February 1 2018

Although the first half of the Armerding Center for Music and the Arts was completed in November, a second segment of the enormous project remains: a 648-person concert hall.

“This [concert hall] will be a really important space that’s designed specifically for music making. We love being in Edman Chapel, Pierce Chapel and in other venues on campus, but these spaces really weren’t designed initially for music making,” said Michael Wilder, Dean of the Conservatory of Music and Division of Arts and Communication.

The concert hall will require about $63 million to finish, and right now funds are approximately $15 million short, according to Wilder. The trustees will decide the starting date for construction of the concert hall in May after they examine different designs for the hall and determine their costs. Because it will be erected with the purpose of creating music, the concert hall will have expertly crafted, optimal acoustic properties. Five years, ago a need for a medium-sized concert hall and space for choral rehearsal was recognized in the 2012 Strategic Priorities Report. Wheaton College students, faculty, staff and alumni, as well as professionals from outside firms, aided in beginning the process of creating a thought-out plan. Gina Yi, assistant professor of music education, told the Record that Armerding’s small recital hall hosts 84 seats and Edman Chapel hosts over 2400, but a midsize hall is lacking, especially for ensembles, symphony concerts and band concerts.

“When we have symphony and band concerts, there are many empty seats in the hall,” Yi said. “With a medium-sized hall, the audience fills the seats, and it feels like we’re very close to the orchestra or band. It affects the community atmosphere, making everybody feel like they’re in the music alongside the musicians.”

To turn the possibility of the hall into a reality, the Conservatory fundraised by hosting dinners across the nation, carrying out smaller events and holding individual meetings. This year, similar events are planned to continue fundraising.

“It’s a brand new chapter for the college,” Wilder said as he spoke of the concert hall, the choral rehearsal hall and the lobby that will connect the buildings. “It will host all sorts of activities, both for people majoring in music but equally for students across the campus who are called to music making as Christians.”

Wilder recognizes that this is an important moment in the college’s history. “I think a lot of this is tied to our calling to train and equip leaders for the church and for many places in society where music is one of the most powerful tools. For ministry and outreach, for teaching, for creativity,” he explained.

Freshman Michaela Brass, who studies clarinet performance and pedagogy, also talked about the impact the hall will yield for students in choir — both music majors and non-music majors — who currently rehearse and perform in College Church.

“I think [the concert hall] will provide a sense of finality for Conservatory students,” said Brass. “We will finally have a place where we can perform that is built for us. It will be nice to have all of the pieces together in one building to call home.”