playing from 10 a.m. until 10 p.m.

This does not remove the distraction that it can be to those studying, but does mitigate the disruptions to sleep. Still there are times when these hours are ignored, and students are found hammering away until the wee hours of the morning.

Junior Rebecca Kee, former New Hall resident, said, “I love the piano there; I think that it’s in the perfect place. If you are in the lobby, you can hear it, but if you go into the study or TV rooms, it’s quiet. Even though I don’t play, I can listen to those who do.”

Senior Emily Glick took the opposite stance.

“I don’t live there anymore, but when I did, the piano was just a distraction. Often people who couldn’t play would bang on the keys at weird hours. I could even hear it back in my room. It made listening to those who could play not worth it.”

No matter the space in which a public piano is placed, it seems likely to garner controversy. The piano is no longer Saran-wrapped in storage, but it is still surrounded by controversy.

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