On the sidelines of a Les Misérables practice, sunlight streams onto the wooden floors of upstairs Haggar. Adjunct music professor Dee Donasco conducts the performing students as she plays a black piano. The folding chairs of the some 20 performers take up one half of the room. Dramatic scenes fill the other half.
The performers have devoted months to this production, only to be forced into what looks like an upstairs cafeteria, so cramped that there is barely room for the singers and musicians, much less those who want to see them perform.
They persist, however, even though not one of them is a music major. They could not be a music major even if they wanted to be one.
The University of Dallas offers art and drama majors, but these talented musicians must be content with a mere music concentration, rooms crammed with pianos and only one full-time professor.
Music is one of the original seven liberal arts, but it seems to be largely absent from our liberal education.
Before the school can even add a music major, though, the department needs more practice rooms, performance venues and full-time music professors, according to Kristin Van Cleve, the only full-time faculty member in the department.
Currently, piano instructor Andrey Ponochevney teaches classes in a reformed dorm room in Catherine Hall, with two pianos squashed inside. Cello instructor Jim Higgins says that there is no possibility of teaching large ensemble classes because there’s no room to teach them. And when top-notch performers came to UD, Van Cleve had to blush as she ushered them into the awful acoustics of Lynch.
Van Cleve herself does everything from administrative work to advertising her department, and, while she does her job well, the department cannot go far on one person’s shoulders.
Yet, strides have been made in music since UD was founded. Marilyn Walker started the music department and spread awareness of music on campus, primarily through the founding of the Collegium Cantorum choir in 1993.
When Walker retired in 2011, Van Cleve became the new director of the music department.
Within her time as music director, Van Cleve revamped the music concentration program to resemble minors and concentrations of other institutions of a similar size to UD.
Many music students, though, want more than just a concentration. Some, like freshman Francesca Schell, who almost studied music in New York, want to add a music major. Others know friends or siblings who would be at UD if the school offered the major.
“[The music department] is underfunded, and it’s being run by a small group of people who are working way harder than they should,” Schell said. “I think it looks disappointing to prospective students.”
Unfortunately, even with the school’s other musical events, like Cap House, students that come to UD must decide between a music major and the school’s education.
President Thomas Keefe shares the students’ concern for the music department.
“I hope to, within about three and a half to four years, have a performing arts center built on campus—a state of the art, 500 seat performing arts center to be built on what is now the east end of Carpenter Hall,” Keefe said.
This performing arts center will be acoustically correct, and have the capacity to hold graduations and performances.
“We’ve done some preliminary work and it’s going to cost about $8 to $12 million, and I need to raise the money for that,” Keefe said. “I have big plans for the music and drama departments to grow, as a result of additional space.”
Ultimately, both Keefe and the music staff agree that one of the biggest drivers in the music department is the students of UD themselves.
“It would be great to have more students to participate, and more students pursuing the concentration,” Van Cleve said. “I still encounter the phenomenon of students not knowing that there is music here.”