Music to their fears

Music to their fears McGill University

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McGill Reporter
February 24, 2000 - Volume 32 Number 11
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Music to their fears

| There would have been more practice rooms, a new library, a lecture-recital hall to accommodate 180 and a state-of-the-art recording studio big enough to accommodate a whole orchestra. "But the rug was taken out from our feet," says Dean of Music Richard Lawton.

The rug was worth 16 million government dollars and it was a rug the faculty and Principal Bernard Shapiro felt optimistic about receiving when they first made the proposal to the Ministry of Education four years ago.

At that time, then minister Pauline Marois had been encouraging about the project and gave the faculty $1 million (received in 1998) for start-up costs. In May 1998, the University submitted the design, then waited to hear.

There were other signs of encouragement: Education Minister François Legault said last year that the project "was one of his priorities," according to Vice-Principal (Administration and Finance) Morty Yalofsky.

Last Tuesday, Yalofsky and Government Relations director Ginette Lamontagne travelled to Quebec City to find out where things stood. Having been almost certain about receiving the money, the University and the faculty were "insulted" at not even being informed of the government's refusal to fund the Faculty of Music project.

It was only by accident, four weeks ago, when a CREPUQ document sent to the principal included a recent Gazette officielle du Québec, that Shapiro realized that the Strathcona Music Building was not on the list for capital projects in the current five-year plan.

The Ministry of Education confirmed this. Yalofsky was informed by Robert Dupras, Legault's political attaché, that the Ministry had put forth the project, but the Treasury Board said "Reduce the budget to 'base budget' requests."

In other words, the Ministry had "to reduce its requests," says Yalofsky.

Yalofsky has written Dupras regarding "other avenues," for government funding. "This is a priority and we are only asking that the government be our partner. We need their support in order to do our own fundraising."

In fact, McGill will raise $16 million on its own toward the new construction and already has close to eight million dollars. But it's hard to raise money when you haven't got government approval of your project, says Lawton.

In the meantime, "it means struggling on with the space that we have," says the dean. At the moment, the faculty's 700 students, 42 full-time and 140 part-time faculty members tough it out in finding enough space for classes, lessons, individual practice and ensemble and orchestral rehearsal.

"There are spaces, like Pollack Hall, that are used 24 hours per day, seven days per week," he says, adding that the biggest rehearsal room accommodates 50 people, while the University orchestra has 100 players. Classes, for their part, must be offered from 8:30 am to 11 pm in order to meet the demand for classroom space.

"When a teacher gets sick, then has to make up a lesson, it's almost impossible to find a room for the make-up lesson," says Lawton.

Both students and faculty have undertaken a letter-writing campaign to inform the premier and the minister of education of their disappointment. The Music Undergraduate Students' Association had postcards printed with a paragraph of outrage. So far, at least 40 letters have been sent by staff and 450 of the postcards are expected to reach Quebec City.

MUSA president Danielle Gaudry says it's a shame that the country's biggest and one of its best faculties of music, "has such inadequate facilities.

"We have such great teachers and we put out such a great product. We deserve better than this," says the fourth-year percussionist who adds that there are pigeons nesting in some of the classrooms due to the roof that "expired 15 years ago."

Students and staff may take some comfort, however, in the knowledge that the roof will soon be repaired, putting an end to the water damage on the upper floors, as will the cracks and peeling plaster by summer's end.

Furthermore, Pollack Hall will undergo a $450,000 renovation this summer to celebrate its 25th anniversary. The money for Pollack Hall comes from a donation by the Pollack Foundation and the proceeds of a "seat sale" now in effect. The other repairs come from the University's general maintenance budget.

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