The University of Iowa
Inside the new Voxman Music Building

Editor’s note: During June 2008, the University of Iowa sustained the worst natural disaster in its history when severe flooding sent the Iowa River over its banks and into the campus and Iowa City communities. As the UI celebrates near completion of its flood recovery efforts this fall, Iowa Now looks back at that challenging time when thousands of faculty, staff, students, and volunteers joined forces to ensure the UI continued to serve its students and community. This is just one of many inspiring stories.

It’s been eight years since the flood of the Iowa River damaged the Voxman Music Building and scattered the School of Music across the University of Iowa campus. While the road has been difficult, the patience and optimism of music faculty and students is being rewarded this fall with the opening of the new Voxman Music Building.

David Gier, who has taught at the UI since 1995 and became director of the School of Music in 2010, says one of the largest obstacles of the past eight years was finding suitable replacements for the custom facilities that were lost to the flood.

“When you think about the infrastructure that a school of music needs to function, it’s really unusual for an academic unit,” says Gier. “We need practice, rehearsal, and performance spaces, and all of those need to be acoustically appropriate and isolated.”

In response, the UI began constructing a state-of-the-art building designed by LNM, an architecture firm from Seattle, Washington, that includes 200- and 700-seat performance halls; the Rita Benson Music Library; a recording studio wired into every large performance space; specialized studios for the recording of percussion, opera, and electronic music; music therapy; and more.

Now, as the building’s grand opening on Oct. 21 nears, the School of Music, once again housed entirely under one roof, begins a new chapter in its history.

We caught up with Gier to get his thoughts on the new building and the last eight years.

Q:  How did you overcome the obstacles the flood created?

A:  We have to start with the attitude of the people involved. The students, the faculty, the staff were creative, resilient, and optimistic. Everybody really focused on the next thing that they had to do, whether it was teaching a class, running a rehearsal, or mounting a production. I must also credit the institution, the University of Iowa and central administration. We had so much support. We knew that everyone was doing the very best they could to provide for the School of Music. And I know the other disciplines and other units that were affected by the flood felt the same way.

Q:  What are some features of the new Voxman Music Building that excite you?

A:  There are so many. On a real practical level, we have first-rate performance spaces for our students and faculty. We have a 700-seat hall that has state-of-the-art acoustic design, as well as a 200-seat hall where students will do their capstone recitals. This hall, featuring the distinctive angular glass wall, is very prominent from the outside of the building—to me, that’s one of the greatest features of this building, that the architects chose to draw such dramatic attention to the place where our students do their senior or graduate recitals, the place where all their work comes together.

From top to bottom, the whole building was thoughtfully designed. Every feature of the building has a purpose, and that purpose is to support the students, the creative and scholarly work of the faculty, and our capacity to reach the public through our 350 or more public events each year.

Q:  What are the goals of the School of Music, and how will the new building help achieve them?

A:  Our mission is three-fold, essentially. First, it’s to prepare the next generation of musicians. Some will become performers; some will become educators or music therapists or scholars. Many students will partake in music as part of a different plan of study. I think the wonderful social spaces will strengthen collaboration and the sense of community and the state-of-the-art technology and acoustical isolation will provide a flexible laboratory for our students and faculty to do innovative work.

The second part is the scholarly and creative work of our faculty. We’re a research institution, and an important part of our function is to create new knowledge and new creative work. Having the Rita Benton Music Library back in our facility will foster that crucial connection between the scholarly and applied aspects of our discipline—a connection that is so important to the work our faculty do. Many of our performance faculty find expression for their creative work through recordings, and without a doubt, the technology embedded within the building will support that beautifully.

The third part of our mission is to engage with the public. Our public performance spaces are so inviting and have such wonderful acoustic environments. Even the façade of the building, with all the glass on the exterior, will project the life inside the building into the community and draw people in.

Q:  How will the new building benefit the university, citizens of Iowa City, and all Iowans?

A:  This new building, which is right near the heart of campus, across the street from our vibrant downtown, gives us an opportunity to weave ourselves into this tapestry in a new, more exciting way. The location and the design open those doors for us.

When you project over the coming years what this facility is going to do, our national profile is already rising. As a result, we have international groups that have expressed interest in holding their annual events in this building because of its quality.

What that does is brings the very best in the world to Iowa City. That’s amazing in and of itself, but those people spread the word and they talk about the facility, they talk about our students and faculty. That draws students and increases the interest in the University of Iowa and increases the pool of students that we’ll be recruiting from. It will enhance the competitiveness of our auditions and, over time, the quality of the School of Music will certainly rise as a result of the investments in these facilities.

Q:  The flood recovery process has been long and challenging. Are you glad it’s over?

A:  The first day I could take off my hard hat and walk into my office I was filled with a sense of pride, and I was inspired. I think our faculty is going to feel like that every day.

The faculty during the first couple years after the flood wondered, “What’s this going to look like? Are we ever going to be back together again?” The answer has gradually unveiled itself, and now we’re in this magnificent facility. Now our question is “What great things can we accomplish here?” Our attention has turned to making the most of it, to living up to this amazing structure, which represents a tremendous investment in the importance of the arts.

The administration believes the work we do is important, and now we have to get to work. And I think it’s going to be joyful work.

Q:  What does it mean to you to be the School of Music’s director during the opening of this building?

A:  It has been the experience of a lifetime. The opportunity to be involved with this, to try to serve the faculty and students by being that voice at the table that represented the end user, has been a real honor and a privilege.

My job is to help others succeed. I’ve relied on my own experiences as a music student and professor to inform every decision I’ve made as I try to assist with this incredible process. I’m pretty certain that being a part of this will be the most important thing in the professional realm that I ever do.


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Take a video tour of the UI's new Voxman Music Building by clicking here





Publication Source: 
Iowa Now