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Renewal project seeks recital hall renovation

  • A view from stage
    A view from stage  The Department of Music is looking to renovate Ewell Recital Hall. Currently, more than 100 events -- both W&M and public -- take place in the space per year.  Photo via Clark Nexsen
  • Expanding the stage
    Expanding the stage  The project is looking to expand the stage area of the hall so that more music ensembles may rehearse and perform there. Currently, the stage can only fit two to 15 people.  Photo via Clark Nexsen
  • Renovation plan
    Renovation plan  A feasibility study was completed by Clark Nexsen, and this is the option that was selected. The renovation would realign the wing walls on stage, wood paneling to be added to the back and side walls, and the lights, smoke detectors and audio panels to be replaced.  Drawing via Clark Nexsen
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Ewell Recital Hall, located inside the William & Mary Department of Music’s Ewell Hall, hosts about 100 events per year. However, its stage can only accommodate ensembles of two to 15 people. That means that many of the mid-sized W&M music ensembles – groups with 15 to 25 people – are too large to utilize the space.

The William & Mary Department of Music is hoping to solve that problem soon through an effort that’s been dubbed “Ewell Renewal” (or “Ewell RenEwell”). The project is seeking to renovate the stage area of Ewell Recital Hall, allowing more William & Mary student ensembles to rehearse and perform in the space and increasing the hall’s usability as a public venue.

“Being able to have that renovated Ewell Recital Hall will enhance a lot of things in the department,” said Associate Professor Jamie Bartlett, associate director of choirs and chair of the Department of Music. “We can offer a larger stage area to our mid-sized ensembles – Middle Eastern Music Ensemble, Jazz Combo, Sitar Ensemble, Appalachian Music Ensemble, etc. – and others who can now use the space.”

The Department of Music received a one-to-one $30,000 challenge grant from the Marietta McNeill Morgan & Samuel Tate Morgan, Jr. Foundation to renovate the recital hall, and University Advancement is now seeking to raise the remaining $30,000 needed for the project. If the challenge is met by the end of December, design and construction of the project can proceed.

Larger stage, added technology

Ewell Recital Hall was constructed in 1987, and it hasn’t been renovated since.

“Of all the music we actually make in the department, only a small number of our concerts can be presented here,” said Anne Rasmussen, professor of music and department chair from 2011-2014.

As such, the groups often have to seek off-campus venues for their performances, venues that can be expensive to rent. Using other on-campus spaces such as the Commonwealth Auditorium or Phi Beta Kappa Hall can be difficult due to scheduling conflicts, and the department regularly pays Facilities Management to have large instruments and equipment moved, a cost of more than $5,000 per year, said Rasmussen.

The limited size of the stage also affects the musicians that the department can bring in as part of the Ewell Concert Series, W&M’s only professional concert series. The performers in that series often work with students and host master classes. However, many of their performances also have to be held at off-campus locations such as the Williamsburg Regional Library or Kimball Theatre because of the size of the recital hall.

Last summer, a feasibility study for the renovation of Ewell Recital Hall was completed by architectural and engineering firm Clark Nexsen with funding granted by Dean of the Faculty of Arts & Sciences Kate Conley. The study offered a $60,000 design that would allow the stage to be enlarged, wood paneling to be added to the back and side walls, and the lights, smoke detectors and audio panels to be replaced.

The renovation would also allow additional technology to be introduced to the space, building on an effort started as part of a $50,000 Creative Adaptation Fund grant from the Provost’s Office that the department received in 2013. The grant funded a new class called Music in the Liberal Arts, which incorporated technology that allows for remote viewing of performances or rehearsals, said Arts Librarian Kathleen DeLaurenti. Once the recital hall is renovated, additional system technology may be added to the recital hall that would make e-learning courses possible.

“Recording of lectures and guest performances and being able to have access to those materials after the fact for teaching and research is something we haven’t been able to do before,” she said.

Expanding the series

The renovation of Ewell Recital Hall is one of several efforts underway in the Department of Music to upgrade its facilities and equipment.

Although the number of music majors at W&M is relatively low compared to some of the other disciplines on campus, a quarter of W&M students take credit-bearing music courses during their time at the university, said Bartlett. Even more take private lessons or participate in musical organizations such as a capella groups – all things that the Department of Music is delighted about. However, those activities all put a good deal of wear and tear on the department’s facilities, instruments and equipment.

In order to address the needs of the department, Rasmussen and others in the Department of Music began coordinating with members of University Advancement, including Suzie Armstrong, Annie Davis and Shawn Holl, to generate new sources of support.

One of the things that collaboration has led to is the creation of the Ewell Performance Fund. Established with a $20,000 grant from the Max and Victoria Dreyfus Foundation, the fund is being used this year to enhance the Ewell Concert Series, which Associate Professor Brian Hulse calls “one of the College's proud public faces.”

“Produced by the Department of Music, it brings to campus an outstanding lineup of professional musicians representing a wide range of genres and traditions,” he said. “Given our limited resources, every season presents unique budgeting challenges which are met with novel solutions by our resourceful faculty and series manager Judy Zwelling.”

“Since the ECS is the only professional concert series on campus, we believe it is important for it to continue to flourish, especially since the series is so interconnected with our teaching mission. This means taking advantage of opportunities to grow.”

The 2014-2015 series, which began Sept. 27 with a performance by baroque ensemble Three Notch’d Road, is offering eight performances this year. The expanded series will also host a residency and commission a new solo piano work by composer Lei Liang, said Hulse.

Additionally, the series has introduced a patron system so that people can contribute and receive recognition in the concert programs.

“The first to jump on board with a generous donation was none other than President [Taylor] Reveley, who characteristically leads by example,” said Hulse. “We hope the College and local community will embrace this new effort by participating materially in the nourishment and long-term success of the series.”

Pre-phase of the Arts Quarter

Some people have wondered why Ewell Hall needs attention now since the Department of Music will eventually get a new building as part of the Arts Complex plan, said Rasmussen. That complex is expected to include exhibit and performance spaces for the music, theatre, dance, art and art history departments. However, the project is still in the planning phase, and, in the meantime, Ewell Hall remains a very public area of campus and one that many people expect to be among the nicest, Rasmussen said.

“With their pianos and practice rooms, recording technology and performance spaces, music departments are always some of the more sexy facilities on any university campus,” she said. “I think the performing arts signify both the stature and the appeal of an institution. People look at the performing arts and think, ‘Ah this places has made it.’”

The renovated recital hall is something that may soon influence that impression.

“The renovation of the Ewell Recital Hall is something that can have immediate impact on improving the quality of arts performances and music performances here,” Bartlett said.

For more on the renewal project, visit its website.