A permanent home for the University’s band program has been years in the making, but with the opening of the Hunter Smith Band Building this month, the halls are alive with the sound of music.
The dedication on Sept. 2 marked the $12.7 million facility’s official opening, and the torrential rain the following week forced rehearsals inside, fulfilling a vision dating to the genesis of the current band program in 2003.
“It’s been a dream come true,” band director Bill Pease told a standing-room-only crowd at the dedication. The audience included marching band students, their uniforms accented with white spats and orange capes, who were savoring having a permanent home on Grounds.
“Before this building was completed,” says drum major Abby Heider (Col ’12), “our offices and storage spaces were somewhat scattered across Grounds. Now, we have a place where we can rehearse, store uniforms and instruments … and ultimately focus on making our performances better and better.”
With two huge video screens and instant-playback audio recording capabilities, musicians will be able to watch and listen to their own performances to hone their techniques. Beyond that, they will add to the growth of the Betsy and John Casteen Arts Grounds in the Culbreth Road area.
“The band building will, for the first time, give music a presence on the Arts Grounds,” said Meredith Woo, UVA’s dean of the College of Arts & Sciences.
The seeds for the building were planted when Hunter Smith and her husband, the late Carl W. Smith, donated $1.5 million in 2003 to launch the Cavalier Marching Band.
“I distinctly remember hearing the announcement that Hunter Smith donated money for us to build a state-of-the-art rehearsal space. I was in my second semester of my first year at UVA,” says Heider. “Now, I am in awe of her generosity and the hard work of the construction group.”
The space also provides students a “haven of activity,” Pease says. Few of the 298 students in the program—which includes the concert band, basketball band, wind ensemble and other units—are music majors. Overall, 56 degree programs are represented.
The building spans two floors and includes offices, storage room for instruments, practice rooms and two large rehearsal areas. In a quiet moment before practice on a rainy day, Pease stood in the larger of the rehearsal rooms and reflected. “Two years ago we were standing right here in a dirt pile.”
Now the 4,100-square-foot room is a spacious, light-saturated acoustic gem. Beige “clouds” of acoustic fabric hang from a ceiling 52 feet high; panels of dark blue and beige fabric line three walls with a lattice of sound-absorbing wood on the fourth. Twelve-foot windows, including panels specially buffered against noise from the adjoining railroad tracks, open the room to views of other arts buildings as well as historic Lambeth Field.
The smaller rehearsal room sports gold drapes to soak up sound, making both spaces acoustically “dry”—no reverb, no echo, nowhere to hide if you play a wrong note.
“This is our lab,” says Pease. “This is where we create music, and this is our home.”
Nicholas Vallorano (Com ’12), also a drum major, echoes Pease’s thoughts. “Cavalier band members have always considered the CMB to be a family,” he says, “and we are excited to finally be home.”