Today the sky is clear and the sun is shining; I can see Chicago’s skyline off to the right. I stand before a paved brick road that leads to a set of heavy double doors. The gate to heaven is right before me, and I get to walk through it every day.
The Bienen School of Music is a dream come true for any musician. As a piano major, I’ve visited many other conservatories and none are as modern or grand. Music majors can enjoy the world class practice rooms, but unfortunately, not all music students can say the same.
Weinberg sophomore and composer Jonathan Myong also studies music composition as a minor at Bienen. Music minors do not have a performance requirement but that doesn’t necessarily lessen their need for pianos.
“Having one, on hand, is incredibly important for my creative process,” Myong said. “I usually improvise melodies, record them, and listen back to them.”
As a composer and an enrolled student at Bienen, Myong has a real need for practice rooms. It’s unfortunate that music minors have no access to any rooms whatsoever.
Myong gets moments of inspiration at any point of the day. For him, the only readily available instruments are dormitory pianos located in public lobbies. I can confidently say that in the best-case scenario those pianos are severely out of tune, and are nearly broken in the worst-case scenario.
Practice room restrictions for minors should be lifted, but does it make sense for the University to make them accessible for the student body at large?
Bienen’s current policies do not allow any non-majors besides those who take private lessons or join an ensemble to use any practice rooms.
I understand if these strict gatekeeping policies frustrate casual musicians. Those who want to learn a new skill on their own or want to keep music in their lives can find it extremely difficult to do so. It also does seem like there is an excess amount of practice rooms. After all, there are only about 50 piano majors while Bienen boasts over 130 available pianos for practice.
On the other hand, practice rooms are in very high demand to serve the existing student body of Bienen. There are over 600 undergraduate and graduate students currently enrolled. The 50 piano majors are the heaviest users, but other majors have a genuine need for access to pianos and other practice rooms.
For example, all performance majors are required to take a year of keyboard skills. Everyone is also required to take two years of aural skills. Pianos can also be extremely useful for playing out melodies while singing or honing your listening skills.
Bienen sophomore Evan Chen practices the violin every day in the afternoons or evenings.
“When I want to practice, I can usually find a room even if it may not be one of my favorites. It’s almost always near full capacity though, especially during the peak hours,” Chen said.
If the school were to open rooms to thousands of additional students, music-majors would definitely have a difficult time finding places to practice.
As a musician, I find it incredibly frustrating when there are no rooms available. A pretty similar feeling is when the wifi goes down while one tries to watch a lecture. It’s super unpredictable when the wifi will be fixed. Likewise, when the next room will open up.
Any student who is there to practice can be expected to stay there for many hours. Plenty of people are even there past midnight, including myself. I know this because I sometimes stay pretty late too. No matter how late I leave, I still hear people practicing.
But I think it's a stretch to ask Bienen to open up practice rooms to all students of the University. The policy, however, should be amended so that music minors also have full access. Right now, these students have to jump through numerous obstacles to fully pursue their passions and degree requirements. All students studying at this world class conservatory deserve full support and all the tools they need to pursue their careers.
For those who want to explore music more casually, Bienen offers weekly private and group lessons in addition to a variety of ensemble opportunities. While practice rooms and pianos may not be available to everyone, taking lessons and joining ensembles automatically grants access to practice rooms.