MacPhail's new Center for Musicby Marianne Combs, Minnesota Public Radio
The century-old MacPhail Center for Music in Minneapolis is moving to a new home. It leaves a deteriorating building designed to be a department store to go to a state-of-the-art-facility designed with music education and the community in mind.
Minneapolis, Minn. — The new MacPhail Center for Music stands on Second street in downtown Minneapolis, just a block from the Mississippi River.
It's not that far from the old MacPhail building, but Center Executive Vice-president Paul Babcock says the two buildings are worlds apart.
"You can't compare the two," says Babcock. "1128 LaSalle has been a wonderful building for us for 85 years, but it wasn't designed with today's technology in mind. We're a creative group of people that made it work really well, but now it's like we're moving from one century to another."
The MacPhail Center was founded 100 years ago by the first concert master of the Minneapolis Symphony to share his passion for music.
The new MacPhail proudly displays its modernity. The walls sit at odd angles, some covered in bright galvanized steel. One section of the building is clad in core ten steel rusted to a deep chocolate brown - a tribute to the neighborhoods historic flour mills.
The front doors open into a large atrium with a sloping stairway on the right that also serves as stadium seating for impromptu concerts.
Architect James Dayton says the goal was to put music front and center.
"We always said through the design process that we wanted the UPS guy to come in here and experience music from the minute he came through the front door," says Dayton.
The MacPhail Center is also designed with students and parents in mind, offering numerous nooks and comfy chairs for hanging out, working on homework, or waiting for a child to finish her guitar lesson.
The centerpiece of the building is performance hall that can be reconfigured for recitals, concerts, classes and other events. It's something the old MacPhail lacked, and provides the school with the opportunity to not only show off its own musicians, but invite in others.
Already the Minnesota Orchestra has sold out a series of chamber music performances, which will be performed at MacPhail.
Piano teachers Melissa Falb and Sue Ruby are very happy. They're in Falb's new office, which holds not only her desk and book cases full of music, but two baby grand pianos as well, with room to spare.
Falb says her beautiful workspace makes her more excited about teaching. She feels she's going to be a better teacher in the months and years to come.
"The first day I was here, when I came in with all of my stuff," says Falb, "I just wanted to sit and play all day."
Up until now Falb and Ruby have taught in cramped classrooms with poor lighting, erratic heating in winter and no air conditioning in the summer.
Ruby says her old office featured peeling plaster. The walls were so thin she could hear the sound of flushing from the bathrooms next door.
She says her new office makes all the difference in the world.
"It's huge, it's beautiful, I can fit my two pianos in there and I can't hear anything when I'm in my room! Just my piano - it's tremendous," enthuses Ruby. "It's fantastic - I'm excited to go to work! I'm here on my vacation - I don't even need to be here!"
Both teachers agree the new building is going to provide a better learning environment for students.
MacPhail President David O'Fallon says that's the whole point. He says the school wanted to create an atmosphere where people felt welcome, comfortable while simultaneously inspired and energized.
O'Fallon says critics of recent new buildings such as the Guthrie and the Minneapolis Library have argued the architect's were concerned too much with their own vision and not enough with the needs of the client.
He says no one will be able to make that accusation of Minnesota architect James Dayton and his design for the MacPhail.
"I think what Jim gave us here is the very heart and mission of MacPhail - transform lives and enrich the community through music - through his design," says O'Fallon. "It's just here. It's in every corner. And Jim did that; he got this place."
O'Fallon says he believes MacPhail's new home is unique in the nation for offering such a high quality facility for music education to the general public.
In the coming week the music school will offer events for aspiring musicians of all ages, and will host performances by the likes of Nachito Herrera, Ruth MacKenzie, Christopher O'Riley and the band White Lite Riot.
- Morning Edition, 01/04/2008, 6:25 a.m.