New Spaces for Arts Collaboration

Posted: November 1, 2013 at 1:35 pm, Last Updated: November 9, 2013 at 7:45 am

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By Catherine Probst

Students stretching

Theater students get warmed up in one of the new studios in the Music/Theater Building. Photo by Alexis Glenn

On a cold and bright autumn morning, piano performance major Hyun Ji Kim looks up from the pages of Saint-Saens’ Piano Concerto No. 2 in G minor and out the window at the view of the Mason Pond. Sunlight shines in through the large window and glints off the polished black surface of the Steinway grand piano on which Kim practices. The view is just one of many that can be seen from 17 new practice rooms in the newly renovated Music/Theater Building.

“When I first walked into one of the new practice rooms, I was overwhelmed by how bright and spacious they are,” says Kim. “I feel truly blessed and thankful to be able to play piano in such a beautiful setting and study on the best pianos in the world. I am inspired every day to be the very best pianist I can be.”

The 33,000 square-foot building (formerly the Fine Arts Building), provides much-needed space for George Mason University’s School of Music and School of Theater. Housed in George Mason’s College of Visual and Performing Arts, both schools are quickly growing as they collaborate on new programs this semester in music technology and musical theater.

Taking just over a year to renovate, the two-story building is designed to be both functional and efficient. Specifically, it includes 10 teaching studios; 17 practice rooms; two music ensemble classrooms; a musical theater rehearsal space; a music technology lab; five university classrooms; several theater spaces including production and design studios; and 96 music instrument storage lockers.

Undergraduate students participate in an Acting I Theater class taught by School of Theater Director Ken Elston at the Fairfax campus. Photo by Alexis Glenn

School of Theater Director Ken Elston leads students in an exercise during the Acting I Theater class. Photo by Alexis Glenn

With practice rooms and teaching studios outlining the perimeter of the building on the second floor, the additional space allows for 23 new Steinway pianos for music students. The practice rooms, which are carefully monitored to maintain the temperature and humidity guidelines for the pianos, appear to be decorated with funky, modern artwork. But upon closer inspection, these colorful rectangular pieces on the walls provide acoustic absorption and help to soundproof each room, as do the slanted ceiling and thick walls.

The building also provides flexible spaces for some of the school’s smaller musical groups, such as the guitar chamber ensemble and the University Chorale, to rehearse. But it’s students pursuing a degree with a concentration in music technology who are especially pleased with the new building.

A new music technology (or audio) lab within the Music/Theater Building is home to several different technologies that enable sound engineering students to get started in the basics of music technology. Some of these technologies include digital and analog sound stations; computer workstations; and music and sound design programs. The lab can also be used for recordings – both solo musicians and group ensembles can use the isolation booth to ensure the best sound quality.

“The music technology lab is a great addition to the building and will enable students to produce new creative works in electronic composition and music recording and production,” says Dan Hobson, production manager in CVPA. “Students will also be able to learn about the technical and theoretical aspects of music recording.”

The large rehearsal hall with floor to ceiling windows is a welcome addition to the building, especially now that units within CVPA have jointly developed and begun offering a new musical theater certificate. The rehearsal hall provides flexibility, ample space and a bright setting for students pursuing the certificate, which offers classes in music, theater and dance. The airy room is also used as a classroom for other theater courses.

The sounds of table saws and sewing machines fill the hallways in the first floor of the building. In the new design and production studios – complete with concrete floors and a utilitarian feel – theater students are hard at work creating set designs, painting, making costumes and designing props.

Through the hallways, students are seen taking a quick break on the curved wooden benches that line the walls. Spacious lockers are a welcome addition to those students who are accustomed to lugging around a 30-pound tuba. Nearby, there is an outdoor rehearsal studio and several other classrooms that give students a variety of settings for classes.

“The Music/Theater Building is a great asset to the College of Visual and Performing Arts because it provides significantly improved facilities for a variety of programs,” says Brian Marcus, associate dean for development and alumni affairs in CVPA. “It allows for more opportunities for programs and departments to work together.”

Music/Theater Building

Photo by Evan Cantwell

Write to Colleen Kearney Rich at

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