October 15, 2004

SIUC, community sing praises of 'new' Altgeld Hall

by Bonnie Marx

CARBONDALE, Ill. - - She's got great bones, as they say, and now that she's had an extreme makeover, she's ready for her close-up.

Born in 1896 - - the year Utah became the 45th state and Henry Ford test drove his first auto - - Altgeld Hall is the oldest building on Southern Illinois University's Carbondale campus.

Today, she looks and performs better than ever.Built to resemble a castle, it originally housed the library, science labs and a gymnasium. The building became home to the School of Music in 1958 when a remodeling job created rehearsal spaces, practice rooms and offices.

"We now have some of the best music facilities in the state," SIUC Chancellor Walter V. Wendler told those gathered today (Friday, Oct. 15) at a ceremony to rededicate the building, named for former Illinois Gov. John P. Altgeld, who approved the building's construction after his 1893 election.

Added Wendler: "For years, our faculty and students produced remarkable musical excellence in spite of the building's physical drawbacks and outdated features. Now, we anticipate our music program will be greatly enhanced and our faculty and students will be inspired to even greater achievements in their beautifully appointed and state-of-the-art surroundings."

Glenn Poshard, chairman of the SIU Board of Trustees, noted that the state provided the $13.4 million to pay for the project.

"We are extremely grateful to the governor and the General Assembly for their continuing commitment to the University," he said. "By investing in our students, we are investing in our future."

John M. Dunn, provost and vice chancellor, said outstanding faculty members deserve outstanding teaching facilities.

"We are truly fortunate to have such creative genius in our classrooms and rehearsal rooms," Dunn said. "Day in and day out, faculty members in the School of Music and across campus are engaged in the vital work of preparing our students to contribute to society."

The building boasts a brand-new choir room with built-in risers and acoustical curtains as well as suspended ceiling "clouds" that deaden noise in all major rehearsal rooms and the hallways. Percussion students now practice in a remodeled space with a soaring ceiling, 18-inch walls and a set of mirrors to help them perfect their drum line stance.

That's not all. There's a new opera/music theater rehearsal room with a wooden floor and mirrored walls, a sound booth and recording studio attached to the band and orchestra rehearsal rooms, small and medium-sized practice spaces, class and seminar rooms, three musical instrument digital interface labs for computer music composition, an instrument repair area, 300-built-in lockers (big enough for your Sousa phone or bassoon) and a student lounge.

"This is as nice a facility as you would find at a school our size anyplace in the nation," said Robert L. Weiss, director of the School of Music.

"Not only is the building beautiful, but the increased functionality of all of the spaces make it a pleasure to work in. Anyone who worked or studied in the old Altgeld will immediately notice a difference in how appealing it is for musicians to have well-designed acoustical spaces to listen to and rehearse music," Weiss added.

Tonight, members of the music school will show off their new digs.

Live musical performances and an open house get under way at 7:30 p.m. To kick things off, 17 musicians will grace the steps of Altgeld's new Faner Circle entrance and perform a musical fanfare written just for the occasion.

Faculty member Kathleen C. Ginther composed the new piece, "Echoes of Altgeld."

Visitors are welcome to tour the building. Inside, nine live ensembles of chamber musicians will play in as many locations. Guests will hear guitars, low brass instruments, opera, contemporary/experimental music, mallet percussionists, woodwinds, flutes, pianists and jazz combos.

And they'll see for themselves the latest improvements.

Constructed of blonde-colored bricks, Altgeld resembles a medieval castle, complete with crenellated parapets and turrets.

When it was time to update the building, SIUC chose White & Borgognoni Architects of Carbondale, respected for infusing 21st Century amenities into such older beauties without sacrificing their aesthetic and historic characteristics.

The architect's attention to detail are evident everywhere, from the exterior brick "dental work" designs, to copper downspouts, arched stone window accents and soothing interior colors and lights.

Campus beautification and building restoration are among the priorities set forth in Southern at 150: Building Excellence Through Commitment, a master plan the University is striving to fulfill by the time it celebrates its 150th birthday in 2019.

"After being in temporary quarters for 2 1/2 years, and in dismal facilities for 23 years before that, I am personally thrilled to finally be in a building of which I can be proud. I've always been proud of our faculty and students. This renovation finally completes the package," said Weiss.

A limited number of special compilation CD's will be given to those who attend this evening's event. These performances, mostly by students, were taken from previous years concerts and recitals and put onto a commemorative CD prepared by music faculty member Philip Brown.