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NAU Reaching New Octaves with Multi-Million Dollar Sound of Music

Envisioning an anticipated $15 million expansion of the Northern Arizona University Performing and Fine Arts Center as a “…cultural front door to the main university campus,” President Rita Cheng announced a new vision for the NAU School of Music.

Speaking before almost 200 supporters of music during a special late February event at the renowned Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix, Cheng told invited guests, “This is an important time in the School of Music’s evolution growth. The facility that had been earlier in the master plan had not been realized, but now, it will be. This facility will be one of the final elements in the original footprint of the Performing and Fine Arts Complex (PFAC).”

She explained that the current brick and concrete ramp curling from the east entrance to PFAC in front of and adjacent to Audrey Auditorium will be demolished.

“It will be replaced with a grand and inviting atrium, an expanded pre-function space, and a state-of-the-art 250-seat recital hall. It also will include updated student rehearsal spaces to accommodate the growing enrollment in music,” she said.

Cheng noted the NAU Performing Arts programs annually bring thousands of guests to the community and campus, where they spend money not only on tickets but also lodging and restaurants.

Describing the motif as one that will be integrated into the flow of existing PFAC facilities, Cheng said, “The exceptional design will include glass, wood and stone, all reflecting the natural beauty of our region.”

Cheng said enrollment growth and programmatic success have been such the past few years that faculty members and students much teach or attended classes, practice and rehearse far beyond ordinary hours.

She emphasized that the enhanced facility will have far-reaching impact. “It will create a modern, learning-centered environment that will bring top students to the School of Music and to NAU. Academic experiences will be enriched for students and teaching experiences of the faculty will be enhanced.”


World Class Talent Entertained Guests

Following Cheng’s comments, two world-famous musical talents entertained guests with individual solo selections.

First was NAU graduate R. Carlos Nakai. He is considered the world’s premier performer on the Native American flute. He has won several Grammy Awards and sold more than 4.3 million albums worldwide. Nakai, who attended NAU in the 1960s, was awarded an honorary doctorate in 1994.

Nakai said he owed a debt to NAU, as the university gave him a higher education and career opportunities at a time when no other institution would offer him support.

“I endorse completely the vision for the School of Music,” he said.

Following Nakai was Jeffrey Swann, recently named at the Adel Artist in Resident at the NAU School of Music. An international award-winner in a variety of piano competitions, including the prestigious Van Cliburn competition, Swann has a unique claim to Arizona fame: he was born in Williams. He told guests at the MIM that he took his first music lessons as a youngster on the NAU campus.

“I’m now proud to be an ‘artist in residence’ at NAU sponsored by Steinway,” he said. “I am honored to be able to work with such dedicated and talented students.”


Program in Growth Mode in Students, Faculty, Facilities

Todd Sullivan, director of the School of Music, said the program now has 49 faculty members, and that space for faculty and students is at a premium. With more than 400 students, the school currently offers three levels of baccalaureates: bachelor of arts in music, bachelor of arts in either vocal or instrumental performance; and bachelor of music in choral and instrumental music.

The school grants a graduate degree in varying programs and a Certificate of Performance.

Since the late 1960s, NAU music and performing arts facilities have been among the best in region. Beyond facilities, the music program, especially summer music camp, has for 68 years been considered one of three most popular in the Southwest for junior and senior high school students. Running for four weeks in June-July, it attracts students from several states.

But it was not until 1975 that a dedicated space – the Eldon A. Audrey Memorial Auditorium –was created that could accommodate large performances such as symphony orchestras. Immediately, the Flagstaff Symphony and the Flagstaff Festival of the Arts helped NAU turn yet another upward cultural curve for the community. It was only recently remodeled and can accommodate 1,330 patrons. Adjacent to it is the Clifford White Theater.

A major objective within the School of Music is the launch of the All-Steinway School Initiative.

Director Sullivan explained that because pianos are such a critical part of music program, having the best pianos possible is a major goal. “That’s why we set our sights on Steinway pianos, for they have been benchmarks of excellent craftsmanship for more than 150 years.” The current piano inventory in the school includes 89 mixed brands. The goal is to replace non-Steinway instruments with Steinways – some 61 new pianos.

“This vision for the School of Music has one overwhelming purpose – to create a community that brings together students, performers, teachers and audiences to create a lasting impact on the lives of participants,” said Elizabeth Rock, development director for the College of Arts and Letters. FBN

By Ray Newton, QCBN


Courtesy photo


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