Li: Increase practice room access

Grant Li, Columnist

The problem of practice room access is not new to the pages of The Daily’s opinion section. In 2019, Kelly Miller wrote an op-ed about the difficulty to obtain access to practice rooms.

But since then, nothing has changed. The Bienen School of Music does not allow non-music majors to access practice rooms unless they participate in an ensemble or are enrolled in lessons. The lessons cost about $300 a quarter, depending on the type of lesson.

Students should not have to join an ensemble or take lessons just to be able to play their instrument. These ensembles and lessons can be taken for credit, which indicates the time investment they take. Not everyone has time to practice the way ensembles or lessons with Bienen instructors might demand. Regardless of rigor, ensembles and lessons are not the way everyone likes to engage with music. A lot of people enjoy having more say over what they play or practice. For me, it was only after I quit piano lessons and could choose for myself what I’d be playing at the piano bench that I started really enjoying it. 

It also goes without saying that not everyone has $900 per year to spend on lessons. Financial burdens should not prevent students from being able to engage with music. It does not make sense for Bienen students to pay tuition while non-Bienen students would get lessons from the same instructors on the cheap, but we could at least make practice room access free.

I do understand if Bienen is concerned about the influx of students who would use practice rooms if they were to be open to everyone, but there are many ways to compromise. For example, Bienen could restrict open access to practice rooms to hours when Bienen students frequent them the least, and prevent any access near Bienen students’ midterms or finals. 

The school could also work on putting more practice rooms in residence halls. I currently live in Rogers House, and there’s no piano. It’s obviously a small community, but every day I see beautiful grand pianos while walking to classes that I have never once heard being played. I doubt the school furnishes the pianos for some of these organizations whose residences I pass by frequently, but the school has more than enough resources on its hands to provide pianos for the residence halls it does manage. The closest piano to me I can use is in Willard Residential College, but that is certainly no practice room, and the one in Foster-Walker Complex is honestly falling apart.

However NU might choose to go about it, the school is immensely resourced. As a transfer, I have been on a campus with a top-notch music school and far less space that accommodated non-music students just fine. There is no way NU is incapable of working out some sort of solution. 

I constantly hear various alarm bells about how classical music or various genres are suffering from a decrease in popularity. It’s disheartening to attend a school with plenty of resources and students enthusiastic about music that works to keep most of the student body away from something that would help maintain, develop and engage their passion for music. 

It doesn’t take much imagination to understand how being able to practice a piece I liked might make me want to attend a Bienen recital featuring the work, and then maybe even go to a Chicago Symphony Orchestra performance. You would think a school with a premier music program like Bienen would understand how to better foster and support music on campus. It’s too bad it appears not to, or just doesn’t want to. 

Grant Li is a Weinberg junior. They can be contacted at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this op-ed, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected]. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.