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March 29, 2013
CONTACT: Gordon Ovenshine

Sound of music: SRU modernizes Swope

SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. -Many of the construction barriers have been removed, the hammers have fallen silent and the tone of pianos, trumpets, clarinets and drums can be heard in full on the bottom floor of Slippery Rock University's Swope Music Hall.

A $100,000 renovation- the first since Swope opened in 1978 - is two thirds complete, said David Glover, associate professor of music and department chair.

Sixteen rehearsal labs are being renovated with carpet, new paint, new ceilings and additional soundproofing. New wood-laminate lockers, a student lounge and bio-based linoleum flooring are being installed. The music department is on the upswing with new instruments as well, including a $36,000 Yamaha piano with state-of-the art computer technology.

Glover said he expects the work to be completed over summer, although construction is far enough along that students are starting to use the rehearsals labs again.

"It's like walking into a new Swope," Glover said. "Students are excited, and alumni who come through the building are really pleased."

The work included asbestos removal, paint and new ceilings throughout the floor. In the practice rooms, the plain-white cement block is now yellow. Rubber sheeting was installed beneath the gray-checked carpet. Black foam pads were affixed to the walls, so there "won't be so much sound bleed from one practice room to another," Glover said.

Glover said the music department requested and received a one-time expenditure of $100,000 to buy instruments. Purchases include a five-octave marimba, trumpets, a concert tuba, a bass trombone, a piano and eight mellophones, baritones and trombones. The baritones, mellophones and trombones were purchased for the Slippery Rock University Marching Pride. The other instruments are for student use in ensembles and individual practice.

The music department purchased a 5'8" grand piano equipped with a Disklavier, for placement in the studio used by Colleen Gray, associate professor of music. It is an acoustic piano that has separate electric triggers on every key and a USB port for connecting an IPod or computer to the piano.

"A Disklavier can record whatever is played on the piano for later playback with all of the expression and nuance of the original performance," Gray said. "It can be used as a rehearsal tool, or it can allow the student to observe a master class being played on a Diskavier piano at a remote site such as another university or concert hall. In addition, the master class can be observed on the Internet and the piano in my studio will play in real time."

Gray said Yamaha representatives would come to campus to provide technology training. Students will have card-swipe access to the piano or by scheduling studio time with Gray.

The older piano in Gray's office, which was donated by the late Kate Brennan, a former faculty member and music department chair, will be used in a classroom. The new Yamaha is quite nice for the cost and will be used more as a practice and teaching instrument than a concert piano, Glover said. Top-end pianos cost more than $100,000.

Glover said he expects the studios to impact musicianship. "If students are pleased with their surroundings in a quality space with not as much sound bleed, they are going to practice longer and as a result become better musicians," he said.

Rick Staaf, a music major from Erie who plays trumpet, said practicing in older studios is like trying to take pictures without proper lighting.

"The University has done a great job on the Swope remodel," he said. "These updates may help persuade prospective students to choose Slippery Rock University when they take a tour through the more modern looking and up-to-date Swope music building."

Staaf said the practice rooms are his favorite aspect of the remodel and that he appreciated the music department's investment.

"This makes a huge difference to musicians who spend countless hours trying to develop good sound and technique," he said. "The practice room is where musicians go to work out all of the 'bugs' in their playing."

Katie Amerson, a music education major from Butler who plays piano and flute, agreed nice practice rooms encourage students.

"We have to spend a lot of time during our day practicing, which can mean several hours in a practice room," she said. "Being in a nice room makes those long hours easier and could actually make us want to practice even more."

Amerson, whose main instrument is piano, is very involved in the music department. She performs with the SRU Wind Ensemble, SRU Women's Choir, plays piano for music theatre, accompanies 20 other music majors and teaches students ages 6-19. She plans to become a music teacher with a concentration in choir and general music and also wants to give private lessons.

"SRU's music department is a great place and we are all a big 'family.' The music department is the main reason why I chose to attend Slippery Rock University because I feel extremely comfortable and welcome there."

Swope Music Hall honors Claire Swope, who taught at SRU from 1946-1978.

Slippery Rock University is Pennsylvania's premier public residential university. Slippery Rock University provides students with a comprehensive learning experience that intentionally combines academic instruction with enhanced educational and learning opportunities that make a positive difference in their lives.