Site to be heard

In a lyrical weekend, the Granoff Music Center makes its debut

It will not be enough to see the newest building on the Medford/Somerville campus. The Perry and Marty Granoff Music Center was made to be heard.

The Perry and Marty Granoff Music Center at Tufts © Alonso Nichols

From the classrooms, practice rooms and rehearsal spaces to—most significantly—the 300-seat recital hall, the building was designed with exquisite attention to acoustical detail. The new music center will allow Tufts students and faculty, along with the wider community, to learn, teach, create, perform and enjoy music in a way that previously has not been possible on campus.

The new facility also is expected to raise the academic profile of a department that has been hampered by lack of space and adequate facilities—although not by lack of talent and commitment.

“I think [Tufts] should be one of the most attractive schools on the East Coast for students who are interested in music in a liberal arts environment,” said Joseph Auner, professor and chair of music. “Tufts gets a lot of people applying who are interested in music, but I think we expect to be able to recruit many more talented musicians, both music majors and non-majors.”

“I feel inspired, reinvigorated, about coming to teach, compose and perform” in the Granoff Center, said John McDonald, associate professor of music. “For the graduate and undergraduate student composers who work with me, we can now provide the very best facility and equipment for performing and recording their efforts.

Joseph Auner, professor and chair of music, in the atrium of the Granoff Music Center © DAVID CARMACK

“I’ve been here [in the new building] already for several days well into the night, working on upcoming composition projects,” McDonald said. “I hope this enthusiasm and the atmosphere of high-level creativity that the Granoff Music Center is now inspiring in me will be contagious.”

Best in Boston
The 55,000-square-foot music center is named for trustee Martin Granoff and Perry Granoff, A91P. It is located on the corner of Talbot and College avenues on the Medford/Somerville campus and was completed this past December; classes are being taught there this semester. A dedication ceremony will take place February 9 as part of a weekend of celebratory events February 8-11.

The crown jewel of the $27 million building is the Distler Performance Hall, an acoustically separate “box-within-a-box” that was designed by architects Perkins + Will of Boston to be a showcase for live acoustic performances.

“I think it’s the best small recital hall in the Boston area,” Auner said as he bounded onto the low stage and waved his arm toward the 40-foot ceiling. “It’s going to be wonderful for student recitals, for the various ensembles and chamber music. This is a big, resonant space … it keeps the sound alive. There’s not a bad seat in the house,” he said.

The hall is “acoustically sealed”—meaning sounds from without will not interfere with performances, and sounds from within will not interrupt teaching or other functions elsewhere in the building. Even the ventilation and lighting systems have been designed to be silent—no humming, no buzzing, no blowing. “It’s a very quiet space, so it’ll be possible to play very quietly and delicately in here,” Auner said.

Sights & Sounds
Opening with a Bang

The recital hall is a gift of Arts & Sciences overseer Stephen Distler, A74, and Dr. Roxanne E. Kendall, J75. The Karl Leichtman Performance Stage was a gift of trustee Agnes Varis, H03. And the Steinway concert grand piano—“probably the best piano in New England,” Auner said—was donated by President Lawrence S. Bacow and Adele Fleet Bacow in honor of their parents, Ruth and Mitchell Bacow and Margaret and Joel Fleet, M.D.

All about sound
“Music is all about sound,” said Provost and Senior Vice President Jamshed Bharucha. “Most architectural projects are focused on the visual. It’s very important that we get the acoustics right, and certainly a tremendous amount of attention has gone into every little detail acoustically. You can hear it in the classrooms, in the studios and in the concert hall.”

The music center’s world music room houses the West African drums used by the Kiniwe West African Drum and Dance Ensemble and the Javanese gamelan, a collection of percussion and other instruments native to Indonesia. © JOANIE TOBIN

The concert grand in the recital hall is one of 12 new Steinway pianos that were purchased for the new building, along with eight Yamaha pianos. “We are buying a lot of instruments,” said Auner. “We also bought a lot of percussion instruments and jazz instruments—electronic keyboards. Also, we bought a lot of world music instruments. In addition to our traditional strengths in African drumming and gamelan, for the first time we’re offering lessons in a range of traditions, including Japanese and Indian and Middle Eastern music.”

