The $63 million reimagining of the Conservatory of Music is well underway, with the 44,000-square-foot Armerding Center for Music and the Arts opening this past fall. Next up are the proposed 648-seat concert hall, a spacious lobby, and an acoustically perfect choral rehearsal hall. With the From the Heart, For the Kingdom capital campaign officially ending on June 30, the original goal was huge, but now only requires an additional $18 million in donations.
Just don’t tell Tony Payne, associate professor of music (arranging) and director of special programs, that the building is lavish.
“I’ve heard people use words like palatial and lavish,” he says with dogged good cheer. “It’s not lavish. It’s appropriate. It’s appropriate to our discipline, and it’s appropriate to a distinguished—I’ll even risk saying worldclass— program of arts.”
“In the history of Wheaton College, we’ve never had an acoustically engineered space of this sort,” Payne says. “We want to fulfill our mission in the context of our discipline. Our colleagues, our students, and our graduates have proven our faith. And now we’re simply asking for appropriate facilities.”
The benefits the new concert hall, choral rehearsal hall, and lobby will bring to students and the larger community are numerous. Michael Wilder, dean of the Conservatory of Music and Division of Arts and Communication, admits that the previous cramped facilities—spread out across campus and with suboptimal acoustics—have kept students from reaching their highest levels musically and providing the kind of artistic leadership that today’s churches and the world need.
The proposed spaces will encourage new levels of musical excellence and creativity for all students, according to Dorothy Chappell, dean of natural and social sciences and professor of biology. “This facility will allow students and faculty to explore,” she predicts. “They’re not just going to recreate music. They’re not just going to listen through their senses, but they’re going to use other senses designed by God in the nervous system that the brain is controlling to perform.”
Shawn Okpebholo, associate professor of music (composition, music theory), says the new facilities will also help recruiting. “Serious musicians want serious spaces,” he says. “When students come here, they’ll say, ‘Wow! The school is investing so much in this program. This means something.’”
The state-of-the-art facilities on centrally located real estate will promote a sense of hospitality on campus, too.
Delaney Turner ’18 says Conservatory students will have “a great opportunity to show our love of what we do on a daily basis and share that love with the entire campus in a much more tangible way.”
Steve Ivester, dean for Student Engagement, agrees. “It will bring the campus together,” Ivester predicts. “Our students want to experience and engage the arts. This particular venue means that we’ll have students who are comfortable in a music facility. They will be introduced to an aspect of liberal arts that they only get from the sidelines right now. It’s going to permeate the student experience on many levels.”
The concert hall will, for many decades, draw untold numbers onto campus for concerts, conferences, and events yet to be defined, where Wheaton’s neighbors will perhaps taste something of the College, and by extension God’s kingdom, in a fresh way. Chappell says the project is “confessional in nature to the culture around us—the campus culture and the broader culture,” adding, “It is a testimony to who we are.” Okpebholo adds, “It’s a form of Christian witness.”
The concert hall, lobby, and choral rehearsal hall also represent, according to Chappell, no less than a place to fulfill our role in creation. “It seems to me that this building helps us do two fundamental things,” she says. “One is to help achieve the liberal arts mission of the College, which is an interdisciplinary approach.
“But even more significantly, it is to fulfill what it means to be a holistic human being. Look at what God has done in creation. We are the pinnacle of creation, and God gave us a nervous system that allows us to sense beauty. This building is going to allow us to hear wonderful things that the Lord through his wonderful endowment of creative abilities has given to our faculty and to our students. So in a sense it is a fulfillment of part of God’s wisdom in how we’re designed.”
Similarly, Turner sees it as a venue of worship. “At Wheaton, one of the best things I’m constantly told is to let every single thing that you do be worship—and that definitely applies to all of our performing, and all of our practicing,” the music performance major says. “Every single aspect of music can be done to the glory of God. So everything we do, whether it’s in our small practice rooms, or whether it’s on the stage of the concert hall, or even sitting and listening, should somehow involve reflecting the glory of our Creator and what he’s created in us in creating music.”
So if anything is lavish about this project, it’s the love for God and his creation that inspired it. In that, you’ll get no argument from Tony Payne.