"Be a Music Major for a Day at FGCU" was a lot more than "Just a Tour!"

By William Noll

Rewind to 2001. I was invited by my Ritz-Carlton colleague Ed Staros to become a founding supporter of the new Resort and Hospitality Management School at FGCU. Since then, thousands have walked through those doors and entered into this region’s some 77,000 employees of our treasured tourist and hospitality industry. Not even a whispered word about music was in the air of the campus in those days.

Bower School of Music

Bower School of Music

Fast forward to 2010. Walking into the Bower School of Music’s new facility for the first time was an awesome and surreal experience technically, architecturally, musically, and of great human interest.

About three dozen of us gathered on October 27th for this first-of-its-kind exposure to the facility, faculty and students. The Naples Music Club was the sponsor of the tour, under the guidance of Jeannette Boucher and Deb Stone.

We were first given an enlightening tour of the building. I was in abject awe of the construction process and care for the discipline it houses. Floating floors, no 90-degree angles, total acoustical consideration in every nook and cranny, incredible recording capability, specialized desks and rehearsal chairs, specific lighting, etc. High-end Mac computers everywhere. On, and on, and on. It took my breath away.

Oh yes, I am a pianist, and was a Piano Major back in the day. Uh-huh, I counted around four dozen new Steinways haunting this grand building. I think in my school we had two! The only place in the world that I have seen that many Steinways under one roof is at Steinway Hall in New York City.

After the tour we were bused to the classiest student cafeteria in the land. I am so ready by now to go back to school. But there was much more in store.

OK. Great new building. Right.  Let’s cut to the chase. How about the faculty and students?

We snuck in on a Music Methods class under the brilliant direction of Louise Patrick. OK. What are Music Methods? Well, since I was a performance major in college, I never attended such education classes. Dr. Patrick had me mesmerized after twenty minutes of her techniques she uses with second and third graders. She employed use of the revered Orff instruments in her instruction. She was totally fetching with her infectious love of teaching music to the world!

I walked out of that room thinking that if every School Board member and every County Commissioner from the region would witness her class, they would never cut back funding for music ever again! You immediately could feel the surge in the cognitive abilities of the students through the power of music presented in this fashion.

University Choir Rehearsal

On to chorus rehearsal. OK, so I hear Mozart’s Magnificat as I walk through the door. This is not a throat killer or an impossibly note-plagued work. Hmmmm. Something sounds different. Something is out of the box for such a school. Aha! I get in the room and know immediately what it is. Trent Brown, their new Choral Director, has this group of alert young students singing the Latin text with German diction. This is rarely heard in this country. It added a terrific touch of class.

Dr. Brown’s sense of energy, phrasing and studied harmonics, also added to the group’s eagerness to know, respond, and deliver.

Chorus out. Wind Ensemble in. Percussion instruments being hauled around. Instruments out of cases, large and small. I am yet marveling at the rehearsal space.

I took the extra two minutes to look at the iPhone and check messages, head down. I quickly turned it off. I thought I was dreaming. I heard singing! From a Wind Ensemble? What? Yep.

Trumpet section of the Symphonic Band

Trumpet section of the Symphonic Band

I have never seen this done before. Troy Jones, their wonderful leader, had them in singing! This is beyond enlightening for all concerned. It teaches the students to properly initiate their tones and negotiate air-speed, which is critical in woodwind performance. It also keeps forefront in their minds a unique ‘sense of song.’ (I’ve met more than a few brass players that could use a good dose of this!) Again, awesome teaching and response.

After an informative briefing by Judith M. Cassidy, Senior Director of Advancement, and Dr. Robert Thayer, Interim Head of the Music Department, we then attended a mini master class given by the head of the piano department, Dr. Michael Baron. Several of our NMC members had the nerves to go up on stage and perform. It was informative and fun. But I was totally distracted by the look, feel and acoustics, of the room. What a concert hall!

The Concert Hall

The acoustics in this hall, which are totally adjustable, are second to none for such a size. The only one that compares is Spivey Hall in Atlanta, which has double the audience capacity.

For the final event of the day, we were exposed to a student recital. Good Gracious. The first student, Hae-Jin Hwang, walked out on stage and danced through the final movement of the devilishly difficult Piano Sonata by Samuel Barber. It was dazzling!

Another piano student, Priscilla Navarro, performed a most gracious final movement of Beethoven’s Waldstein Sonata. Several vocalists, Lorena Vargas, Jamie Bocco and Raul Escalona, brought forth clear phrasing and studied understandings to their offerings as well.

But the musical highlight of the day for me was pianist Paul Wright’s performance of Ravel’s La Valse. Here’s the skinny on this one! I have never heard anyone in school even try to perform this piece, graduate or undergraduate. I have only encountered two professionals in my entire career, both world-class virtuosos, who would actually program it. This young student of Dr. Baron’s performed this vastly difficult work with such freedom and a depth of understanding, and color rarely heard on any stage!

As I walked back to my car, I was daunted by the day’s proceedings. In Lee County. At  FGCU. In the middle of the Everglades! With all of my experience on the East Coast of Florida, I know none of this is happening anywhere else in an undergraduate department. And certainly, not in a brand new building with a brand new faculty. Thank You! AND WOW!

Stop. Pause. Fast Forward. They are planning to soon build a new concert hall for the larger orchestral ensembles. I can only imagine what “Be a Music Major for a Day” will be like in a few years!