Tufts University

Speaking Out

Granoff Music CenterWe spoke with Tufts faculty and members of the community about what the Granoff Music Center means for both the university and the surrounding area.

Associate Professor of Music John McDonald
Rick Saunders, director of music, Somerville Public Schools
Dean Robert Sternberg, School of Arts and Sciences

John McDonald, Associate Professor of Music

The opening of the Granoff Music Center has been a long time coming. How does it feel to finally be at the end of that process and to see this building and all its different parts coming together?

I've been here almost 17 years, so to have this suddenly appear, and even though we've been working on it, it still feels like it's a sudden, new thing. It's a holiday. It's riches all of a sudden… The investment that's been made isn't going to have to be replaced very soon. There's no planned obsolescence here. I think we're good for the next century, which is really exciting, to feel like we can flow into it and continue doing the work we've been doing, but now it puts it in a different category.

What will this center will mean to the arts community here on campus and also to the community at large?

We've always felt that music has been pretty central to the campus, but this sort of clinches it. In terms of community, it's also in a great spot because we're right on the edge of campus and we're near the track, which is a community space.

We want to beef up our outreach programs. As an example, chamber music, music theory, choirs—these are things that we've wanted to do and have done on a small scale in the past, but Edith Auner, ran a community music school through Stony Brook University before she came here, so we want to start that. That would be the main umbrella for our relationship with the community and then summer programs.

We're talking about a Saturday program for school kids and adults—it doesn't have to be limited to school. Andy [Clark] was talking about starting a senior choir, which could be fantastic. We don't know exactly which of these things are going to fly. There's a little bit of research into the community that we have to wrap up to figure out what programs are going to work, but we're going to start some stuff.

Aside from being a member of the Tufts faculty here in the music department, you're a musician. You're a composer. To have this space available to you, what does it mean to you as a musician?

Well, it's an honor. I feel like when you compose—I don't know if it's true of every composer—but there's a certain level of isolation that you need and want, but I can have that in my office…. Now there's a great instrument in my office that I can work at. I've been told I can come in and use the Distler Performance Hall when it's not reserved. When we perform the student concerts—the graduate students and the undergraduates who are working with me on composing—when they present their recitals, they will either be in here or in Fisher Performance Room. They've been in Alumnae Hall in the past and that's a very nice room, but this is a different echelon. So, they feel that their work is being honored and presented in a serious way.

What, in your mind, is the statement that this center makes?

I would say the arts complex at Tufts University is complete now that there's a first class space for music. It was the factor that was missing from the whole picture. I think there's been a huge, comprehensive effort to get arts to work at Tufts, and we're sitting in it and looking at it and hearing what it sounds like in here now.

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Rick Saunders, director of K-12 music, Somerville Public Schools

What is the impact of the Granoff Music Center on the relationship between Somerville Public Schools and Tufts?

It's just going to grow that relationship. The majority of our students don't have an opportunity to go and see an ensemble playing. The music that they're used to, and that they participate in, is mostly pop music. For them to get out of their world for a little while and go see quality ensembles and quality music making is really important.

How important is it to have a neighbor like Tufts to add on to what Somerville Public Schools is already doing for music education?

The students benefit from it greatly because they have an opportunity to see things and participate in things that they wouldn't. For example, to be able to go see a Gamelan is amazing for these students and opens up so many worlds. It also helps back in Somerville with the idea of community music making. That's an important part of the Somerville music program, to understand that each student has the capacity to be a community music maker, to make music a part of their life, not necessarily be on American Idol or to go to New England Conservatory—which is one of their aspirations and we hope that happens—but to be a community music maker, to be able to enjoy music, participating in it as well as enabling them in their education.

How can this mutually beneficial relationship for the Tufts music community and Somerville students radiate out to the Tufts and Somerville communities at large?

It creates awareness for the Tufts community of what the students of Somerville are like. It gives them an opportunity to see what the community is like, where they're going to school, and hopefully garner some relationship with the students. A big thing is that a lot of our students, and especially students of immigrant families, don't even understand that there's a possibility for them to go to college. A relationship like that begins to plant a seed in them, the possibilities that they have in this country and this community. It's very important for them to dream and have aspirations about what's possible and to see students who are in college and studying music, who are active and involved in their surroundings.

We have so many wonderful professors, especially multi-cultural musicologists, at Tufts to begin a relationship with our faculty. It's supportive for our faculty as well to have a professional, collegiate relationship with professors and experts in these fields and to start a dialogue at least about these types of music and how maybe they can be taught to our students and how it may be incorporated into a written curriculum.

You see how important it is socially to gain this kind of relationship, in music for social change, how music is used in protest, how music is used to teach history, all these different aspects of music that can be incorporated into the curriculum. It can allow students to empower themselves with their music making to express themselves. They need a role model to do that. We have this wonderful university right on our doorsteps that have so many students who are doing that now. It's great to build that mentoring experience for kids to have heroes. They need to have real-life, concrete heroes in their life, that aren't on television, that aren't just your NBA stars or rap stars. They need to have real people who they can see and who they can have some sort of relationship with.

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Dean Robert Sternberg, School of Arts and Sciences

What makes the Granoff Music Center special for Tufts?

The music center probably the foremost music center among universities in the United States. It's spectacular. It's not just nice, it's amazing. Everyone I know who has seen it has concurred that this is a signal development for Tufts. It's not just a quantitative addition to the list of buildings on campus; it's a qualitative change for Tufts for the better.

Why is the new music center so important?

It's important to us for at least three reasons. Each is of key importance to Tufts

The first reason is that you need, in order to have a premier music program, the facilities to support it. There are some departments of humanities and arts where you want to have nice facilities, but they're not performance-intensive. They're just people sitting, conversing. Music is different—it needs instrumentation, it needs practice space, it needs room for events. We have all those in abundance. In terms of supporting and promoting the development of Tufts as a center for music research, education and performance, it's a gigantic leap.

The second thing it does is simply in terms of attracting students who are interested in music. We're competing with a number of schools in the New England area, nationally, and even internationally. To get top students and top faculty, you need facilities to support them. We have gone all out and more to provide those kinds of facilities, so no one will ever validly say that he or she didn't come here because the facilities were inadequate.

The third reason is that Tufts is a university that in the present and in the past traditionally has wanted to reach out. The president, Lawrence Bacow, has very much emphasized the active- citizenship role of the members of the university and the university itself. One of the principal ways that it can reach out is by having performance space and other events at the university that bring people in and help to break down the psychological as well as physical walls that separate the university from the greater Boston community. This center is a qualitative leap forward in terms of being able to reach out to people and say, "This is an inviting first-rate space in which you can come and listen to performances."

What was your first impression when you set foot in the building?

My first impression was wonder. The facilities here, I think, would amaze almost anybody. It's just breath-taking. The architectural taste, the sense of humanity—it's a building for people; it's not a museum. It's a building in which people feel comfortable and ready to make and enjoy music.

What does a center like this provide for non-music majors who are still interested in music?

It's a spectacular place for education, research and performance. When I was talking about education, I wasn't talking about education just for music majors, but also for anyone who has an interest in music, including courses, lessons, and performance. In here is a place where anyone can come and take music lessons, practice music, and feel like one is in a kind of space that is encouraging one to become the best one can be.

What is your final thought about this facility?

Beyond what it does for music at Tufts, it sends the message that Tufts is not a place to stand still. It is a place that is moving forward into dimensions into which it hasn't gone before.

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Interviews by Georgiana Cohen and Meghan Mandeville

Photos by Tufts University Photo

This story originally ran on Feb. 12, 2007.