A separate room on the lower level is devoted to the world music collection, housing the West African drums used by associate professor David Locke’s Kiniwe West African Drum and Dance Ensemble and the Javanese gamelan, a collection of percussion and other instruments native to Indonesia.

A few days after the Granoff Center opened its doors, Barry Drummond, director of the Javanese Gamelan Ensemble, along with members of the Boston Village Gamelan—artists-in-residence at Tufts—and Wakidi Dwidjomartono, a gamelan master from Java, were installing the bamboo, brass and bronze gamelan instruments in the world music room.

“This is so much better. We have almost twice as much space [as before]; it will be wonderful,” Drummond said. “It will be nice sharing the space with other world/ethnic/folk/traditional music. That will be good for the department as a whole.”

Musically minded students
The Kiniwe and gamelan ensembles are two of more than 15 student ensembles directed by music department faculty. Traditionally, Tufts students have shown tremendous enthusiasm for music classes and performance, even the non-music majors. “Many, many students are involved in music at Tufts,” Auner said.

The new music center contains quality rehearsal space for the more than 15 student ensembles at Tufts. © JOANIE TOBIN

About 1,500 students participate in music classes each year. During the 2005-06 academic year, there were 2,000 course enrollments in the department, Auner said—an impressive number at a university with a student body of 4,500 undergraduates, he added. Last semester’s Parents’ Weekend concert involved 400 students.

Interest in musical performance also has been growing steadily. In 2000, the music department staged between 60 and 65 events a year; last year, it staged 106, said events manager Ryan Saunders. “The faculty is responsible for the majority of that growth,” Saunders said. “The faculty are so passionate about the groups … the music faculty give such an effort to their jobs.”

Yet, for several decades, the music faculty and students had to contend with cramped quarters that were not properly sound-proofed and were often at the mercy of the elements; instruments aged faster than they should have because of inadequate climate control.

“The facilities that the music department was in previously were horrendous, and it’s a testament to just how strong and vibrant our department is that they have been able to accomplish so much in such limited circumstances,” said Bharucha, a musician and psychologist who studies how our brains perceive music.

“We really have had a shortage of adequate facilities for students to rehearse, to perform and to convene, and we haven’t had a very wide variety of spaces for student groups that might want different kinds of spaces,” Bharucha said. “The [new] building certainly increases those options quite dramatically.”

A permanent smile
Members of the music faculty are delighted, to say the least, with their new headquarters.

“I am known for teaching in my office, so I’ve been gifted—and it is a gift. I feel like a kid who just got his first pony or something—with one of the finest office spaces I’ve ever seen and with a beautiful piano to compose, practice and teach with,” said McDonald. “I’ll try not to have a permanent smile on my face. One must maintain some decorum.”

“This is a very good department with many different facets—in composition, in performance, in world music, in classical and jazz, music history—all the different ensembles are really quite good,” said Auner. “When you put that all together, people are going to be amazed at how strong and active the department is. I think it’s always been that way, but people haven’t seen it because it’s always been so separated and divided up,” he added.

“I feel very fortunate coming in to be able to be part of this amazing transformation of the department,” said Auner, a scholar of 20th- and 21st-century music who arrived at Tufts last summer.

In addition to the performance hall, other features of the Granoff Music Center include:

  • An airy, sky-lit atrium that can serve as a reception area
  • A box office (a new feature for the music department)
  • Three acoustically sealed classrooms, with 65, 35 and 25 seats, respectively
  • 20 faculty offices
  • A multimedia lab with computers
  • Instrument storage areas, with special lockers for larger instruments
  • Practice rooms, including rooms designed specifically for use by percussion and other loud instruments
  • Rehearsal rooms, seminar rooms and ensemble spaces
  • New quarters for the Lilly Music Library, a branch of the Tisch library that includes listening stations and high-density, compressible stacks
  • A two-story, acoustically separate rehearsal hall located beneath the Distler Performance Hall that can also be used for recitals

“I recognize how important it is to have music and the arts as part of our education and as part of a campus environment,” Bharucha said. “Both personally and professionally, this is an extremely meaningful event.”

Helene Ragovin is a senior writer in Tufts’ Office of Publications. Georgiana Cohen, web communications specialist, contributed to this report.