$30 million new music building will bring long-awaited relief

Posted by Katie Vallas In the fall of 2010, students will be treated to the unveiling of the Arthur Zankel Music Center, one of the most ambitious additions to the campus. This comes as the final conclusion to a planning process spanning more than a decade.

The 54,000-square foot music center will boast expanded rehearsal and performances spaces, coming as a relief to students in the music department who consistently face space availability issues in the current Filene Music Building.

The Music Department came forward in the '90s with complaints about lack of space since the building's construction for a campus of only of 1,000 students. "The music department came to the belief - the correct belief, I think - that Filene was too small for the program," said Philip Glotzbach, Skidmore College president. "We decided to design a new building."

Even after a consensus for expansion, the issue of funds halted the project until 2005, when investment mogul and Skidmore parent Arthur Zankel left the college a $42 million bequest. "We worked with his family members to decide the use that would be most appropriate. At the time we were looking for a naming gift, and we decided that this would be fitting," Glotzbach said.

With only a portion of Zankel's donation set aside for the new building, the college began fundraising efforts to reach the $30 million necessary to begin construction. "There were a lot of people who contributed," he said. "About a year ago, the board decided to go forward."

Planning for the structure, designed by architect firm EwingCole, remained focused on the concerns of students and faculty in the music department. Rehearsal space availability remained a major priority. "We're really crammed in Filene," said Tom Denny, chair of the Music Department. "It affects individual practices, as well as ensembles and coaching. They're all scrambling."

While Filene offers eight practice rooms, instructors regularly designate some spaces for specific instrumental practice. "In reality, there are three practice rooms for a myriad number of musicians," said Hanna Tonegawa '11, who has to keep up requirements as a Filene Music Scholar on top of the curricular work for the music major. "They get booked really, really quickly," she said.

Administrators kept the issue of contested rehearsal space in mind when planning the new facility, which will offer 14 practice rooms. But for students interested in music outside of formal ensembles and lessons, the new practice rooms might not necessarily mean increased accessibility. "I don't know how much Zankel will solve this," said Rochelle Calhoun, dean of Student Affairs. "Given the curricular needs of the students in the music department, it's a difficult situation."

While non-majors may not have opportunities for using the rehearsal space, music department faculty anticipate practice rooms with an improved rehearsal experience for students. "We've been through the building on tours, and they appear to be taking a lot of steps for soundproofing," Denny said. "We're very optimistic."

In the current building, technological advancements made since the original construction limits recording capabilities for performances. "The recording studio we have right now is in the basement, and it gets a little crowded," Tonegawa said.

In the new facility, recording could take place right in the rehearsal areas. "It's going to be possible to run recording and video projection through the rooms," Denny said. "This will make remote recording or room for overflow audiences possible."

With the current concert hall seating only 235 people, large audiences are a consistent issue. "We often just totally suppress publicity because it leads to disappointed people being turned away," Denny said. "With the new facility, we'll be able to finally promote events and draw audiences from on- and off-campus."

Administrators expect Zankel's new Filene Concert Hall to play a significant role in campus culture. "It will give the community a gathering space," Calhoun said. Like Denny, she pointed out that having a hall that seats 600 people will make events more accessible to members of the Saratoga community. "During the summer, Skidmore is seen as an additional venue to Saratoga Springs. With Zankel, I hope that can happen during the academic year as well."

While the new facilities most directly affect music students, other departments can also expect to reap the rewards of the larger concert hall. "For a lecture or symposium, we would be able to seat 700 people," said Glotzbach, suggesting they will finally be able to house the large audiences that flock to well-known speakers.

Other performing arts disciplines will be able to enjoy the new concert hall stage, which boasts a sprung floor for dancers. "It has the capacity to be used creatively for that," Denny said. He suggested future concerts where dancers perform onstage while student musicians play in the new recital hall pit. "There are nice possibilities for department collaborations," he said.

Even for people unaffiliated with Skidmore, Zankel Music Center will play an important role in establishing their view of the college. "On that end of campus, where visitors most often come in, Zankel will give a much more striking visual impression," Calhoun said.

The current construction site does not have that same effect, but Glotzbach said the building should be finished in just a few months. "It's on schedule, on budget, and we expect it to be up in a year from this January," he said. "We'll have the official opening in mid-October, 2010."

Students in the music department are eager to see the building open to the public. "We've been waiting for this building since 1987," Denny said.


After working for decades to make a fortune through real estate investments, Arthur Zankel spent his last years giving his money away. He donated millions of dollars to nonprofit organizations, most famously in a naming gift to Carnegie Hall. Upon Zankel's death, Skidmore College joined their company by receiving his $42 million bequest.

Zankel intended this generosity to be a gesture of thanks for the education of two of his sons, Kenneth Zankel '82 and James Zankel '92. "He thought their experience at Skidmore had helped to make them into wonderful human beings," Skidmore President Philip Glotzbach said.

Following his sons' graduations, Zankel kept close ties with the college by serving as a financial adviser and as a member of the Board of Trustees. "He really shaped the investments we made," Glotzbach said. "He was brilliant."

Beyond the help of Zankel's financial expertise, Glotzbach said he enjoyed Zankel's company and appreciated his quick wit. "He was smart, with an irreverent sense of humor," he said. "He was really a wonderful human being."

In spite of his accomplishments and friendships, Zankel battled with depression in his final years. At the age of 72, he ended his life by jumping from his ninth floor apartment on Fifth Avenue in New York.

Next year, members of the Skidmore community will enjoy his final act of generosity with the unveiling of the Zankel Music Center, ensuring that the Zankel influence will be felt on campus for years to come. "It's a fitting memorial," Glotzbach said.

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