Taking in a campus anniversary concert “to wash away from the soul the dust of everyday life,” University of Hawaiʻi at Manoa Chancellor Virginia Hinshaw overheard the conversation of a couple sitting in the row ahead.
The music was wonderful, they observed, but the aging, musty auditorium smelled horrible. They left at intermission.
“It made me acutely aware of the poor state of the facility and ignited my commitment to seeing it upgraded,” Hinshaw says.
In November 2009, the Department of Music unveiled the far-reaching improvements of a $1.3 million repair and maintenance project.
Beyond the cosmetic improvements, such as paint and lighting, are critical, energy-saving upgrades to the roof and air-conditioning systems. Leaking water no longer threatens expensive instruments; gone is the mold that used to plague Orvis Auditorium. Huge doors to the choral rehearsal room slide open for the first time in 20 years, allowing natural air conditioning and open-air performances.
Some of the improvements are less obvious to music patrons. A storage room was converted to a conference room with musical staves on the board. A classroom was equipped with up-to-date audiovisual equipment, thanks to an anonymous donor. Picture the 2001 ape monolith scene set alternately to otherworldly choral or brass-heavy orchestral scoring to illustrate studies of film music.
“Our donors are very loyal,” explains the gregarious department chair, Lawrence Paxton. “Once the administration stepped up with the funding, it became this snowball effect. The donors get excited, the faculty get excited and then the students get excited.”
Beyond the typical desks and crowded bookshelves, music faculty offices double as studios where students have solo lessons, so the ambiance tends toward artistic more than academic. Professor of Voice Paxton’s is probably the most inviting, students say—downright cozy with a couch, baby grand piano, dark walls and subdued lighting from Tiffany lamps.
Inspired by the most recent university and donor efforts on their behalf, students joined with College Music Educators National Conference attendees to renovate practice rooms.
“One of the things I’m very proud about is that the students themselves remodeled their own practice rooms,” Paxton says. “That really showed if the government gave money and the school gave money, the students and the faculty were also going to pitch in. It was a wonderful experience and it’s still going on.”
Private assistance from generous donors helped fund the facelift, prompting UH Foundation President Donna Vuchinich to recollect an influential early benefactor and namesake.
Founded in 1948, the Department of Music occupied a wooden Bachman portable building for 11 years before moving into a long-gone army bungalow and theatre/gymnasium across University Avenue.
Soon thereafter, Dr. Arthur and May Zenke Orvis arrived from the mainland. They became involved in the community, with a special interest in art and music education. Orvis donated $180,000 for the construction of a 400-seat music auditorium in honor of his wife, a former opera singer. It was the largest individual donation the university had received to that point and funded the first campus facility built with private money, Vuchinich noted.
The six-building music complex was completed in 1975 with specialized facilities for band, electronic music, gamelan and Hawaiian performance. Located in the crossroads of culture that is Hawaiʻi, departmental expertise is uniquely diverse. Student ensembles run the gamut from orchestral, vocal, brass, wind and jazz to Hawaiian hula, chant and slack key guitar to Japanese koto, Javanese gamelan and many other types of western, Pacific and Asian musical traditions.
The only fully accredited member of the National Association of Schools of Music in the state, the department trains music teachers as well as performers, composers and ethnomusic scholars. At last count, it had nearly 100 music majors and 64 students pursuing advanced degrees.
“The music complex is a window to the university and we’re very proud to take our mantle seriously,” Paxton says.
It is also a community resource, he points out. “We house a number of institutions from the community. The Honolulu Youth Symphony rehearses here every week, the Hawai‘i Youth Opera Chorus rehearses here, the Honolulu Symphony Chorus rehearses here. We are proud that we are able to open up our newly remodeled facilities to all in the community for piano recitals to graduations to all kinds of activities.”