“What’s Obama’s last name?” is a classic meme. Amusingly, some people were genuinely not aware that the answer lies in the question itself. Right now, a similar inquiry is being posed by many in the student body: “What’s the name of the ‘Music Building?’” Well, folks, the name is quite literally “Music Building.”
After over a decade of planning and construction, the College of William and Mary finally will begin using the new Arts Quarter this fall. The newly-renovated venue houses the Phi Beta Kappa Memorial Hall, commonly referred to as PBK, which is named after the academic honor society founded right here at the College in 1776.
Its other part, however, currently lacks a unique name.
According to the College’s donation website, William and Mary Giving, the College is offering an opportunity for donors to donate $15,000,000 to rename the building. Those looking for cheaper things to have named after them could go for something such as a PBK Tool Room which only costs $25,000.
But until then, people taking Conducting I with associate professor and Director of Orchestras David Grandis will have to contend with their class being located in Music 116.
“Regarding a name for the new building, it would be great if the donor was actually requesting a famous composer’s name rather than his own,” Grandis wrote in an email to The Flat Hat. “I have nothing against the ‘John Doe Building for the Performing Arts,’ but it’s a bit of an ego trip and not as inspiring as Beethoven or, since this is the U.S., the Copland, Bernstein etc…performing center, for example.”
Regardless, many student performers, like William and Mary Choir Member Sailor Miao ’24, are excited to utilize the new facilities. Many in the Choir, or Kwah as it’s often colloquially called, know that the opening of the buildings will provide a plethora of opportunities to the organization.
“I am very excited for the opening of the Arts Quarter. Like many friends in the W&M Kwah before me, we didn’t have a set location for our performances because of space restraints,” Miao wrote in an email to The Flat Hat. “With the installment of the PBK Hall, Kwah now has a permanent home with high quality equipment. All of us can now enjoy each other’s company without being squeezed together in Ewell Hall. I can’t wait to sing with everyone!”
President of the Barksdale Treble Chorus Chloe Jones ’25 expressed similar sentiments regarding the new benefits the two buildings will provide.
“We are beyond EXCITED to have the new Arts Quarter because it will not only allow us to build community within our group, but also between our ensemble, with W&M, and the greater Williamsburg community,” Jones wrote in an email to The Flat Hat. “With the opening of the new Arts Quarter, we will be able to have a more localized location for concerts and performances, which hopefully will allow more students to come watch us sing!”
Jones said the group spent the last year performing at off-campus venues such as the Williamsburg Presbyterian and Bruton Parish Episcopal Churches, respectively, due to space constraints in Ewell Hall. While the chorus remains grateful to these organizations, Jones noted the spaces had limited seating and were not as accessible to many students on campus.
However, the new venue does not come without its own criticism.
“The old PBK (as well as the new hall in PBK) are not suitable for a symphony orchestra as their acoustic is meant to project spoken dialogs, actor’s voices,” Grandis wrote, stating that while a longer and deeper hall would be more suitable for an orchestra, it would be awful for theater.
Still, Grandis hopes that the acoustic will be one that allows the arts at the College to thrive. A proper acoustic, Grandis says, is vital for an orchestra to reach a balance: a blend of sound that is partly the responsibility of the conductor and partly the surrounding acoustics.
Additionally, criticism of elements of the building are not just limited to the music department, but also extend to faculty concerned with sustainability. Co-Chair of the Committee of Sustainability, class of 1938 professor and Faculty Director of the Institute for Integrative Conservation John Swaddle says there is room for improvement for the venue, especially when it comes to the safety and wellbeing of local birds. In an email to The Flat Hat and on social media, Swaddle expressed concerns with the large number of bird collisions that have occurred with the building’s windows, detailing how the building’s design could prove dangerous for local wildlife.
“Some of the large, south-facing windows on the new Arts Quarter have a striping pattern but, unfortunately, it was installed on the internal (i.e., indoor) surface of the glass. Research conducted by students at W&M indicates that this won’t help much as the stripes will not disrupt the reflection on the windows,” Swaddle wrote in an email to The Flat Hat. “This observation tells us that we need better communication between the scientists providing this evidence and the decision makers approving building plans on campus.”
While Swaddle says he is delighted for the Arts Quarter, noting its benefits to the student body, faculty, staff and the community, he points to the need for more communication among planners, given the existing flaws of the implementation of bird safety measures.
During an exclusive tour of the Arts Quarter with The Flat Hat this past May, university architect Dan Pisaniello had detailed efforts to accommodate birds that may frequent the area.
“So one of the features of the window is that you’ll see this kind of frit on them, which does two things,” Pisaniello said. “One is because we’re facing south, it’ll help cut down some glare…so [that] you can see these big beautiful windows. But the other is we’re really sensitive to our local birds.”
Though the College’s implementation of the wildlife safety measures may not have been up to Swaddle’s par, Swaddle acknowledged there has been progress in addressing these problems. He says that he has been in touch with the College and has been appointed to the Design Review Board, which he was not a member of during the review process for the Arts Quarter.
“The good news is that we can solve this conservation issue,” Swaddle wrote. “We know how to tweak the appearance of glass surfaces so that they are safer for birds.”
Looking ahead, there are already many events planned in the new facilities. Two shows by comedian Patton Oswalt ’91 HON ’23 are slated to take place on Monday, Oct. 23 as part of the College’s Year of the Arts celebration. Grandis even laid out plans to collaborate with the William and Mary Choir for the orchestra’s inaugural session.
“Our inaugural season will include Beethoven’s 9th symphony, Fauré’s Requiem with the WM choir, a historical concert on the works of Max d’Ollone, a contemporary of Ravel…A descendant of the composer will be in attendance,” Grandis wrote. “We’ll also propose some crowd pleasers: Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker, 1812 overture and John Williams’ Star Wars Suite.”
Grandis said he anticipates that he will begin his classes in the new space as soon as the semester begins. Other courses in the music department also relocated to the Music Building while Theatre and Dance Department classes will be held in PBK.
While the wait has been long, it is finally over. Many hope that the new space will enrich the College’s performing arts community.
“In any case, one can say that the wait has been long since…1693,” Grandis wrote. “The new building looks ok from outside but is actually much better inside. This is a very exciting moment in WM history, and I hope it will entice students to rekindle their musical endeavors and join our classes and ensembles.”
Swaddle similarly echoed Grandis’ hopes of a bright future ahead.
“It’s wonderful for faculty, staff, and students to have modern teaching, practice, studio and performance spaces,” Swaddle wrote. “The performing arts enriches our lives, and I am glad the state and university are supporting the arts with these new buildings.”