Bower School of Music by the numbers
23,000 square-foot facility opens to students this Aug. 23
$11.6 million spent on construction
$1 million, more than actually, spent on new instruments, including $637,000 on pianos
196-seat recital hall
120 music majors are enrolled this fall
25 new Steinway pianos were delivered to the school last week
3 phases represent the build-out plan for the Bower School — this building represents phase one
To learn more
To learn more about the Bower School of Music, including named and contribution opportunities, call the school at (239) 590-7851 www.fgcu.edu/cas/bsm/
Home of the cymbals and saxophones, the piccolos and pianos, it may still be the quietest building on campus.
That’s because Florida Gulf Coast University’s new Bower School of Music was designed, and is expected, to be “acoustically perfect.”
Rehearsal rooms are built on floating floors to prevent sound vibrations from travelling, and the doors of the recital hall have been manufactured specially to prevent any noise from leaking in. So when students start streaming back onto campus at Florida Gulf Coast University Aug. 23, they will fill the rooms at Bower with music, not the hallways.
The spacious new, 23,000-square-foot building is physically a stone’s throw from the series of modular trailers that previously housed the music department, but it is a world away by every other measurement.
“This has been the missing link,” said Michael Baron, FGCU’s head of piano studies. “The great building, the great instruments will truly help us compete on a national scale.”
“The building we’re in right now is only supposed to be for 50 students, and we’re going to be up to 120 majors this fall,” said Rod Chesnutt, head of instrumental studies at the school.
Chesnutt, like many of the upper-echelon faculty and administrators at the school, has been there since the beginning, four years ago, when the music department did not even have a trailer to call home. Faculty members recall offices that were little more than closets, and rehearsal rooms that were nothing but ordinary classrooms.
The old modular building, while more spacious, offered no acoustics. In the old environs, sound bleeds through walls, and a piano practice becomes an inextricable part of a trumpet lesson.
The move into a new building, described on all sides as state-of-the art, is also described as a timely progression.
In May, the school’s first students will graduate as music majors.
“When you come here to start a program, it’s sort of what your goals are,” said Chesnutt. “It’s why you start a program like this. It’s creating an identity — because the building is part of the identity now.”
The 196-seat recital hall boasts a soaring ceiling, buffeted by honey-stained, wood-paneled walls that have been angled to create peaks and valleys. They resemble giant pieces of origami, with the angles designed cradle sound and gently reverberate it back to the audience.
The building was practically constructed with nary a right angle; every ceiling is sloped, and every wall set obliquely. Parallel surfaces bounce sound back and forth; its irregular angles let the sound slip along the seams of walls and back down to the listener.
“I have been in 30 music schools across the country, and this is by far the best music school I have ever been in,” said Greg Billings, owner of the Steinway Piano Gallery in Bonita Springs.
Last week, Billings helped deliver 25 pianos to the new building, including two 9-foot concert grand pianos and five Steinway Model B grand pianos, the instrument on which George Gershwin composed “Rhapsody in Blue” and Irving Berlin wrote “White Christmas.” The new pianos cost the school $637,000.
Steinway is the exclusive piano supplier at FGCU, making it the 111th school to hold that distinction. It joins Yale University’s School of Music, the Juilliard School and Oberlin College’s Conservatory of Music.
The 25 new pianos, as well as a wealth of other new instruments, were included as part of the $11.6 million total building cost. The total cost was covered by a state allocation, and while some work is ongoing, the project is expected to come in under budget.
The school has also received substantial donor support from community members. The FGCU Foundation has undertaken a separate campaign asking donors to make donations in exchange for naming opportunities in the new building. For example, a $100,000 gift puts a donor’s name on a concert grand piano; $25,000 names the music laboratory or a conference room; $1,000 gets a donor’s name on a single seat in the recital hall.
All gifts will, in turn, be placed in the performing arts endowment, which supports arts programs and students at the school. University spokesman Ken Schexnayder said the university is still receiving donations, and is not prepared to release a donor fund raising total.
Robert Thayer, interim director of the Bower School of Music, said the school’s relationship in the community is a symbiotic one.
“I think the growth of the program in the very short time it’s existed is remarkable,” he said. “It helps us realize we have an important position in the community. ... I don’t know that this kind of explosion could have happened in many other places. Support from individuals has exceeded anyone’s hopes.”
The features at the new building are many, and are getting both faculty and students excited.
For Douglas McDonald, a music major from Fort Lauderdale, it is the attention to detail, especially in the building’s rehearsal hall.
The large room boasts two small observation decks, and gives students a bird’s eye view of techniques and conducting. The rehearsal area is also equipped for recording, as is the recital hall.
“I was pretty amazed — blown away by the quality of work that’s been put into it,” said McDonald, 19, after getting something of a sneak peek of the building.
He and a handful of other students helped move instruments into the building last week. McDonald, who plays alto saxophone and wants to teach music, looked at the move-in as less of a chore than an opportunity.
“I actually got the chance, while we were unpacking some of the percussion instruments, to hear how they sound in the space,” he said. “For me, personally, it’s an opportunity to use state-of-the art equipment and technology to put on a world-class performance.”
But perhaps the biggest boon for students, faculty and visiting community members, is the recital hall. Music recitals, a vital component of music majors’ education, have previously taken place in the school’s student ballroom.
“I’ve done an awful lot of concerts there, but I can’t be very enthusiastic about it,” said Baron, who regularly performs concerts around the world. “You practice and you practice, and you get the sounds just right, and then you go to a place where the sound is so dead — it’s kind of depressing.”
The first recital planned in the new recital hall is a faculty quintet performance scheduled for
7:30 p.m. Sept. 16. The free recital will feature Baron on the piano, Kirsten Bendixen-Mahoney on horn, Judy Christy on oboe, Kristen Sonneborn on bassoon and Paul Votapek on clarinet.
This week, the recital hall was the only portion of the building that had not been officially handed off to FGCU from the construction company, Owen-Ames-Kimball.
Officials at the school broke ground for the new building in September, and expected to move in sometime in December, in time for the start of the spring semester.
When construction started running ahead of schedule, the move-in date was moved up to October, then to August.
That’s not to say corners have been cut, Thayer cautions: “We think it’s been done with great care and loving tenderness.”
The long move
Even with all of this new space, the university plans to continue using the modular trailers as rehearsal space.
“Frankly, as we’re moving into this building, we’ll be at capacity the first day,” Baron said.
Fortunately, the new building is just the beginning. It represents phase one of a three-phase plan for the Bower School of Music. Land adjacent to the new building is being set aside to accommodate phases two and three.
But faculty members are not getting ahead of themselves. For the last four years they have looked toward the future, when the Bower School would have a permanent home. With that day finally here, they are determined to live in the moment.
“Musicians deal with sound,” said Baron. “Sound is everything to us, so to have something that is ideal allows us to produce our craft so much better than before.”
A formal open house for the new Bower School of Music is planned for January.
Connect with education reporter Leslie Williams Hale at naplesnews.com/staff/leslie_hale